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

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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!):

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

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Behold the ridiculously dainty cupholders in the glovebox!: 

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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):

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
3 months ago

Many moons ago someone traded in a V12 850 to my in-laws’ lot and naturally, I just wanted to say I’d driven a V12. This was nearly a decade ago and I was still in my automotive infancy. In any case, I hopped in and said “schnell” and holy shit did she schnell! There was a perceptible moment where you just felt the car accepting the orders from your right foot, then it just got gone. Reasonably intoxicating stuff if you’re into big engines. Personally, I think the optimum number of cylinders is 4, so it’s not my thing, but it was a fun experience.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

I had a friend who bought one of these new. Probably the same year and spec as this one. In his first year of ownership the headliner suddenly dropped on him as he was driving on the highway. A while later the passenger window fell off it’s tracks. He said the dealer blamed the headliner on parking in the sun. His car was silver, so he asked how the black ones were holding up.

He would constantly say he wished he had not spent BMW money for Chevy Cavalier quality.

JasonGhisKhan
JasonGhisKhan
3 months ago

I had an artists rendition of the 8 series from Motor Trend on my wall in the late 80s. 12 year old me wanted one so bad, and I’d still take one, but I think I’d rather have the E24 M6 that the 8 series replaced.

That mystery tool you found in the toolkit looked like the spark plug removal tool, there was a bar about the same length you would fit in one of the holes on the non-wrench side you could use to add torque to the wrench to get the plugs in/out.

Last edited 3 months ago by JasonGhisKhan
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

“Why someone had installed the radio upside down is beyond me”

Its a Jeep thing. I’d have thought you of anyone would understand.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

COTD!

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I was thinking maybe David is still jetlagged from project cactus.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago

I’m pretty sure you could get a V12 Jag E-type with a manual and overdrive.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Yes, but it was a four speed.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
3 months ago

I mean these are pretty much universally considered to be classics for a reason. The styling is pretty much perfect, they exude class and swagger simultaneously, they have excellent engines (I mean imagine having a V8 as a “base” engine with a V12 as the upgrade in this day and age!), they’re comfortable, and they perform pretty well even by today’s standards.

Slash the idea of an underpowered (by modern standards) V8+ is ridiculously appealing to me in this day and age. You can wind them out and hear the song of their people without ending up in jail. I mean let’s be real here…would you really trust yourself with something like a Hellcat?

If you can handle that type of performance responsibly then more power to you (pun intended), but I’m a fucking idiot and my monkey brain would take over. Hell I’ve gotten myself into some hairy situations with the 286 horsepower in my Kona N. I don’t need 500+.

So basically stuff like the 8 series is amazing and perfect…until you realize what it costs to keep one running. I’ve poked around on 8 series forums before and the things are as bad as you might imagine. I really liked the quote on RCR yesterday that you don’t buy a used Ferrari unless you can afford 3 times the purchase price, because that’s what you’ll be paying in upkeep.

The situation isn’t much different with a V12 German car that was a flagship in its heyday (yes I know there’s an V8 but the way to have one of these is with the 12 cause MOAR CYLINDERS, duh). So alas, this is forbidden fruit to me. A siren song, if you will. But I remain vigilantly on the lookout for some sort of depreciated exotic adjacent car that won’t bankrupt me.

And you know what I’m left with? The LC500. Duh. And there are already some out there in the 50s and 60s. But don’t tell anyone I said that. Please.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nsane In The MembraNe
ADDvanced
ADDvanced
3 months ago

I don’t know, I feel like a lot of BMW upkeep myths are due to idiots not taking care of their car, being unable to research anything themselves, and being afraid to touch tools. If you have to take an old car to a shop for every little thing, it’s going to be expensive. And german cars just need more attention than japanese stuff, but it’s rarely critical. I’d buy one, I’d just want more than one car so if the E31 is down I can drive a Honda or something.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
3 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Exactly. Sreten has restored at least two E31 850i’s with another one in progress and a couple of 7-Series V12 cars (E32, E38) that have been restored or are being restored over the past three years.

Lardo
Lardo
3 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

uh, no. they are known for what they are know for for a good reason. same era 735i would have power seats that just stopped working. big $ to fix. the tranny would lock up on the smog test. couldn’t move the vehicle in a way that made sense. there are many more examples of this type of failure

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago

> MOAR CYLINDERS, duh

This is the light. This is the way.

