2002 BMW 530i Automatic Champagne II E39
Rich in hedonistic pleasure and dripping with turn-of-the-millennium charm, the Champagne II is the E39 for the true connoisseur… Words: Dan Bevis. Photography: Jason Dodd.
Call it rose-tints, wistful nostalgia or simply the distorting power of hindsight, but the 1990s really were a golden age. Compare the national mood of present times with that of the nineties and it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer unfettered positivity of it all; Parklife, girl power, The Big Breakfast, New Labour, Pulp Fiction, velvet jackets, Max Power, Mr Blobby, Cigarettes & Alcohol, t-shirt dresses, Euro ’96… these were fluorescent and effervescent times, characterised by a general sense of goodwill and keenness to embrace the majesty of everyday life. A simpler yet bubblier age, long before the machinations of Twitter, Covid, Trump and the Kardashians.
Into this good-vibes arena, striding with ineffable Gallagher-esque swagger, came the E39-generation BMW 5 Series. Unveiled in 1995, this was a confident piece of design backed up by impeccable engineering; fit-and-finish was unimpeachable and equipment levels were positively decadent. Its appeal, unsurprisingly, endures to this day; in the eyes of a great many enthusiasts, the E39 was a high water mark of BMW’s long-running 5 Series. Beloved of collectors and drivers alike, it’s a model that BMW got really, really right: a smooth and comfortable ride, strong levels of standard kit (with plenty of options available), crisp design, solid and durable construction, feelsome steering, decent seats… the list of accolades goes on and on. And it’s not just the sporting halo models and the heavy-hitters that have won so many fans; sure, the M5 is a ballistic missile and the V8-engined 540i is a bit of a weapon too, but the frissons of magic within those models ripple down throughout the range. Even the E39s toward the base end of the spectrum are splendid things to enjoy every day while also being eminently sensible. Ever tried an entry-level 520i? It’s a paragon of smoothness among its peers.
Perhaps the most nineties-esque variant of all actually emerged in late-2002, continuing the ethos of that vivid decade in fine style by unashamedly labelling itself ‘Champagne’. Stuffed with the sumptuous M50B30 3.0-litre straight-six, good for a solid 231hp, the 530i Champagne was a special edition built in a strictly limited run of 150 examples. Regular readers may remember one such car featured in our May 2021 issue; these specials came lavishly equipped with Champagne-coloured nappa leather seats (which were heated, electric units with memory function), their bodywork slathered in mile-deep Black Sapphire Metallic. The 530i Sport upon which it was based was already a very well-equipped entity, but Champagne spec upped the decadence yet further, adding the Communication Pack, brushed aluminium interior trim, and over £5000 of optional extras.
The example we have before Jason’s lens today is a Champagne II – the fabulous sequel to the special which, of course, is a very nineties idea. Regular readers will recall that the aforementioned recent feature on an E39 530i Champagne, was also a Champagne II model, just like buses when one comes along another quickly follows. The example we have here was just too tasty not to include in these pages and we genuinely think these cars are having a bit of a “moment” in BMW history! Launched in March 2003, the Champagne II (again, strictly limited to 150 cars) retained the elegance and luxury of its forebear, adding xenon headlights, sat-nav and folding mirrors as well as replacing the brushed aluminium trim with tasteful Light Maple wood. It’s a concatenation of specifications that caught Sam Pitchford’s eye: he’s the proud owner of this particular car, the acquisition of which represents the realisation of a long-held dream.
“I worked for a BMW main dealer group, Barrett’s of Canterbury, for around sixteen years,” he explains. “I started there toward the end of the E39 production run, and was always impressed by the run-out specials, the Champagne and the Aegean, because they were visually different from other models and were loaded with all sorts of additional specification as standard. I always dreamed of owning one for these reasons.”
The Aegean is essentially the sister car to this one, boasting a similar spec but being finished in Aegean Blue; however, it was the sparkling counterpoint of sober black exterior and bubbly interior that pointed Sam’s aspirations squarely at the Champagne. “During my time with BMW I always drove a 5 Series saloon,” he continues. “I probably had twenty different ones over my time there. The 3.0i petrol has always been a great engine, but petrols really weren’t that popular between 2005-2016, so my company cars were normally big-engine diesels like the 530d and 535d.” The keenness for a well-specced 530i makes all sorts of sense in this context; Sam knows these cars inside-out having spent so much time in them, and when it came to ticking the right boxes when the time arrived to buy his very own, the choice was clear. But how to go about finding the right one? Well, as is always the case, history and provenance are key. Fortunately, with all his years in the BMW dealer network followed by his current position sitting in the boss’s chair at Elms Automotive in Faversham, Sam knows just how to seek out and acquire the very best examples.
