Home » Driving A Traded-In BMW 8 Series Made Me Realize How Underrated BMW’s 1990s Flagship Truly Is: Trade-In-Tuesday

Driving A Traded-In BMW 8 Series Made Me Realize How Underrated BMW’s 1990s Flagship Truly Is: Trade-In-Tuesday

Bmw Trade In Ts Thumb
ADVERTISEMENT

Welcome to Trade-In Tuesday, a regular feature in which I drive a vehicle that has been traded in to Galpin, The Autopian’s sister-company run by cofounder Beau Boeckmann. Today’s trade-in is a 1997 BMW 840CI, a V8-powered, popup headlight-having, B-pillarless swaggermobile that stood at the pinnacle of BMW’s lineup in the 1990s, and was even owned by Michael Jordan. But unlike everything else that His Airness touched, the 8 Series hasn’t really realized true glory, and today it’s largely forgotten by the American public. But, as I learned when I drove the trade-in, the 8 Series deserves so, so, so much better, for it is truly a glorious machine.

Every day I get a list of vehicles recently traded in to Galpin’s many dealerships, and every day, I look attentively for something interesting that I can drive. But what makes a car interesting? Well, that’s a complex formula. Last week’s Dodge Nitro was interesting because it was so “out there” design-wise, it was a fascinating vehicle during a rough time in Chrysler’s history, and it was in such rough shape (a catalytic converter had been hacked out and the interior was gross). This week’s car, a BMW 840i is also interesting, but for totally different reasons. The design wasn’t “out there,” it was streamlined and elegant; the car came out during a glory era in BMW’s history; and, for the most part, this trade-in was in great shape.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

More than anything, what makes the BMW 8 Series so interesting is the combination of style, performance, and mystique. It’s a ridiculously badass car on the outside, it’s got ridiculously badass engines under the hood, and yet it’s a machine not nearly enough folks give a damn about. And that’s a real shame.

Here’s a look at my review of the traded-in 1997 BMW 840CI:

ADVERTISEMENT

Look at BMW 8 Series for sale today, and the prices are all over the place, with mileage, provenance, and engine/transmission options being major deciding factors. But the truth is: If you want to get into an 8 Series, you can score a decent one for about $25,000, and that’s incredible given that the V8-powered 840Ci that I test drove stickered for about $76,000 in 1997; that’s almost $150,000 in today’s money!

Screen Shot 2024 01 23 At 11.12.18 Am

I can’t tell you exactly why the 8 Series doesn’t get enough love these days (I’m sure the fact that its performance pales in comparison to modern cars is part of it), but what I do know is that the car did come out with a bang, as Motor Trend writes here:

1990 BMW 850i: An Instant Hit

Immediately, buyers went buck wild. According to some reports, 5,000 orders were plunked down just eight days into the show; by the following summer, the nearly 12,000-unit annual production run was sold out through 1993. Some rabid Bimmer superfans were so smitten they were more than willing to pay well over the asking price—a common practice nowadays for supercars like Ferraris and GT-division Porsches, but almost unheard of at that time.

At launch, the 850i was available only with a 5.0-liter V-12. The 850i was only the second BMW to pack twelve cylinders, after the 1987-1994 E32 750i. The M70 V-12 was a contemporary powerhouse, offering 296 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque through either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Performance was impressive, with 0-60 mph arriving somewhere in the low six-second range and a top speed of 155 mph.

Visually, the E31 was (and still is) spectacular. Designer Klaus Kapitza aimed for the lowest drag coefficient the design and engineering team could muster, eventually cutting a low, lithe silhouette that sliced the air at needle-sharp 0.29 coefficient of drag.

Per Motor Trend, BMW threw tons of cash into the E31 8 Series program after the Bavarian automaker saw so much success from its 6 Series coupe:

The first-generation 6 Series (E24), from 1976 through 1989 in particular, was a sales darling, racking up over 86,000 units by the end of its 13-year production run.

With dollar signs in its eyes and the precedent set for a successful big-money, hi-tech BMW coupe, BMW fixed its sights on Aston Martin’s and Mercedes-Benz’s top-dollar grand tourers with the initial design and conceptual development of the range-topping BMW 8 Series in 1981. In 1986, engineering and pre-production testing kicked off, and after burning through the equivalent of $900 million in developmental costs, the E31 BMW 8 Series made its full production debut at the 1989 Frankfurt auto show as the BMW 850i.

