The visual imagery of an E39 BMW M5, jumping straight out of Car & Bike International couldn't have left a more telling impact on me. It was December 1998, and the damage was done, for life! Never had an image spoken so much to me at that impressionable age, and flipping through the pages I found what I was looking for - the one car that would top my personal favourites list. Forever!
There was a reason behind that. Back then, anything with over 300 bhp was considered fast. 350 bhp and you were now seriously looking at some landspeed records on the Salt lake flats. Push that 400 bhp and we were talking supercar territory. Ferrari's 355 didn't make that much at the time and neither did the Porsche 911 Turbo, which didn't exist! But this one did. The 5.0-litre V8, derived from the then 540i's 4.4-litre V8 was a gem, a masterstroke. Quadcams, butterfly valves, individual throttle bodies and that M sport button that sharpened the throttle response, changed the exhaust note and stiffened the suspension and steering. Plus, it looked like you could go to Nurburgring with your family and clock some absurd times while everyone inside strapped on for their dear lives.
This madness was created at BMW's M division at Garching, shielded from the prying eyes of the media and the competition. Everything that the division strived for was done under utmost secrecy. It was, as if BMW denied its existence, a sort of Area 51 that no one needed to talk about. Yet they believed in a few fundamentals - only high revving engines, no turbocharging or supercharging, no automatic gearboxes and definitely no SUVs or large saloons like the 7 Series. There was focus, sheer genius at work and a mad attention to engineering detail. Ten years on, things haven't stayed the same.
As a crazy follower of everything M (and still haven't driven any!), I can't help but rue M-division's fate. Everything after the E46 M3 in 2001 has been slightly lacking that M division focus. First in 2004, the current E90 M5 embraced a sequential gearbox with so many different settings that M5 owners will talk to you about gearbox issues and electronic gremlins. The fate of the owners of the similarly engined M6 is no different. For some strange reason, M wanted to feel inspired by its F1 foray. Still, I accepted it as a way of making some concessions. It happened again in 2007 with the M3, where this time BMW stuck to its F1 obsession. This one was better and felt a bit more M-like and just as my faith in the brand was getting re-affirmed, they dropped a bomb shell - the X5 M and the X6 M.
Not that accepting two SUVs from M was hard, the fact that they were turbocharged was outright scandalous to my ears! Yes, I understand M division's need to make profitable cars that also help keep the overall CO2 basket in check, but this one really bordered on the absolute absurd. I couldn't help but wonder, when M would create (M)agic. Those high revving engines, those great driving dynamics, the snickety sound of the manual gearbox hammering into place in an all lightweight package. And now, as I write here, Autoblog seems to be reporting that the M division will also look at diesel technologies 'when the time is right'.
In a way, M has re-written the rules it was based on. It might work for a generation of new drivers who want something quick and 'exciting', except that I think they will miss out on driving pleasure that so made the division a thing of legends. In all this hulabaloo, my determination to save up for a prime example Silverstone E39 M5 has only gotten stronger!