Rare Righthooker: 1990 BMW 735i SE

The 7-series never really developed the cult following of some of its countrymen or the rest of the BMW lineup. It wasn’t as luxurious as either the W126 or W140 Mercedes-Benz competition. It wasn’t as clever as the Audi V8 quattro. It wasn’t as good a driver as the E30 or E34. There was never a Motorsports division version, and it wasn’t quite as good-looking as its successor, the already legendary E38. As a result, the E32 was – in many ways – a disposable luxury car, much like some of the Audis of the period. They’re mostly gone and forgotten, but every once in a while a really neat one pops up and is worth a look.

I grew up in my formative driving years with a 5-speed 735i E32 in the family stable, and it was a wonderful car. It rode well, it was comfortable, the 3.5 liter M30 was turned up over 200 horsepower and so it was plenty quick. Generally speaking, the U.S. spec 5-speeds are the most highly sought E32s here and it’s easy to understand why. But this particular E32 turns the desirability up a few notches:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 BMW 735i SE on eBay

1988 BMW 735i

You don’t see many E32s on the road anymore. Most have been consigned to the junk yard by now. That’s a shame. With this generation 7-series, BMW hewed close to the guiding principles that served it well back in the day, when it offered cars with simple, unfussy styling and a brawny but somewhat subdued road presence. The V12-powered 750iL was marvelous when running right but monstrously expensive to fix when it broke. The “entry level” 735i, on the other hand, was powered by the notoriously robust, inline six M30 engine. Displacing 3.4 liters, it’s the same motor that found its way into the 535i and 635CSi of the same period. With about 208 hp on tap to move around a car weighing about 3,500 lbs, it was no performance behemoth. But it certainly cost less to run than its larger-engined siblings. That makes this nicely kept 735i the perfect candidate for use as an interesting daily driver.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 735i on eBay

Outstanding E32 Face Off: 1988 BMW 735i and 750iL

Such was the depth of BMW’s great designs from the 1980s that often the E32 is overlooked. Unlike the E23 it replaced, the scaled-up Claus Luthe-inspired design really worked and the heavy-weight look of the 5-series in a fat suit was met with more aggression, yet still elegantly. As you’d expect from a car intended to challenge the W126, BMW threw the kitchen sink at the 7-series, upping not only the technology, luxury and interior materials utilized in the E32, but the engine offerings, as well – the M70 and later M73 V12s beat Mercedes-Benz to the market with silky smooth and powerful twelve cylinder motors that were the trump card with the Trump types.

Yet while popular and well built, finding good examples of especially early 7s has become quite difficult. Today we have two interesting examples to consider. Both are far from original, though each in their own way is compelling. For those who like subtle speed, there’s a M70-powered, low mileage 750iL Alpina B12 5.0 clone from Japan. If you’re a little more in-your-face and like to row your own, there’s a Racing Dynamics-inspired 735i 5-speed. Which would you choose?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 750iL Alpina Clone on eBay

1985 BMW 735i

The E23, produced between 1977 and 1987, was the first iteration of the 7-series. It set the standard that BMW has followed, more or less, with each subsequent version of its luxury flagship. Large, comfortable, conservatively styled and packed with the latest technology for the time (ABS brakes, an onboard computer, electric seats and climate control, for example), these autobahn cruisers were for those who had arrived but couldn’t quite afford a Mercedes, or preferred the driving dynamics of a BMW. Sadly, very few have survived the ravishes of time and they’re quite a rare sight on today’s roads. And that’s a shame, because these are truly very handsome and classy cars, sharing a lot of styling cues with the gorgeous E24 6-series, including a sharply raked, shark-nosed front end. So it’s refreshing to come across a low-mileage, nicely kept example like this one.

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1988 BMW 735i 5-speed

1BMW introduced the E32 generation 7-series in 1987. The car’s design was a successful blend of the old and the new. Traditional styling cues – the four headlights, square kidneys and angular lines – kept the car looking fairly restrained and clearly part of the BMW stable. But it was also eminently more modern-looking than its main competitor, the W126 chassis S-class. And perhaps a bit less stately too. If the Mercedes was a car for high level officials and diplomats, the BMW was a car for the young, new titans of the 80s and 90s; Wall Street bankers, lawyers and real estate tycoons. Both cars still look good today, and each can give even the most budget-conscious, contemporary owner a frisson of ultra luxury, albeit 30 years after the fact. But there are hardly any E32s left on the road these days. Whether because of finicky electronics, poor paint and interior materials or just wayward owners who didn’t care for them as they should have, most have been left to rot in junkyards. This makes this low mileage, nicely specified car an attractive proposition.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 735i on eBay

