With the successful 3.0 CSL and the iconic M1 BMW propelled itself instantly into the league of high-performance cars, finally able to brand itself as the ‘ultimate driving machine’. Both cars were limited-production, purpose-built sports cars, but a new legend based on a production model was about to be born: the M5.
The BMW E12 made its debut in 1972 and was the first 5-Series BMW made. Within two years after is unveiling BMW presented a special model for the German market. The Motorsport 533i was the first road going car available for customer to receive an upgrade by BMW Motorsport GmbH.
The M533i came with new front and rear spoilers and special striping, and was powered by a 3.2 liter six-cylinder engine derived from the 633CSi (E24) that produced 197hp and 290Nm of torque. With this ‘power treatment’ the Beemer was able to accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds and the top speed was 212km/h. From today’s point of view these figures aren’t very impressive, but back in those days the fastest 5-Series available was more than sufficient for blasting on the fast lane of the Autobahn.
A slightly more powerful and faster 5-Series made its debut in 1980. As a high performance version of the mid-size sedan, the BMW E12 M535i was powered by the engine taken from the 635CSi. This 3.4 liter six-cylinder offered an output of 218hp and 310Nm of torque. It was the M535i that signaled a new direction of the cars coming from the BMW Motorsport workshop by paving the way for the M5.
The first BMW M5 was based on the E28 5-Series and made its debut in 1984. The car featured the high revving, straight-six engine which originally powered the M1 sports car. With an output of 286hp, the was a genuine ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. In fact, with a top speed of 245km/h the M5 was the world’s fastest production sedan. Production ended in 1988 with under 2,200 units built.
Based on the E34 version of the BMW 5-Series, the M5 entered its second generation in 1988. The car was powered by straight-six engine, originally displacing 3.6 and subsequently 3.8 liters, with output increasing first to 315 and later 340hp. Initially the car was able to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds. With the increase in displacement the performance was boosted as well, a sprint to 100km/h was now done in 5.7 seconds. The top speed was electronically limited at 250km/h.
When the five-door Touring version of the M5 was introduced in 1992, it was the world’s fastest wagon. It also was BMW M’s first wagon, but at the same time the last hand built M car made. Quite remarkable was the construction of the one-off E34 M5 Cabriolet, which sadly didn’t make it into production as BMW feared it would cannibalize sales of the open 3-Series. Production of the second generation M5 ended in 1995. A total of 12,254 units were made, of which only 891 as the Touring version, making it one of the rarest regular production BMW Motorsport cars.
The third generation M5 (E39) was introduced in 1998. For the first time the car was powered by a highly tuned 5.0 liter V8 engine which provided almost 400hp and 500Nm of torque. The electronically limited top speed was 250km/h, but with the limiter removed the M5 was able to reach 298km/h. Official figures provided by BMW show a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 4.8 seconds, but some people claim this is a conservative figure as the car should be able to accelerate even faster.
An E39 M5 Touring was also considered, one prototype was also built, but BMW decided not to produce it due to financial considerations. Additionally, the Germans weren’t convinced the driving characteristic of this M5 Touring would be on par with the saloon. Eventually a total of 20,482 M5s of the third generation were made before its successor entered the stage: the V10-powered M5.
Designed by Chris Bangle, the BMW M5 (E60) was unveiled in the Autumn of 2004. The world’s first production sedan to feature a V10 petrol engine delivered 507 horsepower and 520Nm of torque, exceeding the mark of 100hp per liter. This enabled the M5 to accelerate to 100km/h in a time of 4.7 seconds, the 200km/h mark was hit after around 15 seconds. Once again the top speed was electronically limited at 250km/h. With the optional M-Drivers-Package the top speed is brought to 305km/h. During its five year run, 20,548 cars were built composing of 19,523 saloons and 1,025 wagons.
The latest version of the M5 made its public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year. The F10M M5 is powered by a 4.4 liter biturbo V8 which puts out 560hp and 681Nm of torque. Although not everyone appreciated downsizing of the engine due to environmental regulations, the F10M M5 outperforms its predecessors. The car is lighter and faster, acceleration from standstill to 100km/h slightly increased to 4.4 seconds and the top speed is traditionally limited at 250km/h, but could be raised to 305km/h.
Most noticeable is the fact this car offers a much better handling than the E60 M5, which is reflected in the Nürburgring lap time of 7:55 matching the time set by the Ferrari F430. Just as all previous generations, the M5 is still the benchmark for the competition. This highlights the progress made by BMW M since it all started in 1972, proving that the phrase ‘ultimate driving machine’ has transcended marketing and entered the realm of reality, which we experienced at first-hand in our road test of the 2012 BMW F10M M5.