Twenty-six and Counting

By Wendell Diefenbacher in Motors

Which ages faster: a person or a car?

If you’re a relatively normal human, it’s probably not a question you’ve given much thought. So think about it for a minute. Which one ages more quickly?

At first, you might say the car is the obvious answer. A good high-end lawyer wouldn’t dream of keeping a 6-year-old Mercedes; he’d need the new model well before then. People, on the other hand, are generally considered to be just barely beginning their lives at the age of 6.

However, let’s take a look at the other end of the scale. Emma Morano, the last living person confirmed to have been born in the 1800s, died in April of this year. Nabi Tajima, the oldest person currently alive, was born in 1900. That makes her 117 years old. Respectable numbers, sure, but cars have them soundly beat! A number of 1800s cars are still on the road today, from a variety of manufacturers. Wikipedia lists a car called La Marquise as the oldest. It’s an 1884 model, making it 133 years old.

So, cars seem to age more quickly right away, but last longer in the long run. I suppose the only way to answer this question is to look somewhere in the middle.  Humans are generally considered to reach their peak somewhere around 26 years old; after that, modern medicine’s best efforts can’t stop the process of progressive deterioration. That theoretically means that today’s ‘best’ humans were born around 1991. How do cars stack up? I’m ready to find out.

The October sky looks gloomy as I head for Goderich. I realize a good storm could make my trip futile, but I’m hoping for the best. I’m going to meet a man named Dave. Dave is going to introduce me to Rutger, his beloved 1992 BMW M5.

BMW gave the world the first M5 in 1984, with very little fanfare. The thought of a ‘sports sedan’ was a very new concept. BMW wasn’t sure if anyone would buy the car. However, a 280-hp sedan that could run almost neck-to-neck with the current supercars needed little introduction. The world loved it. Five years later, when BMW launched the second-generation M5, it was already a legend.

I park my car in front of Dave’s house and jump out, ready to meet the car. Dave welcomes me inside and kindly asks if I want coffee or tea. I’m not interested in either. I’m here for Rutger.

The garage door opens and I get my first glimpse of the car. The metallic black paint sparkles even in the dim light. The front-hinged hood is lifted, so I take a look underneath. Where most modern engine bays have a plethora of plastic, I see ‘BMW M POWER’ stamped onto the head of a rather large, long engine. This is it, the powerhouse that makes the M5 tick.

Dave backs the car out of the garage. The engine grumbles throatily as it warms up. Dave takes me in to his hat collection. “You can’t drive the BMW without a BMW hat,” he informs me. I pick out a sharp-looking white hat with the BMW Motorsport logo on it. Dave chooses a classy black hat. I toss my camera into the back seat and jump into the front, ready to go.

Inside the car, Dave’s replaced the old cassette deck with a CD player. He tells me the car is riding on a sportier Bilstein suspension and the engine has a Dinan tune. So, in our cars-to-humans comparison, this bodybuilder has taken a steiroid or two. But aside from those upgrades, the M5 looks like it could belong in an early ’90s BMW showroom.

We head out of town, Dave running the car through its gears as we head out some winding roads away from town. We hit a straight, empty section of road and he pins the throttle. The straight-six sings a siren song as the speedometer arcs upward and the tach spins toward its 7,000 RPM redline. After a few seconds, he backs it down to more legal speeds. The car is limited, electronically, to a mere 250 km/h, but we aren’t chasing that number today. Not on public roads.

After a few turns, Dave pulls the car onto the shoulder and tells me it’s my turn. I slide into the driver’s spot and reach for the controls. The power seat still works perfectly, so I move it to a comfortable position. I lower the e-brake, push the shifter into first gear, and we’re off.

I don’t stomp on the throttle quite like Dave did, but the car still pushes me back into my seat as I pull back onto the road. The large steering wheel feels properly meaty, and the long, wide hood is a constant reminder that there’s something big out there. The Bilstein suspension feels just right—luxurious enough over the bumps, but still crisp through the corners.

As we roll back into town, the M5 seems to tame down. It’s city manners are perfectly acceptable—it has lots of low-end torque and the clutch and gearbox are both easy to operate. Some older performance cars would be almost scary to drive in heavier traffic, but the Bimmer is very well-behaved.

We roll slowly down to Goderich’s main beach. The gray skies and cool weather are a good recipe for low traffic. We drive down to the end and park the car, no other vehicles are around.

I take a few steps back. I’m momentarily transported through time. It’s now 1992; I’ve just splurged on a nice, comfortable midsize sedan, and suddenly I have one of the fastest cars on the road. The waves crash against the rocks as I admire the M5’s crisp lines. It truly is a simple yet beautiful car.

Back to the question, then: is a twenty-six year old car over the hill, or maybe too young to be much good? Well, I’m not sure any new car could match the character, personality and heritage baked into the E34 M5. And, if we look at older cars, very few could match its performance, especially if we only look at sedans.

So, is a 1992 BMW M5 at the prime of its life? You can draw your own conclusions. I’ll be counting through my piggybank, trying to figure out if I can own one by the time I’m twenty-six.