Talking Cars #002: The 90’s Super Wagon that Never Was

Wagons are a dying car breed in today’s CUV-dominated world. Recently, older wagons have gained somewhat of a cult following. Some of these wagon icons include the Mercedes “S123” chassis turbo diesel wagons, the Volvo 240 wagons, and many BMW and Audi wagons ranging from never imported e30 wagons all the way to traditional A6 Avants. What we’re focusing on today is a specific example of the e34 wagon that has been completely transformed into what many believe to be just as good as (or better than) the holy grail of e34 wagons, the m5. 

What started as a traditionally spec’d 3.0 liter v8-powered automatic station wagon has been transformed into a 4.9 liter powerhouse mated to a killer 6-speed transmission and a surprisingly planted chassis. The original 3.0 liter “M60” v8 produced 215 hp and was mated to a slow and steady automatic transmission. The new engine came from an e39 m5. Internally referred to as the S62, this 4.9 liter v8 produced about 400hp and included highly advanced technology like quad cams, double vanos (BMW’s version of variable valve timing) and individual throttle bodies. In traditional skin, the s62 propels the e39 m5 to 60mph in under 5 seconds, making it the fastest sedan of that time. In this previous generation trim, it has to move 300 pounds less, giving this wagon a killer power-to-weight ratio. That power/weight paired to a 6 speed transmission completely transforms this car’s dynamics without hurting driveability whatsoever. 

Driving a normal e34 is a surprisingly refined experience. In every trim level from the 525 all the way up to the m5, the cockpit is very quiet and the engine quite smooth. This s62 swapped variant is no different. If it wasn’t for the custom exhaust, which sounds incredible but is a little loud in some situations, we’d think that it was an ordinary 540i from inside the cabin. Except for the part where there’s a 120 hp difference between the two.  

The suspension sits nicely but is stiff. The steering feels like factory e34 non M steering and there is a noticeable difference between that and a real m5 wagon. The seating position is incredible and comfortable thanks to some beautiful period Recaros. The transmission is very notchy with its super short shift kit. 

Build quality on this S62 swap is incredible. Most of the time, corners are cut during engine swaps. Wires are placed in strange places, random lights may be illuminated on the dash, and even in some cases, drivability is hampered. Not in this build. The owner of this car paid extreme attention to detail in every facet, from engine bay presentation to interior. Some things that stick out to us are the accessory mounting points inside the engine bay, the functional sport mode button inside the interior, and the microsuede headliner. Driving experience in this particular example is dominated by the powerplant. The noises that the s62 make are iconic and with this exhaust and intake system you’re truly able to take advantage of the 8 individual throttle bodies. A VALT member who owns a modified 540i wagon offered a few words about what makes this car so special in relation to a typical 540i.

“I’ve driven just about every standard e34 model and although this would have never been, it feels like it should have. The 540i was always the go to e34 for me, being the first recognized BMW production V8 on a large scale, it always had that extra wow factor packed into and already excellent car. Though it doesnt make much power in today’s standards, the m60b40 is still considered a quick, exciting and predictable powertrain that encompasses the classic BMW feel. My experience behind the wheel of the S62 touring is all of that plus a bolt of lightning and a glass of champagne. The power feels incredibly solid and well balanced all the way to the top plus an extra two tons of torque to play with when you decide to push that infamous “Sport” button. Particularly at highway speeds, it passes cars effortlessly. It’s like the power the wagon always wanted. I’ve been in over a dozen Tourings last year, and what may have surprised me the most was actually how smooth and comfortable the overall driving experience was. The cabin doesn’t creak, squeak, or rattle. The steering feels tight and directed. The road noise is politely muted and you feel like you’re driving a truly “M” inspired BMW wagon, just one that came several years after the last e34 touring left the production line.”

Overall, this is an incredible example of a ‘hotrod’ e34 with a powerplant that feels like it was meant for it. There is noticeably more power everywhere across the powerband when compared to a real S38 powered m5. We’d say the stock m5 seats are less comfortable than the Recaros but offer more lateral support. The clutch and shift feel on the real m5 is significantly better in our opinion, but there is no real problem with this 530i’s setup. The m5’s EDC suspension allows on the fly adjustment from inside the cockpit from comfort to sport. This allows for a highly dynamic experience while driving. The 530’s suspension, although well planted and comfortable, is slightly too stiff. Finally, we’d say the brakes are about equal, thanks to the 530i wearing upgraded brakes from a modern 3 series. This 530i touring will be available on Craiglist in the coming weeks, and we truly believe that this will break the Bring A Trailer record for non M e34 cars. 

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