(first posted 12/16/2013) Ever since childhood, owning a red Bimmer has been a dream of mine. Even today, as I’m in my 20s, this dream is still very much alive. Back to the nineties, and there were two BMWs that would have fulfilled this desire. The first was a E36 3 Series convertible. Nothing really says “90s Bimmer” like the E36, and of all body styles I preferred the convertible’s sleek looks best. The second car aforementioned, would be an E34 5 Series sedan, like our featured car, in red of course!
The E34 was one of the best BMWs of all time, combining advanced technology and safety features with excellent road dynamics and timeless styling in one of the most reliable BMWs ever. From a styling standpoint, the E34 was a culmination of BMW’s design evolution, characterized by crisp edges, quad round headlights, and thin kidney grilles that started in the ’60s. The E34 Touring (a.k.a. wagon) was especially sexy. BMWs after this point would tend to be rounder, softer, and frankly a bit pudgier.
Among the E34’s numerous advancements included increased structural rigidity, lower drag coefficient, dual front airbags, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, automatic stability/traction control, and an interactive on-board computer. The E34 was also the first passenger car equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission. In typical BMW fashion, numerous engine choices were offered, ranging from a 1.8L I4 all the way to a 4.0L V8. Interestingly, the M5 was propelled by an inline 6, although it made more power than the larger V8.
Interiors were tasteful with most models featuring a swathe of walnut trim, leather seats and door inserts, and on automatic-equipped cars, a rather classy looking shift lever that looked like the top of an elegant walking cane. Interior layout was very driver-centric, with the instrument panel angled toward the driver and all controls within his or her reach. While simple by today’s standards, the lack of technology overload is comforting, letting the driver focus on the joy of driving.
My favorite interior feature is the individual front seat armrests. I know it’s a totally boring aspect, but being only 5’7″, the center armrests in most cars are usually located too far back to use once I’ve adjusted the driver’s seat. I think they give the front seats a clubby armchair feel too.
But let’s get back to my original point – this car looked great in red! Sporty cars generally do look good in red, and it makes me really disappointed that clear-coat flame red has gone out of taste with most automakers in favor of 17 shades of silver. The same can be said for green, which looks equally fine on this car. If you can even get red on a new car, it’s usually a darker, less exciting shade of red. BMW does currently offer “Melbourne Red metallic”, a brighter shade available on its 3- and 4-Series. Could a Melbourne Red 435i be in my future? Maybe, but I’d go with a ’92 525i any day.
Great example of an E34. I remember lusting after this car, so much so that I bought a Nissan Maxima SE in 1994 because it looked so much like it, even got it in the dark green which the BMW looked so good in. Finally got an E39 530i in 2002. Without a doubt the finest car I ever had
In fact, the only reason E34’s might be a bit overshadowed these days is because the E39 that replaced it was so good.
Both are considered best in either rare M5 or less rare 540i 6-speed form. Although the late E39 530i with the sport package may be better all-around as it combines the superior balance of the 6-cylinder cars (and returns to rack & pinion steering instead of the recirculating ball needed to clear the V8) with plenty of power.
The E34 535i had the old M30 engine that powered the early 6 and 7-series. Great engine for its day but was soon replaced by the twin-cam 525i, V8 530 and 540 (E34 530’s are V8’s, E39 530’s are sixes).
I was good friends with a guy in high school who had a 92 Maxima and had BMW halos installed. It was a manual, and he installed a turbo. Cool car, but nothing beats my E34.
” While simple by today’s standards, the lack of technology overload is comforting, letting the driver focus on the joy of driving.”
You’ve just described perfectly why I was recently so tempted to buy an old fixer-upper 7-series. Given my current budget, it would have been a foolish, but very understandable purchase. This red E34 is beautiful. If it was for sale and I had the money, I’d buy it in an instant
One of the partners in my mother’s former practice had a ’94 E34 530i, while another had a ’92 Saab 9000 Turbo. This was back in the mid-’90s – I was just barely into my teens and even then I thought that the BMW blew away the Saab in terms of sophistication and design. The funny thing is, that 530i was way more reliable than the 9000, whose owner called it a “severe money pit.”
Mom was driving a 1993 Volvo 850 at the time. Different story for another day.
IMHO, one of the, if not the, best BMWs ever. Great looking (Guigaro I believe), superb presence, elegance and a mammoth ability to entertain the driver and transport passengers. Unmatched for its time and still one of the few BMWs I actually want.
