Spannerhead Dot

Enjoy Spannerhead? Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook!

Posts filed under ‘BMW’

Long-Awaited Bavarian Supercar

November 23, 2012 by Matt

BMW M8 Supercar Concept Rendering Illustration

Ever out of sync with the ebb and flow of the supercar market (the supermarket?), BMW looks set to finally unveil a counterpart to Mercedes’ SLS AMG and Audi’s R8. Well, in a few years, that is. Left Lane reports on the upcoming M8 (its rumored name):

…BMW will unveil the M8 as a concept in 2014 before launching the production version two years later.

Why rush things?

The late ’70s BMW M1, admittedly an excellent car, was too late (and underpowered) to participate in the initial supercar wave that produced such leading lights as the Ferrari Boxer or Lamborghini Countach. And the M1 predated the mid-’80s supercar boom by half a decade. The Bavarian automaker chose to sit out the more recent spate of astronomically-priced road-eaters as well; the new BMW supercar’s would-be rivals have been one-upping each other around the Nürburgring for the better part of a decade at this point.

Left Lane continues:

[T]he 21st century M1 will pack about 600 horsepower thanks to a 4.0-liter V8 engine fed with two turbochargers. Mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, the eight-cylinder mill will propel the M8 from zero to 62 mph in about three seconds and on to a top speed of roughly 200 mph.

Other than a 9-speed automatic (!), there’s nothing from that description that wouldn’t translate perfectly into the curriculum vitae of, say, a McLaren 12C or Lexus LFA. If BMW wants to have any chance of success, as impeccable as the road manners of the upcoming M8 will inevitably be, its automaker needs something more, something special, something unique in a crowded market. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Editor’s note: The car pictured at top is a rendering developed by the website and doesn’t officially represent a definite design direction for a new production BMW.

No Comments

Which Would You Buy?
E34 BMW 525i Turbo vs. E34 BMW M5

November 14, 2012 by Matt

BMW E34 M5 Gray Grey M-Pars M-Parallel Wheels Rims

Pedigree versus performance. “Character” against raw power. The factory-sanctioned package or the DIY approach.

Let’s wade into a bit of an intramural debate here, but one whose principles hold true for many different car types and families. The subject is the ’89-’95 BMW 5-Series, known by its internal model code E34. The two flavors of the E34 pitted against each other are the range-topping ’89-’93 US-spec M5 and the entry-level ’91-’95 525i. The M5 is powered by a flame-spitting 311-hp 3.6l straight-6, whereas the 525 leaves the factory with a more sedate, miserly 189-hp 2.5l engine. The basic chassis is identical between the two cars, the M5’s driveline and suspension beefed up accordingly to handle the extra power, but nothing that can’t be bolted onto its lesser relative. An E34 M5 in a good state of tune will run you a bit north of $10K, and a clean 5-speed 525 is a comparative bargain at $2-3 grand.

So no contest, right? Does the M5 win the “desirability war” hands-down? Well, frankly, yes—unless you equip the 525’s engine with an equalizer: A turbocharger.

BMW E34 Turbo Engine Motor 525i M50 Jon Kensy Purple

It does take some effort, as no ready-made bolt-on kit exists to fit a turbo to BMW’s M50 engine in the E34 chassis. Other than the hurdle of having to DIY most of the project, it’s almost like the 525 was designed from the outset to accommodate forced induction. The M50 engine’s cylinder head, completely stock, flows well enough to support over 700 hp, and the bottom end is sufficiently stout to handle 400+ without internal mods. The ’91-’92 525’s ZF 5-speed transmission is bulletproof, as is the rest of the driveline, and the engine bay is more than spacious enough for the extra bits and bobs required. Total cost, not counting the initial purchase price? Easily over $5K to do it correctly, but still well below the “floor” asking price of an unmolested M5.

BMW E34 M5 Engine Motor S38 S38B36

Can the M5 match the speed of a properly turbo’d 525? In a word, no. When fitted to the M5, BMW’s S38 engine was nearing the end of its life, and its development potential is limited, not to say ridiculously expensive given the engine’s rarity and finicky nature. Just to rebuild the engine will cost very near the purchase price of the car, whereas a 525’s M50 engine can be found all day every day for $500 in a junkyard, a boon if your DIY turbo efforts accidentally grenade one.

