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Battle Royale: e39 BMW M5 v. f10 BMW 550i

BMW Keeps Cooler Than Owner in Texas Heat

bmw-5-series-instrumentationstaying cool…

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG via iPhone by Hugh

FILE this under random, but worthy.

My good friend Hugh, who calls the great state of Texas home, posted this snapshot of the instrument gauges on his E39 generation 5-Series sedan on Facebook. He also tagged it with choice commentary which we’ll touch on shortly.

There are many good aspects to note in this simple picture that reaffirms BMW’s icon status as a car company devoted to sound engineering practices.

Consider, for example, the red gauges. They’re colored this way to match the tailights of the world’s cars at night; helping to prevent driver distraction by limiting color contrast within the driver’s line of site.

And then there’s the enviable lack of hazard and vehicle malfunction lights. I write “enviable” because this 90′s sedan has 105,715 miles on the clock. With such use, that’s more than can be said for certain other new midsize luxury sedans from Germany.

Finally, there’s the fact that this half-way-to-classic Teuton is running true in 101 degree weather.

Don’t mess with Texas.

Four Teutonic Facelifts That Worked & One That Didn’t


The R129 generation (1989-2001) Mercedes SL – post-op

By Gunnar Heinrich

SUCH is the prolific lifespan of most of Stuttgart or Munich’s creations (typically 7-10 years) that mid-cycle “facelifts” are often called for to keep the Benzes and Bimmers appearing fresh against upstart competition.

Sound like the anxious existence of an aging Hollywood actress? Well, it is more or less.

Here are four cases in point where a trip to the plastic surgeon yielded a cleaner look that managed to eclipse the original plus one example that could’ve used a follow up…


BMW E34 5-Series (1988-1994)

Arguably the handsomest midsize sedan BMW has yet to build, the 5er was angular, lean, and cleanly drew the automaker into the 90s. But those facets that worked under the Bush Administration seemed dated mid-way through the Clinton years – particularly when most rivals were bulking up into heftier shapes.

Below, the easy fix.


The 90s refit added a lower apron to the front bumper – better channeling air to the front brakes – and  minimized the horizontal plastic slats – a styling cue from the 70s – in favor of adding painted sheetmetal surrounding the chromed kidney grille. The effect, however subtle, was a modernizing step that segued nicely into the succeeding e39 generation (1995-2003).


Mercedes-Benz R129 SL-Class (1989-2001)

The automotive press was merciless in their spite of the sport light by the time it had reached its finale in 2001. They labeled the Benz a “dinosaur” with all the big, lumbering connotations for performance that the attribution meant.

Still, when the SL made its debut in the 80s alongside the W126 S-Class, it was a pioneer in German excellence in design that had replaced the truly ancient R107 (1971-1989).  Still, the SL would receive not one but two facelift in its lifespan. The last (and best) occuring in 1998.


It’s amazing what tweaking the headlamps of a car can do to the overall appearance. With translucent lenses, we see a more dynamic face thanks the Xenon projectors. Visually, the “eyes” of the car appear wider, too.  That along with bolder body-colored bumpers, slightly twisted side skirts (on Sport packaged models), and larger, fewer spoked rims – gave more credibility to the “sport” in “sport light”.


Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class (1991-1999)

Hot on the heels of the W126 generation (1979-1991), many of the automotive press labeled this big Benz “too much of a good thing”. Indeed, its designer Bruno Sacco lamented that he thought the W140 “two inches too tall.” Whatever the case, Benz let pleats out of this suit and were quick to take it back in.


The 1996 refit turned the initial car’s frown upside down – yielding a smiling front air dam. The headlights were slightly tampered with too as were the side indicators which became translucent – replacing the bright signature Mercedes orange. There still wasn’t much Benz could do with the heavy appearance – but the second variation made subtle amends with added lines to regain a sense of surface tension that the original never had.


BMW E65/66 7-Series (2001-2008)

Portly and flamed to a crisp, the first of Chris Bangle’s new generation of flame surfaced BMWs left BMW’s former chief designer fearing for his life for the ire of incensed Bimmer traditionalists. Admittedly, the flagship Bimmer had a hard act to follow…but this was a bit much. Hence the hasty and comprehensive corrective surgery in 2005…


Once again, surface tension was introduced to a design that had none. Stronger lines cleaved into the hood and trunk cut through the original car’s bloat. That and taller wheels, more rectangular(ish) headlights, a smiling front air dam (the original glowered with two foglamps for clumsy fangs – think Sweetums from The Muppets ) and a cleaner boot line (less Bangle but) made for a sharper finish to this most controversial 7.


Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class (1995-2003)

Now for the exception. The first generation of the handsome, oval-headlamped midsize Benzes enchanted the automotive press when it was first unveiled. But quality control problems marred the sedan’s production life and Mercedes’ otherwise sterling facade – including an unforgivable lack of structural rigidity in the crash tests. Sadly, the best looking midsize Benz Stuttgart has yet built is also takes the top prize in poorest build quality.

w120-eclass-automobiles-de-luxeUnfortunately, the mid-cycle fix took away a large portion of the original W210′s charm. Strangely scalloped from air intakes replaced the first iteration’s form & function horizontal slats. The front bumper was reshaped giving the sedan less ground clearance and a more forward leaning stance.

Those signature oval headlamps lost the bright orange “eye lid” contrast to a milky, opaque disguise.  The afterthought side mirror signal lights didn’t work either for their inclusion seemed clumsily executed. Slimmer tail lamps, a more slanted grille, the list of missteps goes on…

And there you have it:  four facelifts that improved upon the original art work – and one that really didn’t.

Part II: BMW Trio

See Part One Here >>>

Thanks again ~

  • Richard Wolf
  • Newt Clark
  • Hardy Drackett
  • Neil Rogers
  • Jan Hering
  • Chris Reo
  • Tiffany Hopkins
  • Spencer Potter
  • Robert Rogers
  • Trevor Olsen
  • Kevin Kusina
  • Steven “Sound Guy Dave” Baker
  • Reto N. Morosani
  • Larry Henrikson
  • Max
  • Gregory Dwyer
  • Michael Schlief
  • Melissa Aitchinson
  • Lauren Post
  • Daniela Hering


Part Two will d
ébut next Tuesday, March 18 .

Proper credits to follow, but in the meantime ~

Thank You!

  • Richard Wolf
  • Newt Clark
  • Hardy Drackett
  • Neil Rogers
  • Jan Hering
  • Chris Reo
  • Tiffany Hopkins
  • Spencer Potter
  • Robert Rogers
  • Trevor Olsen
  • Kevin Kusina
  • Steven “Sound Guy Dave” Baker
  • Reto N. Morosani
  • Larry Henrikson
  • Max
  • Gregory Dwyer
  • Michael Schlief
  • Melissa Aitchinson
  • Lauren Post
  • Daniela Hering

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YouTube Link:

Teaser Video > BMW M5 / M6 / 550i Enthusiast Segment

Say it with me ~

The Out-Going BMW M5: Respect is due.

By Gunnar Heinrich

THERE is something about a BMW that once you are behind the wheel, the rest of the world seems frustratingly slow. In an M5, that frustration borders on road rage.

The first time I experienced an M5 driver’s fury was four years ago walking down Avenue Montaigne – a Parisian conduit that continues to be a showcase of fantastic automobilia (See my 11/29 column: “Luxury No Longer Foreign Concept To French Marques”).

I was on the sidewalk when the driver put his foot down and released the hammers of hell. The V-8 roar echoed down the street and it was exhilarating to hear and feel.

F U R Y !

Fast forward a few years and I have taken the repeated opportunity to be that driver behind the wheel of one 394 horsepower BMW M5.

There are cars that seem to bring joy to the world. School children, street racers, soccer moms, bikers, the gendarme, they all seem to love this car – and recognize the M5 instantly whenever its xenon eyed form appears.

The M5 is an everyday exotic; an automotive celebrity that suggests like the Mercedes-Benz 500E AMG did that it is indeed the “Porsche Killer,” but assures us it will behave itself in the daily commute. If only the driver could.

Get in.

The door closes with that often quoted “thwump” that is both soft and secure.

- Breathe -

That magical aroma of BMW leather. I swear it’s an aphrodisiac.

Twist the key.

I am treated to that wondrous familiar tune that graces every BMW driver from the 80s on. It is an unmistakable start. The car awakens with a healthy shudder and then idles softly. To the enthusiast, it is the returning embrace of an old friend.

Take the six – speed burled-walnut shifter in hand and select reverse. True to BMW, the passenger mirror tips in acknowledgement. The Parktronic sensors intrude with their unwanted chirps.

