After owning it for nearly nine months I finally wrote a review of my Boot. And I start off with the verdict. It’s alarmingly scruffy, has annoying flaws, is therefore worthless and I fear the day I might lose this thing. Buying it was my best mistake yet, and I’ll try to explain to you why.
As my first and only car I wanted something that I like to look at, is practical, nice to drive, a bit different, cheap to buy, reasonable in terms of running costs and immediately ready for a journey up north. Basically it just needed to be everything a car could offer a Jalop for the price of one of those fancy coffee makers people buy to fill the empty space in the kitchen where the bread maker used to be.
By looking at the list of things I wanted from an ownership experience there were very little alternatives to an old BMW lifestyle truck - maybe there wasn’t an alternative at all.
Volvo? Too expensive.
Mercedes? Hmm. Am I that old already?
A VAG product? Meeeh.
Opel Omega? Tempting, but is it interesting? Maybe it’s interesting because it isn’t interesting? No, I’m not really feeling it.
Some American V8 wagon? Yes please, but who’s paying for fuel?
I was essentially forced to buy an E34 Touring. What a bummer...
First of all let’s be honest because we’re all friends here: By talking numbers my car isn’t any good and on its own it’s also not that interesting. So just for you I sacrificed my precious vacation to drive the E34 1,600 miles to Norway and back in order to spice things up a bit and to give you the ownership experience in a nutshell. You’re welcome!
The trip was going to be a little adventure and because Norway is really expensive I planned to be as self-sufficient up there as possible. You think the Top Gear guys and their huge support crew are useless? Well, I’m the kind of guy who lies awake at night and worries about the worst possible outcome of everything. So what do I do? I buy 40 (!) meters of rope. A man needs rope to fix the tent, the car and maybe even glaciers when the shit hits the fan, right? It doesn’t matter that I can’t tie any decent knots.
I’m so practical that halfway through Denmark I remembered that I forgot my raincoat at home. Never mind! I was only travelling to one of the wettest places in all of Europe. Maybe I can fabricate a raincoat out of rope if need be?
I’m done packing. No, wait. Rope!
The E34 Touring isn’t good looking. You don’t have to compare it to an E-Type or a 250 GTO to get to this conclusion. Just observe how people are ignoring it when you roll down the street. This is what I mean with “not good looking”.
I know it’s all about safety, efficiency and contemporary styling, yet it feels to me like BMW realised that they weren’t the aggressive, sporty challengers anymore when they designed the E34. The typical design elements, which were introduced in the early 60s, are still alive here, but clearly toned down. That’s why it looks a bit bland and conservative compared to earlier models. This is especially true at the front where the sharknose is dearly missed.
I found this pair in Bergen.
The abscense of this iconic design feature might be sad, but what’s really bothering me is that the E34 Touring always looks like either the front is riding too high or like it carries something heavy in the back. Yes, in the pictures I made in Norway it hauled some camping equipment and food for two people around, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. The effect caused by the wheelarches is the most awful thing created by mankind since the alarm clock. There is another problem with the Touring version of the E34. Sometimes the proportions look a bit off I think. Spinelli introduced me to the phrase “hero angle”. And what is the opposite of a hero angle? This maybe?
Do you also see the beached whale carcass? And feast your eyes on the gap over the front wheel. Yuck.
On top of all that Das Boot is a Shadowline Edition meaning the sparkling chrome trim is deleted which makes it very stealthy.
Avoid the most awful angle and lower the front if you have to and the design just works. I wanted something that looks oldschool without busy lines, a shitload of air intakes and aerodynamic witchcraft and that’s exactly what I got. The E34 was made when cars still weren’t as rounded as today’s cw-worshippers, and since it’s probably really unsafe it’s luckily less bulky as well. The i3 for example is only a small runabout, but it dwarves my Boot in this picture.
While the E34 is sleek, unagitated and elegant, the four headlights give it a confident personality and “Überholprestige” (overtaking-reputation). The “facial expression” is always making me feel like my Boot might be a bit grumpy yet completely unfazed by what’s going on in the world. The E34 looks like a leader I’d follow anywhere.
Another example of a modern/functional design: The power station in Nesflaten designed by Geir Grung.