So if not speed, what does the M5 offer above and beyond the 525? Character. Pedigree. Its big, rip-snorting naturally-aspirated inline-6 is essentially a mildly detuned race engine, and loves to be spun hard and wound out (making a lovely noise as it does so). Not only that, but the engine’s integration with the chassis from the factory is nothing short of perfect—BMW made sure every component from the steering to the shifter to the suspension and throttle response worked harmoniously together to create an impression of a total car more than the sum of its parts. Those enthusiasts who’ve driven an M5 say it’s an irreplaceable experience.

Which to choose, then? The project or the factory package? More power with less personality, or fewer ponies and more character? A truly tough decision.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I stack up the pros and cons of two broadly similar cars from an ownership perspective. Read the other installments here:


A Love / Hate Styling Perspective:
The BMW E9 Coupe

October 22, 2012 by Matt

BMW E9 Coupe 3.0CSL Silver Alpina Wheels Rims

Let’s cut to the chase: I love the BMW E9 coupe’s proportions, but I hate much of the detailing.

As muscular as any contemporary Italian thoroughbred, the ’68-’75 BMW E9 coupe, encompassing the 2800 CS, 3.0CS, 3.0CSi and 3.0CSL is rightfully revered as one of its automaker’s classic models. Setting the precedent for generations of BMWs to follow, its expansive greenhouse, strong character lines and perfectly balanced visual masses became a kind of standard that subsequent Bavarian coupes and sedans would emulate. There’s a kind of unaffected, deliberate athleticism about its lines, and something powerful, Teutonic and also tasteful in its proportions. The window curves look dated (more on that in a minute) and somewhat fanciful, but the E9’s shape, taken as a whole, is a definitive statement on German coupe-ness. It knows exactly where each of its lines should be, and it’s confident in their placement.

BMW E9 Coupe 3.0CSL Light Blue BBS Wheels Rims

Always one to favor proportions when it comes to design, I want to love the entirety of the E9’s styling, but the details trip me up. The three elements I take most issue with are the signature kidneys in the car’s fascia, the chrome beltline and the baroque curves of the rear glass corners. The kidneys in particular are far too tall and elongated; set them higher and integrate them better with the grilles and the E9’s nose would be much improved. The car’s waist is prominent enough without the additional splash of shiny stuff, and the backlight looks like a refugee from late ’50s American styling. It’s too bad the car’s excellent proportions are compromised by such a smattering of details.

BMW E9 Coupe 3.0CSi Engine Motor M30 L-Jetronic L-Jet

As fastidious as the styling is in places, I certainly can’t fault the rest of the car. Blessed with a 2.8l-3.2l version of BMW’s legendary M30 SOHC straight six, the E9’s performance was sparkling and well-matched to its athletic looks. At first carbureted, and later (from the 3.0CSi on) fuel-injected, the M30 grew in power from 170 to an even 200 hp in the CSi. The front strut and rear semi-trailing arm suspension gave the 3,100 lb car sure-footed handling and the whole package possessed that well-oiled fluency characteristic of BMWs in general.

BMW E9 Coupe 3.0CS Interior Inside Console Cockpit Dash Dashboard

No, to drive one, then as now, showed tremendous taste and class on the part of the owner. While the E9’s details aren’t my cup of tea, its proportions and dynamics converge in a supremely capable package.


Are Cars Outgrowing
Manual Transmissions?

October 10, 2012 by Matt

BMW F10 M5 Interior Inside Cockpit Console 6 Speed Manual Stickshift Transmission

Autoblog seems to think so in their review of the US-only 6-speed manual version of BMW’s latest M5. They write:

While there is nothing physically wrong with the manual box, rowing one’s own gears is based on a technology that peaked in the mid-1990s (think Acura NSX, Mazda MX-5 Miata or Honda S2000), and it really isn’t going to get any better. The automated dual clutch, on the other hand, continues to improve with each generation and subsequent software update.

Simply put, BMW’s F10 M5 was designed with the 7DCT in mind. The automated gearbox is capable of ripping up and down through the gears endlessly before taking the Autobahn home at a sustained 190 mph. In sharp contrast, and whether North American enthusiasts want to admit it or not, the M5’s 6MT is a Frankensteinian adaptation to the platform incapable of handling the same stress as its dual-clutch sibling – that’s a fact.

