History of the BMW 5-Series, The E34

This is part 3 of my history series on the BMW 5-Series, featuring perhaps the most timeless and generally epic generation, the E34.

THE E34

Timeless. Still beautiful today. For me, this is what BMW should be - A luxurious performance saloon. Image courtesy of BMW Blog.

Timeless. Still beautiful today. For me, this is what BMW should be - A luxurious performance saloon. Image courtesy of BMW Blog.

Claus Luthe was once again the chief designer and began working on the E34 from July of 1981 till early 1987. He took a great deal of inspiration from the E32 7-Series and applied a lot of the details to the E34. Production began in 1987. It's a car known for its durability meaning that E34s can still be spotted on the roads today. But, rust likes them and badly maintained examples have long ceased to exist. Early models, if still around, are beginning to look like an abandoned playground from the communist era but well kept examples are really youngtimers and could be very valuable, very soon.

If someone ever finds a 525iX E34, please tell me. I want one. Image courtesy of Collecting Cars.

If someone ever finds a 525iX E34, please tell me. I want one. Image courtesy of Collecting Cars.

Technologically, it had ABS, airbags and lenticular headlights. It might not be much, but that was quite an achievement in the 90s so, respect to BMW for that. The first mass-produced 'Touring' version of the 5-Series came in the E34 generation and spawned in 1992. Sure, there were a few E28 Tourings but, they weren't produced on the same scale that the E34 Tourings were. E34 Touring production surpassed the saloon and meant that the family wagon lived on till 1996, a year after the E39 5-Series had been launched. The E34 was the first 5-Series to feature an early version of BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive. This was the 525iX model and around 10,000 of these were produced. Finding one now is about as probable as finding a four-leaf clover or a purple cow. So, basically impossible.

The E34 was a pioneer for the 5-Series. The first xDrive, the first Touring, the firsr V8. Technologically, it used ASC (Stability Control) and ASC+T (Traction Control) as well as a six-speed manual transmission. All of this was a first for a 5-Series, highlighting that the 5-Series was always the standout BMW model and a sort of flagship for BMW technology introductions. Sure, there's the 7-Series flagship but, to me, the 5-Series defines what every BMW should be. That is, a luxurious four-door saloon with amazing dynamics and driver orientation. It even came with EDC (Adaptive dampers). That's only becoming common on all BMWs today, and this thing came out in the late 80s!

E34 ENGINE OPTIONS

The M60 V8. The first V8 to sit in a 5-Series. Epic engine. A true monster.

The M60 V8. The first V8 to sit in a 5-Series. Epic engine. A true monster.

Initially, the E34 was available with four petrol engines. At the bottom was the M40 which was a four-cylinder iron block engine with an aluminium head. It replaced the M10 four-cylinder and shared few similarities. The M40 used a belt-driven camshaft but, like the M10, had an iron block and an aluminium head. The M40 sat in the 518i base model and produced 111HP. The second engine offered was the M20, serving as the base inline-six. It was the SOHC inline-six which we know from the E28 and E12, but it began to be phased out in the early 90s. M20 power ranged from 127HP in the 520i and went up to 168HP in the 525i. Next up was the M30 straight-six. It was offered on the big boy models. It was BMWs longest-produced engine, let's not forget. It was a masterpiece and served owners for many years, offering that high-rev greatness we love in BMWs. But, it too was phased out. While it was present, however, it was used in the 530i and 535i. Power here ranged from 185HP in the 530i up to 208HP in the 535i. Fourthly and finally, there was the S38 inline-six which was used in the E34 M5, but more on that later.

All of the engines we just saw were phased out, except the S38 which was upgraded in later years of E34 production. The M40 was quickly replaced by the M43 in '94. The M43 was produced at the Steyr engine plant. It served as the base engne in the 518i and had four-cylinders like it's predecessor. Notably, the M43 was chain driven rather than belt driven like the M40. It produced 114HP. Then, there was the M20s replacement which was the M50. It was a DOHC (Dual Overhead Camshaft) inline-six which went on to sit in the E36 M3. Sure, it's coded as the S50 in the M3 but, it's just a high-output version of the M50. It produced 148HP in the 520i and 189HP in the 525i. When the M50 came in, the M30 engine also began to be phased out as it wasn't as complex and advananced. After so many years, it too had to die. The M30's death meant that there was no replacement for the 530i and 535i models. So much so, that the 535i was ditched and only the 530i model stayed. But, what replaced it?

