“Mercedes developed a monster street version of the 190 named the 2.3 16V, sending the spoiler-clad Benz onto the roads in 1983. BMW had nothing to respond with.”
Not our words, but the words of BMW itself; specifically, BMW’s M-Division. It’s not often you find such explicit praise from rival performance powerhouses, but then it’s not often BMW finds itself without a proposition that has now become ingrained into its very DNA: a really fast, really powerful street-legal performance saloon.
In the early 1980s, the Mercedes Benz 190E 2.3 16V was indeed a monster Benz - in the hands of Ayrton Senna at the Nürburgring in a one-make, one-off race filled with track-spec 190s to inaugurate the new circuit, he decimated all. BMW responded with the car in the picture above, the very first M-powered 5-Series. Technically it was named the M535i. To the rest of us, it was the first M5, born just over 30 years ago.
It had a 3.5-litre straight six developing 218bhp and 229lb ft of torque. It accelerated from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds. It had a top speed of 143mph. It had specially developed Michelins, a redesigned front spoiler and rear boot lip spoiler.
But the M535i was just the start. No sooner was it out the door, the M-Division engineers set to work making it faster, nastier and more sideways. The most recent ‘30 Jahre’ edition M5 for example - which we twin-tested against the Lexus GS F - features a twin-turbo V8 with nearly 600bhp, for goodness sake.
Click on to see how the M5 has grown up over three decades…