How we scooped M5 V10 in 2003

The tragedy is, a lie may have killed it

Over the past 25 or so years, we have had everything to do with most cars, from predicting how they'd be as we scooped them, to reporting their unveiling, attending the world and local launches and testing and driving them too.

This is the first of a new series of Auto features following our favourite cars through that splendid process, right through to today, where we will leave you with a Gumtree link to take you to browse a few pre-owned examples for sale right now.

We’s start with our favourites and there was one car that topped my list over the past quarter century — BMW’s seismic V10 M5.  We'll start right in the beginning: way back in late 2003, when we were most excited at Cars in Action magazine. In the very near future, BMW M would release its teaser photos and a little more info on its next weapon of max destruction: the new M5 and we were speculating about the newcomer. 

I sketched the red car in the pictures in anticipation of how it would look using the recently revealed new Five as a base and I tapped out this story speculating its many expected virtues — in fact this text is merely copied from our November 2003 issue and put into the past tense... 

We'd been tracking this one for some time, keeping our readers posted on its potential specification and performance. Ever since news first broke of likely the best BMW ever, we'd followed it intimately and all along promised you the facts that were yet to be confirmed, as we anticipated them.

I even had the weird opportunity to actually sneak a peak of a stripped V10 mill on a visit to BMW M's Munich development centre back in the year 2000 and confirmed that the F1-derived mill would get typical M four-valves per cylinder and employ a balance shaft to better harmonise the ten-cylinder for the road. We went on to predict an output of 500bhp (375kW) and 500Nm and that it would be capable to rev to around ten grand.

We proposed that it would likely to only need 9000rpm of that and would turn a six-hooker manual or a seven-speed version of M3's SMG that would be cleverer than ever. We could not have had Benz’ E55 having a seven-speed auto and M5 having less in sequential gears than that now, could we…? 

We also reckoned my render of the red one up top would be even closer to what the world would see in Detroit that January,  thanks to the abundance of scantily clad mules caught running around Bavaria at the time — clearly BMW never wanted potential M5 customers spending too much time in Merc or Audi showrooms looking at E55 and RS6.

We wrapped up predicting a four second 0-100 and of an estate option to follow later, too and I signed off asking for mine in red.

Cheeky? Perhaps.

A few months later I watched the covers come off M5 on its European reveal in Geneva and not much later, we were on a Bavarian airfield thrashing the daylights out of the newcomer on the car’s world launch. We had another stab at it on the local launch in the Cape a few months anon and I took one home from there to test in time for our 2005 Performance Edition, where M5 was declared our 2005 Performance car of the year against a mighty field.

And guess what — they delivered my long termer, alas in Silverstone on Silverstone — that lovely slightly blue silver, rather than red — only  because M5 failed to come in red!

Anyway, how close were we in our predictions? Well, you tell me on the sketch? Pretty damned close, I’d say! And we were pretty spot on in our tech preview, which was almost point-perfect. That sonorous V10 was not just exactly 5-litres — one more than the still to come M3 V8’s four in modular fashion, but it made exactly 375kW and 520Nm and revved to an 8200rpm limiter. Blow us for those 20Nm and 800 revs we missed ;-)

What's more, M5 also delivered on our promise of a paddle-shifter 7-speed semi-automatic ’SMG’ gearbox, although the manual was only available in the ’States. The BMW M5 V10 was an immaculately balanced car — its dramatic output at the time was perfectly suited to its RWD chassis that was just enough to cope. While it was often-abhorred, I utterly loved that SMG gearbox, which when set to the wildest, most bareback of its innumerable drive settings, was savagely beautiful to drive.

But M5 was at its savagely most beautiful form with all those nannies turned off and left to just drive it, delivered a supreme thrill. I loved every second of my M5 V10, so much so that I bought it and drove the car for two glorious, toruble-fee years after. And believe you me, I drove it! 

So I knew M5 V10 very well. Any complaints? Well, it only needed two driving modes — road and race, not the mind boggling and confusing multitude it offered. And maybe fuel consumption — it was a bit of a drunkard at a real world 20l/100km, a drawback that would so sadly see to the end of free-revving normally-aspirated rear-wheel drive BMW M cars, quite literally over the department's dead body…

I knew the M suits of the time pretty well and to a man, they were totally adamant that a BMW M car would only always be of that specification and that glorious realm indeed lasted a few years longer. 

Little did we know that the green nazi had figured out how much money they could make by penalising carmakers, buyers, owners and the rest on something we never cared a hoot about until a year or two before — carbon emissions. I still believe that it is all a lie to line politicians’ pockets and that this terrible knee jerk will still have a horrible affect on the global car industry, but it worked a treat for them. 

Never mind that it also long ago killed off free-revving normally-aspirated rear-wheel drive BMW M car for good.

The contemporary BMW M car is now a very different animal. Those old M bosses must be rolling in their graves at the thought of a relatively slow-revving turbocharged all-wheel drive M5 — that’s the quattro blueprint, for goodness sake! But so it is — fifteen years later, the latest R2-million M5 is also a hugely impressive car — its accelerates to 100 in under three seconds (still the fastest car we have ever tested), its four times the price of the old one and is just as seismic a drive.

But is it as good? In one word: No!

There is something so special about the V10 M5 — it was the absolute acme of its incredible era in a brilliantly balanced, totally drivable and delightfully sounding package that remains truly astounding to drive. The first turbo V8 that replaced it was impossible to drive — downright dangerous in fact, as its monster torque totally overwhelmed its chassis — enough to cause Munich to do the unthinkable and make the latest car all-wheel driven. So it is and always will be a compromise. 

So, given the choice between a new M5 and a good clean V10, I will have no hesitation to buy a V10. And when you see what they cost, you will wholly understand why too! Follow the link below — and don’t be too surprised when you see me driving an M5 V10 again soon… - Michele Lupini

TESTED IN 2005 -- BMW E60 M5 V10
Engine: 373kW 520Nm 4999cc 40V QOHC V10
Drive: 7-speed automated manual RWD
0-100km/h      4.7 sec
400m          13.5 sec @ 179km/h 
80-120km/h:   2.1 sec
120-160km/h:       4.1 sec
Fuel:         14.8l/100km
Warranty/Service (new): 5y unlimited
Price (new):     R520K
Value Today:  Find out on Gumtree
Rated:          10