The M30s replacement was the M60 V8, the first such engine for a 5-Series. It came in 1992 and also helped to introduce the 540i model which basically replaced the 535i. It could be had in two displacements, either as a 3.0 in the 530i or a 4.0 in the 540i. When the M60 was introduced in '92, it was BMWs first V8 in over 20 years. It was naturally-aspirated (meaning it didn't have a turbo or supercharger), and to reduce weight, the engine used aluminum for both the engine block and cylinder head. A plastic intake manifold and magnesium valve covers were also implemented to give the M50 a good bit of weight loss. The M60's power came in at 215HP in the 530i and 282HP in the 540i.

In 1992, the 520i and 525i engines were updated to the M50TU with VANOS. VANOS is simply BMW's way of saying variable valve timing. And, in 1993, the 535i six-cylinder model was discontinued, marking the end of the 24-year production run of the M30 engine

DIESEL ENGINES

The M51. If you want your E34 to live a long life, don't buy one with this engine. Image courtesy of Christian Gerbig.

The M51. If you want your E34 to live a long life, don't buy one with this engine. Image courtesy of Christian Gerbig.

If you buy an E34 with the M51, do yourself a favour and scrap it before it scraps itself. Really. They're that bad.

When it comes to diesels, initially it was just the M21 engine. It was BMWs first diesel, remember? It came on the 524td model and only that one, the naturally-aspirated 524d was ditched. It produced 114HP and 222NM of torque. However, in 1993, BMW introduced the M51 diesel engine. *BIG SIGH* If you buy an E34 with the M51, do yourself a favour and scrap it before it scraps itself. Really. They're that bad. It's just an engine I wouldn't recommend to anyone. Seriously. A less powerful version came in 1993 but, that doesn't help much. Just, do yourself a favour and buy a petrol E34. Or, if you really want diesel, then buy a 524td. Or, better still, buy yourself an E34 and stick a newer, E39-era M57 3.0 diesel in it. Then, it'll be a powerhouse. What I'm saying is, don't buy an E34 designated as the 525td or 525tds. But, if you still care, the 525td produces 114HP and 222NM of torque (Just like the M21) and the 525tds produces 141HP and 260NM of torque.

ADVICE

Angled towards you, simple, nothing more, nothing less. Great cabin. And look at all that space behind the gear shifter! You could fit an Ipad in that space. I think. How big are those things now? Image courtesy of FinalGear.com

Angled towards you, simple, nothing more, nothing less. Great cabin. And look at all that space behind the gear shifter! You could fit an Ipad in that space. I think. How big are those things now? Image courtesy of FinalGear.com

The E34 is a slightly newer generation, one that I'm quite familiar with actually. I come from Poland and I regularly visit family. Thus, I see quite a lot of these over there. Poland is a country where (at least in the region I live in) cars need to be reliable, durable and work hard. Thus, cars are often a conversation topic amongst men and exchanges are made about the durability or epic failure of certain models. So, here's what I can tell you about the E34 engines.

The M50 engine used in the 520i (Coded as the M50B20) is something great. It's idiot-proof and you'd have to neglect oil changes for a very, very long time before it went wrong. It was 2.0l in displacement and had 24 valves and, as I said, it's a BMW inline-six. It's really, really good. And, for those that know about LPG, it works well with it. LPG means liquefied petroleum gas, it's really popular in Poland (That's why I know about it) and helps to increase economy. LPG is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases used as fuel. It's very cheap when compared to petrol and helps to achieve greater economy. It does, however, reduce power slightly. The petrol inline-six engines in the 525i and 530i are sound, too. But the 520i engine will never die. The 525i and 530i straight-six engines have probably been abused more heavily than the tyres of a Mustang doing donuts. So, those engines might not be as durable as in the 520i.

I've already told you how terrible the 525td and 525tds diesel is, so, don't buy it. Please. If you want a V8, go for it. But, the running costs will speak for themselves. But, if you can afford it, go right ahead. That's an epic car you'll have. And, a sleeper at that.