I should mention the SuperSport exhaust here. You know those deep sea fishes which attract prey and potential mating partners with the bioluminescent parts of their body? The dual exhaust tip works a bit like that. Well, be advised that the SuperSport won’t help you to find a mate, but it definetely gets a lot of attention from lowered Passats. They really can’t seem to get enough of it and do make sure to stick to my rear bumper as close as possible. So if Passats are your thing get a SuperSport right now!
Squeezed in tightly and fun in tunnels: The SuperSport.
The exterior is also the greatest headache I’m facing. The scratches have some black paint in it and there is quite a bit of rust all around. While not exactly life-threatening yet, I have no idea how to repair bodywork myself and the potential costs of letting professionals taking care of it are way beyond the worth of the car.
I can’t really be trusted with money because I love things too much, yet I’m not sure whether I’m actually crazy enough to get lost in a project like this. It pains me to even think about it, but it’s surely cheaper to buy a 520i in a better condition than trying to rescue my bucket. If only I wasn’t so attached...
When I buried the gas pedal in a galaxy far away Obi Wan felt a great disturbance in the force.
That’s the kind of superlative we’re expecting from car reviews nowadays. Yet I can only offer you 2 litres worth of naturally aspirated inline six from a time when Golf GTIs were cannon fodder even for the smaller BMW engines, and I was thinking for months about the right word to use when I had to describe what the engine is like. I settled with:
Think about the word for a while. There’s motion and emotion in it without being a superlative which doesn’t really apply.
While spine-breaking g-forces and absolute speed are fun, you have to understand that the “slow” M50B20(TÜ) isn’t meant to be the last word in efficiency. So unlike normal econobox-engines it’s playful and encourages spirited driving. It rewards punishment with a nice sound and the addicting “turbine-effect” everyone is blathering on about. This means instead of running out of steam at 3,000rpm the surge is increasing while the revs are building up. Do I want more of the same? Yes, of course! Who doesn’t? It’s faster than a coffee maker though...
Sure, for the kind of performance it offers the 520i is maybe a bit thirsty. Yet you don’t buy a car like this if you are concerned about the fuel consumption anyway.
Oh, and the rough idle is a nice touch.
And 1,303km into the trip this happened.
250,000km and the engine is absolutely dry and ready to cross continents. The previous owners luckily knew how to treat it with respect. So hopefully there are many milestones to celebrate left.
There’s a catch to all this cheap goodness though: The lack of low end torque out in the real world.
Perhaps the three main reasons to buy a 520i back in the day were friends, neighbours and colleagues.
The journey to Norway started with a mind-numbing 480mi stretch of motorway from Göttingen to Hirtshals in Denmark to catch the ferry there. This kind of long distance cruising is arguably what the BMW E34 520i is best at.
I’m a bit surprised that after months on Oppo nobody adressed a detail on my car. The number plate.
Sadly I wasn’t able to get GÖ - OA 5599 or a bit altered GÖ - A 5599 (read: G ÖA 5599).
So I had to make do with K(owalski) 5599. Close enough...just.
I really don’t like motorway driving that much, but travelling long distances behind the wheel is kind of a spiritual experience nonetheless. It symbolizes freedom and adventure and Vanishing Point captures this atmosphere brilliantly. That’s why I chose the number plate. Unlike a pony car a wagon has the advantage of enough space to bring more than a few pills with you though.
Anyway, once you’re up to about 80mph in 5th gear you feel the sweetspot at 4,200rpm where the torque, which fought an uphill battle against hatchbacks to arrive up there, gets tagged out of the ring by his partner horsepower. Now everything lightens up as he pummels the smaller engined cars into submission. By keeping the engine above 4,000 rpm you will have no problems in hasty traffic. Leading the charge with 150hp is out of the question of course. Leave that to the newer generations of black business expresses dominating the left lane.
Admittledly, having cruise control would be fantastic on a trip like this.
Just following the sat-nav up north.
So there I was comfortably gangster leaning through one and a half countries enjoying the benefits of a premium ride. Although there is slightly more wind noise than in modern cars the E34 is pleasingly quiet and runs silky smooth at speed - if you withstand the temptation of bolting on a SuperSport muffler. This exhaust adds some vibration and noise although it’s never annoying.
Once we left the ferry in Stavanger Das Boot was met by roads which were able to explore the limitations of the 520i - and its driver - a bit better.
Norway offers a wide range of proving grounds from narrow roads with tight corners,
spectacular twisting roads,
to open highways.
