Ultimate BMW M60 Engine Guide: Tech, Power & Problems

Rev your engines, dear BMW enthusiasts as we embark on a thrilling deep dive into the heart of the V8 beast: the venerable BMW M60 engine.

This iconic V8, introduced in the early ’90s, not only set the benchmark for European performance engines but also ignited a firestorm of passionate enthusiasts who still lust for its deliciously smooth power delivery.

In this article, we’ll venture deep into the heart of the M60, unraveling its innovative design, exploring its evolution, and indulging in its unmistakable roar.

From the moment you first turn the key to that intoxicating crescendo at redline, you’ll discover what makes this engine a true legend among the Bimmer faithful.

So, buckle up, my fellow gearheads, and let’s revel in the glorious symphony of the M60, an engine that forever etched its name in the annals of automotive history. It’s time to unleash the Bavarian beast within!

The Birth of The M60

In the late 1980s, the automotive landscape was rapidly evolving. Consumers were craving more power, and BMW’s rivals were increasingly offering sophisticated V8 engines to satiate their appetites.

BMW, not one to be left behind, recognized the need for a powerful yet refined engine to maintain its competitive edge and uphold its reputation for engineering excellence.

M60 Engine Variants And Development

In 1984, a decade after the discontinuation of the M36 V8 engine (5.0-liter displacement based on the large four-cylinder engine that never went into production), BMW initiated the development of a new eight-cylinder V engine – the M60.

The M60 was designed as part of the new engine generation series, and during its development, a large 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine with four-valve technology was considered but ultimately dismissed in favor of the V8 engine.

The M60 engine came in two variants, the M60B30 and the M60B40, with production running from 1991 to 1996. The development of these engines aimed to create a good connection to the twelve-cylinder engine with a displacement of 5.0 liters.

M60B30:

  • Construction time: 1991-1996
  • Units produced: 74,497
  • Displacement: 2997 cc (182.9 cu in)
  • Power output: 160 kW (215 hp) at 5800 rpm
  • Engine type: 8-cylinder V-engine

M60B40:

  • Construction time: 1991-1996
  • Units produced: 108,071
  • Displacement: 3982 cc (243.0 cu in)
  • Power output: 210 kW (282 hp) at 5800 rpm
  • Engine type: 8-cylinder V-engine

Doubling the four-cylinder engine with the same 91 mm (3.58 in) cylinder spacing would only have allowed displacements up to 3.6 liters. Consequently, BMW decided to increase the cylinder spacing to 98 mm (3.86 in) and set the displacement at 3.0 and 4.0 liters, resulting in the M60B30 and M60B40 engines, respectively.

These engines delivered 215 hp (218 PS) and 282 hp (286 PS), with the use of an aluminum crankcase with a Nikasil coating and a plastic intake system keeping engine weight low at around 210 kg (463 lbs). The 4.0-liter engine’s power-to-weight ratio was 0.73 kg/hp (1.60 lb/hp), a 30% improvement over the M36 cast iron version.

The four-valve cylinder head concept was largely similar to the four- and six-cylinder engines. The intake camshafts were driven from the crankshaft by a dual-row chain, while the intake and exhaust camshafts were connected by dual-row secondary chains. The camshafts featured counterweights to compensate for valve mass forces.

For the first time, a “broken” connecting rod made of sintered material was used. Compared to traditional forging, sintering allowed the connecting rods to be produced with a very narrow weight tolerance without reworking.

The two-piece construction of the large connecting rod bearing, required for assembly on the crankshaft, was achieved by breaking open the initially manufactured closed part. The rough, irregular fracture structure ensured precise repositioning during assembly.

The M60 engine featured knock control, enabling a basic design with an economical, high compression ratio. As with the smaller engines, a stationary high-voltage distribution was used. The M60 engine went into series production at the beginning of 1992.

