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Doctor 540i or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the V8

July 7, 2013 by Matt

I used to look down my nose at this engine configuration.

Sure, my opinion of them was colored by my thoughts concerning the perennial American attachment to big whacking pushrod lumps (which are certainly effective, done correctly), but I was wrong to let my views on the evergreen Small Block Chevy engine taint my perception of V8s in general. There’s a reason many more automakers besides the Big Three cleave to or have gravitated toward the configuration.

BMW V8 M60B40 E34 540i Engine Bay Motor

Click the image to enlarge.

I’ve always been an inline-six and rotary engine buff. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned a few Mazda rotaries and a number of inline sixes from a variety of manufacturers (Nissan L24, Toyota 7M and 1JZ, BMW M30 and M50), so my predilection for those configurations’ inherent smoothness and refinement has been cemented for ages. I sneered at the V8’s less-than-optimal internal geometry that meant it could never be as naturally smooth as a fully-counterweighted inline-six. I adopted a kind of snobbish engineering puritanism.

But I’m happy to report that my month-and-a-half of life with my 1995 540i’s 4.0l M60 V8 (shown above) has helped me see the light. It’s a cross-plane design and very nearly as smooth as my old 525’s M50 in the upper rev range. The additional two power-pulses per cycle contribute to the feeling of refinement and give it a lovely noise. And it pulls like a freight train. I may not have completely “come to the dark side” and become an avid fan of the pushrod variation—they’re still too ubiquitous, and I like my cams up top, please—but as of this writing, send me my long-delayed V8 Fan Club membership card.

Filed under: BMW, Our Cars


  1. Ryan says:

    Welcome to the club! Forced induction V8 is next… never look back. ;)

  2. Peter says:

    I’m just jealous. I used to own an E39 540i 6-spd Msport. What a great car!

  3. Phillip says:

    …….. and your hooked haha. E39 540ier here. Your M60 is very well sought after as it has less components ie Vanos which means less things that can go wrong and that its in an E34. Vanos is nice in all but it does have its drawbacks with the M62 and others. Oldly many guys swap out the M60’s and M62’s for LSx’s and other variants. An interesting tidbit is that the intake manifold looks oddly similar to that on an LSx motor. If you dont mind me asking, how many miles are on your E34?

    • Matt says:

      The M60’s relative simplicity is part of what I love about it. It’s actually less complicated than my old 525’s 6-cylinder M50 in some ways; no VANOS for instance. The M60’s just a straightforward OBD1, 4.0l, DOHC, 32-valve V8, full stop. No trickery to try to broaden the powerband; it’s as linear as can be. I love it.

      170K on the E34. I actually have yet to check the block casting number to see if it’s the original Nikasil block or whether it was replaced with an Alusil one. Not that it’s an issue any more either way, but I should do that soon…

  4. John D says:

    Just the right amount of wheelspin…nice.

    (Although more would be AWESOME!!! ;)

    • Matt says:

      It can certainly lay a lot more rubber between 1st and 2nd (and a bit from 2nd to 3rd, I might add). My engine mounts, clutch and driveline would give me angry looks if I indulged any more than that, though. :)

  5. I’m certainly sold, not that I was ever skeptical — an E34 540i M-Sport is probably every bit as desirable today as they were back in 1995. How’s the gas mileage on yours? (understanding that no one buys these cars for their fuel economy)

    • Matt says:

      I wish mine were one of the 139 6-speed M-Sports; sadly it’s just a regular 540i/6. Fortunately, the engine and transmission are identical between the two; the only extra bits the M-Sport got were nicer wheels, mirrors and bumpers, along with an LSD and EDC dampers—all stuff that can be easily retrofitted (except for the EDC; the M-Sports can keep that expensive bit of kit).

      Re:fuel economy, the chip helps somewhat. My OBC says 22 mpg in 30/70 city/highway driving, and I do “enjoy” the car frequently. :)

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