“My Champagne II is completely original in every way,” he says. “It had been owned by the same family since new, and I bought it in early 2020 with approximately 120,000-miles on the clock. It had been well looked after, and much of its history was with BMW main dealers which is what drew me to it in the first place – low ownership and good history.”
It’s interesting to note that this car now sits within an impressive collection of modern classics. Sharing honours in Sam’s personal fleet we also find an E46 M3 Coupé, an E36 Convertible, an E91 325i Touring, and two very low-mileage 635CSi Highlines. “I have always aspired to own an E39 M5,” he adds, “but haven’t quite managed to achieve this as prices have risen sharply in recent years!” An impressive round-up indeed, and don’t go thinking that this is some static collection of show-ponies that get primped and polished but essentially left unused; no, they’re all driven as their Bavarian masterminds intended, and the 530i Champagne II is actually Sam’s regular everyday steer.
“I drive this E39 most days, and enjoy every single minute of it,” he assures us. And its outstanding condition as-bought is something he’s been very keen to build upon; daily duties don’t need to be equated with shabbiness, and Sam’s really taking pride in making his car the very best example that it can be. “Although the car is in very good order, I have spent a fair amount of time and money on it during my ownership,” he explains. “Prices appear to be on the rise, with low-mileage cars sometimes achieving £12,000 to £15,000, so I really don’t mind spending money on it to keep it tip-top. The biggest single expense has been the replacement of much of the cooling system, as plastic parts become brittle with age and can cause leaks.” It’s a fastidious belt-and-braces approach typical to all proper enthusiasts. Passion fused with mechanical sympathy is the name of the game, with no penny-pinching and an eye on the long game; a pleasing blend of pampering and utility, because after all it’s a car and cars are built to be used. This is more than just keeping on top of the maintenance, this is also taking great strides into future-proofing, and as such the to-do list is always reasonably well populated.
“The car does require a few cosmetic repairs,” says Sam. “I am currently having the sills painted as models of that era do suffer with surface rust. I also plan to have the seats retrimmed by a company that I use in Essex – although this is an expensive job to have done, I think that the rarity of the car and the enjoyment that it gives me will mean it’s well worth the investment.”
That last word is, perhaps, the linchpin of the whole story. Not an investment in a sense of cynically buying for future profit, in the way that a moneyed collector may buy a new Ferrari, not drive it, then punt it on for profit in a year’s time. No, this is an investment in time and emotion; buying the car was a fulfilment of a long-held dream, and the money spent on the car is mirrored by the passion and enthusiasm that underpin the whole endeavour. There’s a whole cast of characters who have helped Sam to fulfil and maintain his E39 dream as well: “I’d like to thank Rob at DK Schweizer in Colchester for his continued support in interior re-trimming,” he says, “and Martin at Trimline Systems for his amazing work with the car doing any cosmetic interior repairs for me. Further thanks must go to BMW Spares in Little Chart for supplying affordable used parts, as their knowledge of older BMWs is second to none.”
This really is the ethos of keeping nineties and early-noughties cars relevant as daily drivers in 2021: specific knowledge resides in the heads of specialists, and those who were there doing their thing at the time. The fella on the parts desk at your local BMW dealer may or may not know the ins-and-outs of an E39, it’s context-bound – but knowing the right people, and having been there yourself, is something for which there’s no substitute. So with impeccable style, endless flair and no little panache, Sam has ticked the box he’s been angling towards for years. He hasn’t just bought an E39… he’s bought the E39. An impeccable example of the BMW model he always yearned for, the Champagne II – the rhythm of the 1990s, remixed for use in the twenty-first century.
This is an investment in time and emotion; buying the car was a fulfilment of a long-held dream
2002 BMW 530i Automatic Champagne II E39
- ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M52B30 3.0-litre straight-six, 5-speed Steptronic, 3.46 differential
- EXTERIOR: Black Sapphire Metallic, xenon headlights, 18” M Parallel wheel
- INTERIOR: Leather heated electric memory seats, Communications Pack, Light Maple wood trim, sat-nav