1981 BMW 733i

When it rains it pours. After featuring a clean BMW 733i 5-speed manual a few weeks ago, another one has come to our attention by way of Sam over at Check out this Car. This one is two years older with 185,000 miles on the clock and was driven regularly until put in storage five months ago. The period orange metallic color suits this cruiser well and it was the recipient of an engine rebuild in 1995. Currently, the car is located in Massachusetts.

1981 BMW 733i

The seller of this vehicle bought it for himself at Mid County BMW in Tenafly, New Jersey to mark an exciting new chapter in his career back in 1981. The fact that he chose a BMW and has kept it this long says a lot about the superior quality and charm of this modern classic. The E23 chassis was produced from 1977 to 1987. It is notable for being the first generation of BMW 7-series, and was their flagship vehicle. Powered by a range of 6-cylinder engines and rear-wheel drive, these were as sporty as they were luxurious and comfortable.

The styling is courtesy of a Frenchman named Paul Bracq and is nothing short of iconic. Although he only designed a couple of vehicles for BMW, his vision both built on the past and looked boldly to the future for the brand. The E23 7-series is riveting. The forward-leaning “shark” nose is instantly menacing, and the combination of quad-round headlights and narrow twin slot BMW grille give the front a a semi-human, semi-robot look, mimicking eyes and nostrils that are perceptually flared and alert. The whole shape of the car is easy on the eyes. In person it’s actually smaller than you’d think, about the size of today’s 5-series, and with careful use of sheet-metal it gives off a lean, frugal look. In fact, early 7-series didn’t even come with passenger side mirrors. The seller added a mirror from a later model car for better visibility.

This ’81 733i survivor is blessed with a clean and straight body. The most striking aspect of the exterior is the condition of the paint, a raspberry-orange color that just pops out in sunlight. The seller repainted the car in its original color in 1997. It’s still deep, glossy and nearly flawless. There is no visible rust on the exterior, and only some bubbling on the bottom of the passenger side rear pillar. All panels line up seamlessly. There are no dents, dents or even any major scratches on the paint. The car seems to have never been in an accident.

The seller rebuilt the engine in 1995. The odometer currently reads 185,097. This car was driven regularly all its life before being put into storage 5 months ago. Mechanically, it starts, runs, shifts and drives fine. The engine doesn’t put out a lot of horsepower by today’s standards but has a lot of low end gusto. What really makes the driving experience special is the rare manual transmission this car has. Since American drivers preferred automatic transmissions, especially on larger sedans, most 7-series were shipped with automatics. The combination of torquey engine, stick shift and rear-wheel drive can still make this vehicle a sprightly performer.

The seller rebuilt the engine in 1995. The odometer currently reads 185,097. This car was driven regularly all its life before being put into storage 5 months ago. Mechanically, it starts, runs, shifts and drives fine. The engine doesn’t put out a lot of horsepower by today’s standards but has a lot of low end gusto. What really makes the driving experience special is the rare manual transmission this car has. Since American drivers preferred automatic transmissions, especially on larger sedans, most 7-series were shipped with automatics. The combination of torquey engine, stick shift and rear-wheel drive can still make this vehicle a sprightly performer.

The interior is in remarkably good condition considering the age and miles. The seller replaced the driver’s seat with the original leather. There is still usual wear from normal usage, but the build quality and craftsmanship still shines through. BMW interiors of the ’70s and ’80s were some of the best out there and have stood the test of time. They were specifically designed to be as functional as possible. Not surprisingly, usefulness also led to good aesthetics. Every switch, dial and button is perfectly sculpted to be pleasing to the touch, work well and look good. The large steering wheel has a funky ellipsoid center. The instrument cluster houses three crystal clear analogue gauges of white numerals over black dials. The center console is angled towards the driver for ease of reach and vision. The wood is real wood. It’s these kinds of things that make you realize why this brand commands so much respect. Sitting inside it is like being a member of a club. The interior actually has this wonderful musky scent of vintage leather and plastics.

BMW built over 280,000 E23 7-series, but a good number have succumbed to rust and been junked. You rarely seem them on the roads anymore. Examples that are still driven have usually have had multiple owners and dubious history. This is a unique opportunity to acquire a one-owner 733i in very good condition and with a rare manual transmission. This car was one of the best cars money could buy in its day. Times may have changed, but it’s still a good car for what will be a fraction of the original sticker price. Just as the car was originally bought in celebration, it’s waiting to be enjoyed by the next owner in the same way.

The vehicle has been stored at and is currently located in Seekonk, Massachusettes at Seekonk Car Storage.

The 733i we featured earlier this month had 15,000 less miles, was two years newer and priced $400 higher. It seems then, if you want a presentable E23 these days, prepare to spend between $4,000 to $6,000, which isn’t too unreasonable, considering how usable these cars are thirty years on. Given the one owner provenance, engine rebuilt, a respray in its original color and refurbishment of the driver’s seat leather, $5,400 seems like an attractive deal for this big Bimmer.

-Paul

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4 Comments

  1. This appears to be a great car for $5400. I’ve always been partial to the E23s and the uniqueness of the manual transmission adds to the charm. The seller calls the color copper, but on my monitor it looks more like Rubinrot, which is a light metallic red. I used to own an E12 in Rubinrot so I’m pretty fond of the color as well.

    I’d better stop looking at this car or I might feel the urge to go buy it…

  2. Desirable E23 in good condition, uncommon (and similarly desirable) manual transmission, good condition with a reasonable asking price. The one-owner, known maintenance history, should offset some of the concerns about higher mileage. I would think there are plenty of BMW enthusiasts out there who can appreciate this opportunity. Nice.

  3. I agree with the comments above. Right now, I drive to work with my kids so we need something relatively new with all the airbags and other stuff that is very handy when you are driving around with little ones. But I look forward to the time when I can return to primarily commuting by train and thus have a better rationale to own a neat, older car like this that has been cared for. It can be driven regularly, repaired a few times a year and for the amount of a downpayment on something new, particularly if you know these beasts (I used to own an E23) and aren’t afraid to do a little wrenching you can drive a fun car for very little money. And you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to have the most unique car at any local parking lot!

  4. Air bags are scientifically proven to cause as much harm as they protect so you should feel as safe with this as any modern car. They were added to shut up a bunch of people who whine about safety because their child was hurt in an accident that would have caused an injury 100% of the time unless they simply chose not to drive.

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