This is a post that may continue to grow and evolve. There are countless variations between BMWs produced and sold in the European market vs those sold here, in the US / North American (DE93) market. This article will highlight some of those differences.
Hyperlinks in this article will point to more E39Source content about installing or retrofitting some of these components.
Rear Fog Lights: The lower, inner portions of the tail lights were used as rear fog lights to increase vehicle visibility in foggy conditions. Initially, two new switch positions were added to the fog light switch. These new positions added support for rear fogs on, and both front and rear fogs on in addition to the front on only position. BMW later decided that there is no reason to want only the rear fogs on, so another switch was developed. This one included 3 total positions: Off, front fogs on, both front and rear fogs on. E39Source has done a full retrofit DIY on rear fogs.
Rear fog lights retrofit and installed on a 2000 DE93 (USA) E39 M5.
This is the later of the new fog light switches. The third position turns on both the front and rear fog lights, and then springs back to the second 1:00 position.
Headlights: Europe has different transportation/lighting regulations than the US. The US required amber corners in the headlights. Europe got clear non-reflective corners, without the small orange LED that was added in the facelift USA lights. The 2001+ USA lights featured this additional LED to comply with a new DOT (department of transportation) standard. Vehicles were now required to be visible from the side at night, which meant adding an LED to the part of the headlight that wraps around the car. Amber non-reflective corners were also available in Europe.
E39 M5 with facelift USA-spec headlights.
E39 M5 with facelift Euro-spec headlights.
Some European cars also had a dial for manual halogen headlight aiming (leveling). Xenon headlights were all aimed automatically. This switch was fitted in the instrument cluster bezel to the left of the fog light switch. USA cars have a dummy panel installed here.
This E39 features the earlier rear foglight switch, and the vertical aim headlight control switch.
Tail Lights: Europe’s tail lights from 1997-2000 did not differ from those sent to the United States. For 2001 and later, however, they did change. The new American DOT standard led to 4 vertically arranged red LEDs being installed in the portion of the tail light housing that wraps around into the rear quarter panel. Fog light bulb housings were also removed from the USA lights. The socket is still in place, but the opening was concealed in plastic.
Lower Dashboard: When the E39 was designed, it made use of what we now call the Euro-dash here in the US. American regulations insisted that too many people still didn’t wear seat belts, and that the dashboard had to be ‘lowered’ a few inches to catch the knees of passengers in the event of an accident and prohibit them from being submerged under the dashboard. BMW did just that for the USA- they padded the lower dashboard segments with a few inches of styrofoam and made it lower. This not only unnecessarily intrudes into cabin space, but it also ruins the lines of the dashboard-to-door panel integration. Furthermore, you lost a storage cubby, and could no longer comfortably see the trunk release button. E39Source has a Euro-dash retrofit DIY.
E39 M5 with USA-spec lower dashboard.
E39 M5 with Euro-spec lower dashboard.
Aspherical Side Mirror Glass: Europe made use of slightly convex pieces of glass that further eliminated blind spots. There are also passenger’s side mirror glass pieces without the label printed on the bottom “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”.
E39 M5 aspherical side mirror glass.
E39 M5 passenger mirror glass. Upper piece is North American, lower pane omits warning and reduces blind spots.
Floating Brake Rotors: Floating brake rotors, or ‘two piece rotors’ are brake rotors that have the the hub/drum separated from the disc portion. This aides in weight reduction, and improved cooling of the disc.
Trunk Cubby: The right ‘oddments door’ in the trunk on European vehicles was fitted with a small, black plastic storage cubby on all models except the M5.
USA (left), European (right) trunk oddments door.
Full Tool Kit: European E39s included more tools in the trunk tool kit. Additional tools included a 10mm socket, spark plug socket, and an emergency warning triangle that can be setup on the side of the road in the event of a break-down.
Full trunk tool kit, European tools lassoed in white.
Center Console Arm Rest: Europe enjoyed the option of a center console arm rest that actually opened. It didn’t yield much storage space, but at least you had some. Some versions only opened, but no longer slid forwards and backwards. Other versions opened and slid.
European center arm rest.
Trunk Lid: Europe’s license plates are a different size/shape compared to those in North America. This meant that the license plate indent of the trunk was wider.
European trunk lid.
North American trunk lid.
Sun Visors: In Europe, the large, colorful airbag warning stickers are not in place. There was also an option for alcantara visors on the M5.
Alcantara sun visor.
First Aid Kit: Europe got an option for a first aid kit.
First aid kit box.
Passenger Seat Fire Extinguisher: Europe had an option for a fire extinguisher under the driver’s front seat.
Fire extinguisher installed under front E39 seat.
Double Pane Glazing: In Europe, there was an option for double-glazing. This meant that the side windows were now comprised of two, thinner panes of glass. Sealed in-between these two panes was a gas. Wind/road noise was reduced, and sun protection was enhanced with this equipment. Window tinting was also available from the factory.
Double glazed front window.
Non-Smoker Package: All North American cars came with the smoker’s package. This meant that the small storage cubbies in each door panel were replaced with ashtrays.
Electronics: Europe had the option for a TV tuner/module, which could tune broadcast TV to the board monitor (display) in the dashboard. These vehicles did not necessarily include navigation as well. European cars also had an IRIS display available, which was smaller than the MID. USA M5s came standard with navigation, which was still optional on European-market M5s. CD changer and telephone pre-wiring was standard for USA E39s, but not for those made for Europe.
E39 with television option on board monitor.
E39 television module.
Interior Trim Options: North American E39s included a few wood options (Vanvona, Nussbaum, Bruyere Club), and then Titan (aluminum) interior trim. Europe had more options including, but not limited to, Technical Graphite, Piano Black, High Polished Series (Black, Gray, Beige), Brushed Aluminum (Stahlgrau), Matt Chrome, Galvanized (Gittergalvanik), two-tone Maple Wood, Black Birch, Blue Birch, Yellow Birch, Arizona Sun, Natural Poplar, Olive, Plantane, Eibe Club, English Red (Englischrot), Leather (black, gray, blue, red, champagne, or any requested color). Europe also had cloth and manual seat options, and an option for integrated rear child seats. Many of the aforementioned trims were part of the BMW Individual Catalog, which could have been custom-ordered in North America as well.
Technical Graphite trim.
Gloss ‘Piano’ Black trim.
Integrated rear child seats.
Available Engines/Models: For the United States, BMW offered the 528i and 540i from 1997-1999. For 2000, BMW added the M5 to the lineup. For 2001-2003, the 528i was replaced with a 525i and 530i. Models that were never made available to the United States: 520i, 523i, 535i, 520d, 525td, 525tds, 525d, 530d. Most these were also available as Tourings (wagons).
Coding Differences: There were some different default coding and coding options in the various body modules between European and North American produced E39s. One of the differences is that North American E39s equipped with a manual transmission require the driver to press the clutch pedal to start the car, where this is not required on European cars.
Instrument Cluster: European instrument clusters made use of more symbols, where as North American cars used actual text for indicators like SERVICE ENGINE SOON or BRAKE.