FiveOhNo
FiveOhNo
2 months ago

I also have a Kona N! But I find I get into more trouble with the Kona than my hopped-up Mustang because the Mustang has too much power to responsibly use in most conditions, but the Kona N feels like it can be driven 10/10ths all the time.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
3 months ago

E31s have always been desirable, the issue is they really weren’t designed for our wimpy American speed limits. This car is DESIGNED to drive triple digits for hours at a time. Highly suggest anyone interested in these checks out e31.net, click english then explore the site. Has videos from before youtube, showing this car in it’s element: As a land-based cruise missile.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
3 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

That’s what most of these flagship German coupes are designed for. All the crazy AMGs are the same way. You can sit at 120+ for hours on end in quiet comfort. It’s cool as hell. Much like Sammy Hagar, I can’t drive 55…and I would want to experience one of these glorious chariots as god intended.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
3 months ago

The Subaru SVX is the same way. I had mine on cruise at 115mph for about 1.5 hours, while driving across western south dakota at 2am. Hit 140+ a few times too lol

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 months ago

Not just the coupes. My 97 540i6 woke up at 140 km/h. It seemed to hunker down and get tighter and more precise.

But it always made me pay in pain with weird stuff breaking at weird times or all at once (eg, 3 of 4 window regulators broke within a week).

The perfect 8 series to me would be the 840, but with a stick. That’s a fine engine when right (PFFT!), and the six speed would make it more engaging.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

An 840 shell in nice condition with no engine or transmission would cause me a lot of pondering…

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago

No doubt the BMW 8 series is great car… while it’s running. The problem is repairing/servicing it and the cost of doing that.

This is not a vehicle you’d want to depend on as a daily driver.

Cpt. Slow
Cpt. Slow
3 months ago

Unpopular opinion? Ugly from every angle.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

And now you are unpopular with me.

:-p

R Rr
R Rr
3 months ago

You know there are plenty of people who buy beige Camrys, it was inevitable one of them would post in this thread 😀

Last edited 3 months ago by R Rr
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

You forgot to add “But enough about me.”

😉

Pappa P
Pappa P
2 months ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

Lemme guess, you feel the same way about Scarlett Johansson?

Ben Siegel
Ben Siegel
3 months ago

Not sure if this is in the video, and obviously don’t want to get a customer’s info out there – but what was this traded in for!?!

Turbeaux
Turbeaux
3 months ago
Reply to  Ben Siegel

He mentioned 911. Could have been any model.

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
3 months ago
Reply to  Ben Siegel

I had a friend that sold used cars and he called me in to play with a Raptor that a surgeon traded in for a freaking Honda Accord because he was sick of paying for gas. You never know people’s motivations!

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago

I LOVE the look of those cars. Too bad the M62 4.4L is such a disaster. But that was peak BMW. The 8 series and the e39. My e39 540i is such a good looking car. Parked in my driveway. Broken.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
3 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Golden Autopian, you.

Peter d
Peter d
3 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

As much as the V8 is tempting, I think you really want the I6 in an e39. It is slower, but BMW has the I6 down pat, their V8’s always seemed like they were playing and not serious at making them last a long time. I miss my e39 528i – it was a great drivers car.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter d

This. It’s not like the V8 has all that much power anyways. 280hp, if you can keep it from misfiring. I wish mine had the I6.

Dingus
Dingus
2 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

As a former owner of an E60 with the craptastic N62, I agree about BMW V8s. It was hands-down the WORST car I’d ever owned. I did all my own work and it bent me over the handrail on many occasions. To be fair, they’re actually pretty easy to work on, but the number of times you have to do it, the time spent diagnosing weird issues, the time spent not being able to drive it, the time spent sourcing parts and then the cost of those parts was just way too much.

I’ll just leave the one ugly one here: alternator bracket oil gasket. Alternator was mounted to the side of the engine. On the 7-series, they had an oil cooler that the 5 series did not. The alternator plate blocked off the oil passages and had a buna-n gasket to seal it. It was notorious for leaking and making a huge mess. Getting to the thing was murder. I undertook that job on my own and it was misery. No maintenance to keep that one from happening.

THey’re also well-known for failed valve stem seals and a smoke show to prove it. That job I refused to undertake. One wrong move and you drop a valve into a cylinder. NOPE. Sold it down the line after many many repairs and countless hours spent fixing.

It is one of the few cars that I am so happy that I’ll never see again.

JumboG
JumboG
2 months ago
Reply to  Dingus

That bit about the oil cooler explains why I had to swap out my alternator bracket when I had to put a new engine in my e38.

While I loved cruising in my e38, I decided after owning it that I would stick to 6 cylinder BMWs from then on.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

Radio must’ve been installed by one of Tracy’s Oz mates. They like to do things upside-down, after all.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago

Laurence, I reckon.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
3 months ago

Are you a BMW person now? You just said you would spend actual money on a E31. Which means you at least somewhat are considering it. Only a BMW person would look at all the horror stories of E31 ownership, and go “You know, doesn’t sound that bad.” Where is Bob? Maybe he can talk you out of pending reckless endeavor. Sisyphus would look at one of these and say “Can’t do it, too much work. I value my time.” Or get a one way ticket to VIP Anti-BMW BMW Club.

Myk El
Myk El
3 months ago

David has definitely gotten a lot more comfortable on camera. I’m enjoying this series of videos.

