By on June 14, 2013

Derek writes:

One of the things Doug and I wanted to do with this column is to highlight the regional differences in car choices – not just in condition and value but the overall selection. Any surprise that humid, sunny Atlanta has a dearth of Audis while snowy Canada is awash in them?

When Doug proposed covering the E34 M5, I had a bit of a problem on my hands – they’re about as scarce as gun rights advocates in my neck of the woods. Nowadays, an M5 is simply a four-door sedan that foreign exchange students drive around the University of Toronto campus, but back then, the Audi Ur-S4 and Ur-S6 was clearly the high performance sedan of choice.

A search in the classifieds yielded no less than six Ur-S cars for sale, in varying conditions. There was everything from a true crapwagon to a real-life one-owner car, tastefully modified with relatively low km’s on the odometer. A lot of M Cars, AMG models and B5 S4s seem to be bought up by young guys with enough cash to purchase the car, but their maintenance budgets are usually diverted to buying table service and ecstasy tablets at Toronto nightclubs. These cars are easy to spot in the classifieds thanks to the poor grammar of the ad copy, the ugly rims slapped on the cars and the warning against “LOW BALLERZ AND TEST PILOTS”.

Not so with the original S-cars. They all seem to be owned by older, more mature owners who live in nice parts of town and have the money to maintain them meticulously. This car was serviced at a good independent mechanic and has relatively low mileage. It’s a nice balance between condition and price and…oh what the hell, I really like the color and those BBS wheels. I probably don’t have the stomach to deal with the maintenance requirements, but the thought of dashing through the snow with the diffs locked and the turbo signing is mighty tempting. Unless, you know, the right 500E came along…

Doug writes:

Down in Atlanta, we don’t have any Audi S4s, or Audi S6s, or really any sort of Audi except for the Q5.  You might think this is because we don’t get any snow, but the real reason is they’ve all broken down and been shipped to the north, where people care enough to fix them.

Anyway: since we don’t have any high-performance Audis from the mid-1990s, I went looking for some high-performance BMWs.  And it turns out we don’t have many of those, either.

The model I selected was the “E34” BMW M5, which was sold here from 1991 to 1993.  Only three years on the market didn’t bode well for its long-term existence, as just two showed up anywhere near me.

The first – and the least desirable – is this 1991 model.  Since it’s on Craigslist, mileage is unlisted.  This is a rule on Craigslist, much like uploading photographs of the vehicle in the smallest size possible.

The seller wants $14,800, which – at first glance – is astronomical.  I say that because the car is wearing offensively large aftermarket wheels, which, to me, is a sign of “I bought the car to look cool and have deferred every single piece of maintenance you can possibly defer.”  But on closer examination, the interior looks to be pristine, which may mean it’s been treated well.  Still: is it worth $14,800?  I have no idea, because the mileage is unlisted.

This white 1991 model on is far more enticing, largely because we know it has 117,000 miles.  We also know it has a lot of recent maintenance, as described in the ad.  Condition is excellent, and – at just $16,000 – it’s only a little more money than the one on Craigslist.

Unfortunately, those two cars are just about the only E34 M5 options available right now.

But it’s two more than the Audi S4 and S6.

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26 Comments on “Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crapwagons: E34 M5 Vs. Ur-S4/S6...”

  • avatar

    Hence NEQ Audi Club annex was started. These cars today are still getting track time at their repective club track outings.

  • avatar

    Tough choice – I would take either (for very different reasons), and they’re plentiful here in the UK.

  • avatar

    I thought seriously about buying an E34 M5 years ago (enough years ago that this was a CPO example at my local BMW dealer, probably not long after “CPO” first became a thing, maybe 1996ish). They have many virtues, but steering feel is so very not one of them. It’s light, it’s vague, it’s sloppy, it’s not what people who are used to the modern 3-Series will associate with BMW. Not at all. In fact, it’s bad enough that it was what turned me away from this particular very nice low miles adult-owned black/black example that was right in my price range.

