While the marque of BMW still sits high on the throne of luxury motoring, the passages of time and the help of depreciation means sitting yourself in one of Ingolstadts finest is easier than ever. In fact the possibility of getting behind the wheel of a BMW these days is all but just a few grand away. Even at the small sum of a $1000 dollars you can find yourself in something like this, a 1993 BMW 525i.
Advertised as ‘parts only' I picked up a motor and transmission attached to a vehicle and hit the road. The 525i sits just one model up from the base with the biggest six cylinder but far from the range toping V8. Producing 141kw at 5900rpm and 250nm of torque at 4200rpm it's enough to move the large 1614 kg kerb rate around with reasonable vigour. If you can find a 525i I'd highly recommend it over the 520i as I can't imagine this car having a less powerful engine and still being tolerable.
While it might sound like I'm being a little harsh on the engine, it's velvet smooth and does what it needs to do in a refined manner rather than being an ‘in your face' power plant. Even sitting at 224,000 km's the engine, transmission and differential all feel solid and dependable.
The 5 speed automatic, ZF-made, gearbox I'd picked up features selectable sport, economy and snow (manual) modes. Economy is the best gear for cruising as it hunts for top gear and just generally goes about its job; sport mode will lock out 5th gear and hold gears longer and manual mode gives you full manual control. The gearbox was impressive because unlike a lot of modern automatic transmissions on cars today, it not only holds whichever gear you select but is also snappy when commanded to change. To test the system I knocked the auto into 3rd and attempted a standing start. According to the dashboard the car left in 3rd and it felt like it was still in third as well; and when the ZF does change gears, manual or otherwise, it's quick to engage the next gear.
While you could catch just a whiff of the ‘ultimate driving machine' unfortunately the ravages of age have caught up with the suspension. Initial turn in is sharp and the body felt composed through the bends but worn suspension bushings both front and rear made attacking the bends slightly unnerving and short lived. The chassis on these vehicles are very upset by worn suspension components which dilute the experience somewhat. Watch out for a shimmy in the front end as it is a common issue, also present on this car, which didn't show itself until over 60 km/h or under certain braking conditions.
Turning to the interior, the example here was one of the more basic models which didn't have a lot of the toys the 5-series could be equipped with. It did however score electric windows and the driver seat was very adjustable, but manual. Space for both driver and passenger was both more than ample and comes at the cost of rear legroom. Even at this age the levels of noise, vibration and harshness were low and wind noise on the driver's side was minimal. For a car of it size it also struggles to seat 3 adults across the back seat. It makes up for this though with a massive boot for the cars size.
The interior looked like that of a well-used 20+ year old car with a distressed (but intact) steering wheel, distressed instrument cluster and some trim pieces peeling of the door. Interior storage is a bit poor as well as there are limited places to stash items. Minor electrical gremlins can also crop up on some examples as the electrical systems were quite advanced for the time and small stuff like switch gear can be hard to come by.
Unfortunately at this price point almost all of the top half of the car had been affected by clear coat failure. However if you are willing to spend a bit more money, these cars are still a steal for someone wanting something a little bit different and luxurious.