Increasingly regarded as a sure-bet for future classic status, local collectors are feverishly hunting for the best remaining E39 M5s. But what's all the fuss about?
Engine: 4.9-litre, V8
Power: 294kW at 6 600rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 3 800rpm
Transmission: Getrag 420G, six-speed manual
Weight: 1 795kg
Years of manufacture: 1999-2003
How many were built: 20 482
Where was it built: Dingolfing, Germany
What you can expect to pay for a good-condition example: around R300 000
If you went to the cinema in South Africa in 1999, you will undoubtedly remember the E39 M5 advert. It featured a (supposedly) land-speed record car, doing a run in a desert while being filmed by another vehicle racing next to it. When the land-speed record car eventually comes to a halt we see that the car that was running next to it was none other than the then-new E39 M5 – the “fastest saloon car on the planet” the ad proclaimed.
The third-generation M5 was equipped with the S62, naturally-aspired 4.9-litre, V8 engine. Developing 294 kW at 6 600rpm and 500Nm at 3 800rpm, the M5 was able to accelerate to 100kph in a claimed 5,1 seconds. Released at the Geneva Motor Show in 1998, it was the first M5 to be fitted with a V8 engine.
Built in August 1999 and registered in January 2000, this particular Carbon Black M5 has given its young owner an eventual five years of ownership, especially during the initial few months.
“I originally wanted an E46 M3, but a friend convinced me to look at the E39 M5. I wasn’t convinced, but the more research I did, reading up on the car, watching videos on YouTube, I realised this was what I wanted. I started searching, but the few I found and had a look at were really rough. One evening I found one online, but it was on page four as I scrolled through the ads… and it was still available.
“When I bought the car in 2016, it had just under 185 000 km on the odo. The car was in Cape Town, so my friend and I flew down to go buy it. The car wasn’t driven a lot by the previous (third) owner, so it was a little neglected. Before and after the flight I was still busy finalising the insurance on the car!
“We viewed the car, signed the documents and then we had to drive to Glasfit for the insurance inspection. When we arrived at Glasfit, we realised the front BMW badge had fallen off. That sort of set the president for the trip back to Johannesburg.
“When we left Glasfit the car went into 'limp' mode. Then we realised that when we switched the car off, and on again, it would seem fine. However, the moment we would come to a stop and pull away again or let the car idling for a bit, it would go back into 'limp mode'. We spent the night in Bloubergstrand and I washed the car and was just really excited about my new purchase and the trip. However, me friend indicated that I might need to curb my enthusiasm until we arrived in Gauteng.
“But you know what, me made it back. That car did an average of 9,8 litres per 100 km. The further we drove, the better the car felt. When we pulled away that first day there was black smoke from the exhaust pipes. That disappeared later on. The air-conditioning didn’t work, the radio didn’t work and it had the wrong wheels.”
However, the owner quickly got to work when he arrived home. “Since I’ve bought the car, I’ve done a little over 8 000 km, as the odo now stands on 193 000km. Apart from the trip up from Cape Town, I’ve taken it twice from Johannesburg to Nelspruit.”
Perhaps more interesting (and better for its "provenance") is the fact that this car originally belonged to BMW South Africa and was used as a marketing and show car.
“I’ll admit, this car was a bit rough. The seats were torn and faded. However, I decided to sort out the mechanical issues first.” The owner thought that a good service would be a good idea and 48 hours after arriving home the car went for a service, which included filters and spark plugs.
However, a technician also suggested doing a carbon built-up clean of the car. This entailed taking the top off from the engine. Then they also discovered a number of vacuum line leaks on the engine.
“All of this was repaired, but after the service the engine was still a little rough. Then we discovered that a different exhaust pipe was fitted at some stage and the O2 sensors got clogged up in the process. I decided to have a new exhaust system made from the manifold to the back boxes, which is all open. But, I still have the back box fitted, as I want the car to look stock standard from the outside. Also, the air conditioning system was faulty, so we had to redo the entire system.”
Over the months the larger infotainment display was fitted was well as the steering wheel from the facelifted model.
“I’ve spent about R30 000 of my own money on the car. The exhaust was about R8 000, the air con was about R10 000 etc. But, I’ve been very fortunate as a lot of friends have assisted me along the way and given me advice. However, the actual cost of the work done on the car in total is closer to R70 000."
What should potential buyers look out for?
“I don’t drive my car a lot, but if you plan to drive your car regularly, you need to put money aside for tyres. Also keep in mind the clutch. Because these are older cars, a clutch replacement might be on the cards.”
The owner also points out that there are several aftermarket options and that you don’t need to go the OEM route for parts.
“Also check the control arm bushings, as a specialist is currently replacing mine.
In the end you need to also keep in mind that you need to find the best example on the market. The moment you need to do bodywork or there is any serious damage, it will lead to big expenses.
“The engine is really solid, but you need to look at the VANOS system. If you start the car when it is already warmed up and there is a clattery sound, it means the solenoids from the VANOS system are faulty. Also check the timing chain guides as they can also become noisy. Make sure all the plastic containers in and around the engine bay are not cracked. Finally, also check the rubber on the driveshaft and for any oil leaks on the rear differential.
“In summary, the E39 M5 definitely offers a sense of drive-ability that is missing in the newer cars.”