SpecificationM60B30M60B40Alpina M60B40Alpina M60 4.6
Configuration90° V890° V890° V890° V8
Displacement2,997 cc (182.9 cu in)3,982 cc (243.0 cu in)3,982 cc (243.0 cu in)4,619 cc (281.9 cu in)
Bore x Stroke84 mm (3.31 in) x 67.6 mm (2.66 in)89 mm (3.50 in) x 80 mm (3.15 in)89 mm (3.50 in) x 80 mm (3.15 in)93 mm (3.66 in) x 85 mm (3.35 in)
Compression Ratio10.5:110.0:110.8:110.8:1
Power Output160 kW (215 bhp) at 5800 rpm210 kW (282 bhp) at 5800 rpm234 kW (314 bhp)253 kW (339 bhp) for B10 4.6,
248 kW (333 bhp) for B8 4.6
Torque Output290 N⋅m (214 lb⋅ft) at 4500 rpm400 N⋅m (295 lb⋅ft) at 4500 rpmNot specifiedNot specified
Valve TrainDOHC, 32 valvesDOHC, 32 valvesDOHC, 32 valvesDOHC, 32 valves
Fuel SystemBosch Motronic 3.3Bosch Motronic 3.3Bosch Motronic 3.3Bosch Motronic 3.3
Weight (Dry)175 kg (386 lb) to 203 kg (448 lb)175 kg (386 lb) to 203 kg (448 lb)175 kg (386 lb) to 203 kg (448 lb)175 kg (386 lb) to 203 kg (448 lb)
ApplicationsE34 530i, E32 730i, E38 730iE34 540i, E32 740i, E38 740i,B10 4.0 (E34), B11 4.0 (E32),B10 4.6, B8 4.6
E31 840i, De Tomaso GuaràB8 4.0 (E36, Japanese market)
BMW M60 engine variants specifications

Alpina M60 Engines: Refined Performance

Alpina, the renowned German automobile manufacturer, has a long-standing partnership with BMW, enhancing the performance and luxury of BMW models by creating bespoke versions of their engines. Alpina’s versions of the M60 engine are no exception, offering even more power and exclusivity to the discerning BMW enthusiast.

With a focus on high compression and precision engineering, Alpina modified the M60B40 engine to create the 4.0-liter variant used in the Alpina B10 4.0, based on the E34 5 Series, and the B11 4.0, based on the E32 7 Series. These engines boast a higher compression ratio of 10.8:1, delivering a notable power increase to 314 hp (234 kW).

Furthermore, Alpina expanded the M60 engine’s displacement to 4,619 cc (281.9 cu in) for use in the B8 4.6 and B10 4.6 models. The B10 4.6 produces 339 hp (253 kW), while the B8 4.6 delivers 333 hp (248 kW). These engines not only offer impressive power figures but also provide Alpina’s signature refinement and responsiveness.

Most Common M60 Problems

In this section, we will explore some of the most common issues M60 engine owners face.

While the M60 has earned a reputation for its performance and reliability, there are still some problems that may arise due to regular wear and tear or manufacturing defects.

Understanding these issues can help you diagnose and address them more effectively.

Timing Chain And Tensioner

The timing chain and tensioner in the M60 engine are essential for maintaining proper engine timing.

Over time, these components can wear, stretch, or even break, leading to poor engine performance or even catastrophic damage. The plastic timing chain guides are particularly prone to wear, becoming brittle and breaking apart.

If the timing chain jumps a tooth or breaks, it can result in severe engine damage, including bent valves or damaged pistons.

Valley Pan Gasket Leak

The valley pan gasket is responsible for sealing the coolant passage in the engine’s V. When this gasket fails, coolant can leak into the engine valley or externally.

This issue can lead to coolant loss, overheating, and potential engine damage if not addressed promptly.

Coolant leaks can also cause issues with the engine’s electronic components, as they are often located in close proximity to the leak area.

Nikasil Cylinder Lining Wear

The M60 engine’s Nikasil cylinder lining was designed to provide a hard, wear-resistant surface for the pistons to move against. However, in some cases, the lining was found to wear prematurely, particularly in areas with high-sulfur fuel.

The sulfur would react with the Nikasil lining, causing it to deteriorate and result in a loss of compression and poor engine performance.

This issue was more common in the earlier M60 engines, and BMW eventually transitioned to Alusil cylinder liners in to address the problem.