E34 GEARBOX OPTIONS

The Getrag 420. The first six-speed manual used in a 5-Series. Epic. Image courtesy of Bimmerforums.

The Getrag 420. The first six-speed manual used in a 5-Series. Epic. Image courtesy of Bimmerforums.

In terms of manual transmissions, there were only a few. The Getrag 260 was a five-speed manual transmission and was used as the standard for most of the models. The ZF S5D310 was a five-speed manual paired with M50-equipped E34s. The first six-speed used in a 5-Series came as the Getrag 420G. It was used in the 540i V8.

In terms of automatics, there were also only a few options. Often, it depended where you live. On M20 and M30 engines, the familiar four-speed ZF 4HP22 was used. On M50 and M51 engines, the transmission of choice was the ZF 5HP18. It was a five-speed automatic which was also used on the straight-six 530i. The 540i model used the ZF HP30 five-speed automatic.

In America, the M50 engines came equipped with a four-speed transmission made by General Motors, the 4L30-E. The previously mentioned five-speed ZF 5HP18 wasn't offered in the States. For, whatever reason...

AMERICAN MARKET

This is such a BMW face. Honestly, I might say it, this might be the best looking BMW ever. Seriously. Image courtesy of rarecarsforsaleblog.com.

This is such a BMW face. Honestly, I might say it, this might be the best looking BMW ever. Seriously. Image courtesy of rarecarsforsaleblog.com.

Initially, the range launched in October of '88. Initially, the models that came to the States were the 525i and 535i. Over time, BMW began to introduce the 530i, 530i Touring, 540i and the M5. The American E34 M5 was a 3.6, just like the Euro car, but it was still a 3.6 after the S38 in Europe had been upgraded. There was a displacement increase from 3.6l to 3.8l. The engine code made more sense, maybe that's why they did it? Obviously not, but it worked out well and lifted power. But, while America had the 3.6 till '93, Europe already that the bigger S38.

SPECIAL MODELS

THE E34 M5

What a stunning machine. Nice colour, too. It's clearly an M5, but it still doesn't shout 'M' like an M2 does against a 2-Series today. Image courtesy of Bimmerfile.

What a stunning machine. Nice colour, too. It's clearly an M5, but it still doesn't shout 'M' like an M2 does against a 2-Series today. Image courtesy of Bimmerfile.

The E34 M5 began life in September of 1988. It was powered by the previously mentioned S38 straight-six engine. It was initially produced as a saloon, but a left-hand drive M5 Touring came in 1992. That's the epic one you want, really. Only 891 were produced so, they're quite rare. Very rare, in fact. They were the last M car to be handbuilt, too. The E34 was handbuilt at Garching, where painted E34 bodyshells were delivered. Over a period of two weeks, the boffins at M did their magic and out came a wonderful E34 M5. Remember Rosslyn, South Africa? Yep, that plant still worked. That was the only other factory where the M5 was assembled. All South African M5s were assembled there, with a complete knock-down kit supplied by Garching.

Aesthetically, the M5 had a unique front and rear end. On the exterior, that's about it beside some sideskirts. Inside, the M5 had a unique gearshift surround and different headrests in the back seats.

Cosmetic changes to the exterior from the standard E34 included unique front and rear bumpers and side rocker panels, contributing to a drag coefficient of 0.32 (from 0.30),[22] and interior updates included a unique gearshift surround and rear headrests. Technologically, the M5 was epic, too. It had self-leveling suspesion as standard meaning that the rear would never drop down and look like a dog doing it's business.

So rare but my God do I want to buy one! Euromillions, please. I beg you. Image courtesy of Carscoops.

So rare but my God do I want to buy one! Euromillions, please. I beg you. Image courtesy of Carscoops.

The S38B36 generated 311HP at nearly 7,000rpm and produced 360NM of torque. This allowed for a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds and a top speed which was limited to 155mph. In '91 the displacement was increased to 3.8l and the engine code changed to S38B38. This was only in Europe, however, because America and South Africa had emission laws which were too strict for this change. Thus, the M5s designated for those markets retained the S38B36 code. The upgraded S38 in Europe developed 335HP and meant the 0-60mph sprint was over in 5.9 seconds. That's pretty mental. How did they achieve this? M adjusted the ignition so that every cylinder had an individual coil. A dual-mass flywheel was also applied to reduce idle vibrations. But, this had a negative throttle response effect. EDCIII+ was introduced on this improved M5. This stands for Electronic Dampter Control and means that the damping could be electronically controlled. There was either ''P'' mode which was more comfort orientated when you weren't trying to impress anyone and ''S'' which was a sportier setting, allowing you to break the back of your mother in-law. The Getrag 420G six-speed we know from the 540i came to the M5, too. This gearbox was introduced to the M5 in '94.