Much like fly-by-wire aircraft controls replaced manual rod-and-cable linkages once aircraft reached a certain level of size and complexity, many high-performance cars seem to be attaining a point of convergence where engine power and vehicle weight make a manually-operated gearshift impractical, bordering on unusable. Think about it: As horsepower and torque figures continue to skyrocket, greater clamping and shifting forces are necessary to channel that power in order to motivate ever-more-heavy cars, and there’s only so much engineers can do to increase the mechanical advantage so those controls can be operated comfortably by human muscles. To take an extreme example, there’s a reason the Bugatti Veyron, for instance, isn’t offered with a traditional three-pedal manual. So I take Autoblog‘s point, at the same time that I lament the fact that we’ve reached the juncture where such excesses of power and weight are considered essential to success in the marketplace. “Progress,” they say, but is it?

But as depressing as it is to contemplate the obsolescence of manuals among high-end sports sedans, GTs and supercars, I smile when I consider the other end of the automotive spectrum, with new cars like the brilliant Toyota/Scion/Subaru FT-86/FR-S/BRZ triplets. In nearly every essay on the FT-86/FR-S/BRZ, reviewers wax lyrical that its light weight, sparkling road manners and manual transmission in particular rekindle a sort of romantic enthusiasm for the simple pleasures of driving dulled by the brute power and isolation proffered by cars like the new M5. True, they do occupy radically different market segments and cater to customers with different priorities, but a car is a car; both the FT-86/FR-S/BRZ and M5 have four wheels with rubber tires and Otto-cycle reciprocating piston engines mounted up front, and the delight experienced by a driver able to break the back wheels loose slightly—yet completely under control—around a corner is the same whether a car has 200 or 560 hp. So by that metric, among those of us after the pure joy of driving, there seems to be no substitute for a traditional stickshift, even if it is on the way out among the heavy-hitters.


The FWD BMWs Are Coming…

September 14, 2012 by Matt

BMW Concept Active Tourer FWD Brown EV Electric Car Hybrid Plug In

I can hear the PR spin now: “It’s just a concept. And it’s a hybrid. No relationship to our performance models whatsoever! Nothing to see here… Move along.”

This is how it begins, with an innocent “broadening of the product line” to compete effectively in more market segments, in the case of the BMW “Concept Active Tourer” (shown above) the burgeoning small crossover niche. And I predict, after a production version is released, a conventional non-hybrid powertrain will be offered alongside the hybrid. And slowly, gradually, that engine and chassis will underpin a new class of compact BMWs, a 1-series replacement perhaps. And with that, one of the automaker’s core principles will be compromised.

Yes, as established in my post last year on the matter, I’m well aware BMW is already responsible for the development of a FWD car in the Mini—and a good one at that—but the BMW brand itself, the car with the unmistakable double kidney grille, has remained untarnished by the inevitable dynamic compromises that come with a FWD layout. There’s simply no way to make a FWD car feel like a RWD car, and the qualities inherent in the latter have always been essential to the “BMW feel.” So again, its the Bavarian automaker’s prerogative to slap a blue and white roundel on whatever they want, but a spade can’t be made a heart, and any salesperson from the company claiming that a new FWD car “still has the same feel” as one of their classics is, well, selling something. Interested to see how this plays out.


An Hour At The Vintage

May 27, 2012 by Matt

The Vintage Old Salem Winston Salem BMW Show Classic 2012

Dragged the kids to a local BMW show for a bit Saturday morning. An annual gathering of vintage (pre-E32 7 series) BMWs the show was a cornucopia of classic German performance machinery. Dominated by 2002s, E30 M3s and E9 coupes, there were a scattering of E28 5 series, E24 6 series and other types mixed in.

Click on the jump to view the photos!

No Comments

Will BMW buy Saab?

February 22, 2012 by Matt

BMW Kidneys Grille Nostrils Blue Saab Grille Fascia

Saab’s body isn’t even cold yet, having just filed for bankruptcy and liquidation a few months ago, and yet, as Left Lane reports, BMW appears to be in the running to be the one to perform a Dr. Frankenstein-style reanimation of Saab’s cadaver, jolting new life into the Swedish automaker.