In our BMW’s Nikasil Saga: A Tale of Innovation, Missteps, and Redemption article, we delve into the history and technical aspects of the Nikasil problem, explore its impact on BMW and its reputation, and discuss the current status of this issue for those considering purchasing an M60-powered vehicle today.

Throttle Body Failures

Some M60 owners have reported issues with the throttle body, such as sticking or failed throttle position sensors.

These sensors are responsible for relaying the position of the throttle plate to the engine management system, which in turn adjusts the air-fuel mixture and ignition timing.

When the throttle position sensor fails or the throttle body becomes dirty, it can result in poor engine performance, stalling, or even a complete loss of power.

Ignition Coil And Knock Sensor Failures

Ignition coils and knock sensors play a vital role in maintaining proper engine performance.

Ignition coils are responsible for creating the high-voltage spark needed for combustion, while knock sensors detect engine knock (pre-ignition) and adjust the ignition timing accordingly to prevent engine damage.

Failure of these components can lead to misfires, poor fuel economy, and reduced power. Additionally, a faulty knock sensor can result in overly conservative ignition timing, robbing the engine of performance.

Miscellaneous Issues

M60 owners have reported various other minor issues, such as oil leaks, vacuum leaks, and problems with the crankcase ventilation system.

These issues can impact the engine’s performance and longevity, so it is essential to address them promptly to maintain optimal engine health.

Oil Leaks

Oil leaks are another common issue faced by M60 engine owners. While not unique to the M60, these leaks can cause a decline in engine performance and potentially lead to more severe problems if not addressed.

Some of the most common causes of oil leaks in the M60 engine include:

Valve cover gaskets: The valve cover gaskets seal the gap between the valve covers and the cylinder heads.

Over time, these gaskets can harden, crack, and begin to leak oil. If left unattended, the leaked oil can cause damage to other components, such as the ignition coils or spark plugs.

Oil filter housing gasket: The oil filter housing gasket is responsible for sealing the connection between the oil filter housing and the engine block.

As the gasket ages, it can become brittle and start to leak oil. This can lead to oil contamination and poor engine performance.

Rear main seal: The rear main seal is located between the engine block and the transmission, sealing the crankshaft as it exits the engine.

A leaking rear main seal can result in oil dripping onto the ground or even onto the exhaust system, creating a potential fire hazard.

Oil pan gasket: The oil pan gasket is responsible for sealing the oil pan to the engine block. Over time, the gasket can become compressed, allowing oil to seep past and cause a leak.

Addressing these common causes of oil leaks in the M60 engine can help ensure optimal performance and prolong the engine’s life.

Regular maintenance and inspections can aid in identifying and resolving these issues before they become more severe.

Vacuum Leaks

Vacuum leaks can be a common issue in the M60 engine, negatively affecting engine performance, fuel efficiency, and emissions.

A vacuum leak occurs when there is an unintended opening in the intake manifold or vacuum lines, allowing unmetered air to enter the engine.

This can cause a lean air-fuel mixture, leading to poor performance, rough idle, stalling, and increased emissions. Common sources of vacuum leaks in the M60 engine include:

Intake manifold gaskets: The intake manifold gaskets seal the connection between the intake manifold and the cylinder heads. Over time, these gaskets can deteriorate, allowing air to leak into the intake manifold.

Cracked or damaged vacuum lines: The M60 engine has numerous vacuum lines that control various engine components, such as the fuel pressure regulator, emissions control devices, and the brake booster. These lines can become brittle and crack or become damaged due to heat and age, leading to vacuum leaks.

Throttle body gasket: The throttle body gasket seals the connection between the throttle body and the intake manifold. A worn or damaged gasket can result in a vacuum leak, affecting engine performance.

Fuel Pressure Regulator

The fuel pressure regulator is an essential component in the M60 engine’s fuel system, maintaining the correct fuel pressure for optimal engine performance.

A failing fuel pressure regulator can cause a range of issues, such as poor fuel economy, lack of power, and rough idle.

Common signs of a failing fuel pressure regulator include:

Black smoke from the exhaust: A failing fuel pressure regulator may cause excessive fuel to be delivered to the engine, resulting in black smoke from the exhaust due to incomplete combustion.

