The cars we loved.
The big 8 Series coupe was BMW’s flagship car for the 90’s. It came with either a V8 or V12 engine, usually mated to a 6 speed manual or 5 speed automatic transmission. The relatively new trend of the large European sports coupe had been spearheaded by Mercedes with its SL Class and later S Class coupe. BMW already had a large coupe with its 6 series, but it was based on an aging platform and lacked the all out performance and comfort BMW’s designers were aiming for in the new 8 Series coupe.
From the beginning BMW set out to develop a grand touring car in the classic tradition of being big, comfortable and fast. The lush interior featured nearly every BMW option available. New CAD technologies were used to improve aerodynamics and create a rigid unibody frame. It’s somewhat fluid, yet angular curves with crisp accent lines established the look for BMW cars into the 90’s. A low drag coefficient of .29 was a vast improvement over the 6 Series and was one of the lowest production car drag coefficients during the period. The low noise was facilitated by BMW’s last use pop up headlights.
Some models in Europe had a rear wheel steering system similar to what was seen on the Honda Prelude of the late 80’s. The end result of all the technology that went into the design and manufacturing process was a lighter car, although larger than the old 6 Series. The V12 version was the first use of a V12 with a 6 speed transmission in a road car. The 8 Series was also one of the first BMW’s to now use the common multi-link rear axle. Top speed ungoverned was said to be around 186 mph in the later versions of the 850i/ci.
Advance technology and performance came at a price, costing well over $60k when new. The big coupe sold sluggishly, especially when the less expensive 6 Series was on the lot up to 1991, prompting BMW to add a lower cost V8 model called the 830i. The 830i’s V8 came from the 5 and 7 series sedans and made a little more than 210hp. Little distinguished the V8 from the V12 models beyond the round quad exhaust of the V8 and the square-shaped tips of the V12. The automotive press praised the handling and comfort, but complained about the cars V12 car’s nearly 4,000+lb. weight. Just as the model had begun to gain some traction, sales were hurt further by the Gulf War and the Global Recession that followed.
The combined effects of a bad economy with increased fuel costs for the first half of the 90’s put sales in a hole. A hole the 8 Series never dug itself out of. Production followed sales on a downward spiral from that point on. Unfortunately demand stayed low. Mercedes sold more of their CL Class cars, while the competition in Japan and America was closing the performance gap with less expensive offerings like the ZR-1 Corvette and Nissan Skyline.
Despite having power increases through the years, critics contended that the 8 Series was just too big and soft. It’s V12 engines peaked at 5.6 liters and 375 hp with the release of the 850CSi in 1995. The press still complained that the car was too heavy. In retrospect BMW never intended the 8 Series to be an all out performance car like the M3 or M5, but just a big powerful and comfortable highway cruiser. Think Thunderbird on steroids.
BMW stayed true to that mission by never yielding to the temptation to release a M version of the car. The closest a buyer could come to an actual M8, was by shopping the various options available from BMW dealers and a host of tuners. The final 8 Series cars were close enough to the M cars in appearance with body colored spoilers, M style wheels and interior trims. Some owners even stuck “M” badges on their cars to fool the uninitiated. As of 2010, good examples can go for around 15 to 20k, although there are likely to be few examples out there. More likely, the cars you might come across will be two, three or even fourth owner examples that have not been mis-treated or ill- maintained. As with any BMW, a poorly maintained one will only end up as a money pit. The complicated nature of the 8 Series makes it no different, so demand service records when shopping.
The BMW brought back the 6 Series after 1999, but it was no true successor to the 8 Series. The concept of a BMW coupe that was more luxury than sport did not sit well with purist, the press and ultimately the buying public. Although the 850CSi had become a capable performance car, it was too late to change its fortunes. So when a new 6 Series was announced four years after the last 8 rolled off the line, BMW decided to make it more a driver’s car with performance that ultimately eclipsed the 850CSi at a slightly lower price point.