Johann Venter and his BMW 540i Sport.

Passionate car enthusiast Johann Venter fell for the BMW marque at an early age. He tells us about his BMW 540i Sport Six-Speed Manual.

Published: July 2015
Video/Photos: Steve Marais

I fell in love with the BMW marque when I was just a boy, and the car that most evoked my passion was a BMW 2002 Tii – a ’73 model in a Fjord blue with a plastic grille and square taillights.

 

By the time I’d discovered this car I was in my teen years, and later I drove one. It was completely original with Scheel sports seats, an M1 three-spoke sports steering wheel, and a dogleg close-ratio gearbox – plus it had a sunroof with a mechanical winder. I’d driven it on a few occasions. The best time was once back from Muldersdrift when I could stretch its legs and did not have to constantly worry about gears that I could not get used to.

 

It took me nine months of trawling the internet every day to find my special 540i Sport.

“Special how?” you might ask. Well, it was the only manual model imported to South Africa in 2003, and was initially owned by BMW South Africa and serviced at the Rosslyn Plant. It is one of only six manuals imported to South Africa after the BMW facelift in 1999. Although I am the fourth owner, I found the car in incredibly good nick and extremely well cared for. In the three-and-a-half years that I’ve had it, I’ve virtually spent what I paid for the car, ensuring that it is meticulously maintained and kept 100 per cent original. I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that even the smallest trim items that were missing were replaced: plastic caps for the locknuts, small plastic caps on the engine cover, rubber luggage straps in the boot and the torch in the cubby.

The 4.4-litre V8 engine is highly responsive: flatten the loud pedal and it pulls like a freight train.

My BMW Car Club Chairman Colin van Son considers the 540i to be “the thinking man’s M5”, and I tend to agree with him. The M aero package is virtually identical to that of the BMW M5, and it comes equipped with the same shocks, springs and rear stabiliser bar, plus the six-speed manual gearbox is identical to that used on the BMW M5. The 4.4-litre V8 engine is highly responsive: flatten the loud pedal and it pulls like a freight train. The rather muted engine note at lower revs builds into a metallic growl as you start to explore the limits.

 

With spades of torque, it is very drivable throughout the entire rev range and thoroughly intoxicating. There is such an abundance of torque at low revs that when I’m on a cruise, I switch from third to sixth – a great fuel-saving feature. Thanks to the same suspension underpinnings as the BMW M5, its road manner is superb. It feels and handles like a BMW 3 Series of the same era.

 

Inside, the sports seats provide excellent lumbar support, especially when navigating tight bends on a chase. The cabin is well appointed with high-end, soft-touch materials, and is nicely finished off with an anthracite roof lining. The fit and finish is superb, giving it an air of opulence – still great for crossing continents. But for me, the biggest party trick that the 540i has in its arsenal is the ability at
3 000rpm to reach a cruising speed of 160km/h, while sipping on about 8 litres per 100km.

 

The fourth-generation BMW E39 5 Series was considered during its production run the best saloon car in the world. For many, it is the epitome of what BMW stands for: building cars of quality, durability and drivability at its heart.

 

I still, however, found myself wanting an older classic BMW, one more in line with the Bauhaus design philosophy that BMW once ascribed to. A BMW with a shark-nose fascia and quad headlamps, an airy glasshouse cabin, slender rooflines, and a minimalistic driver-centric cockpit.

 

After three-and-a-half years of Sheer Driving Pleasure, I managed to find a new home for my beloved 540i. It had to go to a special home – I’m glad that it went to Evolution 2 Motorsport, world-renowned builder and restorer of classic BMW race cars, to form part of their growing BMW collection.

 

As for myself, I got that classic – an absolute minter of a 1984 E24 635CSi in completely original condition. A new chapter of my journey is about to begin.

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The 1984 BMW 635CSi Johann replaced his beloved BMW 540i with is an older classic more in line with BMW’s early Bauhaus design philosophy.