By mid-1990s, the E34-generation BMW 5-series wasn’t long for this world. In fact, in the month this advertisement for the 540i appeared in print, September 1995, its E39 replacement would be shown at the Frankfurt motor show, before going on sale in 1996.
More than a few reviews would go on to describe the E39 as something akin to the best car in the world; a car deficient in almost no areas and excellent in plenty. It made the E34 look and feel a little old-hat, but that’s not to say the older car was without talent.
Perhaps you didn’t need to pull a luxury yacht through a harbour to demonstrate the appeal of the V-8-powered 540i, and even a fairly small car could probably pull a similar stunt if it could find the traction. But it was a good way of showing the E34 wasn’t ready to trade its low-profile tyres for a set of comfy slippers just yet.
What’s notable isn’t just the rather large boat—101 feet, 3200 horsepower, and berth for 30 passengers, according to the ad copy—but how fresh the E34 still looks in retrospect. The E34 had debuted in 1988, but BMW implemented small improvements throughout the model’s time in production.
A facelift in 1992 brought with it a wider grille design on V-8 models (adopted across the range in 1994), as well as new door mirrors, but it’s the body-colour side skirts and sports front air dam, plus the chunky 16-inch ‘Style 16’ five-spoke alloy wheels, that really help this car stand out. In retrospect, it really doesn’t look much older than the E39 that replaced it.
Besides, 286bhp and 295lb-ft are nothing to sniff at either from the 4-litre M60 V-8. The engine was phased out in 1996, replaced by the M62, but German magazine Auto Motor und Sport managed to hustle one from 0–62mph in only 6.3 seconds in period, only a few tenths behind the figure BMW quotes for its upcoming BMW i5 in eDrive40 M Sport form.
And as the ad states, you could have your 540i with a manual gearbox too, something BMW has been slowly phasing out of its volume models in recent years. Whether this made it easier or harder to pull luxo-yachts along we cannot say, but given the manual gearbox’s slow disappearance, the availability of a DIY-shifter probably dates the E34 more than its styling or its performance.