This is how you take two paths to the same five-speed five-door 300-plus-horsepower result. It just so happens that this pair of BMWs were once garaged not five houses apart from each other, but the red Touring was decidedly more mellow back then. The M5 unfortunately belongs to my father instead of to me, but well before that car came over from Germany I remember growing up admiring our neighbor down the way’s bright red BMW station wagon. That was when it was still a humble 525 with an automatic, a stock and subtly spec’d car whose only flair was a primary color. I didn’t know it was an E34 or what year it was built in or that the red was called Brilliantrot, but whenever it drove past our house or in the other lane of traffic across the median of our small drag strip-style downtown it would make me for lack of a better word, pine.
That car led to years of internet forums, Photoshop, Craigslist, and frequent rationalizations as to why I needed to have a red E34. Years and years later I got one, and somewhere along the way the car that had captivated my grade school years stopped coming up over the hill on our street. We’d always asked if it was for sale and to let us know if it would be at some later date, but it turns out we weren’t first in that line. A 5-Series station wagon is a pretty typical car for a suburbanite, but soccer moms aren’t banging down doors to buy twenty-year-old examples. Whoever bought the car was both a bastard and a pretty cool dude, surely.
Certain slices of the world really are small and self-referential, and local boxy BMW enthusiasts tend to find one another eventually. Still, though the car had only moved a few towns away, we didn’t realize that fact until very recently when Brian, the current owner, chased my dad down one Sunday to ask if the M5 Touring that he’d followed to the Wal-Mart parking lot was a real one. A friend in the making, obviously, and soon enough the two were shuffling through their automotive histories and finding that there was plenty in the middle of their Venn diagram.
In amongst a turbocharged Alpina E30 and a 997 in the middle of an LS swap that constitute the Forever Car and the Current Project, Brian mentioned he had recently finished working on an E34 Touring of his own. “Work” meaning swapping an original Dinan-ized M3 drivetrain complete with supercharger and five-speed gearbox into a red automatic car he’d acquired a few years earlier. Like the V8-into-Porsche transplant that was taking place in the driveway on the day these photos were taken, he did the whole thing just a few feet from the garage door into the living room.
I was excited to meet the guy who’d taken my childhood dream car and turned it into something even better, and after geeking a little bit about the original 1994 M-Technic E36 (the “test” car for the North American market before BMW committed to selling the second-generation M3 here), we then drove off in full twin mode (you’ve noticed the red car wears the M5 bodywork and throwing star wheels?) to a dockyard nearby. Industrial blight and dingy warehouse windows: nothing too original in the wide world of places to take pictures of just-washed cars, but hey, we all have our crutches.
Thankfully there was space enough that some gruff boat-yarders didn’t materialize from behind a Sea Ray to tell us to F off. It’s not often that you get the chance to pose two of your favorite cars together, so our privacy was much appreciated as I was supine on the oil-dotted concrete trying to “capture the light” and really just needing an excuse to keep ogling the pair of stately Bimmers.
With its supercharger and various supporting bits, the S52 inline-six in Brian’s car should be making power figures in the same neighborhood as the M5’s stock S38 (just a foal or two above 340). So if you aren’t keen on Google-Translating your way through a used car deal, you can always build your own version in the driveway. That’s not to suggest that Red is trying to be Purple, just that the two have a lot in common. Both are the result of the path less taken, both journeys well worth their endpoints.