G’day from sunny Brisbane, Queensland Australia! My name’s Daryl however I go by the online name Dodgy Haro on most car forums (clubroadster + club4AG) which I participate in. My car background is mainly JDM (previous AE86 and Na6 Miata owner amongst other cars) however I do appreciate European rides too and how they generally handle better on highways and don’t impart that plastic feeling you get from some Japanese cars.
For those who can be bothered to read, I’ve just taken delivery of my new (old) 2001 BMW E39 525i sedan in gorgeous imola red about a week ago. She is a bit tatty cosmetic-wise however she is a diamond in the rough to my eyes.
I’ve always lusted after an E39, believing it to be one of the most gorgeous designed sedans and one of the few cars which will make me turn my head twice to look at and admire. As such, it’s always been at the back of my mind to acquire one of these beauties someday, particularly one with the M sports package. Unfortunately E39’s were expensive cars when first released in Australia (about $90k AUD) and they retain their values well even up until a few years back. I remember wanting to purchase one of these back in 2007 however they cost about $30k AUD then so I decided to go with a cheaper 1990 E34 525i car back then (go the single cam M20 not!) which introduced me to the joy (and troubles) of owning an older Bimmer. My old E34 was great when running however it suffered from cooling and idling issues a lot – no matter how much I changed and replaced the thermostat, drilled drain holes and did all sorts of different coolant filling methods, I never could seem to get rid of an apparent air bubble in the system and the car kept overheating as a result. Eventually it got to a point where I tired of that car and offloaded it for next to nothing to a German backpacker who was looking for a cheap ride around Australia. You’d think it’d have been a case of once bitten twice shy however I decided not to let that period of ownership sour my feelings for the E39. Comparing back then to today, we now see lots of E39’s falling in value to a point where the average price in Australia is about $7k and upwards for a good example with reasonable mileage. My particular car currently has about 180,000 km’s on the chassis which I deem acceptable for the age.
There’s a bit of history behind this car – I’m nearing my forties (yes, some of us come from different walks of life) and am about to become a first time dad so I used the excuse of an impending child to pester the wife for a four door daily ride – fellas, listen closely :P. When it came around to checking out available E39’s for sale, this was the first car I test drove and fell in love with, despite all the things I could see wrong with it.
Upon initial inspection a few months back, it was plain to see the following problems:
- It had suffered previous frontal damage in an accident (misaligned bumper and headlight);
- It had no record history;
- Tatty interior… driver’s seat ripped, dried leather, drivers door rubber falling apart, worn leather steering wheel, finicky sunroof operation and so on;
- Bonnet latch does not retract;
- Odd paint chips and scrathes here and there.
That said, this particular car did have some redeeming features:
- Previous owner had spent a lot of money redoing the radiator / cooling system, replacing ABS module and sorting out an idling problem (new ignition coils etc);
- Don’t laugh but it had genuine M5 rims which are rare in Australia – unlike the US where people won’t bat an eyelid, we only had a handful of M5’s which made it down under (they’re like unicorns here just like the R34 skyline in the States – I’ve only ever seen one real E39 M5 on our roads here in QLD). When I saw the staggered M5 rims in person, my heart melted and I knew I had to have them.
- Look – NO RUST IN THE GAS CAP!
I do remember taking the car for a test drive back then when the roads were wet after some rainfall and was surprised as the rear came loose on those rear 9.5” wide rims whilst going through a roundabout for a brief moment before the DSC cut-in. That surprised me a bit at first however I’ve since heard that DSC in the older cars kick in only when the rear has already slipped out and doesn’t cut in before traction is at that breaking point unlike newer cars. I drove back and told the owner I’d consider the car – my heart at that stage told me to buy it there on the spot however the head was holding back after my initial experience with my previous E34 and repeating to myself that a Japanese car would be more practical and lead to trouble-free servicing and ownership. Sadly at that point back then, my head won out and I decided to withhold buying the car as the wife and I had already planned a holiday trip to Japan and I decided not to deplete the personal funds just yet.
Fast forward to last week when I had returned from Japan and I was happy to see that despite a few months passing, this car was still for sale. I believe lack of history and the front damage must have put off anyone who came to see the car. However, I could also see that the previous owner had a real passion for cars and had babied the car during his ownership tenure so knew that the car was respected and not thrashed. Also, I believe I was approaching this with realistic expectations in mind – as Magnus Walker said ‘Expect the worst and hope for the best’ … Without a second test drive, I placed a deposit and as a result, found myself bringing her home last weekend. All I can say is that the drive to bring the car home made me smile more than once as I sat behind the wheel of this E39 and marvelling at how much better it was than my previous E34.
I know most people will say it’s only a 525i and it’s auto however for everyday driving requirements, this suits me perfect. My previous ride was a slammed Toyota Echo so this E39 change is definitely an upgrade hands down. Still, I can understand why some people will say it is a slow car … it’s not a race car however for a cruiser and getting around at a leisurely pace, this car has more than enough get up and go and the fuel economy is really great given the size and weight of the car. If I could have the car for weekend drives only, I am sure I would have chosen a 535 or even a 540 instead however for a daily, this is perhaps the best compromise. My only complaint is that we never received any manuals here in Australia with the exception of the M5 models.
Anyway, I’ve already started amassing a lot of parts to start servicing the car. One positive thing about the E39 is that there is so much wealth and info about this model out there on the web however the downside is that when you read all the problems people have encountered, it is so easy to develop a phobia that anything and everything will go wrong – to a point when you might find yourself buying spare parts which you do not need. I must admit I do have a particular phobia of a busted gearbox – the fear stems more from the cost of either replacing or repairing the auto box as the cost to do would probably be more than going out and buying another E39. ^_^ You can also imagine my shock at being quoted $80 a litre for replacement ATF fluid of the Esso LT71141 sort from the local stealership. It’s a good thing with further research I have found that ATF fluid research since the 90’s has come up with suitable replacements at affordable prices. Nice to know that the purists are catered for (if you have $$$ and only want the same fluid as came from the factory) however when it comes to being sensible and practical, I’d go for the cheaper option most times if it is good enough and works.
- Leather cover for steering wheel (I’m not a perfectionist but am practical – buying a new replacement steering wheel would cost 10 times what I paid for a leather cow cover);
- Yellow 3M tint for the foglights;
- H7 HID lights (4300k) as well as white LED 10w angel eye halo bulbs;
- Replace radiator support which will hopefully re-align the headlight properly (ordered all the way from Ireland of all places);
- Auto transmission filter kit;
- Fuel filter;
- Vanos replacement seals;
- Bonnet plastic support;
- Realign the headlights – both point down indicating broken adjusters;
- New EBC brake pads.
When funds permit, I do intend to replace the suspension (probably Eibach and Blisteins – I’m over coilovers and a slammed ride) and also fit a front spoiler lip to the car to complete the external look. Unfortunately I am in the final stages of completing a house build so until that is done, I have no garage space to service or work on the car however hope to get around to this soon. In the meantime, the car remains at my parents safely waiting for me to claim her.
Will keep everyone updated as to how things go – still early days and knowing myself, I do have wondering eyes when it comes to cars but hopefully this car will remain with me for a while yet.
Thanks for reading – I do suffer the odd case of verbal diarrhoea now and then. 🙂