Great find, and stunning in this (unusual) colour. The Touring was great too, and available as an M5…..
I agree, the wagon being the only post-1980 car that really interests me.
I think Ercole Spada was responsible for the design of the E32 and E34.
The original design, yes. It was Spada. The final design was done by J Mays, who is well-known for his time at BMW and Ford—and who is from here in Oklahoma, as it happens.
My dad had two of these, a 24 valve 525i and then a v8 530i. I loved them both at the time but I only drive each one once or twice. My dad thought the six cylinder was a bit underpowered, and the v8 transmission was a computer controlled unit that was supposed to adapt to the driver’s driving style and was (again according to my dad) to complex for it’s own good.
What is not a subjective point is that the v8’s, both 530 and 540, experienced early engine failure resulting from unlined aluminum cylinders and the ingredients in american gas that corroded the cylinders very quickly.
Also the very cool, two panel sunroof in the wagon tended to fail quickly as well.
The Nikasil cylinder liners reacted badly with the high sulfur content in US gasoline of the time and engine failures were common around 100k. This was a problem on early Jaguar V8s and various other European engines designed for lower sulfur European fuel too. With the introduction of low sulfur fuel in the states, any BMW V8s which haven’t failed by now are probably good to go for a long time.
The E34 came out not long after I bought my new MB 300E W124, and after seeing the first pictures, I wondered if I should have waited for this instead. And although I hold these cars in high esteem, for me they never quite matched the W124 in certain qualities, both tangible and intangible. The W124 exuded a certain pinnacle of organic wholeness of design and function that the E34 just couldn’t quite reach.
It may sound nit-picky, but I was never a fan of BMW’s overly-wide consoles, which impinged on my long legs.
Yes, Paul, there was something equally special and appealing about the W124 and E34. They were, for the most part, contemporaries, and each, IMO, was the essence of each brand. Very different cars, ostensibly catering to the same market, and both really appealed to me.
Today, the E and the 5 seem much more interchangable, with the BMW becoming less sporty and more luxurious like the Mercedes. I’d take either of the old models over the current models any day.
+1. It was so much better when these cars were each the perfect embodiment of their maker’s values, and therefore offered real choice, with both being great choices! I’ve driven the current generation of BMW 535i and MB E350, and had I been blindfolded I don’t think I could have told you which was which, as the driving experience was so similar (and strangely numb, I imagine courtesy of electric steering).
In 2006-07 I ran a 535iA E34 and W124 300E-24 (later replaced with a 400E) side by side. While the Bimmer looked and felt much more modern inside (compared to an early 300E), it was much more nervous and noisier on the open road. Heavier drinker with less comfortable seats too.
The balance and stability of both benzes were amazing. While the 300E felt very delicate and light on its toes, the front-heavy 400E was more of a flying brick at speed. Once drove it on all-seasons, with 4 folks abroad through a terrible snowstorm with bare ice all over Trans-Canada Highway from Banff back to Calgary – without much sweat. Miss the 400E especially.
I owned two E34s: a white-on-tan 1995 525i and a black-on-black 1995 530i. I’ve also owned a tan on tan W124 1990 Mercedes-Benz 300E. All truly remarkable cars for their era and even today. The E34s were a lot more fun to drive than the W124 but I have never seen another car in my life that had the solidity, poise, and granite-like build quality of the W124. Both my E34s had the driver’s door hinge snap off, interior door trim shrinking, rust spots, squeaky seats, twisted seatbacks lots of little things that the Mercedes-Benz, despite having far more miles than the BMW was rattle-free, no rust, nothing shrinking or busting off. The sound the doors made when closing was the most solid and reassuring slam you could have the privilege to hear. IMO, despite being a BMW fan, I believe for the time period, the W124 was a superior vehicle to the E34 in terms of build quality, longevity, and elegance.
I think this is when there was still a very clear dichotomy between the sporty, sprightly BMW models and the solid, capable Mercedes-Benz models. Depending on which qualities you valued, one or the other might be far more appealing.
Nowadays, they’re fairly similar and it’s down to styling or the best lease deal (I would pick the new A6 over both, FWIW).
And if you don’t like wide consoles, you’d have hated my 2014 MKS. I think the entire state of Texas could have fit in the gulf between the two front seats.
