Is this your next BMW? The fourth generation of the company's 5-series, E39 in Munich's nomenclature, suddenly looks like a very attractive choice. Prices are better than they've ever been and these bulletproof, beautifully appointed machines will cosset you on every journey. The E39 was built between 1995 and 2004, with two body styles available: spacious saloon or curvaceous dog-friendly sports wagon, or 'Touring' in BMW-speak. We've picked out two contrasting E39s: the first is a great bargain, the second a genuinely rare race-bred classic. Whichever is your preference, you'll have a choice piece of BMW history in your driveway.
With less than 30,000 miles on the clock, this pristine Topaz Blue example is just about run in, and boasts refurbished 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with M-sport suspension and bodykit to add to its substantial kerb allure. The closer you look the better it gets, especially at a price that wouldn't even buy you a new Ford Fiesta. The BMW is an import from Japan, but fear not: all of the appropriate paperwork is present and correct. There's also a reassuringly substantial history file, including a fully stamped service book, essential on BMWs of this generation.
The BMW's cabin is a soothing and luxurious place to be, subtle in its comforts without needing to shout. Anthracite sports seats in cloth with Alcantara bolsters show little if any signs of wear. Trim is in aluminium, a rare choice over the more commonly specified walnut and one that, in our view, adds substantial timeless class to what is already a superbly designed interior.
The impressive condition extends to the under-bonnet area, where BMW's much-admired 2.5-litre M54 straight-six resides - and presents here in superb cosmetic condition, driving the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox. Expect a top speed of well over 140 mph when you're next on an appropriate Continental motorway that allows such things, with 60 mph coming up in a respectable 8.9 seconds. This BMW, though, is best suited to wafting about in the most relaxing fashion possible. Quietly brilliant.
A simply stellar not-BMW. Far from ordinary, this is arguably the most desirable E39 derivative of them all and the price reflects that. The Touring body was, to many eyes, the most attractive of the two E39 options. Here, the enthusiast racers at Alpina, BMW tuners extraordinaire, have re-engineered the E39 to turn a very good car into a truly great one, with a new name and badging to match. It's super-rare too: Alpina say they made just 19 - yes, you did read that right - Touring examples of what they called the B10. This car is number three. Exclusive doesn’t begin to describe it.
Spotting an Alpina is all in the detail. Signature Softline Alpina alloys mark the E39 out as something special, along with the coachlines to each side, another Alpina speciality. Suspension is lower than standard and brakes are upgraded. That's necessary because of what's under the bonnet: an uprated version of the engine used in the US-spec BMW M3 replaces the standard unit. Alpina are perfectionists: here there are lightweight pistons and a newly-developed crankshaft, all aimed at providing all-day cruising at autobahn speeds, with 0-60 mph coming up in a mere 6.7 seconds and a top speed of just under 160 mph which should be just enough, especially with your dogs in the back.
Inside it's very much back to the 1990s with Alpina's green and blue detailing to the grey fabric seats. Gleaming walnut trim extends to the gear lever, which controls the manual five-speed gearbox, Alpina spurning the ease of automatic shifting for the essential control required for this stellar high performance estate. Alpina have in the past campaigned racing BMWs driven by the likes of Niki Lauda and Derek Bell with great success. This super-subtle B10 allows you to find out what the magic of Alpina is all about. Unmissable.
Get your fix of all things automotive at The Garage.
We'll keep you up to date.