1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

Despite being a brilliant machine, the first M5 Touring couldn’t generate enough enthusiasm within BMW to launch a dynasty of rapid Bavarian wagons.


Words: Bob Harper

Photos: Hexagon Classics

What Might Have Been… We take a look back at the story of the E34 M5 Touring.

Despite being a brilliant machine, the first M5 Touring couldn’t generate enough enthusiasm within BMW to launch a dynasty of rapid Bavarian wagons.

The motoring landscape is littered with ‘What if?’ and Sliding Doors moments, but in BMW’s case, it’s quite often a case of asking what took it so long? That’s particularly true of the slow introduction of the estate car, or Touring in BMW speak, to the range. The Touring is now an intrinsic part of the lineup, and despite the inexorable rise of the SUV, it’s unthinkable that BMW would leave the Touring out of the 3 or 5 Series ranges.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

The first Touring was the ’02 back in the early 1970s, and while it was only a three-door and was perhaps more of a hatchback than an estate, it demonstrated that there was definitely a market for such a car. True, the Touring only accounted for around 30,000 examples of the ’02’s total production run of 860,000 cars, but it was only produced for three years out of an 11-year production run. Perhaps it was a hard sell at the time, and when demand was so high for the regular ’02, it’s perhaps understandable that BMW concentrated on the better-selling model.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

After a gap of 14 years, the Touring name was dusted off for the E30 estate, and in the early 1990s, the first 5 Series Touring was launched. It was very well received, and the motoring press at the time said that Volvo and Mercedes should be very worried as BMW was muscling in on what had previously been their almost exclusive market niche. At the time, the E34 Saloon was offered with engines ranging from the 1.8-litre four-pot in the 518i all the way up to the 3.5-litre M30 in the 535i. However, initially, the Touring was only offered as a 520i, 525i and 525tds as BMW didn’t see its customers wanting either the slowest or fastest models as the practical estate car. And while an M5 was offered as a saloon, it probably wasn’t in BMW’s mind to offer the even more potent Touring with the awesome S38 Motorsport ’six found in the saloon.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

Somewhere along the line, there was a change of heart, though. And that was within the hallowed halls of BMW M at its Garching HQ. At the Frankfurt motor show in 1991, there was quite the cornucopia of E34 news; the Touring was launched, the 3.8 M5 made its debut, and perhaps the greatest surprise was that the 3.8 M5 would now be available in the Touring shell. It would be left-hand-drive only, but for the majority of European drivers, it was great news. Quite why M decided to launch the model is a bit of a mystery. After all, it must have known that V8 engines were being readied for the E34 and, eventually, the 530i and 540i would be launched, and this would have been more than enough for those who needed a seriously quick wagon.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34 - engine S38

Perhaps it’s got more to do with production capacity at Garching, as all M5s were still partially hand-assembled at M’s HQ. M would have known that the days were numbered for the 3.6-litre version of the M5 as the smaller-engined machine would only be made for the North American market as the 3.8- litre version couldn’t pass the stricter US emissions tests. If the 3.6-litre M5 was coming towards the end of its life, there would be spare capacity to create the ultimate wagon in the form of the 3.8 M5 Touring. The rapid estate was only ever offered with the 3795cc engine, which was the final evolution of the S38 Motorsport engine. As well as increased bore and stroke over the 3.6-litre version (up 1.2 and 4mm respectively) there was a whole raft of other changes that combined together to produce 340hp at 6900rpm and a peak torque figure of 295lb ft at 4750rpm. These included larger intake and exhaust valves, a higher compression ratio, Bosch Motronic 3.3 management, lighter pistons, redesigned intake and exhaust manifolds, six individual coils and a dual-mass flywheel.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34 - interior

Along with the saloon’s 3.8-litre engine, the Tourings shared the majority of the four-door’s spec, so had a five-speed Getrag gearbox, along with a standard-fit limited-slip differential. The suspension was remarkably similar, too, with a 20mm lower ride height compared to the standard E34, along with 25% firmer springs. As with the saloon, the Tourings also received the Adaptive M suspension, which works out the optimum damper rates depending on acceleration and deceleration loads, road speed, steering input and lateral loads. As with the saloon, there was the option of a Nürburgring package that added a dash switch with sport or comfort settings. Just about the only change for the Touring was a thicker rear anti-roll bar to cope with the extra loads likely to be carried in the five-door.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

The major revisions for the E34 M5 occurred in May 1994, when both the saloons and Tourings received a six-speed transmission (Getrag Type D), wider front kidney grille (along with the rest of the E34s), bigger front discs (345mm up from 315) with a two-piece ‘floating’ design for better heat dissipation, a set of sexy 18” alloys, and the Nürburgring suspension was made a standard fitment.