Lardo
Lardo
3 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

the hat

Space
Space
3 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

I agree, great hat

Taylor Marshall-Green
Taylor Marshall-Green
2 months ago
Reply to  Space

I’m not sure you agree.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
2 months ago
Reply to  Space

Amazing hat

Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

The hat is definitely a sign of the comfort.

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago

I shall mention again that the “temp intro” should become the permanent intro. 🙂

David: “I’m ballin’ right now!” [straw hat wobbles majestically in the breeze]

Despite not being fast, it does sound good and the hardtop (i.e. no B-pillar) look is a classic.

LOL at Torch’s “mopnastic”. The commercial seems to be saying that the 8-series is for manly men who do manly things like riding horses and wrangling cattle while bypassing literal clowns.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
3 months ago

The opening paragraph calls it out as a C-pillarless car. Does the lack of a traditional B-pillar regulate the B-pillar to the C-pillar location?

Aaron Nichols
Aaron Nichols
3 months ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

Further down he correctly states its a B-pillar less car, so likely a typo up top.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
3 months ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

relegate* lol

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
3 months ago

Did I miss the article on the Great Van Adventure?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Great!

Also, nice hat.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Yeah that hat makes DT look like he is waiting for his driver to drive his ass to Piggly Wiggly. DT gets extra points if he can correctly reference the movie alluded to here.

“I’ll take goofy pictures for 200 Alex.”

Last edited 3 months ago by Col Lingus
Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I’m all in favor of DT using whatever garment he chooses to ward off skin cancer.

AlterId
AlterId
3 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

That’s the reason I assumed he was wearing it – a compromise with his dermatologist (or at least dermatologically-aware) girlfriend who wasn’t able to convince him to wear sunscreen.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

“Ad-van-ture”

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 months ago

Nice!

Yngve
Yngve
3 months ago

When they first came out, I remember thinking that the front view of these was a bit too similar to that of a first generation Ford Probe – nearly vertical nose, gently sloping hood, pop-up headlights set back a bit further than felt correct.

Upon further reflection, it has aged rather well…

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago
Reply to  Yngve

It also looks like a 1980s Supra… but that’s not a bad thing.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 months ago

…and Mr2

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Yngve

The Probe looked great, too, but the butt on the 8 series is next level.

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
3 months ago

Cheese and Crackers, talk about a “Bob” bat signal…. 3. 2. 1…..

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
3 months ago

BTW, this segment is a great idea. I hope it gets the clicks so you keep them coming

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
3 months ago

Two words: Repair costs.

Robert M. Graham
Robert M. Graham
3 months ago
Reply to  Vanillasludge

It’s from Germany … I think those are at least 5 words …

Yngve
Yngve
3 months ago

Nah…other way around. Germans tend to have a single word that captures up to a paragraph of english text.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago
Reply to  Yngve

Yeah, in this case that word is “nichtgeldfurdich”

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago

It could also be “nichtgeldgünstig”

Last edited 3 months ago by Manwich Sandwich
Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
3 months ago

Nope: “fuckyourwalletwagen”.

OCS-BN
OCS-BN
2 months ago
Reply to  Yngve

The car is ‘reparaturkostenintensiv’.

Back in my schooldays, we said: BMW = Bring Mich Werkstatt

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago
Reply to  OCS-BN

My relatives in Austria would say BMW = Bayerische Mist Wagen

Bavarian Manure Wagon in English…

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
3 months ago

Many years ago it seemed like you couldn’t give away an 840Ci. Back when I was a teenager, a local buy-here-pay-here lot had one for $999. Now, that was just a down payment for future misery, but I bet you couldn’t find one of these in running shape for the same price today.

Blast, I wish teenage me convinced my parents to buy that instead of a $1,000 Kia Rio.

Sklooner
Sklooner
3 months ago

Yep I looked at a manual one for around 4000CDN five years back with full maintenance records-

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
2 months ago

Several years ago there was a well maintained 840 with a Dinan supercharger that I almost bought for around $16k. My brain is happy I passed on it but my heart wonders what could have been.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
2 months ago

Jay Leno got his first Lamborghini Miura for free, so if your timing is right, you can get exotic cars for very little. I think modern engineering and internet advertising does prevent them from going down to free, though.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
3 months ago

You break it, you buy it!

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
3 months ago

Nice hat!

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

Alright D.T. , I just have to ask, what’s up with that hat? ʅ( ´◔౪◔) ʃ

Data
Data
3 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

He’s just channeling Gil Grissom from CSI as he gathers all the evidence on the Bimmer.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago
Reply to  Data

Lol!

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Rumor is that Martha Stewart gave it to him after her gave her a jump start in the Cosco parking lot. And his girlfriend is not pleased, nor does she think “it’s a good thing.”

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

More like Fred Ziffel gave him the hat! 😉

SAABstory
SAABstory
3 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Green Acres reference points.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago
Reply to  SAABstory

☜(゚∀゚☜)

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