Owner Review

1994 BMW 540i Review

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My wife drives a 2014 F10 LCI BMW 520d (“Luxury” model according to the badge). I get the impression that while she may not be disgruntled, she is far from being gruntled with it. That’s a little unfair because the 520d has never put a foot wrong. It does a lot of miles taking her to work and taking us and our two young boys all over Sydney. It is genuinely handsome, refined, economical, and laden with all the latest gizmos. It is, however, not an excitement machine. Bill Shorten has more personality than it does.

My 1994 E34 BMW 540i is a different beast entirely to its younger sibling. The 540i is an old fashioned charmer and a bit of bruiser. It is just not possible to be unimpressed by it. Here’s a shortlist of reasons why:

1. For starters it is still a lovely thing to look at it. Especially from the rear where the lines are clean, crisp and without unnecessary flourishes. It takes real design experience and confidence to achieve that. Look at any new Lexus to see what happens when designers fail to say no to any idea that pops into their head – you get lines and bulges and tacked on bits polluting every surface.

2. It rides on 15” wheels, 60 series tyres, and standard suspension (being the Executive model, not the Sport model). That means ride comfort people. Remember when cars used to ride well?

3. The dove coloured leather and walnut woodgrain hit the centre of the dart board 20 years ago and nothing has changed for my taste. Then again, in my opinion, it should be unlawful to sell a sedan that costs more than $100K without a woodgrain interior.

4. It has a 2G Nokia car phone in the centre console just in case Prime Minister Paul Keating calls.

5. When I was at school I knew with certainty when my friends had rich parents - they had a car with a CD changer in the boot. Of course, so does the 540i. I am sure that does not make me rich in the eyes of onlookers today, but I do like that in this car it is always 1994 and you are living in the future.

6. It is a big dumb V8 and it sounds like a big dumb V8. At least it does now that I replaced the factory rear muffler (which must be one of the largest mufflers in automotive history) with a slightly less restrictive unit. The new exhaust tips look as close to stock as I could get because that’s important. Below 2000rpm it sounds chunky. Above 4000rpm it sounds like a NASCAR. I like that very much.

7. It is surprisingly rapid when you are into it. The 210Kw 4L V8 spins freely and pulls hard up high in the rev range. Yet on a Sydney-Port Macquarie-Sydney trip over Christmas it returned 8.5l/100kms.

8. It has 210,000kms on the clock but has a good service history. It was a country car and the stone chips on the bonnet are testament to a life previously spent on dirt roads. Yet every button works. It uses no oil. The ZF 5 speed automatic is pretty good too, you just need to let it get warm. The thing simply starts first time every time. Thank you Germany.

9. The colour code is “Calypso Red” which makes me think of Malcolm Marshall and Viv Richards for some reason and I like that too.

Mostly though, I am proud of this car. It cost next to nothing, but its value to me is enormous. In 1994 (when I was an 18yo car nut) I would have done almost anything to own it. It cost $130K new and that was about what Mum and Dad’s house was worth. A new 540i was unobtainium on the periodic table. When I bought it was sitting on a second hand car yard lot on Parramatta Road. That was a perilous situation for it to find itself in. It could have gone one of two ways. It could have been permanently ruined by a P plater with $5K in his pocket who wanted to tint, lower, and fill the boot with subwoofers. But it went the other way because of me and I’m proud of that. I decided to save it from being disgraced. It is now being treated to whatever new parts it needs and only being driven to my local train station and back each day. That’s a pretty good life for a car I reckon.

I hope I have preserved it for many years to come and future owners to enjoy. A German muscle car from a time period when luxury was found embedded in the quality of the engineering, not written on a cheesy badge.