Oh, and yes, you read that first quote right: You could get an 8 Series with a V12 and a six-speed manual transmission — the first-ever pairing of a V12 and a six-speed stick. In 1992, the 850CSi joined the 850i, and swapped the 5.0-liter V12 for a 5.6-liter that cranked out 375 horsepower – up 99 over the 5.0. The 850i later became the 850Ci and got a 5.4-liter V12 making 332 horsepower. Plus, there were V8s starting in 1992, with a 4.0-liter making 282 horsepower; this was replaced in 1995 with a 4.4 making the same horsepower but 15 more lb-ft of torque.

ADVERTISEMENT

It was the 4.4-liter V8 that was in the 1997 840Ci that I drove at Porsche Santa Clarita, and its exhaust made a mean burble. Mated to a five-speed automatic, it wasn’t quite as engaging to drive as a stickshift might have been, but the auto just works with this car. It’s a cruiser; the ride quality is exceptional, and while it can handle well enough, it’s not a nimble little sports car. The 8 Series is large, it’s heavy (over 4,100 pounds for my V8 model), but it’s got presence for days.

416161970 2022141388169350 7791042192035614013 N

There are few things cooler than a car without a B-pillar. Add the awesome popup headlights and the gorgeous overall shape, and the E31 8 Series remains a style icon — a tough looking machine that exudes both confidence and power without being over the top:

415994422 1704566623403497 150899003977294367 N

The interior, with its nice leather seats and clean three-spoke steering wheel, is surprisingly stylish for a 1990s car, and really holds up to this day:

ADVERTISEMENT

412383662 1409242320016321 579687112372832820 N

OK, well, mostly “holds up.” The trade-in’s sunroof switch cover fell down, and one of Porsche Santa Clarita’s managers wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t mention it when I returned the car (I thought it was a well-known issue!):

Screen Shot 2024 01 23 At 12.09.29 Pm

But the rest of the interior was great. Check out the big ski bag protruding from the center of the rear seat:

415796495 420302566994526 1225009036879675645 N

ADVERTISEMENT

Behold the ridiculously dainty cupholders in the glovebox!: 

Screen Shot 2024 01 23 At 12.07.09 Pm 1024x549

How about those satisfying dials for controlling the blower and the temperature of the dual zone climate control (Why someone had installed the radio upside down is beyond me):

Screen Shot 2024 01 23 At 12.11.41 Pm

Driving the 8 Series makes you feel special. It’s quick, sure (zero to 60 in probably the mid 6’s), and it rides well, and its steering and brakes are lovely enough. But the 8 Series is special because of the way it makes you feel; it’s exceedingly badass, but in a classy way. It’s got the 90s wedge profile that you dreamed of when you were a kid, combined with a beautiful sounding engine, a big long hood to look over, a comfortable seat and suspension, and a side profile that is to die for.

ADVERTISEMENT

Screen Shot 2024 01 23 At 12.14.55 Pm

Though I have no doubt trying to maintain a 1990s German car filled with then-state-of-the-art electronics would be borderline masochism, I’d still buy an 8 Series if I could score one for close to $10 grand. It’s that special, but in a very qualitative way that I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of explaining. Just get behind the wheel of one and you’ll understand.

 

 

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
123 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
28 days ago

Overlooked? This car has been an icon of style for 35 years. Just beautiful clean, lines. Classic coupe proportions. It’s aggressive, but not overtly. It’s handsome without being overdone. It’s an athlete in a tailored designer suit. As you mentioned its B pillarless. A V12 with a 6sp to the rear wheels, as God intended. Fuck yeah! How special was this car? Jay Z used the elation and glory of being someone to get an early example and drive it through New York City as an example of extreme success. From his track, The City is Mine, released 8 years after the car, I’ll let him sum it up.. “Like the first dude to cop the 850 in 89, and drove it up to 55th, the city is mine.”

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago

These things depreciated so hard that a few years ago someone even ran one in Lemons. The judges looked at this 2-door GT with a solid 1.5-2x the HP of some previous winners and to the outcry of many put it in class C with the glacially-slow cars. They went out and blew past every car out there.. for about a dozen laps before the motor blew. Impressively, the team managed to source a new motor and swap it overnight (earning a Heroic Fix trophy), and on day 2 it went back out and blew past everyone again… for about 20 laps before the motor blew. Turns out the judges knew exactly what they were doing.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
1 month ago

In 2010 there was a white 850 on the dodgy car lot near my home. I never let myself set foot on the lot.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 month ago

There is a manual V12 for sale near me. It doesn’t run. I am very tempted, but I think more a car for someone who doesn’t have a family, as I think my wife would sue for divorce on the grounds of abandonment if I took the time needed to sort it out.

