I’ll be honest, I don’t really have much of an opinion on BMW’s as they all look somewhat the same. A 3-Series is a smaller version of a 5-Series which is a smaller version of a 7-Series. But when they break their own mould, they can make some truly spectacular looking machines. Couple that with their infallible reliability and build quality, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Enter the 8-Series!
The origins of the 8-Series can be traced back to 1984, when BMW desired a car that would be a more luxurious version of the company’s own 6-Series. Development was given the go ahead by the management in 1986, and the team set to work creating a car that would mix absolute luxury, style and reliability, an attempt to create the most
desirable Grand Tourer on the market. Eventually, it was decided that the 8-Series would replace the 10 year old 6-Series as it’s top-of-the-range Grand Tourer, and thus to fill the void of this outgoing legend of a car, it had to be something truly special.
Over 1.5 billion Deutsche Marks (nearly $1 billion by today’s money) were spent on total development, and the design team pulled out all the stops to create their magnificent machine. Perhaps the most notable tool used by BMW was CAD (Computer-Aided Design), which, at the time, was still very much in its infancy. The use of computer assisted design tools combined with Wind Tunnel testing meant that the car could be designed to have a drag coefficient as low as possible, the final result being 0.29, a major improvement from the previous BMW M6/635CSi’s 0.39.
Power was derived from a selection of engines, ranging from the base-model 4.0L V8 (BMW 840) to the extremely powerful 5.6L V12. With a power output of 330hp and a 0-60 of 6.8 seconds, the BMW 8-Series was, at the time, only the 2nd post-WW2 German car to be fitted with a V12, which was quite an achievement. The performance of the V12 was quoted at giving the car a top speed of 179mph, but this was electronically limited on the production versions to 160mph.
However, a more interesting concept was the BMW M8, a one-off, 550hp car fitted with a highly tuned BMW M70 V12 SOHC piston engine used in the BMW V12 LMR racing car. The engine was also considered for the McLaren F1, but, contrary to popular belief, only a variation of the S70 actually was, McLaren’s designer Gordon Murray noting the engine would be too heavy. Very little is known about the M8, but the project was eventually scrapped, and it’s single prototype was retired to the BMW Museum in Munich.
Other ideas included an 850 Cabrio, a convertible version that was eventually scrapped due to ever increasing costs and a perceived lack of market, though many 8-Series have been converted to drop-tops by aftermarket mechanics.
However, the absolute best feature of the 8-Series is it’s stunning looks. The 850 takes the conventional profile of contemporary BMW coupes such as the 3-Series, but streamlines them with a long, smooth body, a modified grille, the removal of the B-pillar allowing a clean sweep of glass from front to back, and, most importantly, pop-up headlights!
Internally, the car was second to none when it came to toys, both optional and standard. A belt system integrated into the seats, an electrically adjustable steering column with memory function, auto-dimming rear view mirror, remote central locking and a ‘high-performance’ onboard computer were just a few of the luxuries you received with your copy of the 8-Series.
But the goodies didn’t end inside the cabin, mechanically the car was fitted with either a six-speed manual or a four-speed auto, and came with five-link rear suspension, stability control, traction control, speed-sensitive power steering and even damper control (EDC) as an option from 1990. By the standards of the day, this made it a virtual visitor from the future!
The car made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in early September 1989, and was immediately lauded for its style, practicality, speed, comfort, reliability and luxury. Noted as a substantial improvement over the outgoing 6-Series, the car was seen as an instant classic, the look and performance of a super-car mixed in with the comfort and sophistication of a luxury saloon.
However, the 8-Series, in spite of its adoration, didn’t exactly sell. While giving twice the performance of the 6-Series, it was also twice the price, with an entry-level cost of $70,000 in 1990 ($128,321 in today’s money), which was off-putting to many aspiring buyers. The operational costs were also an issue, the hulking great V12 consuming a gallon of petrol every 11 miles. Then there was the timing, in 1991 the Persian Gulf War resulted in an energy price spike and eventually a recession in 1992. The result was both increased running costs for the 8-Series combined with less money available to the buying public for them to purchase one in the first place. While the base-
model 840 and its comparatively efficient V8 remained popular, the V12 850 models began to struggle.
As a result, the 8-Series failed to sell in any great numbers, especially in the United States, where BMW hoped it would be a truly desirable California Cruiser. Eventually, BMW dropped the car from its US product lists in 1997, having only sold 7,232 cars over a 7 year period. In Europe, production of the 8-Series continued for another two years before it too was axed after 31,062 units had been built.
Today, the BMW 8-Series has become something of a legend among motoring fans, that is, for those who know about it. Many people are sadly unaware of the beauty and genius behind this magnificent car, with the company’s more successful ventures such as the M-Series and their lineup of racing cars being much more fondly remembered. The 8-Series, as I’ve said repeatedly, is not a bad car, far from it. It’s sublime, it’s stylish, it’s got some great power, performance and handling, it maintains BMW’s second-to-none reliability, has plenty of internal extras and is the last word in luxury, but a mixture of
bad pricing and poor timing scuppered this car’s chances.
I personally adore the 8-Series, it truly is my idea of a perfect car. Yes it’s thirsty and expensive to maintain, but it’s sheek, it’s got flare, it’s full of that European style and reliability that keeps BMW at the top of its game. I often imagine this car is what Rover wanted to achieve with the CCV back in 1986, a luxury Grand Tourer that would set the world ablaze with its mixture of grace and power. It’s like a pretty princess wearing a prom dress, but could scale a 1,000ft precipice in record time and without climbing aids.