Want to experience supercar ownership on a budget? Buy a classic European super sedan

Want to experience supercar ownership on a budget? Buy a classic European super sedan

Ok, ok, a lot of Mighty Car Mods followers aren't interested in supercar life and couldn't give a tofu protein ball for the latest Ferrborghorsche. That's cool and, to be perfectly honest, we're not exactly racing out to buy the latest mid-engined door-stop painted to look like a shredded parrot... but we're nothing if not curious about the ownership experience. 

Right back to the very first supercar, the 1936 Bugatti 57S, they have been mystical beasts that command respect for their ferocious performance, the high level of skill they demand of drivers, and their intensive maintenance upkeep. The late 1980s saw the super-fast-car game changed by EFI and computer-controlled sensors radically improving reliability.

But what are these rare, exotic classics like to live with? Most of us couldn't afford an old Lamborghini or Ferrari, but there is a way to get into an old car that will give you the full supercar experience. And its name is the BMW E34 M5.

BMW's M5 isn't the first super-fast "super saloon", that title belongs to Mercedes-Benz's 1968 300SEL 6.3. It wasn't even the first M-car (that was the E9 CSL), the first BMW supercar (the M1) or first M5 (the E28), but it does represent the closest thing most of us could get to owning a bona-fide 80s or 90s supercar.  

The E34 M5 is the second-generation M5 and was based off the third-generation 5 Series. For those still living in their parent's basement, the order of 5 Series generations runs E12, E28, E34, E39, E60, F10, F90. Now, please go outside and talk to some humans. 

With its forward-opening bonnet (hood) and the fact it is hand-assembled, the M5's supercar credentials look good. Available in sedan or Touring (wagon) body styles it could only be ordered with a manual transmission and offered luxuries of the day like a comprehensive trip computer, power steering, air conditioning, power windows, and self-levelling suspension (we'll get to that later).

Throw in a naturally aspirated twin-cam 3.6-litre in-line six-cylinder kicking out a huge (for 1991) 310hp and 360Nm of torque, and you have a four-door sedan which could dust most of the mid-engined exotics of the day. Later, BMW upgraded the engine to 3.8-litres and it made 340hp and 400Nm.

The engine is a genuine piece of supercar technology, with it being an updated version of the M88 six-cylinder first seen in the 1978 E26 BMW M1 supercar, then later the M635CSi and E28 M5. By the time it turned up in the E34 it was known as the S38B36 (later S38B38). 

Interestingly, it was designed by Paul Roche who also designed the McLaren F1's epic V12 engine, and it was the basis for the E30 M3's S14 four-cylinder which monstered Group A racing in the 1980s. 


Prices for all M5s are taking off, and finding an E34 M5 in really good condition can be more difficult than picking a broken nose. Still, unlike E30 M3s or E28 M5s these sedan supercars can still be found at a semi-reasonable price and offer genuine 1990s supercar thrills... and more.

You see, unless you own a Honda NSX, part of supercar life is accepting you'll know your tow truck drivers by their first name. And the fact you'll most likely spend the purchase price each year on keeping the cursed folly running.


Any 30-year-old car is going to have reliability concerns and when you're talking about highly-strung performance cars the window of forgiveness for missed oil changes, perished seals and over-enthusiastic driving is basically non-existant. Basically, we've been spoiled by Mitsubishi Evos and R35 GT-Rs and all those other great "boring" modern cars that let you drive them like you're a 7-year-old mid-way through a sugar binge at a classmate's birthday party. 

While they were built far better than anything of the era out of Italy, the E34 M5 isn't immune to soiling the bed in spectacular, expensive ways. The self-levelling suspension uses hydraulic fluid and assistance from the power steering system, but unknowing owners had a habit of topping the power steering up with ATF like a regular car. Unfortunately this killed the seals in the shocks and led to your expensive executive saloon supercar leaving your driveway looking like a rainbow quilt after some rain.

This isn't to say living with these cars isn't absolutely rad. They don't have the door-stop supercar shape, but they let you share the joy of a silly old go-fast classic car with 3 of your friends and there is a lot to enjoy (when they're working as they should).

Driving an old M5 is pure analogue joy with a howling in-line six, well-weighted manual gearbox and handling that is far better than what you'd think for a car of this size and age. And, TURBOFANS.

I mean, look at those wheels. Amazingly the turbines are metal covers that bolt over the top of some cool black five-spoke 17-inch alloys. You could also get the famous five-blade "throwing star" pattern (see the pic above) and these interchange today. 

Would any hot hatch of the last 20 years dust it? Yes. Is your mum's Mazda3 more reliable? No doubt. If you're making these arguments are you a pelican who is on the wrong website? You know it, pookie. 

If you you are puzzled by this photo and want to read how the mighty R32 GT-R Skyline went up against some of Europe and Japan's biggest rivals, you can READ THIS WHEELS MAGAZINE STORY FROM 1991 HERE.

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