BMW's new 600hp M5 is the latest chapter in a story that stretches back to the first M5 of 1984.
Well, that's the official line, but the truth is the story of BMW's own fast-fives stretches back almost to the launch of the first 5-series in 1972, starting with a handful of hot-rod engine conversions by BMW Motorsport. Read on to meet the ancestors.
E12 530i Motorsport (1974)
As far as your BMW dealer knew, the hottest Five in the mid-‘70s was the 528. But cross the fledgling BMW Motorsport’s palm with enough DM and they’d fit one of the big sixes from the E3 saloon or E9 coupe.
You could choose between a carb-fed 3.0 with 180hp, or a 200hp injected version of the same engine – that extra 20hp signified by a twin tailpipe exhaust. Later conversions included a 533i and 535i, though you’d still not see either in your BMW brochure.
E12 530MLE (1976)
Next, our story moves almost 6000 miles from Germany, to South Africa where BMWs were built locally. And to homologate the 5-series for racing there, BMW South Africa built 126 530 MLE (Motorsport Limited Edition) cars fitted with the 200hp carb-fed 3.0 engine, five-speed dogleg ‘box, LSD and Bilstein shocks.
E12 M535i (1980)
With the launch of the M535i BMW took the M-car mainstream. Well, relatively mainstream. Only 1410 M535is were hand-built at Garching and they cost almost as much as a Ferrari 308, but now you didn’t need to be in the same masonic chapter as M’s boss to get your hands on one.
Still used the 12-valve 3.5 instead of the 24-valve version developed for the M1 supercar, but with 218hp it could reach 140mph and hit 62mph in 7sec – strong performance for the day. Corduroy Recaros, 14in cross-spoke rims and a chunky spoiler at either end completed the package.
E28 M5 (1984)
When it came to the E28, BMW pimped the once-special M535i badge out on an ordinary line-built 535i with a nasty bodykit. Nice car, but nothing special.
The M5 that followed was. Under the bonnet was a reworked 24-valve M88 straight six from the M1 that pushed 286hp to the rear wheels. Top speed was 152mph and 0-62mph took 6.5sec.
Cut this one open and it would bleed supercar.
E34 M5 (1988)
A 315hp version of what was already the world’s greatest saloon? Pretty hard to get that wrong, and BMW didn’t, though there was no great leap in straight-line go, despite the new, more powerful S38B26 24-valve straight-six.
Zero to 62mph took 6.3sec, but the handling was in a different league and the top speed was now high enough to require the intervention of an electronic limiter at 155mph.
E34 M5 3.8 (1992)
The 282hp 540i, BMW’s first V8 5-series, appeared in 1992, but the M5 stuck with its six, though opened up to 3.8-litres and 340hp just to be clear about who the boss was.
Available as a traditional four-door saloon, or, for the first time, as a Touring wagon, the 3.8 answered about the only criticism you could make of the 3.6: that it wasn't quick enough. Zero to 62mph in 5.9sec saw to that.
E39 M5 (1998)
There were two big changes for the E39 M5: a switch to V8 power, and a switch from production at M’s bijou Garching facility to the main 5-series line at Dingolfing.
Available exclusively as a four-door saloon with a six-ratio manual tagged onto the S62 V8, the E39 was limited to 155mph and could get to 62mph in 5.3sec – or, in Alex Roy’s case, get from one side of the US to the other in a record-busting 31hr 4min.
E60 M5 (2004)
This one really changed the game. A 5.0 V10 pushed out 507hp and revved beyond 8000rpm, delivering power to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automated manual with about 7-squillion shift settings.
Capable of reaching 0-62mph in 4.7sec, the E60 was also available as a wagon (which BMW regretted after it sold hardly any) and, in the US, with a six-speed manual (which BMW fans regretted after it turned out to be awful).
F10 M5 (2011)
Another seismic shift in the M5 story. BMW’s supersaloon got turbo power and a dual-clutch transmission for the first time. The blowers helped squeeze 560hp out of the 4.4-litre V8, and now peak torque was available at 1500rpm, compared to 6100rpm for its mental V10 predecessor.
The buzzsaw soundtrack was gone, but performance took another jump: the 0-62mph time dropped to 4.4sec, and then fell again to 4.2sec in 2014 if you ticked the 575hp Competition Pack option.
Want to go sub-4? You needed the 600hp 30 Jahre anniversary M5 released the same year, which got there in 3.9sec.
G30 M5 (2017)
It’s an M5 but not as we know it. Turbocharged and now four-wheel drive, the latest M5 is actually 25kg lighter than the last, despite the extra weight of the 4wd hardware, which BMW says actually performs and feels like a rear-driver.
Delivering the same 600hp as the 30 Jahre M5 but an additional 37lb ft of twist for a whacking 553lb ft, the 4.4 V8 buddies up with the all-wheel drive transmission when you do want it to to despatch the 0-62mph sprint in 3.4sec – an entire second quicker than the previous standard M5.