Worth Restoration? 1988 BMW 735i 5-speed

In recent posts, we’ve both talked about the expense of maintaining an old German luxo-barge and, at the same time, the joy of getting to experience their technical prowess. I mentioned in the Alpina B12 5.0 post that I was lucky enough to experience an E32 5-speed upstream of most of the major repairs they would need if you held onto them long enough. Seemingly in response, suddenly a wave of neat 5-speed E32s appeared. But is the allure of the 5-speed status worth overcoming some obstacles to ownership?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 735i 5-speed on eBay

1985 BMW 735i

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This year marked the introduction of the sixth generation BMW 7 series. I’ll admit that since 2002, I haven’t really followed this executive sedan closely. I, along with many Bimmerphiles, was not a fan of the radical redesign and complex iDrive system of the E65. Subsequently, I stopped paying attention to any of the updates after that model’s intro. One 7 series that intrigued me all these years, however, was the E23. This was a rather small executive sedan in comparison to the S-Class Mercedes of the time, but it was also more of a choice for those who wanted to drive instead of being driven. This 1985 735i for sale in Texas belies its 30 years of age, showing only 77,000 miles on the odometer and having been maintained to what looks like a high standard.

Click for details: 1985 BMW 735i on eBay

1986 BMW L7

With two exceptions, to me the 7-series has always been a bit of an awkward sell. The E32 and E38 being the outsiders, for the most part the translation of BMW’s sporting tradition to a large sedan format hasn’t always been a beautiful marriage. Newer models seem large and ungainly, ponderous rolling technological showrooms. I’m sure they’re impressive in their own ways, but since the introduction of the S8, Audi has always done the large sports sedan better and the AMG models have been nuttier than anything BMW offered. But back in the 1980s, the E23 was the large sedan out of place. Looking like a stretched E12 after one too many trips to the buffet, the E23 competed against the technologically advanced Audi 5000 Turbo quattro and the more luxury oriented standby W126 Mercedes-Benz lineup. And while it wasn’t about to get all nerdy to compete with the C3 Audis, BMW did attempt to sway the Mercedes-Benz faithful with upscale versions of the E23 and E24 – the L7 and L6 – to compete against the SEL and SEC. They sported mostly cosmetic upgrades and one heck of a leather-wrap job inside:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 BMW L7 on eBay

1991 BMW 735i with 24,600 Miles

I hold out a small amount of hope that somewhere, floating around the U.S., there is a pristine, low mileage and mechanically perfect Audi V8 quattro. Honestly, even though I prefer to find a 3.6 5-speed, I wouldn’t even be bothered if it was an automatic as long as it was the later 4.2. As with all the large luxury sedans from Audi, there are precious few that remain in good original shape with lower miles. A similar situation occurs with the same generation BMW 7-series; the E32. Like the V8 quattro, it was a big step forward in the sporting executive market for the company, yet crumbling residual values and expensive repairs on the V12 models have left precious few in good shape. In fact, the E32 almost seems to disappear in the realm of classic BMWs, such is the concentration on early models or the bargain performance of the E38 and newer examples. So when a lower mile, pristine condition E32 pops up, we take notice:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 735i on eBay

1987 BMW 735i 5-speed Euro-Spec

Much like the E23 that it replaced, we just don’t seem to see a lot of good condition E32s cruising around these days. In comparison to the E34 that was launched at the same time and shared much of the technology, it’s interesting that this is the case; is it that 7-series owners just didn’t care for their cars as well, or expected something different from them? Certainly the German ultra-luxury market witnesses the greatest depreciation this side of a Nissan product, resulting in expensive cars in the hands of those who sometimes can’t afford or aren’t willing to maintain them. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of 750iL wrecks, for example – cars that just could never be brought back from the brink. But it still surprises me that we don’t see more of the 735i, especially the fairly rare 5-speed variants. We’ve listed them before, and I think one of the comments was “does a 7 series really fit with a manual?” Having grown up with one in the household, I can say it’s an emphatic yes. It may not have been the preferred transmission for the E32, but it transformed it from a sedate luxury car to a sports sedan with a luxury bias. It felt much quicker than it probably should have and drove more of less just like a heavier version of the 5 series – which is to say, quite well. But they’re very rare to see, so when this 1987 European-spec model popped up I was sure excited:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 BMW 735i 5-speed Euro-spec on eBay