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BMW E39. Please tell all.

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  • BMW E39. Please tell all.

    I'm considering buying an e39 Petrol, 6 pot. I want to own BMW's "best" before they all disappear/become hideously expensive.

    I’ve owned older BMWs before so I know to expect worn bushes, various oil leaks and a possible cooling system rebuild if I’m taking the plunge. Any other major mechanical pitfalls?
    Any major concerns about rust on these? They don’t seem to rust like Mercs of the era, but they are all 20+ years old now.

    My real question is around which model. I know that only want a 6 pot petrol. So 520i/525i/530i. Does the car suit Manual or Auto better? Most of them are auto and I assume they are decent with that configuration. Is the manual worth seeking out?

    I’ve heard a few people say there’s very little difference between the 520i and 525i. Is this true? I think I’d prefer the 525 anyway. 530i are pretty rare here, so not really holding out for one.

    Not too fussed on M-sport spec. The SE spec cars tend to live gentler lives and at this stage can offer better value for money. On the right wheels the SE can look great anyway.

    Expecting to spend 4-5k for the car, the best looking M-sports seem to go for that, plus another 1k for initial fettling. Maybe I can get a decent SE for a bit less.

    Sorry for the slight ramble, but just looking for the wisdom of the E39 crowd. Thanks in advance

  • #2
    You've left out the 528i which I seem to recall was cited as the best all rounder in period. I wouldn't be too fussed about auto at this stage, those boxes were quite nice and (from memory) seemed to work with you rather than against you.

    Other than suspension, brakes, cooling system and rust I'd be thinking make sure everything electrical works. Rust is really killing the E46s now, most survivors I see are showing rot somewhere.

    As with all 20+ year old cars your enemy is deferred maintenance by multiple owners. You really have to find one that had a longer term owner who took an open chequebook approach to the car.

    I would also suggest sitting into one if you have not been in an E39 in a while. I looked at a few before settling on my E46 7 years ago and I felt the E39 had really dated inside, even then.

    Actually, have a check on parts availability too. I can't speak for the E39 but most stuff for the E46 is still available OEM and spurious but some genuine bits (steering rack IIRC) are NLA OEM and other bits are OEM only and crazy money (touring rear wiper motor is €300). I'd imagine it'll go the way of the E30 and E36 where running gear bits are always out there but interior bits and stuff like clips and seals are like gold dust. So in short a fixer upper might already prove difficult to get right inside.
    Last edited by Flet; 05-01-2023, 05:42 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring


    • #3
      I had one a good few years back. It was a 2001 525i Sport in Imola red. Lovely looking car.

      Mine was a manual and I wouldn’t really recommend them tbh, not a particularly nice change. I’d say the Auto would suit better.

      525i would be the pick of the bunch as the 520i is quite slow really and a bit underpowered.

      They do rust though, and the cooling systems are weak (just replace it all if it hasn’t been done). They warp front discs easily too in my experience.


      • #4
        I bought one on here earlier this year:


        Honestly it's one of the nicest cars I've ever owned. Mine is the 525 LCI model and it drives beautiful. The previous owner (who maintained the thread above) kept it in top shape and I've done my best to keep it that way regardless of cost (which isn't too bad)

        I would highly recommend the e39.. they drive superb, even the 525 has plenty of poke and I find the interior a lovely place to be.. honestly it's feels as premium if not moreso than a lot of modern cars imho.

        Regarding the engines... I think the 528 is the older m52 engine which has roughly the same output as the 525i m54. Both of these are highly regarded. The 520i is about 20bhp less and I had this engine in an e46 before and it was a bit of an oil guzzler but still a good motor.

        Attached Files


        • #5

          mine is one of the bigger engine models, but regardless ,they're a timeless shape. Parts supply is quite good, and they're simple to work on. Handbrake isn't brilliant , and obviously rust, otherwise just standard wear and tear.

          E39 M5, Mk2 GTI, Mk1 GTI, E30, Caddy vanyadda yadda

          Stupid questions are better than stupid mistakes.


          • #6
            Thanks all.

            Dull motoring fact that I only just recalled. I actually attended the launch of the E39 back in 1996 with my Dad, as he was an e34 owner and got d'invite as he was a "preferred customer" or some such nonsense. I was still in school.

            Launch was a very modest affair with 2 lhd blue e39s in a marquee like appendage on the side of Motor Import's building. The celtic tiger was only beginning it's nascent notions.

            Think I will narrow the search to the 525i and above.

            I've a very decent BMW specialist 2km from my door. So that helps the ownership proposition considerably.