Twirl the wheel, it’s light but just right at standstill.

Put it in first. Remember to turn on both the Xenon headlamps and the fog lamps – it makes for a sharp impression day or night.

Securely in gear, clutch in, brake pedal held and then…

Forward I go, slowly. I can feel every undulation in the pavement through the steering wheel. This car is fitted with Michelin’s latest low profile racing slicks and they add to that ready-for-action sensation.

Check the GPS monitor. It’s on the blue screen, chock full of options. That one black knob at the monitor’s lower corner holds the key to every feature – and damn is it frustrating to fiddle with. Leave it be for now – cars are to be driven.

I feel low in relation to the road. There is little hood to be seen from my vantage point and where it ends is left to my vivid imagination.

The cockpit is traditional BMW – intimate and driver oriented. The position of every switch and button is skewed to my favor. ASC and tyre pressure sensors are on. There is no excuse, no shifting responsibility, the command is mine and I hold the reins of this Teutonic beast.

Right foot goes to floor. And I am met with a slight hesitation. That’s ASC wanting to know if I really understand what I am getting myself into.

Yes I do.

Rocketed forward I am now onto an onramp homing into fast moving traffic. The M5 is much too fast for me. I struggle to keep up with the revs. I shift again, and again, and now I am past the century mark, the traffic is suddenly way to slow. This is car is too fast for me.

I ease off the pedal and cruise in sixth.

In no other car that I have driven has 110 mph felt so effortless and comfortable. The M5 is the master of deception.

Suddenly paranoia comes over me.

In most any other car 110 mph is a destabilizing speed. And BMWs, like the most sensitive of ladies, are very deceptive about their actual weight. The Michelin racing slicks aren’t fooled. They are telling me in the bends that inertia exists with this 4,000+ pound machine.

My paranoia gets the better of me and I pull back to an impossibly slow 80 mph.

Now I am bored.

The dynamic nature of this machine! The M5’s sheer capability and insulating qualities serve to embolden the driver far beyond rescue-able speeds.

A yellow Audi S4 wants to play. It’s hot on my tail and not leaving. Needless to say, the Audi is kept where it belongs, in the rearview mirror. According to Road & Track, the M5 is in every way the more capable automobile than the S4.

The time comes to exit stage right and do the back-road twist.

Driving at 7/10ths, this engine is being matched by an even faster suspension. For sudden drops and undulations that would cause lesser vehicles’ shocks to bottom out and jarr the driver are met and dispatched smoothly. The car’s handling trumps every BMW standard – which, of course, is the ultimate.

Still, those Michelin Pilots are nervous. They are slick shoes that give the car a tense manner that makes me nervous at speed. The difference between the latest Michelins and a previous set of performance Yokohamas is that turn-ins went from fast to sudden.

The brakes throughout all of this are signature BMW; aggressive in their response and blessedly fade free. The braking into a corner is modulated nicely with anti-yaw sensors that keep that inertia at bay. The master at work…

Curiously, the engine sounds distant. Those hammers of hell must be for the outside world to hear for the car is quiet.

The Power.

Every time my right foot gets immediately heavy, the car’s actions invoke ear to ear grins and cackles. Push the hidden sport button and the machine gets really tense and my times feel (and probably are) 25% faster.

To add some audio to that sensation with quick taps of five buttons, I lower all windows and open the large moonroof. Ah…there they are…those distant hammers of hell. They bellow behind me from the stainless pipes.

Time to rest.

Park the car – careful not to park to close to that cement parking barrier– for I know the front spoiler to be perilously low to road.

At standstill the M5 is tranquil at idle. There is no clue, no let on of the marathon the BMW just ran. Impressive machine.

Look about the cabin.

Teutonic technology is everywhere. In your face gadgetry. Not for me. It’s all very soulless. I guess all the soul is wrapped in the actual act of driving the machine, for it’s absent in the cold cockpit décor.

Still, the aroma of the leather is teasing me. It has got to be an aphrodisiac!

I look up to find that a new silver 5-series has just parked alongside me. The owner gives me a nod of respect. The M5 is the leader, after all. I pause to wonder what the new V-10 will be like. Bigger and better is the way of the current horsepower race.

Still, this generation M5 has been the iconic sports sedan for nearly a decade – the ultimate driving machine has done its bit for King and Country.

Respect is due.