The wagon makes me weak in the knees. Loved these
THANK YOU!!!111!!! 🙂
I love these. And have done since I was a teenager and could see them being brand new. Same goes for the W124.
Mine would be an early dual cam manual 525i. Because of petrol prices and maintenance costs I wouldn’t use it as DD.
I just checked and these have trailing arm rear suspension. I thought they had a multi-link setup.
I loved the armrests too! Luckily some cars have console mounted armrests that slide forward. That aside, the E34 Fiver will go down as a legend in the pantheon of fine automobiles. Shame how the current 5 has gone so soft.
A red E34 was once at the top of my wish list as well. About 12 years ago I found and almost bought a red 540i with a 6 speed manual, an incredible and probably impossible to find combination. I ended up not buying it, spooked by the early V8’s cylinder wear problem reputation and the likelihood that the first owner of a car optioned this way may have been an abusive one, but not having it still haunts me a bit.
I remember a road test from about 1989 535is manual, it did have a rear wing that you don’t need on an E34. Great cars that with the W124 defined the type and still not ‘old’.
A client of mine had an E34, a 525 tds. Shiny metallic black paint, nice set of alloy rims, leather seats.
He used it to pull a tandem axle trailer, loaded with potatoes and onions. As a result of his profession and the roads he drove on the shiny metallic black paint and alloy rims were mud colored most of the time.
He should have bought a W124 diesel. A W124 pulling a trailer, looks more appropriate. His backroad-rig was a bit “unconventional”.
I have an E34 520i touring. Bought as a family hauler a few years ago, it’s no longer big enough and now relegated to second-car status, sitting in the garage most of the time. but I just couldn’t let it go. It’s just that I’ve always wanted one – basically since I saw my first one in circa 1992 -, and it’s still such a beautiful car; plus, I’ve invested too much work to just sell it for a handful of euros now.
It’s got the 24 valve twin-cam six with BMW’s VANOS variable valve timing; the latter is a feature I didn’t really want (adds complexity), but it helps the little 2.0 liter engine crank out 150 hp. Most may think that’s grossly underpowered, but it’s just adequate for my driving style, at least with a manual. For instance, I still haven’t reached top speed on the Autobahn, must be somewhere around 200 km/h. And fuel economy is pretty decent, too.
I had those cute little armrests at first too, but swapped out the original velour interior in favor of leather seats; and the ones I got don’t have the armrests. I know, it’s silly to replace velour with leather, but I just always wanted to have a car with leather. And it does look even more classy.
I also really like (madly love) the MB 124 wagons (especially because they’re available with seven seats!), and may still be tempted to swap my E34 for a well-preserved early S124 someday; but for now, I’m really happy I kept that great-looking BMW.
Ah, and I used to pull trailers with my E34 every now and again too. And yes, that does look a little off. Which is why when I installed my used trailer hitch a few years back, I got a detachable one, so at least it’s out of sight most of the time.
My uncle had a 520i 20 years ago to replace a 300E, I’m not sure why he went for that over the 525i other than perhaps to reduce the number of speeding tickets he got – he actually had a serious problem on his hands trying to keep his licence doing 50,000 plus miles per year and having a lead foot.
I like this a lot,I’ve never had a BMW but a 5 series has always been on my wish list.6 cylinders,RWD, comfortable 4 door sedan it ticks all the right boxes for me
I had a 94 525 Diamantscwarz shadowline spec with a stick and white leather interior. Probably the best car ive ever owned.It was very solid, but even if something went wrong it was simple enough to fix. Best balance of comfort, sportiness and simplicity. Loved it.
Probably the reason why i cant even look at the bmws of today.
Nice find and I can certainly identify with the writer’s feelings. Being a bit older than him, I was able to fulfill my dream.
Shortly after landing my first real job, I bought a sweet low mileage 535i with stick shift. This car was the perfect choice for my 170-mile week-end commute and it served me flawlessly for the following five years. Sporty when you wanted it, with its butter-smooth inline six effortlessly revving to 6000 rpm, yet composed and reassuring at 100+ mph speeds, it was also extremely reliable, never needing anything beyond routine maintenance.