    • 0 avatar

      Very interesting. Never driven one and now possibly glad I haven’t. You think “M5” and think “so cool” but I imagine those old ones definitely don’t live up to the hype you have in your mind – if that was true in 1996, it’s definitely true 15 years AFTER that.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe those cars still have the steering box setup rather than a rack and pinion, same as an e28. Lots and lots of little ball joints to wear out, and the box itself too. When it is all good it is fine, but any wear makes the steering feel terrible. Still nowhere near as good as the racks in the 3-series or later 5s.

      Current e9x have steering feel that is NOTHING like any older BMW. It is much, much, much heavier, IMHO artificially so for no good reason. Historically BMWs with power steering had fairly light steering feel, and tended to be quite low-geared other than the original M3, which was quicker but nowhere near as heavy. I would even say that at speed my e91 has heavier steering than an 2002!

      Personally, I don’t really care about mileage when it comes to these sorts of cars. You can have a pristine 200K car that was cherished from new and ready to rock and roll, or you can have a 50K car that is utterly thrashed. Current condition is the ONLY thing that matters.

  • avatar

    14-16k does seem astronomically high for a 20 year old BMW sedan. Prospective buyers must be really, really fixated on having *that* model to pay that much when there are plenty of competent sport sedans at least a decade newer available in the same price range.

  • avatar

    It seems like a lot of car models go through a “nostalgia bubble” that correlates with a market of buyers who were 15-20 years old when the car was new (and expensive). Now those buyers are 40-60 and have the disposable income to buy them, which buoys prices to irrational levels, especially for limited edition models. The true classics make it past this hump, come back down, and then often go back up in value in the longer-term. Just an observation. Car values are frequently detached from the car’s actual merits. And for desirable, mass-produced cars, you’ll at least get a price floor effect — look at 20-year-old Miatas or Wranglers.

    Just a hypothesis from a large collection of anecdotes and random CL and ebay searches. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I can personally relate as I watch early 90s RX-7s or Toyota Supras (or the M5!) go through this phase. These are the cars I longed for as a young teenager.

  • avatar

    What I love about this generation of German Q-ship – the Audi especially – is that they really were stealth “rockets” (in the context of their day, that is; 225 hp in the S4 isn’t going to set the world on fire amid today’s 270+ hp Camrys). Aside from slightly flashier 16″ aluminum wheels and a couple of subtle little badges, there was very little to differentiate it from a regular Audi sedan. Look inside, though, and you found a nice leather interior, and the turbo engine with advanced AWD. From what I understand, you could find a good bit more power by upping the boost, too. I’ve toyed with getting one of those, but their all-weather ability means that they were used in winter, and very few remain without rust issues. Prices of them have remained strong, too, when you can find one.

    The E34 M5 is virtually unknown, and I never see them, even though the flashier-but-still-subdued E39 is relatively common. I always think of the movie Ronin when I think of the E34, or of the first generation S8, which was another hot car in an unassuming package.

    • 0 avatar

      With the S4/S6, stock you are still a fast car, but no question you can’t keep up with a V6 Camry or a modern performance car. It is a lot of fun stock, anyway, because it is a nimble car for its size and the old-fashioned turbo tip-in feels and sounds awesome!

      It is also a cheap car to mod – chips alone can get you to ~290hp, a new turbo can get you into the 350 hp range without becoming hard to drive on the street, and people are driving around with 700hp monsters.

      • 0 avatar

        I remember driving an ur-S4 back in the day and being seriously surprised how agile and responsive it felt. Mind you, this is against expectations based on a run-of-the-mill A6 or 100. But still, it was actually fun taking it through the twisties!

  • avatar


    I live in Florida, and I own a 1995 Audi S6 – one of those one-owner Unicorns (OK, I’m the 3rd owner). So the cars do exist in the SE.