The article points out:

The association between the two companies wouldn’t be as random as it might seem. In 2010, BMW agreed to provide Saab with 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines. The cooperation between the two was supposed to start this year.

Furthermore, the Munich-based company has announced recently that it needs extra production capacity in order to expand its MINI brand. Picking up the Trollhättan facility could be a viable solution to the problem.

If they decide to acquire Saab, BMW would undoubtedly be a better partner than GM had been. During its 20-year partnership with the Swedish automaker, GM drained from it every last ounce of brand identity, shamelessly rebadging Cadillacs, Chevys and even Subarus as Saabs in a series of flailing attempts to create a successful model. BMW’s history of alliances with other automakers is a bit spotty (Rover got the shaft), but chances are much better they’d give Saab more autonomy and restore at least some of its brand identity, as the German concern has done for Rolls-Royce and MINI. BMW would likely supply engines and provide engineering assistance when needed, rather than completely manhandling Saab’s product line, a la GM.

Unfortunately, GM holds the patents to many key Saab engine and chassis components, since all recent Saabs have been built on GM platforms, and for any sale to proceed, the American giant would have to give their blessing to the union. That said, I can see GM being a bit less hesitant about a BMW purchase than one by a Chinese firm, given the fast and loose relationship between many Chinese companies and international copyrights and patents, and thus the increased likelihood of GM having to compete against its own innovations in the Chinese domestic market, an area of exponential growth for the American automaker. BMW faces off a bit less directly with GM, and access to certain proprietary GM technologies by BMW wouldn’t put the former at as much of a competitive disadvantage.

We’ll see what happens. I for one hope BMW goes through with the sale and keeps Saab alive.


Which Would You Buy?
BMW 8 Series vs. 1JZ Lexus SC300

February 3, 2012 by Matt

BMW E31 8-series 850i 850Ci Black M-pars M-parallel

The age-old automotive question. This or that? Which one is faster? Cheaper? Better-looking? More efficient? Do this one’s subjective qualities outweigh that one’s objective attributes? Behold, the first post in a new series pitting somewhat superficially mismatched cars against one another in an effort to illuminate the finer points of each.

Today we stack up a pair of high-end luxury coupes with sporting pretensions: The ’90-’99 BMW 8 Series, or E31 (pictured at top), and the ’91-’00 Lexus SC300, or JZZ30 (shown below). In both cases, we’re going to consider the most enthusiast-oriented configuration available for the car in question.

Lexus SC300 SC400 Silver Gray Grey SC

Let’s assume a manual transmission for both vehicles. With the E31, a 6-speed was only available in the US coupled to BMW’s 5-liter V12 engine, the 295 hp M70, and that only for the first few years of its production run. So it’s a rare and desirable bird. The SC300 is a bit easier to find equipped with Toyota’s W58 5-speed, but as with its German counterpart, the stickshift variant is easily the most sought-after.

In addition, to level the playing field a bit, we’re going to stipulate the Lexus has undergone an engine swap, exchanging its US-spec, naturally-aspirated, 221 hp 2JZ-GE engine for a Japanese-market-only, twin turbo, 278 hp 1JZ-GTE. The 1JZ was fitted from the factory to the Japanese version of the SC300, known as the Soarer, and mated with an uprated R154 5-speed manual. The swap is as easy as lengthening the wiring harness and bolting everything in—all the mounting points are present to accept the Japanese engine without otherwise modifying the big Lexus GT. And all the requisite bits are surprisingly easy to source from a number of automotive importers.

So, which would you spend your hard-earned money on, given the choice?

