There were a number of factors that contributed to my choice to buy the E34. After the demise of my E46 at the hands of a pothole and the insurance adjuster, I was looking for a car that would be economical, fun, reliable, and economical. Good looks were also a plus.
With the exception of the cost of repairs, the E34 (which we found on craigslist) seemed to fit all those constraints quite well. Asking price was a little over $3k and the car appeared to be in no need of immediate repairs. I think the biggest item the pre-purchase inspection turned up were worn windshield wiper blades. The potential cost of repairs was a major concern (even older BMW parts aren’t inexpensive), but given the price and apparent dilligence of the previous owners, it seemed like a reasonable tradeoff.
While not quite as peppy and spry as the smaller 3-series, the 530i boasted a decently powerful engine (215 bhp at 5800RPM, 214 lb-ft at 4500RPM) and a solid chassis. The testdrive indicated that it could keep up with traffic, be it on the freeway or city streets.
One big draw for me was aesthetics. Like the E32 and E30, the E34 was the last of the BMWs with the classic squarish profile and dual round headlights, before they moved to the ill-considered squashed-jellybean look that has dominated the car industry since the mid-1990s. Even the ‘Calypso Red’ color (burgundy in practice) – while not the ‘Alpine White’ I’d originally hoped for – gave it a sort of understated charm. The tan leather interior didn’t hurt either.
A year and nearly 20k miles later, I’d call the 530i purchase an unqualified success.
The sole repair so far was to replace the clutch. Granted, it was not an inexpensive repair, but with 170k total miles on it, one’t really complain. It burns no oil. It’s never overheated. Tires and brakepads haven’t even needed replacement yet. Aside from the passenger seatback adjustment (it was broken when we got the car), all of the electronics and interior systems work perfectly. That includes things like the onboard computer, stereo and AC. True, from the pile of receipts I got from the previous owner, I can see that the car has seen a lot of repairs, but whether due to luck or something else, it’s been a solid car for me.
Really, about the only things I can hold against the car are the weight and the gearing. Solidity has its cost, and the nearly 3700 lbs curb weight makes for not good fuel economy in stop-and-go driving. As to the gearing, the car is at about 3000 RPM at 75MPH in the top gear. I think both engine noise and fuel economy would improve if that were dropped to 2200 or even 2000 RPM. If I need torque and power, there’s always 4th gear. Similarly, around town, I do a lot of quick shifts because 2nd, 3rd and 4th are so close together. So taller gearing would be a significant plus.
Overall the car has proven to be a fun and I daresay stylish companion. We’ve been all over California together, and whether traveling or commuting, a good time was had by all. I daresay pretty much any car bought new would have cost more to operate over the same period, without looking nearly so good or being significantly more fun.