    If you live in ATL you can get in touch with the Audi Club of Georgia ( ). Also these cars are rare enough you may have to travel a bit.. check the classifieds on and

  • avatar

    I’m not sure about old ones, but I see modern S4’s/S6’s everywhere in the Chicago area. M5s? Not so much, but I still do see them.

  • avatar

    Here in the Deep South/Sunbelt, any S-line Audi from the mid-90s is extremely rare. Heck, any Audi from the mid-90s at all would have to be driven by an eccentric. With no real need for AWD, and a very limited dealer network back in that era, you’d have to really seek one out. Bimmers of the same era (even the rare M5) are not nearly as uncommon.

    The dealer network is the #1 factor, IMO, not the need for AWD. BMW’s dealer network in the US has been pretty well established for decades, while Audi and VW have been on a growth trend (in fits & starts) since 1990 or so. If you don’t have a dealership around, odds of buying a new car from that marque are slim.

  • avatar

    The E34 M5 has to be the rarest of the M5 line. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the road. Loved it in the movie Ronin though.

    I always thought the stock wheels on this M5 were stupid-looking. They’re probably huge 18″ wheels, but the design makes them appear like 16 wheels with plastic wheelcovers and whitewall tires. Am I right?

    Here’s a good example:

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I think they’re probably 16-inch wheels as the supersizing of wheels past 17-inches didn’t really start to happen until the late 1990s and early 2000s…

    • 0 avatar

      It’s so bizarre – I’m glad you mentioned this. The wheels are actually a multi-piece design, the theory being that they helped cool the brakes. Here’s a great story on it:

      • 0 avatar

        Those wheels were BMW at their absolute pinnacle.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for the link, Doug. That’s an interesting little write-up. I can definitely appreciate them more after reading that, but if I ever bought an old M5 I’d still switch out the wheels. BMW has so many great wheel designs to choose from, and I’m not a racer, so I doubt the 25% cooler brakes would be noticeable to me.

    • 0 avatar

      You are right. The first time I saw one…I thought WTF..somebody put a set of Uniroyal Tigerpaws on it??

  • avatar

    I occasionally see an Ur-S6 in the area, and I’ve always wondered about it. It seemed pretty well kept up, although I think there was some duct tape on either a door panel or seat somewhere. You don’t see too many of the Ur-S cars at all, but I’d definitely consider getting one.

    I also saw an older Audi coupe (Ur-Q, maybe) driving in the area, and then another one that must have had RS2 parts on it, because the plate referred to the RS2 (it wasn’t an Avant, it looked like an Ur-Q, IIRC).

    Even here in California, the newer S-cars are relatively rare, although it’s easy enough to find a couple driving in traffic in SF/Silicon Valley (S8 is rare, but not impossible to see, S6 I’ve seen sometimes, S4/S5 is most common obviously). I believe the number of S4s tipped upward a bit when Audi phased out the V6s in the A4, but not that much. Any RS model is definitely much more rare — I just saw an RS4 widebody the other day, but haven’t seen very many at all. The RS6 is quite rare (although there were a decent number for sale nationally, last I checked).

    ::A lot of M Cars, AMG models and B5 S4s seem to be bought up by young guys with enough cash to purchase the car, but their maintenance budgets are usually diverted to buying table service and ecstasy tablets at Toronto nightclubs.::

    Agree with Mr. Kreindler that a lot of these seem to end up in hands like this. M3s are probably the most common among that group, I’d guess, at least here in CA.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Seeing those two nineties M5 examples raises a question in my head: who was the first manufacturer to use projector-headlamps? I’m sure it was either Audi or BMW…

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know about the rest of the world, but BMW started using them in the US in ’88. Even the E30 got them that year. Audi used terrible US specific lights in all of their cars until the URS4 came around in ’92. I believe their E code lights were projectors from around ’87 on. Very common swap for Audi guys back then.

  • avatar

    Everyone on this site has heard me complain about the high expense and unreliability of BMW vehicles. That said, I WOULD buy an M5 (or a 3-series) if it had a transplanted Ford 5.0 motor and tranny!

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