BMW E60 M5
Revisiting the Revs.
Years ago, my cold Autumn mornings in the motor trade were usually spent reorganising the pitch. Picking up freshly valeted cars from the workshop, and inching them into place whilst removing the sold ones to the end of the carpark, where they waited in there own glowing halo of self congratulation to the salesmen each morning. Waiting for their new owner to come back and take them home.
This was a great way to pass an hour when customers were light and sales managers were keen to find work for sales staff. For me, this particular morning would be different. The falsh suits that ran the show kept a fleet of six BMW M5’s, all were the latest LCI models. As a side note, all these vehicles were replaced every six months, except when the tax year ended when all the senior staff drove mini’s for a week. A suspected company car tax dodge, from memory motor traders at the time were given a flat banded tax depending on what they were in on the day the report was submitted, an oddity that would see me paying to run a much more expensive car than I actually had later on in my career.
Of the six Silverstone Blue M5’s sat neatly in a row by the main showroom, one was to be taken to our sister branch, roughly 60 miles away, or 80 miles if you take the back roads: you may have already realised where this is going.
The sister branch had an established customer angling for a test drive, and we had six M5's that needed to be gone by the end of the month. As luck would have it I had sold a car the day before needing transport the opposite way, and so to save on the cost of a trade plater, I was pulled aside and handed the keys to an M5, and a coveted fuel card to take with me.
‘Be back by midday,’ was my only instruction. The car I would be bringing back was a 1.3 diesel Vauxhall Corsa, a greater contrast would be tough to find.
After smugly driving past my colleagues inching VW Passat’s and Volvo V70’s into place I tiptoed out onto the greasy roads of the industrial estate on my way to the BP garage around the corner for a full tank of super unleaded. As first impressions go, the intimidating flared arches and aggressive bolstering on the driver's seat we’re quickly forgotten. Some seat adjustment let off some of the pincer grip from the bolster, and after five miles my ankle began to flex as the V10 begged for revs. Initially I remained as restrained as a Monk getting a lap dance. The car warmed up and I squirmed away from the built-up areas and toward the open roads ahead. The 'M' mode stared forward, baiting me. My stealy moderation being tested. The gearbox ferocity took a little getting used to as it had been left in its most aggressive setting, but after backing it off it became docile and as smooth as any automatic of the time.
A twisty cut back section that had yet to be reached by the warmth of the sun quickly humbling as the back end broke away and scrambled for traction
With the engine warmed and some clear roadf ahead a prod of the M button finally won the battle of determiniation. The split personality of the car was awkward at first, the tensing of muscle and sharpened throttle a warning. Suddenly I had gone from a steady cruiser, akin to a racer speeding along behind a safety car, to the green flag, the true car under the skin unleashed. Anything ahead was quickly behind, but only when you really wanted it to be. This is a trick that has been forgotten from modern fast road cars. This generation M5 could be devastatingly fast, and the howl gave the same kicks that bankers find in white powder. Yet, if you didn’t want to risk your license, or your neck, you didn't. The car was still fast when not revved beyond 5,000, absolutely enough for the road, but when you wanted it all, leave your foot in it and above 5,000 you were one of the fastest objects on the public road, weather and tarmac dependant.
BMW allowed you to step into it, slowly building your confidence, working your way up to more and more power, with everything turned up to 11 you would struggle to find many situations you could really enjoy it. Much like the first day of a gym membership isnt the day to attempt to lift the heaviest thing you can find. This was part of the beauty, it wasn’t always there. The twisty backroads started after twenty minutes on motorways leaving everything in my wake and the car felt like an Easter egg hunt. Trying to use all that was on offer was limited to short stretches of back road that were well sighted and flowing. A twisty cut back section that had yet to be reached by the warmth of the sun quickly humbling as the back end broke away and scrambled for traction. You had to respect this car, a good driver in a lesser vehicle could hold onto you until the road opened up, and that’s OK. Spurting off with low down grunt is addictive, but like a kid after too many sweets, you end up looking for more. Not with this M5, every opportunity to go wide open throttle is dispensed sparingly, those that can’t delay gratification are likely to find a hedge quickly. The need for dedication was rewarded with excitment, and mastered the art of making the driver work for their prize.
A zip from second into third, then hard on the brakes and back into second was music to any petrol heads ears, devoid of pops and crackles, and instead offering up a howl to match any wolf by the full moon.
The drive back was, as expected, much less exhilarating, Although it did offer up some time for reflection, lack of a manual gearbox or a dual-clutch wasn’t really on my mind as it would be today. Back then it was just how it was, and although I wouldn’t make any argument against a manual gearbox, that SMG added a certain character. We ofter find faults to be detriments in motoring journalism, but as humans we are compromised, finding that in a machine makes it all the more identifiable. The SMG was certainly slower than a modern dual-clutch, but I would argue it actually added something to the driving experience rather than taking anything away. There’s no hiding from the main complaint from customers of the time, all that power at the top end made the car fast, but not lightning fast unless you were committed.
Today, this should make you want one more, not less. If a modern hot hatch can keep up with you then fine, you’ll have to wait for the opportune moment to leave it behind, not just romp away at the flex of a big toe, and that makes it all the sweeter when you do.
The driving position and steering feel were the benchmarks at the time, which may become a little more arguable in the latest versions of these cars, as companies make better or worse of electronic steering and driver focus. A modern RS6 is a joy to sit in but the new E63 has a chassis that feels like it's holding on to the way things were, and all the better for it. BMW still are the benchmark today, but a departure from the ultimate driving machine feels palpable. No manufacturer is immune from regulatiors and their ever moving goalposts.
Over a decade on and that V10 is both all the more tempting and terrifying as an ownership prospect. It’s never happening again, This was the closest a 5 series was ever going to get to feeling like it blurred the lines between what motorsport engineers and road car engineers could make, everything since has leaned much more toward fast road. There are benefits to turbo’s and smaller capacity. Fuel efficiency for one, i had a fuel card back then, today I would have to hold the petrol pump with my eyes closed, and today we have more power, more of the time. There is also the maintenance issue, the V10 has known problem areas, Throttle Actuators and Rod bearings, both costly repairs, and that’s before we mention SMG pumps. A well-cared-for example would have had this done, but buyer beware, an M5 that has spent years in the hands of someone who didn’t have the money to run it will need a separate kitty reserved for workshop bills. One that has had these done or purchased with eyes wide open will be like nothing else. The engine note alone will convince most, see the flaws as charms as if it were human, that hilarious nephew that keeps kicking you in the shins when challneged to a football game, on a playstation, or daughter that doesn't understand what time dad's taxi service closes.
The V10 M5 will only become more tantalising with age. If you want top trump points then find an estate version, it wouldn’t be my pick, but the rarity factor alone will get the nod from many. A Silverstone blue saloon, with the LCI update will always have a special place in this journo’s heart.
A short personal story about the V10 M5.
On a long drive north, I was forced into a motorway fuel stop. This was a few years after my drive of the M5 and my memory of the car had faded, but seeing a dark red one stopped by a pump attracted me enough to wait behind it, mainly just to admire the stance compared to dismal array of grey boxes near it. No sooner had the owner stepped out and grabbed the V-Power pump than a van man had leaped out and shouted across the forecourt. ‘Good on you love, that is a proper machine, even better to see a woman at the wheel’. A blush and friendly wave from the lady were all that was needed in response, she seemed happy and embarrassed at the same time. The whole forecourt was now staring at the woman as she fuelled up. Great to see such enthusiasm. The a blip V10 was the gift to all as she set off, much to the joy of the white van man chucking the wrapper of his sausage roll in the bin.