In a new series, we track down the only known example of a model in South Africa. First up, an E34 BMW M5 Touring...
The BMW M5’s history is well documented and it has come to define large, fast sedans. Arguably, the performance four-door reached its zenith in 1991 when BMW unveiled the updated E34 series – in both Sedan and Touring guises – to its home market at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Since then, there’s been just one other M5 Touring, the E60 with its 5,0-litre V10.
Back to the E34. This was BMW’s second-ever M5 and, although the first sedan models were equipped with a 3,6-litre, inline six-cylinder engine, the Tourings were fitted with the updated powertrain featuring the more powerful, torquier 3,8-litre (code S38B38). The result was 250 kW at 6 900 r/min as well as a very useful 400 N.m at 4 750 r/min, which made these 3,8-litre units blisteringly quick for their time.
The only recorded E34 M5 Touring in South Africa, this model still looks purposeful from almost every angle. The light-coloured, gunmetal-grey front splitter, deep-dish double-spoke alloy wheels which fill the wheelarches to the brim and the double exhaust pipes make its performance potential abundantly clear.
The Daytona Violet colour instantly catches your eye; the metallic sheen brings out the purple, especially in bright light. Park it in the shade and it appears almost black.
Freshly imported from Germany in 2018, the owner has added this car to his already remarkable M5 collection. It’s obviously a very special car to him: “I wanted to complete my M5 collection. But apart from that, it is one of the rarest M cars. Only 891 were made and it is also known to be one of the last to be built by hand. I found it through one of Europe’s largest automotive sites, mobile.de. I wasn’t able to personally view the car but a kind friend did.
“What makes this particular model special is the first owner selected nearly all the available options. The cabin is fully trimmed in leather and boasts climate control. It has a double sunroof – one in the front and another in the rear – which can be opened at the same time.”
The owner had never laid eyes on an E34 M5 Touring until the car arrived in South Africa. He was smitten. The moment the engine starts, the rumble is instantly recognisable to those familiar with inline-six BMWs of the era, although it is marginally deeper than the mainstream models of the time. I notice the smaller (and prettier) side mirrors, a true M car tradition and similar to those fitted to the E36 M3. The steering wheel rim is noticeably thinner than those of modern M cars, with stitching that features the three M colours. This one shows its age but still looks in fine nick. The leather seats are comfortable and provide sufficient lateral support, while hide extends to the transmission tunnel. I can’t help but smile as I attempt to decipher the buttons on the centre console. The busy layout is typical of a 1990s BMW and, on this left-hand-drive unit, everything is written in German.
Before we head out, we stop at the nearest fuel station to top up with a litre of oil. The petrol attendant instantly gets excited about this rare M5. The bonnet pops up and hinges towards the nose, allowing easy access to the entire engine bay. As we make our way through early-morning Johannesburg traffic, the wealth of available torque impresses. Between 2 500 and 3 500 r/min, you can easily leave slower traffic behind while relishing shifting through the six-speed Getrag ‘box; it’s as slick and precise as a modern M2 Competition’s (all the more impressive considering this model has clocked nearly 240 000 km). Bear in mind that a large part of that was probably on the German autobahn in top gear. Unlike most classics we drive, this M5 enjoys stretching its legs. I keep my right foot planted as the rev needle swings towards the 7 000 r/min redline. The engine positively jumps to life at 4 000 r/min. Keep it above 5 000 r/min and the E34 M5 has a wicked turn of pace.
From where I’m sitting, it’s nearly impossible to tell this is the Touring variant. There’s very little weight difference between this and the four-door. What’s more, the driving position is comfortable and shifting gears with your right hand comes more naturally than you might imagine.
With fewer than 900 made (it stayed in production until midway through 1996, months after building of the M5 Sedan ceased), the E34 M5 Touring is rare for a modern car and appeals to a very specific enthusiast. We all remember those pictures of Volvo 850 Estates catching air over rumble strips while competing against sedans in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship. Now, just think for a moment how utterly cool this M5 would have looked in racing trim … it certainly has all the right ingredients.
FAST FACTSEngine: 3,8-litre, 6-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power: 250 kW @ 6 900 r/min
Torque: 400 N.m @ 4 750 N.m
0-100 km/h: 5,9 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h
Weight: 1 720 kg
Fuel consumption: 10,1 L/100 km
Value today: >R650 000