Whether you’re seeking a classic car for weekend trips or a stylish daily driver, the BMW 5 Series (E34) stands out as an excellent choice. Just one glance reveals a design that loudly proclaims classic BMW identity: dual round headlights set within a broad grill, and a reverse-hinged hood, directly nodding to the original Neue Klasse of the ’60s. Introduced in 1987, the E34 replaced the E28 5 Series and was succeeded by the beloved E39. Although the E39 is often hailed as the peak of the 5 Series by enthusiasts, a significant number of BMW aficionados reserve that accolade for the E34.

Indeed, the E39 boasts a more advanced suspension and a sleeker look, yet the E34 offers a rawer sensation and more traditional styling, alongside modern features such as ABS, stability control, and airbags — amenities absent in the E28 I previously owned. Prices remain accessible, making it an ideal entry point into classic BMW ownership without facing steep costs.

What Model to Buy

The E34 was available in sedan and touring forms, with engine options including 4, 6, and 8 cylinders, as well as a 6-cylinder diesel. There was also an E34 M5, powered by the motorsport-derived S38 engine. This article focuses on US-spec non-M E34s, available with either 6 or 8 cylinder petrol engines. Instead of undergoing a typical facelift, the E34 saw gradual updates throughout its production.


Initially, the 525i was equipped with the M20B25 I6 from the E30 325i, a straightforward single overhead cam engine producing 167hp. It features a timing belt requiring replacement every 4 years or 60k miles, alongside periodic valve adjustments. Prospective buyers of an M20-powered vehicle should verify the timing belt’s maintenance or plan for its immediate replacement to prevent catastrophic engine damage. In 1991, BMW introduced the new M50 to the 525i, boasting double overhead cams, a maintenance-free timing chain, and hydraulic lifters, eliminating the need for valve adjustments. This engine increased power to 189 hp, a 13% improvement. The last update, in 1993, introduced VANOS to the M50TU, maintaining the power output while slightly boosting torque. The M50 variants are preferred for their power and simpler maintenance, though they sacrifice some character and sound compared to the M20.


Available until 1993, the 3.4 M30B35-powered 535i succeeded the E28’s M30 variant. Introduced in the late ’60s and continually updated, the M30 produced 208 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, offering a powerful straight-6 option for the non-M E34. This older engine, like the M20, requires periodic valve adjustments but uses a timing chain, mitigating the risk of catastrophic failure. Known for its reliability, the M30 can exceed 300k miles without significant issues.


In 1994, BMW replaced the M30-powered 535i with two V8 options: the 530i and 540i. The 530i’s 3.0 M60B30 produced 215hp and 214 lb-ft of torque, while the 540i’s 4.0 M60B40 delivered 285 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. These V8s demand more maintenance than the I6s for reliable daily use. The 540i, offering a 6-speed manual unlike other E34s, is the recommended choice for V8 enthusiasts. Initially, the V8 models featured an exclusive wide kidney grill, which became standard on all E34s in ’95.

What to Look Out For

E34 BMW Engine

Rust is a major concern, especially on rocker panels, door bottoms, and jack points. Ensure the timing belt on M20 vehicles has been serviced. For V8 purchases, verify thorough maintenance by the previous owner to avoid costly repairs. A limited-slip differential (LSD) was optional until ’93 and later included with the cold weather package. Valuable for performance or in cold climates, LSD improves power distribution to the rear wheels. While many E34s are automatics, the manual transmission variants offer a more engaging driving experience, albeit harder to find and pricier but worth the investment.


Condition more than model affects price, with the top-tier 540i demanding a premium. Platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist may offer a 525i/30i/35i suitable for daily use between $4-6k. Spending $10k secures a well-maintained example in an attractive color, while surpassing $10k grants access to low-mileage units, M Sport versions, and 6-speed 540is.