There’s been a lot of buzz regarding the 2006 – 2010 M5 lately, also known by enthusiasts as the E60 M5. Doug Demuro made a video about it, Savagegeese made a video about it, and Tyler Hoover made a video about it, claiming to have bought the cheapest M5 in the country at $6,500. Cheapest running M5, yes. But not the cheapest overall. I have recently acquired an M5 with 130k miles and a clean title for a mere $1500. How did I do it, and am I crazy? Read on and find out!
First, a little background. I’m a perpetually-broke 26-year old dude that runs a small BMW repair shop in Phoenix with my equally crazy friend (we’re called ASC Motorworks, if you’re ever in the Phoenix area and need your BMW worked on... shameless plug, I know). The point is, I’m no stranger to taking on ridiculously broken BMW projects that nobody else wants to, likely due to a winning combination of misplaced confidence and deep-rooted masochism.
As always, the story begins while scrolling around the internet aimlessly. I saw a post in my local BMW Facebook group from a guy that had a 2006 M5 for $6000 OBO, it had a high-pressure Vanos pump issue but allegedly ran and drove. I kept an eye on it for a while but didn’t do anything about it, given that $6000 was about $5999 more than I had to my name at the time. It stayed on the market for a little while because even the usual cheapskates were afraid of the V10 with its numerous expensive issues.
Then my friend had an idea that was equal parts awful and brilliant— what if we traded our $1500 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport for it? It was a recently acquired car that ran and drove nicely, albeit with a few minor issues. We were planning on flipping it, at least that’s why we bought it.
“There’s no way this guy will accept this trade offer,” I thought. But to my surprise, he did. I guess the idea of a properly running BMW seemed appealing to him (and the 540i was no slouch either, having a peppy 290hp V8). Before the rational part of my mind could talk me out of it, I was heading up to the M5 seller’s house in the 540i, ready to trade. The seller of the M5 turned out to be a nice guy, just not the most car-savvy. He had taken the M5 to the dealership a few months prior to address some running issues that it had, and after spending a whopping $3000 on ignition coils + spark plugs, he was then given a $7000 estimate to replace the high-pressure Vanos pump (a $3000 part). Naturally, he was eager to get rid of the car and happily took the trade— he even used one of his AAA tows to bring the car to our shop. And so we had a 2006 M5 for $1500, heck yeah!
My friend and I got super excited about our newly acquired M5, with its Formula 1-derived, naturally-aspirated V10 cranking out a furious 500hp whilst its 10 individual throttle bodies screamed the song of its people. The engine in this particular car was capable of revving to an astronomical 8400rpm, since it had a Dinan tune on it with an increased rev limiter. It also sported a fairly valuable Eisenmann Race exhaust on it, which was just icing on the highly depreciated BMW cake.
Less thrilling were the questionable 20" dubs on it, along with a heap of tacky underglow everywhere, Fast & Furious-style. An eBay rear window spoiler, eBay front lip, tinted headlights, and nasty “carbon fiber” roof wrap rounded out the ghetto appearance package.
Of course, the supposedly running M5 did not run... or crank at all. The seller swore it was a bad battery or an issue with the SMG transmission. We had a feeling it was something more serious, but we figured that the parts value of the M5 far exceeded the purchase price. After putting in a good, fully-charged battery, the engine still didn’t crank. Moving on to the next step of troubleshooting, we removed some of the cooling system to gain access to the crank pulley, to try and turn the engine over by hand. The engine did not turn over at all, even with a large breaker bar. Uh oh.
Now that we were dealing with what appeared to be a seized engine, we dug in a little deeper. Our initial (admittedly farfetched) suspicion was that it could have been a jammed starter, and since that was underneath the intake manifold (the starter on the S85 V10 is in the deepest part of the V), off came the intake plenum, exposing the ten individual throttle bodies. Just out of curiosity, we opened the throttle bodies to peek inside at the intake valves, and well, the picture speaks for itself:
Normally you’re not supposed to find anything in the intake, especially not chunks of metal. We tested the metal chunks with a magnet and found that it was a mix of ferrous and non-ferrous metal, oh boy. It was at this moment that we realized it wasn’t going to be a quick and easy fix.
After that brief disappointment, we did what any logical BMW owner would do in this situation and started preparing the engine to come out. While you definitely could pull this engine at home, having a shop with a lift at our disposal made it considerably easier and less messy. Normally for an engine pull we prefer to drop the whole front subframe, but we wanted to keep the shell movable so it wouldn’t tie up the lift while the car waited for a new engine. Thus, we opted to remove the front clip and pull the engine + transmission in the traditional way, from the front with a cherry picker.
The front clip came off pretty easily, especially since the bumper cover was missing quite a few fasteners, a nod to this car’s sordid past. Bit by bit, the rest came off, from the radiators to the oil cooler to the remote oil filter housing. To make putting it back together less of a nightmare, we kept all of the fasteners organized and labeled.
At some point during this process, we decided to stick a boroscope down the spark plug hole on cylinder #6, curious as to the horrors within. What we saw was quite interesting indeed...
Somehow, through a crazy sequence of still-undetermined events, the piston had called it quits and disappeared into the crankcase. We’re still not sure how it happened, but it’s quite fascinating indeed. More surprising is that this didn’t blow a hole in the block, as these are known to do. What we did know at this point was that the block was complete junk. At this point you would think we would be distraught or angry at our findings, but honestly we found it more amusing than anything. I guess it takes a special kind of person to look at that and laugh— perhaps that’s why we’re mechanics.
With the driver’s side exhaust header removed, the engine and transmission came out without too much of a fuss. The V10 and SMG transmission are absolutely massive; it’s nothing short of an engineering miracle that BMW was able to fit them into the space that they did.
That’s how the car sits now. Fear not, for we already have a plan to get it back on the road. The same day that we found metal shavings inside the throttle body, we started scouring the classifieds and forums for a replacement engine. The S85 V10 is not known for being particularly cheap, with good examples running around $6k - $8k, more than either of us wanted to pay. Within a day we had located an engine of questionable integrity for $2100 shipped. The seller claimed it rotated over freely but may or may not have had rod bearing issues. In any case, that’s an engine that we could rebuild, as opposed to our new, V10-shaped coffee table.
With that engine currently on the way from North Carolina, we’re obtaining all of the parts needed for our M5's triumphant rebirth: coated rod bearings, new connecting rod bolts, new gaskets, and a new clutch are among the many parts being ordered, mostly from FCP Euro for that sweet, sweet lifetime warranty. Given that the new engine is just the block + heads, we’ll also be transferring over the throttle bodies and accessories.
All in all, the E60 M5 is not as terrifying as people make it out to be. It’s no more complicated than any other late-model BMW as far as working on it goes, there’s just a lot more of everything so being organized is crucial. It’s the car that YouTubers love to hate on, but it’s one of BMW’s best-kept secrets for mechanically savvy enthusiasts. What other car can you get with a race-derived V10 that screams to 8400rpm for this cheap while still being practical to drive on a daily basis?
Stay tuned for the next installment, when we put together the new engine.