Here are some more factors to take into consideration:

  • Weight. This is a problem for the BMW. The range-topping, V12-powered 850i/850Ci breaks the scales at around 4,300 lbs, courtesy of its size, huge engine, dual batteries and all the luxury crammed under the sheetmetal. The Lexus, by contrast, comes in at around 3,500 lbs—no lightweight, but nothing to write home about.
  • Handling. The E31 pioneered BMW’s new multilink rear suspension and was one of the first cars equipped with electronic stability control. The SC300’s underpinnings were shared with the vaunted Mark 4 Supra and featured double wishbones at all 4 corners, in addition to an available Torsen limited-slip differential. They remain capable, sure-footed cars, but while the E31 may its automaker’s classic steering excellence, its weight and bulk dampen the fun.
  • Looks. The Lexus is attractive, and I would even go so far as to call it one of the most stylish cars to emerge from Japan, but c’mon. Nothing says “sex on wheels” quite as effectively as a massive, sleek 8 Series, with its Ferrari-like tapered nose, flared wheel arches and pillar-less side windows.
  • Cachet. Chalk another one up for the BMW. When introduced, the E31 was the ultimate “money no object” BMW, with prices in the $80K-100K range. Again, the Lexus exudes quality, but the BMW is on another plane entirely.
  • Power. Here’s where the Lexus’s 1JZ engine comes into its own. Utterly bulletproof and much more modern internally than the BMW’s big SOHC V12, the little Lexus 2.5l is capable of delivering literally as much power as you’re willing to spend for. The stock figure of 278 hp is universally considered to be underrated, and a wide array of aftermarket single turbo conversion kits are available to optimize both output and drivability.
  • Price. Values are surprisingly similar. Big German luxury liners tend to depreciate like crazy (no one wants to deal with their complexity or the price of parts and service), while Japanese cars in general hold their value a bit better. That said, in the case of the E31 and JZZ30, the price for a 6-speed 850i or 1JZ-swapped SC300 falls in $7K-$10K range. So the cost of entry is very roughly the same.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I stack up the pros and cons of two broadly similar cars from an ownership perspective. Read the other installments here:


BMW’s Tri-Turbo Diesel: A Plumber’s Nightmare

January 29, 2012 by Matt

BMW Tri Turbo Triple Diesel Engine Motor M550d X5 X6 M50d

Contrary to popular perception, there is some precedent for this.

No, not for mounting three turbos on a diesel engine—that’s new—but for BMW releasing more “mundane” M-tuned versions of regular road cars.

See, at the moment, the larger part of the BMW enthusiast community is undergoing a kind of soul-searching existential crisis, wondering how BMW’s M division could have ever stooped so low from their racing-derived roots as to release a trio of diesel-powered models: the M550d, X5 M50d and X6 M50d, all fitted with the above engine.

On the surface, it does indeed appear that BMW M has completely sold out. For years, enthusiasts could count on a few givens from the Bavarian automaker’s tuning arm: High-revving, bespoke, naturally-aspirated engines and firmed up, immensely capable versions of BMW’s regular sedans and coupes. With the release of an M-tuned, diesel-powered SUV, it would certainly seem like BMW M has finally abandoned the last of their core convictions, jumped the shark, so to speak.

Take heart, though, BMW fans; it’s not as bad as you think, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Diesel engines now have a performance pedigree. Granted, oil-burners may have won their accolades under the auspices of a major BMW rival, Audi, but with the ’06 Le Mans victory of the awesome R10 TDI, the world has finally been made safe for performance-oriented diesel-powered cars.
  2. The new models aren’t “true” M cars. Not in the sense that their nomenclature follows the M + single digit convention. When BMW M creates a new M3, M5 or M6, it truly does represent the division’s most uncompromising effort in that particular niche. However, the tuning arm does have a long history of creating “lesser” M cars, from the regular M30-powered E12 M535i, through the regular M60-powered E34 M540i and 540i M-Sport all the way to the regular N54-powered E82 1 Series M Coupe. So the long precedent doesn’t mean every car BMW M touches signals the downfall of the brand.

That said, ever since the X5 M and X6 M, I still don’t know what to say about a performance SUV from BMW. That’s…untouchable. The new X5 M50d and X6 M50d may be very impressive indeed, but as SUVs, to borrow from Clarkson, they’re utterly pointless.

As for the engine itself, shown at top, I’m eager to get more details on how it works. Top Gear reports:

The lower inertia of the smaller turbos is used to deliver “razor-sharp responses” according to BMW, while the larger one is tuned for maximum pressure when you really feel like opening the taps.

Well…yeah. That’s been the point of sequential twin turbos ever since the Germans and Japanese began fitting them to their cars in the late ’80s. More details on the engineering justifications for the extra turbo and associated complexity would be nice. Will keep you posted.

No Comments