Beatle
Beatle
1 month ago

Sort of related. In 1995 I had a NADA book. I was going to turn 16 the next year and I was scanning the book to figure out how much a car I was interested in should cost. NADA didn’t have supercars (oh bother), but it did have BMW. I liked the M3 since reading about it in Car and Driver. Boy was that expensive. But the most expensive thing in the whole book was a BMW 850CSi. I’d never heard of it or even seen a pictgure, but I wanted one. Since the M3 was “the best,” the 850CSI must be bester. After reading this I guess I wasn’t too far off. George Carlin also agreed. He had a 1996 850Ci.

And no, I ended up with an 87 Honda Prelude as my first car. Still pretty good!

John Burkhart
John Burkhart
1 month ago

David Tracy is truly fearless and if you doubted that you had to be convinced when opens the sun/moon roof on a 90’s BMW he doesn’t own. Well maybe it never rains in CA so not a big deal.

All that aside those are gorgeous cars, but I agree that they never seemed to actually perform as well as they looked. I mean BMW was getting 300 HP out of their straight 6 B38 and the B36 in the 5 and 6 series from the 80’s so many of us were mystified by the addition complexity of the V12 even while still in awe of the body work.

Steven Moor
Steven Moor
1 month ago

That’s 4 less cylinders to go wrong than the 850 I guess. *shrug*

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
1 month ago

I get the ease of trading a car in, but no one has every argued it is the best financial outcome for the owner. With that said, I can’t imagine trading in an enthusiast car like this.

While no one may want your Dodge Nitro with a questionable maintenance history, you couldn’t put this up in a 8-series forum and find a buyer who would come up off of “salvage auction value” that the dealer is going to give you?

Zwill
Zwill
1 month ago

I find myself really hung up on the upside down radio, there has to be some logical explanation there right, right??

Agent008
Agent008
1 month ago

My first ever dream car, from way back when I saw a small photo of it on a car magazine article about the new lineup BMW was bringing to market in Brazil after the two decade import ban was lifted. I still dream of having one today, 30 years later.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
1 month ago

should get an Autopian window cling or something to stick on these when you do your drives.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
1 month ago

The delicate cup holders in the glove box are because in 80’s Europe we’d only drink in a car as part of a picnic when parked somewhere beautiful. I’m not sure whether it’s because we had better manners than you lot or whether European toilets encouraged dehydration during road trips.

Later, the in the 90’s, the third owner of the car would use the same delicate cup holders while waiting for a recovery truck just over half way to somewhere beautiful.

Duke Woolworth
Duke Woolworth
1 month ago

Ah yes, the days of good visibility through giant greenhouse glass. Compare that to the last Camaro.

Benni Krasemann
Benni Krasemann
1 month ago

Some weeks ago I was driving a 850Ci manual – hell it was good. It was not so much about the speed, but everything else. What a fantastic cruiser. I have to say though, the enginesound was rather unspectacular.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
1 month ago

It always helps put things into perspective to look back at cool cars from 30+ years ago. Cars in the 90s seemed to be pretty modern, but you see a 0-60 time that was considered decently speedy and now seems pretty slow.
In the same vein, since even the late 1990s, plenty of vehicles came close to 100hp per liter from an NA engine, with the bar set by the S2000 going even further. Of course we all know that classic cars were much less power dense, but looking back at performance cars from just 30 years ago, it’s always surprising to see only 60-70hp per liter.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
1 month ago

One of the most glorious cars made by BMW. I want one.

Boosted
Boosted
1 month ago

Upside down radio is the new upside down pineapple.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago

“LISTEN TO THAT BUBLE!” he says, as he takes another hit off that sweet, sweet, tailpipe…

Oh, and I’m loving the hat. Nothing like a well broke in straw hat.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 month ago

I’ve loved these for a while and think that they’d make a great EV conversion candidate… Sure, cool V8 and V12 options, but that’s not really the point of this car and when they inevitably become troublesome…. Then you have a rad shell with decent aero for cruising on electrons

Bill Garcia
Bill Garcia
1 month ago

Here’s an idea one step down from an EV conversion – any idea if you can swap in a better BMW powertrain? Maybe the inline six and manual trans from the same-era 5 series would be doable?

That would perhaps make the whole thing cheaper and easier to maintain

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill Garcia
Agent008
Agent008
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Garcia

Anathema you both! This car deserves nothing short of the V8 and V12s it originally had! Iconoclasts! Infidels!