            • #7
              I would say 525i or 528i would be the best all rounder and not have top tier tax. Now the 530i has a fantastic engine and a great car too. But if I was paying the 3litre tax, I'd just go all out and get a 540i v8 as prices dont seem to be a million miles away on these cars. I would avoid the 520i as I just don't think they have the power/torque in them to really enjoy the car as a driving machine. I'd even take a 525d or 530d over a 520i

              Which ever way you go though, it'll be a great car. The last really great 5 series in my humble opinion


              • #8
                I had an e39 530i Auto MSport a few years ago. I did alot of preventative maintenance, all bushings, VANOS seals etc. It was one the nicest cars I've ever driven. Super comfy, tight enough in the twistys for big cruiser, and just enough grunt to get you up the road (230bhp). The auto box was lovely in it too.

                Fun fact the 530i is actually 2995cc or something like that so ~€1400 to tax as opposed to the 3.0 litre plus ~€1800 tax.

                I reckon I'd still be driving it now if I hadn't of crashed it.



                • #9
                  I ran a facelift 520i for a while and have driven a few others with various engines. The 520i is slow and takes from the enjoyment. The car I had was the 2.2 and it wasn't bad, probably just about adequate. But yes, in terms of engine, probably the bigger the better.
                  Other than issues already mentioned, headlights are useless candles and the radio/speakers are not great. Facelift headlights with the angel eyes seem particularly prone to breaking causing the bulbs to drop down.
                  For rust, look everywhere, though one area that may be particularly prone and easy to miss is the inside of the sill towards the rear and under the back seat area.

                  They're a great car still. However, I drove one recently and (maybe predictably) it felt a bit dated. While it took me back and I admired it, what I used to feel was solid build quality and handling now felt like slightly cumbersome and heavy.


                  • #10
                    I had a 520i manual m sport for years would highly recommend it. In my opinion, manual is a nicer experience. Also try to find an original Irish car, mine was completely rust free and I’ve seen a few others the same.

                    Pretty big visual exterior and interior difference between se/msport and also suspension on the sport is fantastic. Completely comfortable without being boat like unlike modern bmw stuff, but I find the SE too soft. A family member has an SE model.

                    I had a 320ci sport at the same time and had to sell one car. I still have the 320ci, thought that was worth mentioning!

                    Would 100% consider another e39 in the future.


                    • #11
                      I had a manual 528i a long time ago. I liked it even with a manual box. and it would do skids around the field outside EOB's house (that's how long ago). I have fond but dim memories of it and nothing really went wrong. I would be happy to have one now but as Flet said, they have dated a lot.


                      • #12
                        I have had two of them, 520i with the 2.2 engine and a 530i so both different variants of the M54. It is a lovely engine but the 2.2 is underpowered and IMO the 530i was just about adequate. The m52 in the 528i produces 190bhp versus 231bhp from the m54 in the 530i so it is a considerable difference and worth the small premium on motor tax. Always go auto with the e39, the manuals can be a bit notchy.

                        Cooling systems need to be looked after as do all of the oil seals and gaskets. Sport models tend to be harder on suspension components and the ABS module will definitely require attention somewhere in the region of 100k miles.

                        Rust wise look at the sills, jacking points and bootlid tends to go around the keyhole.

                        Interior build quality is excellent, they are still a lovey place to be but compared to modern stuff do feel heavy and somewhat unresponsive so bear that in mind when test driving.

                        They are a great all round and ageing very well


                        • #13
                          I don't think I'll mind the dated aspect. It'll be run as a neo-classic anyway. I'll put it on a classic policy and doubt if I would trouble the mileage limits. So if it feels old ish, no big deal.

                          Just on the M-sport vs SE. Is the M-sport suspension just springs and dampers. Or is it ARBs and more?


                          • #14
                            The m sport suspension isn't too harsh on them. I had an e85 z4 m sport previously and found that uncomfortable. The e39 is firm but nice in msport guise.

                            The m sport has different trim and interior also apart from suspension. I think they look much better than SE appearance wise.

                            Re interior mine is high enough spec for an e39 so has the tv monitor radio, heated leather seats etc so I don't notice it too much as being dated.

                            It was a Japanese import and I don't see any rust but DadsMorrisMinor on here had new bumpers put on and some marks tidied up in his ownership. I think inside the fuel flap is a place they often rust also so check that.

                            I have it on my classic policy - there was no issue adding it
                            Last edited by MX5 Ryan; 05-01-2023, 09:14 PM.


                            • #15
                              I've unfortunately spent most of my time in e39 daysuls. 520i avoid, its just not got much welly at all.
                              I briefly drove a 530i auto - weapon. I came around to the auto eventually.. it works for the petrol cars too in its own way. Arguably 530i is torquey enough to not need it though. I think you'll have a very tough time finding a manual - so I wouldn't get stuck on it. You could swap a manual in later. 528i means pre-lci, a fine engine but I think m54 is nicer and as above you get same power from 525i.
                              Great cars - I would definitely go for m-sport, lots of nice improvements and look a million dollars.


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