The story of the creation of the third BMW M5 generation (1998-2003) is less well known, making it even more interesting. Alexander Hildebrandt, Head of Product Marketing at BMW Germany, was the Marketing Director at BMW M until 1998. He was also the Project Leader responsible for the BMW M5 (E39). “I well remember the discussions about the BMW M5, and how – in the eyes of some M fans – it still had a flaw,“ he said. It concerned the V8 engine, which ended the era of the six-cylinder for BMW M5. The wistfulness of the fans was understandable: after all, the engine that saw its premiere in the in the legendary BMW M1 was being discontinued. But that didn’t change the fact that the new BMW M5 was expected to once again set new standards, and for that it had to have serious power under the bonnet.
THE BMW M5 OF 1998.
Shaped by customers’ wishes.
The V8 soon proved to be the only worthy solution to fulfil these performance demands. However, many other alternatives were tested in the development of a contemporary concept for the BMW M5. These ideas ranged from a highly charged six-cylinder engine to the V8 engine, which eventually won. Time was also ticking, because the production of the second generation was drawing to a close. Finally, the decision was made to take the series 8-cylinder from BMW. The engine was upgraded so that it more than met the high standards BMW fans and customers held the BMW M to. And the experiment paid off. “This BMW M5 is the most successful car that we have put on the markets,“ emphasised Alexander Hildebrandt. Why was that? Behind the classic, sleek appearance lurks a true sports freak. Where else at that time could you get a series sedan that enabled transverse acceleration of 1.2 g? A major factor in favour of the BMW M5 could be found in the US market: the BMW 3 without the M-typical single throttle valve had already made a good showing there. So BMW USA could easily imagine that the M5 would enjoy similar success with its concept.