Home » You Can Buy An E39 BMW M5, The Greatest Sedan Of All Time, For The Price Of A Chevrolet Malibu

You Can Buy An E39 BMW M5, The Greatest Sedan Of All Time, For The Price Of A Chevrolet Malibu

Bmw Er39 Gg Ts2
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How many cars can dominate a genre for a quarter of a century? Outside of a handful of mid-engined Italian wedges and a certain frog-eyed ass-engined slot car, not many. However, 26 years ago, BMW hit upon magic. With massive V8 thrust, a shockingly capable chassis, and remarkably robust build quality, a legend was born. The E39 BMW M5 is often regarded as the greatest sedan of all time, and thanks to depreciation, it’s now more affordable than you might expect.

At this point, we have to concede that the E39 M5 is the sort of car its makers will never be able to replicate. A new BMW M5 Competition isn’t as satisfying of a driver’s car or as comfortable a daily driver as this. From the inputs to the feedback to the way the car breathes with the road, this classic super sedan may have arrived two years late to America for the 2000 model year, but it feels absolutely timeless.

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Sure, a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley might ride softer, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class may be more luxurious, and a hardcore monster like the Jaguar SV Project 8 may be faster, but few sedans have the bandwidth and involvement of the E39 M5, much less the pace on top of it.

What Is It?

E28 Bmw M5

Back in 1984, BMW had a thought: People like fast cars, but the people who can typically afford fast cars are at a stage in life where they have all manners of responsibility. The suits, the kids, the luggage, the expectations of a family lifestyle. Instead of an impossibly low coupe that’s roughly the size of a clawfoot bathtub, what if someone made a really, properly, next-level fast car with four doors? Presumably, everyone scratched their chins for a minute and realized that this was a good idea. The original M5 with its supercar-derived 282-horsepower M88/3 inline-six was born.

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E34 Bmw M5

The second M5, the E34, didn’t quite have the same splash. It was still brilliant, but not only did BMW end sales in North America two years early, The Lotus Carlton was faster, and Mercedes-Benz had started to sell AMG models straight off the dealer lot. This all meant that for the third M5, BMW knew it had to do something big. Fortunately, it already had a great set of bones to work with. Even today, the E39 5 Series is quite literally still the benchmark sedan for ride and handling. From aluminum arms to a clever integral link rear suspension setup, driving a regular E39 5 Series was like watching Van Halen work the frets — everything was exactly, perfectly, millimetrically, mind-alteringly right. So what happens when you drop in not a high-strung inline-six like in prior M5s, but a thumping great 4.9-liter V8?

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Called the S62, this quad-cam juggernaut was BMW’s first performance V8, and my word, did it ever sing. It had all the trick stuff — variable valve timing, eight independent throttle bodies, scavenging pumps in the oiling system for high-g maneuvers, hollow camshafts, a double-row timing chain, and 11:1 compression. In 1998, the Acura NSX made 290 horsepower, the Chevrolet Corvette made 345 horsepower, and the Ferrari F355 made 375 horsepower. The motor in the E39 M5? Try 394 horsepower. Not only did the E39 M5 run from zero-to-60 mph in 4.8 seconds during Car And Driver instrumented testing, it delivered 0.90 g on the skidpad and makes sweet, sweet induction noise whenever you’re on the throttle.

2002 Bmw M5 Bringatrailer 4

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Driving an E39 M5 today is a lesson in anachronism and excellence all at once. The rubbery, long-throw shifter is nothing short of truck-like, the soundtrack is far quieter than you’d expect, and the recirculating ball steering isn’t exactly razor-sharp. However, as the speed builds, everything falls into place. The steering weights up and telegraphs grip to your fingertips, the shove of the big V8 is nothing short of intoxicating, and the chassis makes nearly two tons of sedan shrink around you, goading you into ever more outrageous cornering speeds. This car communicates like nothing you can buy today, yet it imbues its driver with the same sort of confidence as an 800 FICO score, a supermodel partner, or a full ride to Harvard. You’ll feel like you have it made, and that combination of sledgehammer acceleration, cornering excellence, and bank vault solidity is why to many, E39 M5 is a shorter way of saying the ultimate sedan. More than a quarter of a century on, it’s still the king.

How Much Are We Talking?

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While widespread appreciation of the E39 BMW M5 has driven up prices in recent years, driver-spec examples are still attainable for about the price of a normal midsize sedan. A 2024 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT stickers for $32,595, and you can certainly buy an E39 M5 for less than that. Take this 2002 model, for example. Not only is it a facelifted car with the updated three-spoke steering wheel, 16:9 navigation screen, and Corona ring headlights, it seems to be in beautiful shape and sold on Bring A Trailer for $31,250. Sure, it has 109,000 miles, but a few tasty modifications like European-spec headlights, Dinan springs, Koni dampers, and a Supersprint exhaust make it mighty tempting.

