It's always a good idea to let racing engineers play God.
Some of us fantasize of a life of extreme duality. We want to have fun and live a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. We also want to be good and healthy human beings capable of going far in our careers and being looked up to by our communities. Unfortunately, partying with groupies all night and waking up early to make your kid’s lunch are two things that do not play well together. Luckily, the world of automobiles is where imagination and fantasy can become reality, but no one knew how far that could go until BMW decided to create the M5.
The basic recipe was to take a standard and comfortable saloon car and stuff a large and powerful engine inside. The M5 turned out to be a genius of a car. Its own advertising campaign proclaimed it as an athlete wearing a tuxedo. The more accurate statement would be the cage fighter in a tuxedo: gentlemanly, polite, composed, and cultured, but able to be thrown into a brutal fight and come out the victor. At the time, BMW’s saloon car was the E28, first built in 1982. The car was plush with its leather upholstery, power windows and heated seats. Like any car, it had a few engine and transmission options with the lowest tier being a 2.7-liter straight-six making 121 horsepower mated to a three-speed transmission.
The best 5-Series money could buy was a four speed automatic paired with a 181 horsepower 3.4-liter straight six. BMW engineers weren’t particularly satisfied with the 5-series performance, especially after tuner Alpina got ahold of it and created a faster version. To cope, BMW took the 3.5-liter engine from the BMW M1 supercar and stuffed it into the 1985 5-Series where it made 282 horsepower. After reworking the suspension, BMW slapped M badges on the car and sent it to dealerships. This M5 didn’t crawl to US shores until 1988, the last year that the E28 was available. The trip over the Atlantic robbed the car of 30 horsepower, dropping from 286 to 256 ponies. Despite the loss, this car started a revolution.
After all, people could hardly believe that this comfortable and practical saloon car could keep up with a futuristic performance monster like the Porsche 928 S. The M5 even garnered the nickname “wolf in sheep’s clothing” because of its sleeper status. Despite this cars amazing ability, the Germans kept it exclusive by giving the world only 2,241 M5s. The barrier to entering this world of duality that BMW created was $57,895 dollars, a steal nowadays but in 1988, that was Ferrari money. Despite the arm and a leg price range, the M5 had established a solid fan base, and soon it was time to launch the second volley.