Our BMW E39 - INTRO & PREP - VIDEO
Finding the car.
In order to promote our newly founded family business, we are building a demo car. We design and create automotive and road trip lifestyle goods, and want to build a car to show this off. Something we’d like to share with you.
The car in question was to be a 2005 VW Mk5 Gti. It was my daily, and as both the designer and all round car-guy of the team, it was meant to be. Right up to the moment when the bolt on the camshaft sprocket decided it was time to let go. Heart broken, I put the Gti aside.
I was in dire need of a new daily and so the hunt began. This time though, I wanted a bit more comfort and definitely more reliability. Not that the Gti was all that bad. It was a reliable daily that started on the button each and every time, it just needed a lot of maintenance to keep it that way. So the new car was to be easier on the wallet in terms of maintenance, a step up in comfort, and needed to have that coolness. It also needed to be a car I could build up to be something fresh, something that would stand out. Being a fanatic of cars of the German persuasion, I narrowed it down to the Audi and Bmw brands. Specifically the C5 A6, the E39 5-series and the E46 3-Series. Eventually, due to my passed experiences with both brands, I ruled out the C5, and went to look for the right Bmw.
This new car was going to be used as the shuttle car for our company, and on top of that be my daily. I decided, even though I am a huge fan of driving a manual, that an auto-box would suit the use of the car more. Would it have fit my budget, a 330ia was the dream. Alas, I could not find the darn thing anywhere near my budget, let alone in it. Then a strange thing happened. I scoured the good old internet for some 5 series inspiration and came across a few of the older generations. Man, did I fall in love. Head over heals in fact. The E12, the E28, and the E34 were the new apples of my eye. I found a nearby E34 530ia. It’s the model with the smaller Bmw V8, and this was a model I had in fact driven years before, and really liked it. It was no surprise, as I love the V8 engine configuration in general. Just the sound alone… Don’t get me started.
I called the dealer and a date to view the car was set. The day came, and right before I left, I rechecked the dealer's website to see the car again. Scrolling down I came across a pre-facelift, purple on purple, 528ia. Please, don’t get me wrong. This thing looked amazing. I had always wanted a really well executed, build-up E39. In my mind though, it was a 540i manual, and had to really entertain my optional-extras fetish. Why not an M5, you ask? To me the 540i manual had this whiff of rarity about it, like it was a special gem in the otherwise normal line-up. All M5’s were manual, so finding one was not that unusual. Scouring the listings for a 540i and finding a manual was. The value of the 540i’s were and are still much lower than the M5’s, and so a fully build up one would still end up owning me less than an M5.
Optional extras such as a sun-roof, and electrically adjustable and heated sport seats were a must. Leather of course, and full size navigation, xenon headlights, and nice rims were too. This purple magnificence had them all, except for the sat nav.
“Oh well, this would be nice thing to upgrade.” I thought. And became so enthusiastic about the the thing that I jumped on the phone to the dealer to arrange a viewing for this car too, next to the e34 530ia.
“Are you a dealer or something?” he asked, not amused.
“No, I just can’t make up my mind.” I replied, very much so.
So, I get to the place, and see the cars. The spec of the E39 was obviously so much better. The E34 had no leather, no sun-roof, no sport seats, standard too small wheels, and not really much else to write home about. But the body was in good condition, and the engine ran great. We went on a test drive and the car was a bit disappointing. Again, engine runs smooth and strong, and the auto-box shifts are velvety. However, the suspension is knocking over bumps and the steering was the biggest let down: it was loose and vague.
The E39’s mechanical condition was great. Really clean and well taken care of. However, the body was not. Both front and rear bumpers were scratched up and had several dings and dents in them. So there I am thinking: “Not too bad, you wanted to replace them anyway.” And so still smiling i walk around the car to the other side. And the smile is punched off my face in a cold and hard fashion: the “scratch” on the pictures on the front door turns out to be a nasty, deep scrape along the side of both doors.
A little upset, we go on the test drive. The smile comes back. And how. This thing drives so nicely, so tightly, and so solidly, that only after a few turns I know there is no way back. The steering on this is so good, man! I open the negotiations with the dealer, but he does not come down far enough. I leave the place empty handed and with a few doubts.
What about the V8? What about the doors? What about the older generations? However, over the next days, the car doesn’t leave my mind. Back on the good old internet, I look for replacement doors, and actually find a pair in the right colour, for a reasonable asking price. Than, I look at the various 540i vs 528i threads out there. And i finally read something interesting: the six cylinder E39’s had a new rack and pinion system, and the v8s retained the recirculating ball system of the previous generation. So than I tell myself about how much better the insurance rates, the road tax and the fuel economy will be (fully realising that the last one is a lie) and I’m back on the phone with the dealer.
We reach an agreement and the purple one is mine. After a few difficulties at the registration and technical control, such the auto-leveling headlights (hello there, E39 community) the car was on the road and ready to go.
The plan for this car was to beautify it according to my dreams. Already as a young boy I fantasised about the type of car I wanted to drive: sporty, yet comfy and luxurious. A Grand Tourer. Now over the years, the taste has changed a little.
So I want to give this car the appearance of the coolest cars of when I was younger, yet give it a bit of facelift to make the current taste happy.
First off though, before any modification can start, the biggest bang for the buck upgrade: a full wash and light detail. Because as you can see, this thing needs it.
The interior in this thing is already pretty close to what I'd like it to be. Like mentioned before, it's already pretty loaded. The colour combination is really growing on me, as it's something you don't see everyday, yet still quite tasty. After a little clean up, it came out great too.
Now the second step, is to get this thing in better condition in relation to the bodywork. Having thought about replacing them altogether, in the end I opted for repairing them myself in our little self built tent-workshop. Because DIY is life. It might have something to do with the cost too.
With the extend of the damage not actually requiring any panel beating, since it consists of deep scratches rather then dents, I went with the good old filler and spray can paint job. Yes, we have a compressor, but I wanted to see how effective this method could be.
Being no pro at working with bondo, I began to become fairly nervous at the sight of the filler build not becoming smooth at all. But with some patience, some sanding, and some filler spray, it came out reasonably smooth. Not perfect, but I prefer it to looking at the smashed up panels that they used to be.
The work done up to and including the glamorous process of applying the gloss clear coat can be seen in the video of the first part of the build:
Currently we're working on getting the bumpers off and starting the facelifting, upgrading and modifying of our new E39