We were even kind of off-roading on a narrow mountain road which was advertised as an “experience”. Those about ten kilometers of crawling uphill were the most nerve-racking minutes of driving I ever had because I was honestly worried about my Boot.
Have a guess at what my Boot preferred?
It’s the same old story. Geared for high speed cruising with a rev-happy engine the 520i struggled with the 80kph speedlimit - quite often just 60kph - especially on roads uphill. In third gear the engine often dropped below 3,000rpm and second gear is obviously not ideal for cruising longer distances. The fuel costs would rip through the vacation budget like a strong esspresso from a nice coffee maker rips through the guts.
You already see a lot of Teslas in Norway. They definetely don’t struggle at steep gradients like my car does.
But the sweepers on level ground next to the fjords would be driving heaven if there weren’t a few important things to consider:
1. Getting caught breaking the speed limit only by a few kph will effectively end your vacation because the fines are a case Amnesty International needs to be all over right now.
2. Random potholes everywhere. The climate is relentless.
3. Wildlife like moose and domestic animals like sheep and goats might surprise you.
4. Traffic of course. Even the narrowest and twistiest of roads are shared with trucks and busses.
5. The mechanical abuse. Since it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world I didn’t want to break down in Norway.
What the fjord happened here? It looks like the car was taken apart and burnt down after that...
All this doesn’t seem to bother the locals much. I don’t know whether they enter “Volvohalla” after they died in a car accident to dine and drive with Scandinavian rallye-legends for all eternity or if they overtake in a suicidal manner and drive considerably faster than the speedlimit to impress us tourists. By the way a Norwegian truck filling your rearview mirror with its bullbar on a steep downhill section is some scary shit.
The Hardangervidda - the largest mountain plateau in Europe
When it comes to the question of cornering, handling and ride quality I have to admit that I can’t compare my car to anything else. It’s the only premium car I’ve ever driven and - with the exception of 45 miles in a ‘70 Mercury Cougar with a 302 - my Boot is by far the most powerful one too.
So my very short verdict: I’m perfectly satisfied with the ride quality and was never worried that I might reach the limit of the chassis or brakes even when I was going swiftly (at home).
At the Folgefonna glacier ski lift.
I’d love to meet the guy who ordered the car back in the day. He must have been miserable. So exactly my kind of guy.
- Cosmos Black (X)
- Shadow Line (X)
- Black leather seats (X)
- Black wood panels (X)
Yup, the car is quadruple black.
Like the outside the interior is designed in a functional and minimalistic fashion which I happen to like very much. Despite being twenty years old by now the interior is amazingly still not rattling or squeaking at all and relative to the outside in a very decent condition. The seats aren’t ripped and nothing is missing or severly broken yet. It’s still a nice place to be if you feel as much at home in a black wasteland as I do.
Some days were surprisingly warm and we were enjoying the benefits of a dual sunroof.
Das Boot has some minor flaws. The headlining hangs down in three different places,
a trim piece next to the dual sunroof wants to wander off as well
and the seat-belt tensioner of the driver’s seat is very weak.
In the back the E34 isn’t as spacious as comparable wagons, but I was able to fit a 200x90cm mattress in there just fine and we were sleeping comfortably for two weeks.
Keeping a few simple rules in mind you’re allowed to camp everywhere in Norway. This provided us with spectacular views from our bedroom.
I was also able to transport a medium sized fridge a few months ago. If you really need more practicality you should probably buy a van.
The clutch is showing its age and is grabbing very late. Shifting smoothly is a delicate affair because of it and not as crisp and satisfying as I’d like it to be. It took me months to get used to it.
Even though it has a lot of speakers the stereo system sounds tiny.
Being old and German it doesn’t have any cupholders. I do love coffee...
just needs a refill is broken.
Sticking the elbow out of the window is impossible.
The door check on the driver’s side door was ripped out.
The cables at the tailgate are a weak spot and those for the defroster and rear wiper are already broken.
All in all it isn’t too bad. You can blame most of those issues on my incompetence and laziness. I should have dealt with some of them already - months ago!
The Final Verdict
The price for a decent E34 Touring bottomed out so buy one now! But I’d suggest to purchase the 525i because it’s the better allrounder.
My mistake was not to be able to wait in order to buy the best possible 520i. As a result I’m faced with some aggravating decisions right now.
And visit Norway. It’s a beautiful country!
I’ll brew a coffee now - with my trusted French press. It’s all about priorities.