The Unix Nerd's Domain

The BMW E34 Five Series



Background

The E34 was indeed a worthy successor to it's E28 five series predecessor. The E34 became the car your manager wanted to drive in order to appear successful to the rest of the world, a true icon of the late 1980's.

The car appeared much more streamlined than the older E28, but not overly round like some of its competitors. It also had a elegant aggression about it and the front grill was a reminder of the great E30 three series. Despite looking a fair bit larger than the E28 the new E34 was only about 5% heavier and boasted an even stiffer body which improved the handling.

The E34 is a very relaxed car to drive, as befits its luxury status. But a true performance car lurks just underneath and the handling is second to none in its class. In terms of driver involvement this car is on a different planet to its Mercedes Benz rivals, you only have to look at the M5 to see the potential of this design.

Models

The E34 first appeared as a four door saloon and the vast majority or cars were produced in this style. Around 1992 an estate or "Touring" version was introduced with an incredible, but pricey, double sunroof option. Four wheel drive was even available in the shape of 525iX saloons and tourings using the same system as the E30 325iX.

The glorious M5 was the Motorsport divisions chance to show what the E34 could really do. The 24 valve 3.6 and later 3.8 litre sixes produced well over 300bhp with handling improvements to match. Yet in the best BMW tradition the styling on the M5 wasn't overdone making this a truly subtle Autobahn cruiser.

In about 1995 the front grill of the E34 was updated slightly, the one significant external change in almost ten years. Around late 1992 the wing mirrors were upgraded to look like those on the E36. Good styling is timeless I suppose. These cars are truly great second hand value.

Early 525i with classic four headlight grill.

Rare 525iX four wheel drive saloon.

M5 showing the later style kidney grill.

Highly modified E34 with Azev wheels.

Engines

E34s in europe had a very wide choice of engines over their production run. The most popular in the UK was probably the 520i although the 518i was the choice of the company car driver stretching his budget. ABS may not have been standard on very early UK cars but I've never seen one without it.

Early 518i's had the M40 but it was replaced by the lower maintenance M43 in 1993ish.

The E34 520i/525i started life with the M20 12 valve engine. Around 1991 the marvellous M50 24 valve 2.0 and 2.5 litre engines replaced the M20, these need less mantenance and have more power. In mid-93 the M50TU was introduced with VANOS variable valve timing for better mid range power.

The M5 started as a 3.6 but was later upgraded to a 3.8 gaining distributorless ignition and better brakes in the process.

Model Body styles Engine Weight
(kg)
Power / Weight
(bhp / 1000kg)
Final drive ratio Brakes
518i Saloon / Touring? M40 / M43 1385 83 ? Disc/Disc ABS
520i early Saloon M20 1400 92 3.45 Disc/Disc ABS
520i late Saloon / Touring M50 1488 101 3.45 Disc/Disc ABS
525i early Saloon M20 1460? 116 3.45 Disc/Disc ABS
525i / iX late Saloon / Touring M50 1533 125 3.45 Disc/Disc ABS
524td Saloon M21 1480 78 3.45? Disc/Disc ABS
525 td Saloon / Touring M51 1480 78 3.45 Disc/Disc ABS
525 tds Saloon / Touring M51 1490 96 3.25 Disc/Disc ABS
530i (6) Saloon M30 1510 125 3.07 Disc/Disc ABS
530i V8 early Saloon / Touring M60 1565 139 3.25 Disc/Disc ABS
530i (3.5)V8 late Saloon / Touring M62 1565 150 ? Disc/Disc ABS
535i Saloon M30 1525 138 ? Disc/Disc ABS
540i V8 early Saloon M60 1650 185 ? Disc/Disc ABS
540i (4.4) V8 late Saloon M62 1650? 185 ? Disc/Disc ABS
M5 Saloon / Touring S38 3.6
S38 3.8
1724 183
197
3.91 Disc/Disc ABS

See the engine details page for power figures. Where several body styles exist or the engine was changed during the model's life the figures above are for late model saloons.

Known Problems

See the E24 six series page for 530i and 535i six cylinder M30 engine problems.

Suspension bushes can wear around 100,000 miles and the car will appear to wander. Parts are cheap, labour isn't too bad. Sometimes they last a lot longer.

Ensure the cam belts have been changed at 40,000 miles on M40 and M20 engines.

Early M60 aluminium V8 engines had a problem in the US with high sulphur content petrol. Around a quarter of these engines have been replaced, the rest received an EPROM mod to run the engine hotter but this reduced power. Later V8s had a different cylinder lining. If in doubt get a compression test.

Bodys are extremely durable if looked after but watch the bottom of the doors under the plastic trims.

Overheating in traffic may be a sign of a broken cooling fan clutch.

Ensure the heater blower fan works at all speeds and not just just full speed.

Some cars, such as the UK 535i Sport, have TRX tyres. These are old technology, expensive and offer bad wet weather grip. They also use a metric 390 or 415mm wheel so you can't fit normal tyres. Buying new alloys is the best solution.

The digital odometers on these cars can be reprogrammed by con men quite easily. Never trust a mileage reading without proof.

Odd problems with wipers, windows and cetnral locking may be a failing fusible link. This is a large fuse which caracks with age, cheap fix.

There can be a problem with alighnment of the wiper linkage causing the blades to park further down than they should.

M50 engines use a water pump with a plastic impeller. After 80k this can fail and leave little bits all around the cooling system. Replace it with the later metal style pump before it fails, not dear. M50s don't seem to like the cooling system being neglected, you need a fluid change every 2 years at least.

Of all BMW models this is the one you hear the fewest complaints about. The E34 is a very well put together car.