We’re not sure if this is either the greatest compliment to General Motors, and subsequently Holden, or an insult to BMW. A posh Bavarian masterpiece pitted against a blue-collar Chevy? Blasphemy!
Well, it happened. Road & Track took notice of the Chevrolet SS’ new no-cost option to equip a six-speed manual, 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 and the fact power is being sent to the rear (read: correct) wheels. Similarly, between 1998 and 2003, BMW already had this formula down. Arguably in a better way than it does now.
When the E39 5-series arrived on scene, there must have been something in the water at HQ. A special kind of touch was bestowed upon this era of BMW, and when the fellas at Bimmer decided to hand over the 5-series to the masterminds at the M tuning division, it was bliss. Like the SS, a V8 is also employed here, a 4.9-liter to be exact, a manual gearbox was in place and power also went to the rear (read again: correct) wheels.
R&T sums the 2003 M5 up best saying, “With the exception of the old navigation system, this M5 could go into production today, and it would blow everyone’s mind.” It’s that good.
Though, while BMW was busy toying with new ways to make the M5, to be kind, different, there was a manufacturer at the corner of the globe who was benchmarking the E39 5-series. Holden gathered up its engineering department, and even a few who had a hand in crafting the M5, along with Holden chassis tuner Peter Hanenberger and wah-lah! The VF Holden Commodore was born.
Fortunately, Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, ensured those of us stateside received the VF Commodore. Slap a bowtie on, and there you have it.
Everyone already knows how fantastic the M5 performs, but when the SS steps in, it begins to create the same grin R&T experienced while piloting the M5. The Chevrolet SS begins to make the difference between a fast four-door and a four-door sports sedan.
With a special place in the hearts of R&T it simply wasn’t enough to warrant the dethroning of the E39 M5. But the cars have more in common than you think. Both see the end of an era. Australian manufacturing will cease the rear-wheel Commodore and the smiles it brings with it. When BMW introduced the E60 M5 it never struck the same tone the E39 resonated.
That’s okay, though. Some things can’t last forever. But they can remind us how blatantly brilliant it is when someone decides to build a car that’s about more than point A and point B.