2000 E53 X5 4.4i: BMW Manufacturing
2000 BMW E53 X5 4.4i #LH00092
4.4-liter M62 V8, 282 hp/324 lb-ft
Stars and Stripes (originally Titanium Silver)
BMW Manufacturing (since 1999)
Spartanburg, South Carolina
If the notion of a BMW sport-utility vehicle was anathema to brand traditionalists, the reality of the BMW X5 quickly disproved that dogma. Revolutionizing the segment with thrilling performance and sedan-quality handling, the X5 managed to convert even the most skeptical naysayers into true believers.
The X5’s secret was Hill Descent Control, which BMW acquired along with Land Rover in January 1994. HDC used ABS to maintain speed on steep descents, and combining it with traction control system eliminated the differential locks that made traditional SUVs heavy and ill-handling. In other words, it allowed the X5 to handle like a BMW.
While the X5 was being developed, BMW was embarking upon a globalization strategy that would place production as close to demand as possible. With the US going crazy for SUVs, BMW’s new factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina was a natural home for X5 production.
BMW’s first SAV was introduced in late 1999, and the X5 you see here emphasizes its American roots with a Stars and Stripes paint scheme. A pre-production model, it was damaged at Road Atlanta and sent to the Performance Center, where STEP student technicians learned to repair it under the guidance of Dan Doot. Doot designed the flag motif and had his students paint it. When the work was completed, BMW Manufacturing’s Kenn Sparks put the car on display in front of the Zentrum, the factory’s mini-museum and visitor center.
“I got so much grief for that!” Sparks recalls. “Some people thought it was disrespectful, or out of character with the brand.”
All of that changed, he says, after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. “All of a sudden, it became an icon of BMW’s commitment to the US. It was featured in magazines and newspapers all over the world. BMW Individual considered offering the flag motif as an option, but it was too complicated. They also realized that the value of that car was its uniqueness, and it’s become one of the most valuable pieces in the BMW collection.”
The car remains one of a kind, a visible demonstration of BMW’s ties to Spartanburg, and to the US. The X5, meanwhile, has spawned a full line of derivatives, starting with a coupe-like X6. Smaller X3 and X4 variants have been joined by the X1 and X2; in 2019, a larger X7 completed the lineup. The X5 remains the core product, and the first-generation E53 continues to express the essence of what a BMW SAV can and should be: fast, agile, and American.