30 years of BMW E31 coupe

By: Unique Cars magazine

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bmw 8 series bmw 8 series

Big ambitions and big costs defined the first BMW 8 series


BMW E31 coupe turns 30

Frighteningly expensive. That pretty much sums up the noty-so-humble origins of the E31, or first-gen 8-series from the point of view of both the manufacturer and the customer. This was a hugely ambitious project for the company, boasting a run at using CAD on a scale that was far from common at the time. The development cost? Reported to be a staggering 1.5 billion Deutschmarks. 

It wasn’t exactly a bankers picnic for the customer, either. In Australia, one of these things cost you $220,000. You could buy a good three-bedroom house in Melbourne for half that.

BMW had plenty to talk about with this car, which was essentially pitched as an uber-grand tourer.

It boasted an exceptionally low drag coefficient of drag for the day (0.29), matched a six-speed transmission to a V12 in manual form (four-speed auto was standard), boasted a sophisticated multi-link rear end, fly-by-wire throttle, twin brains running the engine...the list went on.

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Claiming a relatively modest 221kW (296hp) from the initial V12 5.0lt powerplant, it was quick without being breathtaking. Road testers expressed some disappointment that it didn’t try to scare the wits out of the driver whenever you went near the throttle – too civilised, apparently. However there was no real debate with the propositon that it filled the GT job description by being fast, quiet, comfortable while enjoying decent grip and handling.

A stumbling world economy, hurt by the first Gulf  War, hobbled sales and the 850 quietly disappeared. It was replaced by the V8 840 series for 1994-1999.

For collectors, the ultimate would be the M prototype (pictured at top) that never saw production. Failing that you'd want the 850CSi, produced in small numbers from 1994 through to 1996. It boasted more aggressive-looking bodywork, plus a 5.4lt V12 tuned for 280kW (375hp). That was accompanied by a six-speed manual trans, upgraded suspension, brakes and steering rack. They’re now worth around double the price of a ‘normal’ 850.

BMW revived the 8-series in 2018 for two-door, roadster and four-door variants.


From Unique Cars #442, July 2020

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