Engine misfires and hesitation: An incorrect fuel pressure can lead to engine misfires, hesitation, or stalling, as the engine struggles to maintain a proper air-fuel mixture.

Hard starting or poor idle: A faulty fuel pressure regulator can cause the engine to be difficult to start or exhibit a rough, fluctuating idle.

Regularly inspecting and maintaining these components can help identify and address vacuum leaks and fuel pressure regulator issues before they lead to more severe engine problems.

Driving Experience: The M60B40 in Action

Ah, the joys of driving a BMW powered by the glorious M60B40 engine. The moment you slip behind the wheel and fire up that Bavarian symphony, you know you’re in for a treat.

What’s to love

As soon as the M60B40 roars to life, you’re greeted with a deep, throaty growl that sends shivers down your spine. The sound is unmistakably BMW, a blend of mechanical precision and raw emotion that sets the tone for the driving experience to come.

On the road, the M60B40’s power delivery is nothing short of impressive. It’s linear, smooth, and remarkably tractable.

There’s plenty of torque available across the entire rev range, making it a breeze to navigate through city traffic or effortlessly pass slower-moving vehicles on the highway. And when you decide to let the engine sing, the M60B40 rewards you with a surge of power that’s both exhilarating and refined.

The engine’s ability to strike a balance between comfort and performance is one of its most endearing traits. When you want to cruise, the M60B40 is a gentle giant, purring along at low RPMs and barely making its presence known.

But when the mood strikes and you bury the throttle, the engine transforms, unleashing a torrent of power that leaves you grinning like a madman.

What’s to hate

As with any engine, the M60B40 isn’t without its quirks. Some might argue that the engine lacks the razor-sharp throttle response found in its high-strung Japanese rivals, such as the Honda NSX’s C30A V6 or the Nissan 300ZX’s VG30DETT V6.

While the M60B40’s low-end torque is abundant, it doesn’t quite have the same manic top-end scream as some of its contemporaries.

Sound of the engine

The M60B40’s soundtrack is an aural delight, a mix of mechanical precision and raw power. At idle, it emits a subdued rumble, while under acceleration, it produces a harmonious crescendo that’s music to any petrolhead’s ears.

It’s not as raucous as an American V8, like the LT1 found in the Chevrolet Corvette, but it has a character all its own, with a refined and sophisticated tone that’s undeniably European.

Comparison with rivals

When comparing the M60B40 to its US, Japanese, and German rivals of the time, it holds its own quite well. While the aforementioned LT1 in the Corvette might boast more outright power, the M60B40 delivers a more refined and balanced experience, with a broader torque curve and smoother power delivery.

The engine’s linear powerband sets it apart from its peaky Japanese counterparts, like the Toyota Supra’s 2JZ-GTE or the Mazda RX-7’s 13B-REW rotary engine, which tend to deliver explosive performance in a narrower RPM range.

Against its German competitors, the M60B40 finds itself in a closely matched battle. Mercedes-Benz’s M119 V8, found in the 500E and SL500, offers a similar blend of refinement and performance, while Audi’s 4.2-liter V8 in the S4 and S6 provides strong competition in terms of power and torque.

In the end, it often comes down to personal preference and brand loyalty, but there’s no denying that the M60B40 holds its own in a fiercely competitive segment.

In conclusion, the M60B40 engine is a testament to BMW’s engineering prowess, delivering a driving experience that’s both engaging and refined.

With its smooth power delivery, broad torque curve, and distinctive soundtrack, the M60B40 remains a beloved powerplant among enthusiasts and automotive journalists alike.

Despite its quirks and the fierce competition from its US, Japanese, and German rivals, the M60B40 stands tall as a shining example of what made BMW’s engines so special during its era.

One can’t help but appreciate the balance it strikes between comfort and performance, ensuring that every drive in a BMW powered by this magnificent V8 is an experience to savor.