518G

The 518G, an eco version, really. Touring only. Image courtesy of Car Throttle.

The 518G, an eco version, really. Touring only. Image courtesy of Car Throttle.

The 518G was based on a 518i Touring and used a re-tuned M43 four-cylinder engine. It could run on natural gas or petrol, developing 98HP and 113HP depending on which fuel it was using. It was designed as the economical option. Remember what I said about LPG earlier? Well, the 518G was made just for those of you who are now considering LPG. But, do your research because LPG doesn't work with every engine.

540i M-Sport

America-only, post-M5. Nice colour, Mr (Or Mrs) owner. Image courtesy of Kindel Systems.

America-only, post-M5. Nice colour, Mr (Or Mrs) owner. Image courtesy of Kindel Systems.

After 1993, the E34 M5 was discontinued outside Europe. Thus, something had to top the range. So, the 540i M-Sport came along in 1995. On top of the normal 540i, it had additional features such as sports suspension with EDC and sports seats. It had Servotronic power-steering and US-Spec M5 brakes. 205 were built, 139 were six-speed manuals. The rest were mistakes. This was a car produced for the US market, Canada got something else.

M540i

Like the US, Canada too had to replace the M5. So came the M540i. All of them were produced for Canada and had the same features as the 540i M-Sport. However, some things were adjusted. The Canadian car got Euro-M5 brakes, 18-inch alloys and various interior beautifications like unique trim pieces. All 32 were six-speed manuals. Canada, you did it right. If you have one, keep it. You'll fetch thousands for it one day. Or, don't sell it. Hold onto history.

540i LE

LE stands for Limited Edition. Only 70 were made and were meant for the UK and Australia. They had an M5 interior with ''throwing star'' wheels, EDC suspension with a self-leveling rear and that Servotronic power-steering system. All of the LEs produced were manuals and also had a plaque to designate the unit number. The plaques are located behind the gear shifter in the centre console, so that that everyone who sits inside knows just how rare your car is. Epic.

ALPINA

That's a lot of money. Image courtesy of Motorhub.

That's a lot of money. Image courtesy of Motorhub.

There were five E34-based Alpinas to choose from. Firstly, there was the B10 3.5/1. It was based on a 535i and developed 254HP and 325NM of torque. The B10 accelerated to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and could reach a top speed of around 150mph. On the same basis, the B10 3.5 Biturbo was launched. As the name suggests, it has two turbochargers and developed 360HP and 520NM of torque. It became faster than the E34 M5, getting to 62mph in 5.6 seconds and reaching speeds over 180mph.

Alpina also took the ultra-rare 525iX as a basis and produced the B10 3.0 AWD. It used a 3.0 straight-six as the standard car did, but developed 231HP and 312Nm of torque. The X-Drive system meant that launches were squeel-free and accelerated the car to 62mph in 7.9 seconds in saloon guise. You could choose your B10 3.0 AWD as either a saloon or Touring, unlike the other straight-six Alpinas.

Then, we come to the V8 monsters. The Alpina B10 4.0 was based on the (you guessed it) 540i. Alpina pumped the eight-cylinder up to 315HP, allowing for a development of 420NM of torque. This monster roared to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. The Touring does it in 6.7. Both could reach a top speed of over 150mph easily. The B10 4.6 was also based on the 540i but, as the name suggests, displacement was bumped up to 4.6l. This absolute Autobahn-killer developed 340HP and 480NM of torque, propelling the passengers to 62mph in just over 6 seconds onto a top speed that surpassed 165mph, no matter if you were in a saloon or the family-friendly Touring.

PRODUCTION

The E34 ended it's reign in 1995 with over a million produced. The E39 took over in '95, but the E34 Touring stayed until June of '96 before the E39 Touring came along. Then, Dingolfing and Rosslyn closed the E34 chapter, for good.

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