X5 triple unicorn

Last week I gave form to the thought of selling Bluto, my 2004 triple-unicorn X5. Once I began thinking of selling it, things moved surprisingly quickly. In last week’s piece on clocking through the quick repairs of replacing the rear wiper motor and the metal clip on the driver’s-side window regulator rather than having to apologize for them in an ad, I got a little ahead of itself, so let me reel it back in a bit.

First, the thought itself: Why sell a rare car that I’d only bought in November and basically liked? The X5 was an odd purchase for me from the get-go; I’d spent 15 years ridiculing both the concept and the execution of a BMW ute, and only came to look for one because I learned that the E53 was available with both a stick (six-cylinder cars only) and a dealer-installed tow package, and that the setup should be sufficient for light towing, like hauling 2002s on U-Haul trailers a few hundred miles. The idea of having a vehicle that I could use as a daily driver as well as tow with and stuff hefty Craigslist purchases into was really appealing, and having an all-wheel-drive car around in case it was a snowy winter was gravy. I bought this one because it had the insanely rare combination of the six-speed, sport package, tow package, sunroof delete, and nav delete—and because despite its 270,000 miles, it was in amazing condition, looking more like a 70,000-mile car. Plus, it was local, well-priced, and needed only a lower control arm to be used as a daily.

Of course, whether $3,300 for a 270,000-mile X5 is “well-priced” depends on how much the option package is worth to you. I bought it and pulled the E39 530i stick sport off the road for the winter.

From the get-go, I had a bit of a schizophrenic reaction to the X5. Whenever I’d get in it, sit in the sport seats, and twist the key, I’d think, “Damn, Sam, this is nice. Lookee what I got for $3,300! That money won’t even buy me a mouse-infested E30. Of all the cars I drop three to four grand on, this is a very useful one. Let’s go tow me home some projects and washing machines.”

I WILL miss this interior.

But those things never happened. All I ever hauled in it were groceries. There was that odd BMW M10-powered Lotus Seven clone in central New Jersey I was interested in, but the coronavirus pandemic rolled in, and the seller temporarily relocated several states over. And whenever I drove the X5, after the positive rush from the interior real estate itself, I’d feel that although it was very BMW-like and delightfully firm for a mid-size SUV, it was bigger, bulkier, and higher than I wanted, and it completely validated my long-standing feeling that all-wheel drive makes the steering heavy, and that I simply prefer BMW rear-wheel drive cars. Coincidentally, it was a very mild winter in Boston, so I never had a moment where I bonded with the car because it safely got me and Maire Anne somewhere we needed to be.

I never had the chance to try out the trailer hitch.

So, with all that, when I began resurrecting the E39 530i stick sport and drove it again, I validated my preference for it, and felt that it was unlikely that I’d be pouncing on any dead project car I needed to tow home soon. I thought, “Okay, I have these two cars. I like the E39 more, and it isn’t worth anything if I sell it. I like the X5 less, and it has more value because triple unicorn and all that.” I added in the facts that the X5 currently drove well and didn’t have the check-engine light on, or even any codes stored, but its air-conditioning was barely working, and hooking up the gauges revealed high pressures that could be caused by a blockage or a bad compressor (e.g., it didn’t “just need a recharge”). The decision that this was a good time to sell the X5 practically made itself subconsciously. It wasn’t anything I agonized over.

I wrote up the triple-unicorn-warts-and-all description (looks and runs great but 270k, uses a quart of oil every 500 miles, no oil smoke, no drips reaching the ground, one accident listed on Carfax, a different set of body repairs listed in the service records, a/c not working right, small shudder on braking at highway speeds, needs two rear regulators—on order, will install—blower motor whistles, actuators for auto-lock of rear glass hatch and dip of passenger mirror occasionally spazz out, alarm occasionally goes off if you get in the car when the vehicle was left unlocked) and floated it on Facebook with the comment, “$6,000 buys it before I put it on Bring a Trailer.”

I WAS prepared to list it on BaT, and shot the obligatory hundred photographs in and out.

I should explain that the purpose of “the float” is two-fold. First, it allows feedback. This can be positive (“whoa, great price”) or negative (“dude, crack-pipe price”), but I wanted it. When I floated my bone-stock 1987 E30 325is for sale three years ago for $8,000, the feedback was, “It’s not worth that yet, but it might be if you wait, or if you fixed the interior” (the bolsters on the driver’s seat were badly worn). I reupholstered the E30’s seat, dyed both front seats back to the original color, put it on eBay, and got my asking price (which now, of course, anyone would love to pay for an E30 325is).

But second, floating a car allows someone who really wants it to pounce on it without risking the bidding-up that can happen on Bring a Trailer. This can be good for both parties.

And that’s what happened. I quickly got a message from Vlad Belsky, a Facebook friend in Florida, asking me some specific questions about the car, such as whether and when the clutch and oil pan gasket were replaced. We chatted online and I learned that it was his significant other, Chelsea Carnahan, who was interested in buying it. Chelsea then called me. I asked her why she was interested, and she said, “Vlad and I have been reading about the car since you bought it last fall. We both thought that that was exactly how we’d like an E53 X5 configured, and that if you sold it, we hoped we’d be in a position to grab it.”

Well, then!

Chelsea said that she needed to move some money out of a brokerage account in order to meet my asking price, and that might take a few days. I said I’d hold it for her, but that in the meantime I’d photograph and video the car as if I was putting it on BaT just in case. I sent them the pics and videos, including an actual drive, at the end of which I plugged in an OBD-II code-reader and verified that the car had no stored codes. We soon did a verbal agreement on the purchase of the car, and I gave them $200 off if I didn’t have to put in the two new rear-window regulators that I’d bought but hadn’t yet installed. A few days later the wire transfer arrived in my bank account, I sent them the title, and shipping was arranged. A few days after that, a giant multi-level transporter arrived on River Street in West Newton and picked up the car. It was one of the easiest, smoothest sales I’ve ever done.

And away it goes.

Would it have gone for more on BaT? Who’s to say? On the one hand, whenever you can sarcastically say, “Okay, you don’t like the price? Go buy the other X5 with a six-speed, sport package, tow package, with no nav and sunroof delete,” you know you have a rare car, but the 270,000 mileage certainly capped its value.

So Bluto has gone to someone who wanted exactly that car. The car counter is down to eleven; there’s more space in the driveway, I have money to blow on a suspension upgrade to Louie the ’72 2002tii, and I’m glad to be driving the 530i stick sport again, with its snappy rear-wheel drive and its working a/c.

Good luck, Chelsea and Vlad. And Bluto—long may you run.

And if tomorrow I find a project car that I need to tow home, I’m going to be pissed.—Rob Siegel

Rob’s most recent book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, is available on Amazon here. His other books, including Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, are available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally-inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com. His new book, The Lotus Chronicles, will be available in the fall.



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