The 2012 BMW M5 may be stealing headlines around the world, but its debut is yet the latest page in a history that spans almost thirty years and five generations of cars. Here’s a quick look back at the lifespan of one of our favorite sports sedans.
1972: BMW elects to replace its aging New Class sedans with a new midsize range dubbed the 5 Series. Coincidentally, BMW Motorsport GmBH was founded as a semi-independent wing devoted to racing pursuits.
1978: BMW Motorsport launches the shapely M1 sports coupe, marking its first first foray into producing unique road-going cars. Little more than a lightly-civilized race car, the M1 packed the new M88 dual overhead cam 3.5-liter I-6, which was good for 272 hp at 6500 rpm.
1979: Motorsport’s attention turns to the E12 5 Series for the first time, resulting in the M535i. Specail features included unique front and rear spoilers, Recaro seating, upgraded brakes, a limited-slip differential, and a close-ratio transmission. Underhood, a 3.5-liter I-6 provided 215 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. Roughly 1400 were built, but none were sold in North America.
1988: M535i production lasted all of a year, but Motorsport’s next take on the 5 Series — the first real M5 — wouldn’t arrive for another seven years. The E28 M5 abided by many of the same principles used to create the M535i, but now packs some significant power. A revamped version of the M1’s mill, the M88/3, cranked out 282 hp in European guise, but cars sold in North America received the similar yet less powerful (256 hp) S38.
1989: BMW ratchets up the output of the M-spec S38 to 310 hp and 266 lb-ft, and stuffs it into the revamped E34 5 Series. European spec M5s received a 3.8-liter I-6 capable of cranking out 335 hp (and a wagon variant), but it doesn’t dour our take on the car. In fact, we wrote in our August 1990 issue that the M5 was “so good, it almost renders two-seater supercars redundant.”
1991: We report the M5 was on the “endangered list.” Sure enough, the model was sold in the U.S. only through 1993, although cars continued to be offered in Europe until 1996.
1998: A mysterious grey 5 Series sedan steals the show in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin; BMW enthusiasts continue to debate if the car used was actually an M5. The sound effects, at the very least, were reportedly dubbed from an M car.
2000: After a seven-year absence in the Colonies (or four, if you found yourself in Europe), the M5 returned as part of the E39 5 Series lineup. Tradition was broke in two ways: not only was this the first mass-produced M5 (previous examples were hand-built in Munich), but also M’s first-ever eight-cylinder engine. The 4.9-liter V-8 throws down a solid 394 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque.
2003: Production of the E39 M5 ceases. We (along with enthusiasts worldwide) weep, seeing as the car was great enough to be named an Automobile Magazine All-Star three years in a row…
2004: BMW teases the Concept M5 at the Geneva motor show, previewing what an M-tuned E60 5 Series could potentially look like. Styling was controversial, but ears were bent by the promise of a high-revving, 500-hp 5.0-liter V-8, and potential 0-62 mph times in the neighborhood of five seconds.
2005: Turns out that Concept M5 was essentially spot-on; the production car, which was unveiled in late 2005, was essentially identical to the so-called show car. We ended up naming it an All-Star for 2006, saying the M5 “is the first ultraexotic with a sedan body, and its resultant practicality allows it to be driven every day. That’s an All-Star achievement worth celebrating.”
2006: U.S. customers complained early on that the only transmission option was a seven-speed sequential manual gearbox; by late 2006, BMW made a six-speed manual transmission standard equipment on all cars heading to North America. A good call, seeing as nearly half of all M5s delivered to the market were so equipped.
2010: After unveiling an all-new generation of 5 Series (the F10), BMW winds down production of the E60. Total production rang in at 20,548 globally, including 1025 wagons.
2011: BMW shows another so-called Concept M5 off at the Shanghai Motor Show in April, providing a thinly veiled hint at what’s to come. Months later, the lid on the 2012 M5 is blown after several European outlets began leaking embargoed information weeks ahead of schedule.