ModelEnginePowerTorque0-60 mph (0-100 km/h)Top Speed
BMW E34 530iM60B30215 hp (160 kW)214 lb-ft (290 Nm)7.5 s146 mph (235 km/h)
BMW E34 540iM60B40282 hp (210 kW)295 lb-ft (400 Nm)6.2 s155 mph (250 km/h)
BMW E32 730iM60B30215 hp (160 kW)214 lb-ft (290 Nm)8.2 s141 mph (227 km/h)
BMW E32 740iM60B40282 hp (210 kW)295 lb-ft (400 Nm)6.5 s155 mph (250 km/h)
BMW E38 730iM60B30215 hp (160 kW)214 lb-ft (290 Nm)8.3 s141 mph (227 km/h)
BMW E38 740iM60B40282 hp (210 kW)295 lb-ft (400 Nm)6.5 s155 mph (250 km/h)
BMW E31 840iM60B40282 hp (210 kW)295 lb-ft (400 Nm)6.9 s155 mph (250 km/h)
De Tomaso GuaràM60B40282 hp (210 kW)295 lb-ft (400 Nm)5.3 s174 mph (280 km/h)
Alpina B10 4.0 (E34-based)Alpina V8314 hp (234 kW)N/A6.0 s168 mph (270 km/h)
Alpina B11 4.0 (E32-based)Alpina V8314 hp (234 kW)N/A6.3 s165 mph (266 km/h)
Alpina B8 4.0 (E36-based)Alpina V8314 hp (234 kW)N/A5.6 s175 mph (282 km/h)
Alpina B10 4.6 (E34-based)Alpina V8339 hp (253 kW)N/A5.7 s177 mph (285 km/h)
Alpina B8 4.6 (E36-based)Alpina V8333 hp (248 kW)N/A5.4 s178 mph (286 km/h)
Note: Performance figures are approximate and may vary depending on various factors, such as transmission options, vehicle weight, and testing conditions.

Today’s Classics Powered by M60

Several BMW models powered by the M60 engine have earned their status as true classics. For enthusiasts looking to buy a classic BMW with an M60 engine, the following models stand out:

BMW E34 540i

The E34 540i is a highly-regarded BMW 5 Series model with the M60B40 engine. Its combination of luxury, performance, and a well-balanced chassis make it an excellent choice for enthusiasts.

The 6-speed manual transmission version is particularly sought-after, offering a more engaging driving experience.

BMW E32 740i

This luxurious 7 Series model is another classic powered by the M60B40 engine. The E32 740i boasts a comfortable ride and impressive performance for its era. While not as sporty as the E34 540i, it offers a more refined driving experience.

BMW E31 840i

The E31 8 Series is a grand tourer featuring the M60B40 engine. It’s unique design and impressive performance make it an appealing choice for enthusiasts who appreciate a stylish and powerful GT car.

The 840i is considered a classic due to its distinctive design and limited production numbers.

Alpina models

Alpina, a renowned BMW tuner, produced several high-performance models based on BMW cars with M60 engines.

The Alpina B10 4.0 (based on the E34 5 Series) and the B11 4.0 (based on the E32 7 Series) are highly desirable for enthusiasts seeking a more exclusive and powerful classic BMW.

While each of these models has its unique appeal, it’s essential to carefully consider factors such as maintenance costs, availability of parts, and the overall condition of the vehicle before making a decision.

In Conclusion

The BMW M60 engine remains a testament to the brand’s engineering excellence, offering a refined and engaging driving experience to those who appreciate classic BMW models.

Despite some common issues, the M60-powered vehicles, such as the E34 540i, E32 740i, E31 840i, and various Alpina models, have earned their status as true classics. For enthusiasts seeking the thrill of driving a timeless piece of BMW’s history, these vehicles offer a fantastic blend of luxury, performance, and distinctive character that embodies the spirit of the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Georg Meier

BMW technician since 1996, began his automotive journey in 1993 as an apprentice mechanic at Automag, the world's oldest BMW dealership located in Munich. With years of experience and dedication under his belt, Georg has garnered a wealth of knowledge about the intricacies of BMW vehicles. His profound love for the brand led him to found BIMMERIST website, where he now shares his expertise and insights with fellow enthusiasts.

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