Bill Garcia
Bill Garcia
1 month ago
Reply to  Agent008

Love the Capt Haddock reference!

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 month ago
Reply to  Agent008

Billions of bilous blue blistering barnacles!

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
1 month ago

I love these cars, but yeah the maintenance would destroy you financially

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
1 month ago
Reply to  Alec Harvey

The guy who used to fix my Z4 Coupe used to daily drive an 840i.

When it worked.

Lovely cars. I’m a sucker for pop-up lights and flaired wheel arches, and BMW coupes. But I’m not going to spend all my free time fixing one.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
1 month ago

Having driven every variation of E31 that was made (840ci, 850i auto, 850i/6, 850csi), I can see why they’re not as beloved as some of the other BMW’s of that era. Unless you’re lucky/rich enough to have an 850csi, the performance and driving characteristics don’t match up to the exotic looks. I remember selling an 840ci on behalf of a friend and it sat around for months, because every time somebody would come by to look at it, they’d drive it and be disappointed at how not sporty it was. The E31 gives you Ferrari looks but drives like a 7-series coupe.

The other side of it is that parts are quite hard to get, since there’s not a ton of aftermarket support for these E31’s. Need a radiator? It’s Genuine-only, and like $600. The manual shift knob/boot is $350 and has to come from Germany. Same goes for a lot of the suspension components, especially if you have the EDC (Electronic Damper Control) system. Have an 850i and want to manual swap it? Good luck, the Getrag 560g costs north of $6000 if you can even find one for sale, and then you have to find all the other bits and pieces to make it happen.

Pappa P
Pappa P
1 month ago

Yeah, 4100 pounds.
It’s pretty shocking that they could build a coupe that heavy with 90s safety tech.
That’s a similar curb weight to 1/2 ton pick ups of the era, so not surprising that it doesn’t feel sporty.
In my eyes, one of the most beautiful cars ever made though.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
1 month ago
Reply to  Pappa P

Having worked on a ton of them, I can tell you where the weight comes from:

  • Two batteries in the trunk, and they’re both quite large
  • Tons of extra bracing in the chassis to make up for the lack of a B-pillar… this is a common thing with other pillar-less coupes
  • Almost everything is still steel, this was before BMW started incorporating aluminum into everything
  • The automatic transmissions were heavy pigs, particularly the 5HP30 and 5HP24’s used in the later 850ci and 840ci

They’re also just fairly large cars, don’t let the swoopy design and two-door form factor fool you, it’s easily as large as a 5 series, if not bigger.

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
1 month ago

I like the cut of your jib. I’ve read your stuff over the years and you have an excellent understanding of the goods and bads of these vehicles. Keep it up man the world needs more people like you!

Mark Pilon
Mark Pilon
1 month ago

Sweet Jesus, lose the hat.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Pilon

But the hat is so him!

Taylor Marshall-Green
Taylor Marshall-Green
1 month ago

THat you DT?

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago

Na, just another beat up straw hat aficionado. Although I have taken to a good palm leaf recently.

Taylor Marshall-Green
Taylor Marshall-Green
28 days ago

I have an old straw hat as well. I love mine.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Pilon

It’s a fabulous hat, especially in an 840. Come on.

Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Pilon

Sir, I know you didn’t mean to,
but you have opened Pandora’s box.

That hat, like Waldo, will now theme in every video:

(in the trunk,
on the package shelf,
under the hood,
pasted to a wheel,
frisbee’d out the window)

[don’t talk about the shirt don’t talk about the shirt don’t talk about the shirt]

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
1 month ago

I have an 8 series story. I was doing study abroad in Germany and a friend and I accidentally got off a train one stop early from our connecting station. Timing was tight, it was too far to walk and if we missed the connection we’d be spending the night in the train station.
Panicked we walked to a nearby gas station looking for someone to give us a lift. Suddenly a black 8 series pulled up and a younger guy ran inside. My friend and I looked at each other and knew this was the dude to ask.
He came out of the gas station with a bottle of wine and some flowers and we started blabbering to him in our broken German about how we we’re screwed without his help. He simply said “Get in” and hopped into his German missle. We complied and he tore ass to the train station without saying a word. We thanked him profusely as we got out and he just waved and drove off. We made the connection with seconds to spare. I’ll never forget that day.

Tommy
Tommy
1 month ago

That’s actually a super cool story! Very well told too, I could pretty much visualize the whole thing. Excellent!

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
1 month ago

Interestingly, you can find the sunroof motor cover new in grey (for $135) but not black or tan. So, David was half-right.

123
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x