When BMW were looking to push further upmarket in the early Eighties, they turned to a designer whose most notable CV highlights to that point were the Capri Mark 3, the Escort Mark 3 and the Ford Sierra. While not making Klaus Kaptiza the obvious choice on paper, he had also worked in racing car design and, let’s face it, it’s hard to argue with the result. For the E31 BMW 8 Series is a classic modernist design and the pillarless coupe has, to our eyes at least, aged exceptionally well.
In its time it was a cutting edge, being an early application of Computer Aided Design (CAD) technology, one of the first cars with a drive by wire throttle and one of the first BMW’s to use a multi-link rear axle. Although not available in the UK until 1991, it was launched in 1989 at the Frankfurt Motor Show with the V12 engine. The 5 litre V12, which was shared with the E38 750i, was good for 296bhp and, although it was very much designed as a GT car rather than a sports car, it was no slouch and perfect for relaxed continent-crossing.
It proved very popular; shortly after entering production the waiting list stood at a full two years. Nowadays, with the V12 very much an endangered species, the 850i is a relatively affordable way to enjoy one and you get a beautiful and capable grand tourer with pop up headlights thrown in for free.
This well-specified example is a 1992 model which was regularly serviced by the main dealers in Leicester and Nottingham up to 2005 when it was taken off the road and put into storage before being recommissioned in 2019. Since then, servicing has been handled by independent specialists and it has covered only 2000 miles since returning to the road.
During the time back on the road, it also received a full stainless steel cat-back exhaust, new fuel filter, new air con and alternator belts. The pressure hose assembly has been replaced and the car has received new brake discs and pads, two new callipers and a front hub. In January of this year, the power steering pipe was replaced which also involved work to the lower subframe, steering box and heat shields.
The current owner bought the car relatively recently to add to his collection of modern classic BMW’s but further acquisitions since then have led to a shortage of storage space which has forced some prioritisation. Reluctantly, this is the car that has to go but, to be fair, there is some stiff competition back in the barn.
The original folder of manuals is present, with the service book showing all the main dealer stamps and those from the independents, together with a stash of the recent receipts including one for £750 for the exhaust and over £1,500 for other work. The most recent MOT was passed in February 2021 with no advisories.
Sporting blue leather, blue carpets and a blue dashboard, on paper it might sound a bit heavy on the blue but the combination works very well and perfectly complements the Glacier metallic blue exterior paintwork. As you would expect from a range-topping sporting GT, the seats are extremely comfortable and it’s easy to imagine effortlessly cruising across Europe, when such things are allowed again. There is some wear to the driver’s seat bolster and the leather in general could use some attention to bring it back to its best but as is, it’s very usable.
Everything in here is completely original including the radio, though the display on the onboard computer is not fully functional and, while the digital display on the dash works fine, there is a fault with the dials which has rendered them inoperative. As is common with 2+2’s, the rear seats are best suited to occasional use, though entry is currently limited to the driver’s side as there seems to be a problem with the release mechanism on the passenger seat.
Obviously with a pillarless coupe, it looks best with all the windows down and they all whisk down at the press of the buttons. The door windows look to need some adjustment however, as the driver’s door window has to be raised when the door is shut and the passenger door requires some care to close, possibly because the window returns too far up. The central locking also only currently unlocks from the passenger door, although can be locked on the driver’s side.
In the rear, the original first aid kit is present in the arm rest and the electric retractable blind option is present while in the boot, the full toolkit is present as well as the CD changer, original spare wheel and road-legal numberplates which can be attached in place of the black and white show plates that are currently on the car.
The E31 8 series remains a stunning design to this day and the shade of blue shows this off to a tee. The paintwork is in generally good order with a few age related blemishes, notably some light scratching on the bootlid. The wheels, on the other hand, have been freshly refurbished and are unmarked, with a set of tyres with good tread, if not matching brands. There are no visible signs of corrosion, aside from a little below the rear window which is visible when the boot is open. The rear window also shows some signs of blooming around the edges.
Now, everyone loves a car with pop up headlights but there’s nothing worse than a pair that fail to perform when asked to do so. Fortunately, there are no such problems here as the mechanism works perfectly.
Opening the bonnet reveals an enormous amount of engine which fires up with a meaty snarl, courtesy of the stainless steel exhaust. As you would expect, it pulls strongly, with more than ample torque, and the 4 speed automatic gearbox is silky smooth. The exhaust is exactly what you would wish for from a good quality aftermarket upgrade: it’s quiet at a cruise but sounds fabulous when you reach into the upper end of the rev range.
As the age of the internal combustion engine starts to wind down, in new cars, at least, there’s a case to be made for owning an 850i on the basis of the powerplant alone. In the same manner that it is said that to be a true petrolhead you must have owned an Alfa Romeo, surely the same could be said for a V12? But to focus solely on the motor would be to do a disservice to one of the all time great grand tourer designs and the allure of pinnacle of the BMW range from the early nineties. There’s a lot of car here for the money.
This particular example has a solid history and, while there are some items to attend to in order to bring it up to the standard of the very best, it’s very usable in the meantime and the immense soundtrack helps to mitigate its minor foibles. With some investment it could be the perfect way to celebrate one of the iconic engine configurations, and make the ideal companion for some post-lockdown road trips.
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