In this Market Trends we take a look at three late ’90s executive motors: the Audi A8, Jaguar S-Type and BMW E39 5-Series…
Launched in 1994, the A8 was offered with three choices of engine, a 2.8-litre V6, a 4.2-litre V8 (top of the range Quattro version) or a mid-range offering of a 3.7-litre V8 (1995). The flagship V8 model could also be opted in Sport trim (S8), which came with stiffened suspension for those wanting a bit more of a performance feel.
The A8 was aimed at the high-end of the luxury market and came as standard with leather upholstery, air-con, traction control and various other luxuries that would usually grace the options list. The sports suspension on the S8 dropped the ride by 20mm and compromised slightly on comfort. While some complained about the lack of an LWB option, the cabin itself is extremely roomy and adults over six-feet could comfortably lounge in the rear. Whatever you do, don’t place small items in the boot as it will inevitably mean you climbing in the boot to retrieve it such is the size of it.
Prices of A8s are now extremely affordable and you can expect to pay no more than £5000 for the top-of-the-range model. For the middler, around £4000 should see you behind the wheel of a good example, while £3000 is enough for the lower 2.8-litre V6.
When Ford acquired Jaguar it decided that it wanted to widen Jaguars range which throughout the ’90s was based on two models. The solution to getting a car into production without crippling development costs was to adapt a platform from elsewhere in the Ford empire, in this case jointly developing the ‘DEW98’ platform with the Lincoln LS. Jaguar purists may have panicked but in reality this was no bad thing: the result was a thoroughly modern state-of-the-art platform and was designed from the outset for rear-drive.
It’s often suggested that Jaguar was simply handed the Lincoln platform and told to add Jaguarness but the reality is that the project was a joint venture from the start, the US engineers just as keen to access the British firm’s ride and handling know-how. The programme took three years in total, with teams from each company crossing the Atlantic to work with their counterparts.
The Ford theme continued under the bonnet, with the S-Type being the first Jaguar since the ’50s not to be offered with the traditional straight six engine. Instead, there was a V6 which was effectively the Ford Duratec unit found in the Mondeo as well as various Ford, Mercury and Mazda models.
Dubbed AJ-V6 – AJ25 as a 2.5-litre and AJ30 as the 3-litre – the all-alloy engine was modified for Jaguar use with fracture-split con rods, one-piece camshaft and mechanical bucket tappets. Alongside the V6 was the Jaguar’s 4-litre AJ-V8 engine which gave the S-Type seriously credible performance which together with the cars tidy handling was a match for BMW.
Today prices are again remarkably affordable and a budget of around £2500 will see you behind the wheel of a good example. Of course, you can quite easily spend comfortably over £5000 for low-mileage examples, but the lack of squeaks and problems of the higher-mileage examples justifies the lower budget without compromising quality.
BMW E39 5-Series
Introduced in 1996, the E39 5-Series was an instant hit with reviewers of the time. Dependable, big enough for your family, and a range of engines that covered all bases meant that you could have all the power you could dream for in a big barge, or a car to ferry the kids around in.
That being said, today if you’re looking for a well-rounded classic, you should focus your attention on the 535i Sport and the 530d, both featuring 3.0-litre straight-six engines. At a glance, the Sport was enough to mistaken it for the all-singing-all-dancing M5, without the thirsty V8 to match.
For a big car, the E39 handled remarkably well and carried with it BMW’s slogan of “the ultimate driving machine” thanks to a 50/50 weight distribution and brilliant front end grip.
Prices for the 5-Series aren’t unreasonable, with the lowly 520s and 528s coming in at under £2500 for cars which have a good level of history. Those looking for the bigger 535i Sports will start at around £3000 for good models. After the full blown M5? You’ll need comfortably over £20,000 for a good example, with the very best demanding mid £30,000s. If you fancy something different, Alpina offered the B10 E39 with the 4.4-litre V8 engine and you’ll need around £20,000 to get behind the wheel of one. For rarity alone, that would be our choice!