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If you’re willing to go for a pre-facelift car that’s a little less cosmetically lovely, you can get into an E39 BMW M5 for five figures less than that. This 2000 model with 113,000 miles on the clock sold on Cars & Bids last month for $17,000. The wheels are curbed, the shift boot is missing, and the rear tires are toast, but it’s an E39 M5 for $17,000. That’s a whole lot of performance for the money.

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2003 Bmw M5 Bringatrailer 1

Accepting a few minor cosmetic flaws isn’t the only way of getting an E39 BMW M5 for cheap. Here’s a facelifted 2003 model with 121,000 miles on the clock sold on Bring A Trailer earlier this month for $18,800. Why so little? Well, it has a minor hit on its Carfax, the photo gallery is rather small, and it could use a new M5 badge, but otherwise, it seems like it could be a solid car that you could totally daily drive. These things just munch up miles, so by all means, pile them on.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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While the E39 BMW M5 is among the more reliable M cars, there are a few common trouble spots that are worth looking into. The timing chain guides are made of plastic, and roughly a quarter century on, maybe brittle enough to need replacement. While parts are reasonable, labor can be excruciating. Budget $4,000 all-in for replacement, and do all of them while you’re in there.

In addition, the fancy VANOS variable valve timing units contain seals that do go bad over time. You can have the units themselves rebuilt for around $250 each, but that doesn’t include any labor for installation or removal. Figure a few hundred bucks on top of that to get everything fettled.

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2000 Bmw M5 Carsandbids 2

Cars primarily used for short trips can suffer from carbon buildup blocking the secondary air injection ports, resulting in emissions-related error codes. Not fun if you live in say, California or New York. While the parts cost of cleaning this out is basically nil, the labor costs are high due to the time involved. Expect a bill with a comma in it should you ever need it done.

Lastly, winter-driven E39 M5 examples from salty environments do rust. From my experience, the sills, quarters, and jacking points are the first areas to go, and proper rust repair is expensive business that can run into the five-figure range depending on how thorough you want to be. Then again, most cars made of steel can suffer from corrosion, so it’s not exactly an unexpected problem.

Should You Buy An E39 BMW M5?

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Look, heavily depreciated high-performance German cars are never cheap to run. Sure, you can buy an E39 BMW M5 for Chevrolet Malibu money, but you can’t maintain one for Malibu money. However, if you can keep an emergency fund of several thousand dollars and have always wanted one, you should buy one. They are as good as people say, they totally live up to the hype, and it’s easy to see why the E39 BMW M5 is regarded as the best sedan of all time.

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(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer, BMW, Cars & Bids)

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Jim Head
Jim Head
26 days ago

I bought one a few years ago. Any 20+ car, especially German, is going to need fixing up. Thing is, this one is worth it. Mine is not a collectible by any stretch, but it looks fantastic, drives beautifully, and gets complements every now and then, and the V8 sound. I will happily spend a few bucks keeping it looking and driving fine, versus dropping $60k+ for a 300hp quickly depreciating modern sports car. First thing I did after purchasing was replace the rubbery long-throw shift mechanism with a short shift, then add a Bluetooth input device. That’s it for upgrades. I try to fix everything instead of deferring so that I can enjoy the car more … dashboard pixels, abs computer, cracked HVAC buttons, fogged up headlights, cracked trunk wiring, …. It’s something like $1-3k per year. It’s sort of like a hobby.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
28 days ago

Plastic timing chain guides are not really an issue on the S62 with its dual row timing chain, that’s a problem with the M62 with its single row timing chain.

I owned an e39 M5 for 3 years as my daily driver from 2013 to 2016. It was a stunning 2002 LeMans Blue over Caramel extended leather car. Absolutely brilliant to drive, competent in every situation, worth every penny I spent on it, and yes I spent many pennies keeping it perfect. The engine was perfectly reliable, zero mechanical issues and probably the only well designed cooling system of any BMW of that vintage. The thing I spent all my money on was worn out sensors, (two MAFs, two O2s, four CPSs). Each time I replaced something it ran way smoother and made another 30hp. Also driveline parts, driveshaft, clutch, flywheel, differential, throw out bearing, shifter detents, they all got replaced at some point.

When I sold that car it was perfect, had driven it 45,000 miles through summer, winter, and raced autocross. I would absolutely recommend it as a daily driver, but only if you have the pockets to keep up with the maintenance. Prices have gone up a lot since 2016, I sold mine for $16.5k with 116,000 miles, though it did need the LSD rebuilt, which I disclosed.

I now daily drive a 99 BMW E36 M3, it is far less expensive to run, not any more reliable but the parts are so much cheaper.

Would I own one again, in a heartbeat, they are phenomenal cars, no other car has ever balanced performance, style, comfort, and analog feel as well as the e39 M5.

UA6 Driver
UA6 Driver
28 days ago

Simply due to being an older Millennial, I support this car due to the amazing “The Star” short film by BMW. Clive Owen, Madonna, an M5, directed by Guy Ritchie, what’s not to love.

Parsko
Parsko
28 days ago

Thomas, you can’t discuss this car and not mention the snake pit. You must also include a picture. I am mildly offended.

https://www.m5board.com/attachments/20180827_180429-jpg.878764/

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