Then, my daughter came along and it was time to find something with a big trunk. My trusty 535i went to a friend of mine and I trawled the Internet for an E34 Touring. My first choice would have been a 540i 6-speed but when I found a pampered dark green example with tan leather (one of my favorite color combinations), I bit and bought my first slushbox car ever. Surprisingly to me, the 540 felt quite different from the 535. Although the actual weight difference must have been no more than 150 lbs, the 540 felt like a much more substantial and luxurious car, every bit like a 7-series. It was also somewhat less reliable than the 535, blowing a radiator hose once. It was also considerably more thirsty.
I had one of these new, dark green with tan upholstery. Company car, so one of the smaller engines, but it still had the ability to entertain, and the quality of the cabin was sublime without being oppressive.
I wonder if Chris Bangle ever wakes up in the wee small hours and ponders the damage he did, not just to BMW’s classic looks and careful design evolution, but the broader impact of all those flares and cuts and gills and swages and whatever else that make today’s cars look like Transformer toys.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown older, but BMWs, Mercedes and Audis used to look like cars for grown-ups; now they look like whacko concepts with their overwrought styling, silly lights and general LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME appearance. Bentley and even Rolls-Royce no longer look adult, they look like what they are, cars for footballers.
Sorry, that turned into a bit of a rant, I must be tired. Probably explains why I’ve ended up with a Volvo V70…!
I love the E34! I remember when they first came out, I thought they were gorgeous and even better looking than the E32 7 Series. I knew a few folks who had them, including a Cashmere Beige 525i and an Orient Blue 530i. Both were great cars, but I was particularly amazed by the 530i, which was a manual–in a V8! As the 1990s rolled on, I developed a full bore case of BMW-itis, especially with the arrival of the E36. A 1996 328is was my first BMW (Montreal Blue over Light Gray) with the sport package. I LOVED that car, and wish that I still had it. We also got an E39 5 Series as my wife’s car in 1998, a Black over Black 540i. Arguably the best car we’ve ever had. Sadly, BMW’s current generation doesn’t have quite the same lust factor for me, though I’d probably find a 435i pretty tempting.
Great cars. Back in the late 90’s I had a ’92 525i 5-speed. Not much in the power department, but man was that drivetrain silky smooth. And as previously mentioned, a true driver’s car versus today’s techno overloaded cars.
I had a ’92 525ia back in the late ninties and it was my first BMW. It was the first car that made me feel special since it was so capable and well built. While the 2.5 190 hp motor was sluggish off the line, it had a cammy racy feel at high way speeds when pressed. Black on black beuty that I still miss, dependable too!
“Favorite BMW 5-series” is a pretty accurate indicator of one’s age. I’m horrible with BMW nomenclature but recognize Brandon’s fave as a classic, though I would prefer a late 70s 528i. It has the more archetypal 5-series look and was new when I was a kid.
The gen after the feature car is nice too. The Bangle model that followed was ghastly. The latest 5-series is a handsome car though I have an issue with the hood cut llne at the front, it’s too straight. I saw a Kia K900 on the road the other day and thought it was a next gen 5-series.
I feel the 2500/2800/Bavaria started this BMW look that continues to today. The 2002 was kind of its own thing.
Brendan not Brandon sorry! I’m horrible with human nomenclature as well.
I love these E34s. I bought a ’91 535i with the manual trans and cold weather package – which gave you a Torsen LSD in the rear – right before I graduated college about three years ago. Great car, mine had 190k on it and I daily drove it for about a year. It had sat for years before I bought it, and developed some problems that I believe were the result of sitting. Eventually, I got tired of DDing a car with no AC or heat and sold it for my first of three E36s.
The M30 motor is solid and makes decent power/torque, and gets horrendous mileage. I got ~17 mpg no matter how I drove it.
A good friend of mine has a ’90 535i Automatic. She’s had it for ten years, does all the work herself, has repainted it (clearcoat on the original green paint failed) herself, and is about to cross 300k miles. Just wonderful cars.
I’ve been tempted by these several times…but the left brain always gets the last call. Some day…
Last summer, my father purchased an absolutely mint, single owner 1995 540i. Black on black, 100k miles…everyone in our family loves it. It’s a complete gem of a car. My parents drove it 1000 miles to Prince Edward Island this summer, and enjoyed every minute of it. And, amazingly for an old Bimmer, it’s in perfect mechanical condition and seems to have no reliability issues whatsoever.
Glad I’m not the only 5’7″ CCer…! My former bosses back in the 90s had an ’89 525i sedan. It was a gorgeous deep, deep blue metallic, with black cloth interior. I drove it numerous times from about 1996-98.
