“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. You see, M Power opined that “motor racing with near-series cars was becoming increasingly popular”, and at the time of the 190’s reign (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 had nothing to offer enthusiasts who wanted a sportier version of its 5 Series.
So it went to work on a fast 5er (and later of course, a faster 3 Series, that would be a more direct rival to that 190). The very first M-powered 5 Series - technically named the M535i - arrived in 1984. To the rest of us, it was the first M5, born more than 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 Chris Harris pitted against the Lexus GS F - features a twin-turbo V8 with nearly 600bhp, for goodness sake. One iteration even features a V10.
Click on to see how the M5 has grown up over three decades…