1994 BMW M5 Touring E34 - dashboard

There weren’t any factory special editions of the E34 M5 Touring, but there were a series of cars built to very similar specification for the Italian market known as an ‘Elekta’. Just about the only clue left to the Elekta’s existence is that these 20 cars featured a metal badge on the top of the gear lever that was literally stuck onto the standard illuminated gearstick. The cars were very well specced, and 10 were painted by BMW Individual in British Racing Green with contrasting Diamond black trim, and all the BRG cars had a Tobacco leather interior. There were nine Elektas in silver with blue interiors and a lone dark blue example.

BMW M constructed just 891 M5 Tourings, 682 with the five-speed ’box and 209 with the wider front grille and six-speed transmission. In total, there were just under 4000 3.8-litre M5s made, which means the Touring accounted for approximately one in four registrations. Given the non-M Touring accounted for about one in every 10 E34s sold, it was somewhat surprising that BMW didn’t go ahead with a Touring version in the E39 generation, especially as the E39 was built on the regular production line rather than being hand assembled.

Whatever the reason, the E34 M5 Touring is a rare beast today, but even though the oldest examples are over 30 years old, it still gives a good account of itself on the road. The Touring might have been a little bit heavier – around 75kg depending on spec – than the saloon, but it doesn’t feel any slower than the four-door in real-world driving, even if the official timer might show it to lose out by a tenth of a second or so. Whatever way you look at it, a sub-six second 0-62mph time for a 30-year-old estate car is pretty good going.

But there’s so much more to it than raw performance; M cars of this era were oozing in character, and the Touring doesn’t disappoint. Twist the key, and the big ’six fires up with a gruff mechanical thrum. It’s not sewing machine smooth – none of these S38 engines are – but its busy idle hints at the pleasures that are in store further up the rev range. It’s more than happy to trickle along in just about any gear at little more than idle speed – it might not have any of that clever Vanos business, but it’s still got more than enough torque to provide brisk forward momentum in the higher gears.

Pointing it in a straight line on an open stretch of road, you can revel in a glorious acceleration-fest. Redlining the big ’six in every gear gives a most un-30-year-old shove in the back, accompanied by that awesome straight-six soundtrack. Later M engines do sound superb, but there’s something raw and visceral about the biggest straight-six the company ever made that really does send shivers up your spine and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Best to keep a close eye on the speedo, though, as entering licence-losing territory happens very quickly indeed.

The ride’s firm, but with enough compliance to still feel comfortable and the earlier cars on their 17” rims are better in this respect, and perhaps the best thing about the Touring is that it really doesn’t lose out in the road holding or handling stakes, either. It’s deliciously well-balanced, and while the recirculating ball steering might be a little vague about the straight ahead, it’s still a beautifully poised machine to drive.

BMW could have quite easily got away without producing the M5 Touring – the 540i was a pretty able performer in its own right – but the M5 should have demonstrated that there was definitely a market for this type of car. For some reason – and one suggests it was down to cost – BMW decided not to produce an E39 M5 Touring, and we had to wait another 12 years before there would be another M Touring when the E61 M5 was launched. The E34 M5 Touring could have launched a dynasty of fast M estates, but it wasn’t to be. In the intervening years, Audi managed to muscle in on the act, and, along with a few contenders from Mercedes AMG, more or less wrapped up the market for high-performance estates. Very much one of those Sliding Doors moments…

TECHNICAL DATA 1994 BMW M5 Touring E34

  • ENGINE: 3.8-litre straight-six S38B38
  • MAX POWER: 340hp @ 6900rpm
  • MAX TORQUE: 295lb ft @ 4750rpm
  • 0-62MPH: 5.9 seconds
  • TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
  • ECONOMY: 20mpg
  • NUMBER MADE: 891

Iconic M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17” alloys

The E34 M5 Touring is a rare beast today, but even though the oldest examples are over 30 years old, it still gives a good account of itself on the road

E34 M5 Touring offered a generous boot; all cars came with the 3.8-litre 340hp version of the S38; initially, the car came with a five-speed manual gearbox, but in 1994 this was replaced with a six-speed gearbox

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