The downside was the interior quality was, frankly, not as good as it should have been – the cloth inserts on the door trims were warping at the corners and pulling away from the rest of the trim. There was some pretty average plastic too, and as for those sideways facing door-mounted air vents…!
But those were the only negatives, and they were seriously forgotten after about 5 seconds driving it! Although just the 120kW/160hp M20-series 2.5 straight-6, it was super smooth and mighty quick for what it was! It gave me my first (and to-date, only) taste of speed-sensitive intermittent windscreen wipers (the faster I went the shorter the gap between wipes). It also gave me a huge surprise-and-delight moment when I discovered the auto gearbox not only changed down when braking, but blipped the throttle between downchanges – awesome or what?! The best thing about it was the sound though. Straight 6s tend to sound magnificent, and this was a particularly mellifluous and rather loud example. My boss (who’d acquired it second-hand) took it to his dealer asking them to fit quieter mufflers. They popped it on the hoist, and discovered it had NZ$4,500 (in the mid 90s!) worth of factory-option big-bore freeflow sports exhaust on it. Well that explained the volume of delicious ear-candy…! My boss thankfully concluded he should leave the exhaust alone, which I thoroughly approved of each time I took the long way from work to dropping it at his house.
Would I have one today? Well the interior quality wouldn’t thrill me and those front side airvents are annoying, but they’re easily the best looking larger BMW sedan to date, and the S6/V8 engines were brilliant, so, so brilliant…
I saw this car in Chinatown the other day, and although I’m not usually one for aftermarket modification, this is one beautiful car.
I own an E36 convertible and love every bit of it. now I’m eyeballing this E34 wagon and I’m excited. reading about them just galvanized my resolve, I’m game.
We’ve owned 2 BMW E12 5-series.1 was a 525 and got traded for a 520 which had an engine swapped for a Toyota engine.The 525 was the the facelifted model and the 520 was what can be considered to be nearing its end of production model.I was hook with BMW once we owned the 525.Mind you that the one we got was really a money pit.At least it gave me the driving experience of BMW.Anyway both got sold years ago and I do not own any more BMWs.I always like the pre-Bangle era BMWs expecially the E30,34,36 & 39.Never driven the 1st gen X5 though but the E39 (imho) is the last of the real ultimate driving machine.I’ve driven the latest 5 & 3 series but even though they are nice to drive,they somehow lost that particular magic that made BMW…well BMW.
My mostly loved car of all I have driven in my life is 5er e34 BMW. I bought it almost accidently mostly because I was a fan of e39 interior (which seems to me perfect interior built ever) but couldn’t afford it. So I got this 5er. Mine was 530i v8 automatic black sedan with beige interior. I fell in love with the car the same second I pressed the gas and felt how sportive this beast is. And when I made few turns I was absolutely enslaved by this car. How amazingly responsive this car is! You become one with the car! The feel of dimensions is so precise you can go through very narrow holes especially when driving in heavy traffic. So much fun! And making turns in controlled slip is something this car created for. This car made all of my feelings satisfied! The look, the perfect design. The sound, v8 made some tasty noises even with stock exhaust. The comfort. This car gives you luxury comfort, everything at hand and nothing really bothers. E34 is the only car for me that caused EMOTIONS and I have driven some sick cars to compare. If I could buy this car new and maybe with e39’s interior that would be perfect car to me. Yet the body design looks kind of ‘classic’ it is so perfect time can’t take it’s brutal beaty away. Thanks to those who built this car, you are genious!
Funny you mention this. Before I bought my current project car–future COAL coming–I had my eyes on a 1992 E34 525i in nearby Dallas. It was silver, it had a 5-speed manual transmission, and it was in very good shape. Unfortunately, someone else pulled the trigger before I could get there.
And I’m with you on the individual armrests. It’s very classy. As you probably know from your stint with Land Rover, some of their cars still have them in addition to the central front armrest. Also, Lexus put individual armrests on its earlier SUVs (the LX from 1999 to 2007, the RX from 1999 to 2009 and the GX from 2003 to 2009). Now that I think of it, wouldn’t your Highlander have also had them?
Another 90s gem. I have never seen one in red in person that I can recall. A couple of years ago I looked at one in the ubiquitous gray, and while it drove well, the thought of expensive repairs scared me off.