BMW is not a brand known for large engines. In fact, its headquarters is shaped in four cylinders to represent its four-cylinder heritage. Most famously, though, BMW has been making small-to-medium sized inline-six engines for decades and have incredible success with them. While BMW has made V8s in the past, those sorts of engines aren’t what made BMW famous. Not for lack of trying, though, as the Bavarians attempted to release a high-end, buttery smooth, small displacement V8 in the ’90s. It just didn’t work out.
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The BMW M60B30 engine was the brand’s 3.0 liter naturally-aspirated V8, which is one of the smallest-displacement V8s I’ve ever heard of. The M60B30 was used in the E34 BMW 5 Series and it was one of the most high-tech engines BMW had ever made at the time. Quad-cam, 32-valve V8 that was designed to be smooth, refined and relaxed. And it was.
In fact, it was almost too smooth and calm for its own good. Enthusiasts and journalists actually knocked it for being too calm and not exciting enough. Though that was sort of the point of it. It only made 215 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque which, by today’s standards, is incredibly weak for a V8. However, it was more than enough for the E34 back in the early ’90s. Unfortunately, it was doomed in America before it even went on sale and America’s gasoline in the ’90s was the problem.
The block of the engine was cast iron but the cylinder lining was made from Nikasil, aluminum impregnated with nickel and silicone, and that really doesn’t like sulfur. Unfortunately, back in the era of Zubaz pants, American gasoline was lousy with the stuff, which would eat away at the lining of the M60B30’s cylinder walls.
BMW didn’t understand the problem until it was too late, as all of its testing was done in Germany where the gasoline was of much higher quality, lacking the pesky sulfur content that damaged the Nikasil lining. It then tried to fix the issue but to no avail. So the M60B30 engine ended up going the way of the Dodo.
Thankfully, U.S. regulation has changed drastically since then and there’s far, far less sulfur content in gasoline. So if you stumble upon an early model E34 BMW 530i with the M60B30 engine, you can get one now, if it isn’t already too damaged, and happily live with a great engine.