Curbside Outtake: BMW 518g Touring – Nothing But a G-thang

On one of my lunch hour strolls through one of Berlin’s more bourgeois neighborhoods I came across this E34 wagon and I could not believe what I saw: A 518g! Easily the rarest (298 produced) and definitely the most obscure of all BMW E34s, it just sat by the curb like it wasn’t Easter, Christmas,New Year’s and a Total Eclipse of the Sun on a single day.

The 518 g could be powered by both natural gas and „normal“ gasoline. In addition to the regular fuel tank it had a natural gas tank holding 14 kilogram of natural gas which allowed for 250 miles of additional range. With European tax incentives for natural gas powered vehicles, this meant you could cut fuel cost in half when running the wagon-only 518g on natural gas. Doing so also took away 14 of the 115 not-many-to-begin-with horses from the heavy wagon – leaving all but 101 to power to propel 3000+ pounds of Bavarian steel. When running on natural gas, it could reach 62 miles in 16.2 seconds and go all the way up to 114 miles (13.6 and 120mph for gasoline).

The 518g was based on the already rare 518i – a non-US base model that was offered briefly with the M40, then with the M43. Take rates were low. I once rode in an example of a 518i sedan – with more than 250k miles on the clock – and was positively surprised. The 1.8 liter actually has more low rmp torque than the 520i. Which is like saying Iceland is a warm country – the weather there is so much better than in Antarctica.

Still, I find the idea of large cars with small engines intriguing – if only for their weirdness and rarity. Which are your favourite ones?

This example though may be the rarest big car small engine combination that I have seen on the roads over the past couple of years. It is in fact so rare, that I have considered that the owner put a fake model designation on the trunk lid. It would be a very funny sense of humor indeed, a joke that maybe fewer people get than 518g’s were produced.

Fun fact: A 1.6 liter version of the „g“ M43 engine was also offered in the E36/5 316g compact– the hatchback E-36 3-series that in the US was offered only in 318ti guise. In that chassis engine combination the “little G” was good for 0-62 miles in 15.6 seconds – when running on natural gas which reduced hp from 102 to 80. Only 468 were produced.