The E34 was a golden generation for special edition M5s.
The BMW M5 is a tremendously special car, a luxury sedan with supercar performance that pioneered the segment more than 30 years ago. Now in its sixth generation, we’re in the midst of the first ever all-wheel-drive V8, making it special in its own right. But over the years there have been some marvelously talented and rare versions of BMW’s all-conquering super-saloon.
Though some might have been ‘standard’ production models like the manual-equipped F10 M5 only available in the United States, we’re interested more in the special, limited edition models, or even the production units that by now are rare as hen’s teeth. We’ve searched the history books to bring you ten of the rarest versions of the BMW M5 that ever were.
Before the M5, BMW built the M535i – the 1979 M-Performance version of the E12 5 Series that was the immediate precursor to the great M-car. However, before the M535i graced the world, South Africa built a true race-inspired 5 Series. The racing scene in South Africa was huge, and the E12 5 Series was a key contender. To homologate the car for race purposes, BMW SA, with assistance from BMW’s European Motorsport Division along with AC Schnitzer, built 218 530 MLE (Motorsport Limited Edition) models.
The cars featured wide body kits, Chaparral wheels, and significant weight reduction courtesy of aluminum and thinner steel body panels. The 3.0-liter inline 6 under the hood produced 270 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque in race-spec, though road-going versions made do with only 177 hp and 191 lb-ft. Produced 3 years before the M1, and with direct involvement from BMW M, the 530 MLE is technically the first BMW M car ever…
For 1991, BMW approached two racing drivers to design their ideal version of the E34 M5. Joachim Winkelhock, a former F1 driver who won the Nurburgring 24 hours with an M3 in 1990 and 1991, went for all-out performance, stripping the M5 of extra weight by opting for the smaller US-spec 81-liter fuel tank, lighter battery, reduced sound deadening, and deletion of non-essential items like rear seat headrests, vanity mirrors, rear window switches, and fog lights.
The Winkelhock Edition also featured Recaro seats, a 385-mm M-Technic II steering wheel, shift knob, and park-brake handle, wider rear tires, and red seatbelts. 51 of them were produced in Jet Black paint with contrasting Sterling Silver metallic lower bodywork.
The other racing driver, Venezuelan F1 driver Johnny Cecotto, went to the opposite extreme, believing his M5 should be the most luxurious around. The Cecotto Edition M5 included full bicolor Nappa leather upholstery, heated power front seats with driver memory, wood trim, a power sunroof, and automatic climate control. All Cecotto Editions were sold in either Lagoon Green or Mauritius Blue, and had the option of interiors between Silvergray/Light Silvergray and Parchment/Light Parchment. Just 22 Cecotto Edition M5s were produced, making them one of the rarest around.
To celebrate 20 years since the birth of BMW’s Motorsport division, the same one that evolved into ‘BMW M’, BMW released the limited run (20 units) M5 20 Jahre Motorsport Edition. Based on the standard Euro-spec E34 M5, the 20 Jahre was fitted with the 3.8-liter S38B38 inline-6 developing 335hp.
It was offered only in Mugello Red and featured aesthetic upgrades like carbon fiber dash inserts, red seatbelts embroidered with “BMW Motorsport”, M-Technic rear-view mirrors, and Alcantara trimming on the seats, door panels, steering wheel, shift lever, and park-brake lever.
While the E39 was regarded by many as the perfect M5, the E60 was unforgettable for its use of the 5.0-liter odd-firing S85 V10 engine that sang tunefully to the beat of 500 hp and 384 lb-ft. But if the E60 heralded one thing, it was the departure of the lightweight M5, a sign of the times when performance cars became bloated and overweight.
To celebrate 25 years of the M5, BMW M built a special one-off M5 CSL that never went on sale. It featured a carbon fiber roof and other weight saving options to shave 110 lbs from the total weight, while the engine was subject to an increase in volume – up to 5.5-liters – with power taking a bump to 580 hp. The interior was completely standard, except for the black and white BMW badge on the steering wheel as a hat tip to the original BMW Motorsport logo of old. The M5 CSL lapped the Nurburgring in 7:50, 23 seconds quicker than the standard model which set a time of 8:13 at the hallowed circuit.
OK, so there were a lot of special edition E34 M5s… At the request of Naghi Motors – the Saudi Arabian importer for BMW, BMW commissioned a special run of 15 BMW M5 models. They were the last units produced of the Euro-spec 3.6-liter M5, built around March/April of 1992, with 5 units produced of each color – Jet Black, Alpine White II, and Lagoon Green metallic.
Built to Gulf-specification, they were devoid of catalytic converters and as such outputted 318 hp. Each Naghi Edition was factory fitted with an M rear spoiler, Shadowline exterior trim, and Recaro SR front seats in leather-cloth combination; though certain extras were included depending on the exterior color. Once the models arrived in Saudi Arabia, Naghi Motors added the M tri-color striping to the hood, a red leather steering wheel, and special door sill plates to all Alpine White and Jet Black examples.
The E34 BMW M5 Touring is rare and highly sought after in itself, with just 891 units ever produced for the left-hand drive market and none for right-hand drive markets. But amongst those, a group of 20 from 1995 are the rarest of all.
Named the M5 Touring Elekta, the limited run of just 20 units was an Italy-only model, finished in either Sterling Silver with Marine Blue leather, or British Racing Green with Tobacco leather. They featured the extended leather interior, as well as unique, numbered shift knobs. The Elekta was not necessarily a special version created by BMW M, but rather ordered collectively from BMW Individual by a small group of Italian dealerships, leading to questions about its claim to fame as a special edition model.
Ah, the E39 BMW M5, widely regarded by many as the last truly great BMW M-car – although the E46 M3 CSL is a strong contender. Powered by a 4.9-liter S62 V8 engine with 394 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the E39 M5 could sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and recorded a Nurburgring lap time of 8:20. Of course, fans of the era were desperate for BMW to produce a Touring version of the E39 M5, and BMW nearly did.
A production model never surfaced, but at least one fully-functioning prototype was built – a Titanium Silver one with Exclusive Black leather interior – which was unveiled as part of BMW’s 25th anniversary of the M5 alongside the E34 M5 Convertible. Note: Photos of the prototype are rare, so the frontal image below is that of a 540i Touring converted to M5 specification.
Many years prior to the existence of the M6 Convertible, BMW toyed with the idea of a convertible M5, as far back as the E34 generation in fact. In 1992, BMW produced just one fully-functional prototype, powered by the 3.5-liter S38B36 inline-6 engine equipped in a body with the same wheelbase as the standard M5, but with a slightly more raked windscreen. Due to the lack of structural rigidity, steel reinforcements were added under the side valance panels. This and the power-operated soft-top roof added an extra 220 lbs to the overall weight. The prototype was never greenlit for production though, with BMW citing ‘financial constraints’ as the primary reason for that.
Back in October 2015, BMW announced a special limited edition M5 for the South African market. The M5 Pure Metal Edition was a run of just 20 vehicles featuring increased power (600 hp – the same engine tune as the 30 Jahre Special Edition) from the 4.4-liter bi-turbo V8, a special pure Metal Silver paint job, and all the bells and whistles from the M5 Competition, including carbon ceramic brakes, a 0.4-inch drop in ride height, and the Active M Differential. The interior featured a Dark Aluminum Trace trim line and special plaques bearing ‘PURE METAL X/20’ inscriptions.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because, in July of 2016, BMW USA released the Pure Metal Silver limited edition – a run of 50 US-specific M5s in an identical specification. So while you might be able to get a US-spec Pure Metal Silver, the South African run not only pre-dates this but was available in even more limited a supply and those 20 are RHD.