When a man is bored of manuals, he is bored of life, or so some petrolheads would have you believe. I beg to differ. In fact, when stuck in the M25 rush hour grind on a Friday evening, I challenge you to tell me that an extra pedal and a choice of ratios (none of which ever seem to be quite right as the traffic pulses forward) would make the experience more pleasurable. With a motorbike in the garage for sunny weekends, I needed something that would suck up daily drudgery without fuss.
So enter my waft-tastic barge: a 2001 BMW ‘E39’ 530i. This is about at home on the outside lane of the motorway as a suit jacket would be hanging in its back window.
The 3.0 litre petrol in BMW’s traditional straight-six format has just about enough urge to shift its bulk, if nothing more. A V8-powered 540i would’ve suited it better, but they go for three times as much, and it would be bold to claim an extra 1.4 litres of displacement would have made the car three times better.
Inside, the cabin has everything a middle-ranking exec would’ve wanted in 2001: a decent stereo, cruise control and climate control (which, unlike most 15 year old sheds, didn’t ‘just need a re-gas’, and worked perfectly in Wednesday’s 37 degree heat). In fact, the only feature it lacks it a bit of cowhide on the seats.
Usual E39 problems include cooling systems, automatic gearboxes, a 50mph steering wobble, and, as you might suspect of car that could’ve spent twenty years on Britain’s salty roads, rust.
I chose mine on the basis that it was rust free, had had most of the cooling system replaced recently, and the autobox had been refurbished 30,000 miles ago. The 50mph shimmy is present, but that just gives me another excuse to drive faster…
And the cost? This facelift SE spec car set me back precisely £1000. It may be 15 years old and currently sitting on 160,000 miles, but bar the steering wobble, a loose mirror housing and some broken cup holders, you really wouldn’t know. Forget ‘Shed of the Week’, for me this is the shed of the century!
What next then? I’m quite infatuated (if you hadn’t already worked it out), so I think the ‘Fünfer’ will be a keeper. It can manage mid-30s mpg on a run and high-teens in town, but I’m tempted to stick an LPG kit on it and halve my running costs – what would you do?