The first "genuine" BMW M5 from 1985. Part 1 of the series "30 years of BMW M5".
This year the BMW M5 celebrated its 30th anniversary. We take a look back over the previous five generations of this unique sports sedan before ending with a surprise.
Even before the change to the new generation of the BMW Series 5 in 1981, BMW's Director of Sales, Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck announced that plans were afoot for a new edition of the top model BMW M535i in the successful mid-range series. In view of the just over 3,000 models sold, the reason for this was not necessarily an economic one - the impetus came from quite a different source.
Motor racing with near-series cars was becoming increasingly popular and reports in the media ensured a correspondingly sporty image. Mercedes developed a monster street version of the 190 named the 2.3 16V, sending the spoiler-clad Benz onto the roads in 1983. BMW had nothing to respond with. Although it had a successful Group A touring racer based on the new 5 Series, the range did not include a sports version that people could buy. Anyone who wanted to drive a faster 5 Series needed to consult with the BMW customisers. Alpina took advantage of the gap in the market and presented the Alpina B9 535i with 245 HP in 1982, while tuners Hartge followed with a sports version of the 528i in 1983.
The BMW M535i in advertising.
Only three years after the launch of the second BMW 5 Series, in autumn 1984 BMW finally presented the new BMW M535i. As with the previous model, the new sports sedan, a near-series BMW upgraded with M technology, became the best 5 Series in its class. With an engine capacity of 3.5 litres divided among 6 cylinders, this supreme model achieved a torque of 4,000 rpm at 218 HP and 310 Nm. Thanks to the new "Motronic" engine controller, the driving performance was markedly better than its predecessor: the speedometer needle reached 100 km/h in just 7.2 seconds, while the top speed was now 230 km/h. However, in visual terms too the BMW M535i was no shrinking violet. Although it was significantly more understated that the competition, it also had a huge spoiler, at the request of BMW. This was integrated in the bumper to the front, while the rear had a surface mounted rubber lip. Side sills with longitudinal ribs underlined the difference from the other standard models.
The BMW M535i travelled on specially developed tyres from Michelin: the name was 220/55 VR 390 TRX and the tyres were fitted to TRX M wheels. These tyres turned the world of tyres upside down when launched. As the first ever small diameter tyres, it had a more sharply contoured shoulder and a flatter flank, benefiting the larger and more evenly loaded contact surface. This resulted in more grip and better driving performance. At the same time, Michelin had re-invented the wheel, transforming the wheel and tyre into a high-performance unit that made turn-in ability more precise and enhanced driving stability. The "TRX" was the first car to bridge the classic contradiction between the comfort of generous suspension and sporty handling - characteristics that previously seemed irreconcilable. When compared to modern tyres, the TRX now has no significant advantages. However, if you are determined to drive your BMW M535i with original TRX wheels, then these are the only tyres available and you will have to dig deep into your wallet.
Overall, the new BMW M535i was an harmoniously designed, powerful sports sedan for more demanding clients - however, despite the "M" in its name, it still wasn't quote what the engineers at BMW Motorsport GmbH had in mind for an M car. The fact that the BMW M535i was built at BMW's factory in Dingolfingen rather than in Garching gave the Motorsport team enough room to realise their own vision of a sports model for the 5 Series.
The first BMW M5: practically denying its own existence.
The first "genuine" BMW M5 saw the light of day without any great fanfare. The Geneva Car Show in February 1985 included an unassuming, modestly painted BMW Series 5 with luxurious interior on the stand.
No big spoilers, no decorative trim, just a modest M5 emblem on the radiator grille and on the boot lid. A quick look under the bonnet makes you fear the worst. No battery. All you can see here is the old familiar giant M88, which now has a new address and a new name: M88/3. The water-cooled 6-cylinder in-line engine with 4 valves per cylinder, six individual throttle valves, two overhead cam shafts, Simplex chain drive and 3.5 litre engine capacity gave the BMW M1 a racy performance. The most important modification for use in the BMW M5: Digital engine electronics - Bosch Motronic - instead of mechanical Kugelfischer petrol injection. Result: 286 HP with 6500 rpm and 245 km/h with the accelerator to the floor.
"Designed for the most discerning of ambitious drivers," read the BMW prospectus. The same was true of the price. A BMW M5 cost round DM 80,000, making it the most expensive sedan from the BMW stables at the time. Anyone who could afford this dream got the world's fastest 4-door sports sedan (apart from the Alpina B7) that would not look out of place being driven by a housewife doing her weekly shopping.
However, things could be different: 0 to 100 km/h in a racetrack-worthy speed of 6.5 seconds and from 80 to 120 km/h in just 7.7 seconds. All this plus a chassis that remains in control whatever the situation without any aerodynamic aids. The M engineers had developed the perfect look for their incognito version of a sports car. Independent wheel suspension, stabilisers front and back and special mono-tube gas pressure shock absorbers shared the work with the broad TRX tyres. The brake system was also prepared for the engine's power delivery. 4-piston brakes sat on internally ventilated disks (front), while at the back there was a single-piston sliding-calliper disk brake with a special ABS system just in case.
BMW M5 display - plenty of words for an extraordinary car.
The new, handmade BMW M5 was a super-car, but just a half-hearted muscle-bound effort. "A new form of sophistication and luxury consciously avoids demonstrative outward showiness," declared the prospectus. The BMW M5 certainly filled a gap in the market that had never previously existed with this concept.
By May 1986, over 1,000 BMW M5's left the production line with exclusive specifications. "Understatement is important to the typical BMW driver." said BMW M CEO Wolfgang Peter Flohr, explaining the secret of the car's success. "These drivers don't want it to be immediately obvious that their cars are so powerful. On top of the basic price of around DM 85,000, these people are prepared to spend a further DM 30,000 to 40,000 on individual interiors." It wasn't easy to spend such a large amount in view of the already luxurious basic equipment available in the BMW M5. The basic package in 1985 included velour carpets, leather steering wheel, sports seats, central locking and thermal insulating glass, as well as heated wing mirrors, windscreen washer nozzles and door lock. It took a great deal of creativity to find ways to sink more money into a standard BMW Series 5 with optional extras. Thus, the BMW Series 5 buyer could have the luggage compartment, including the cover for the hazard triangle, covered with leather, a temptation that many customers found irresistible.
Easy living in the sports sedan.
By the end of 1987, 2,145 M5 models had found new happy owners with the "sovereign reticence of the tuning revealed on the inside, rather than the outside" (BMW M5 prospectus). While drivers were reluctant to show off in their super-car in the 1980s, these days the first owners can proudly state in public that they once owned one of the first "genuine" BMW M5s - or perhaps that they still drive it today.