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1991 BMW 850i

This post is in our archives. Links in this post may have been updated to point to similar cars available to bid on eBay.

I’ve talked about what you could get if you were willing to miss out on the E30 bandwagon, and here’s another example of just how much car you could get. The E31 BMW 8-series is still relatively undervalued; part of that is not yet being recognized as a classic, and the other part is the fear of repairs on this fairly complicated big coupe. That means that if you’re willing to maintain that double-inline-6 motor that those crazy engineers from Munich developed, you can nab yourself a top-rate luxury grand tourer for a song. This example is one of the early M70 motored cars, with 300 horsepower on tap and what I’d consider still a great and underrated design:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 850i on eBay

Year: 1991
Model: 850i
Engine: 5.0 liter V12
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 79,195 mi
Price: $15,950 Buy It Now


The miles are certainly in the range that you’d want on this type of car, and the condition overall looks to be quite good. Compared to some other 8 series we’ve looked at, this car rides above the cheap, poorly maintained examples but well below the more expensive manual or later CSi models. The automatic transmission won’t be for everyone, it’s true – but if you can get beyond the lack of manual this could really be a great cruiser that would make you feel very special on that weekend getaway. The best part is that you’re ahead of the appreciation curve that will be likely to come in the next few years.



  1. Vic
    Vic June 25, 2014

    Why chose a relatively complicated and heavy V12 with only 300 hp when you could purchase for the same money bullet proof AMG CLK55 V8 that is lighter with 345hp? I ask because I am looking at a CLK55 right now and want to hear the other side of the arguement.

  2. JC
    JC June 25, 2014

    Because eyes. Nothing looks like an 8 series Bimmer. Nothing. That alone makes it worth while.

    While I agree about the potential complexities of an older V12, let’s face it: the CLK55 ain’t exactly an Accord 4 banger.

    What few survivors make it into the next decade will be highly sought after, I think.

  3. Justin
    Justin June 25, 2014

    CLK55 IMO looks hideous. Now the CL55……wow.

    The 8 serious will always be a desirable shape, but the lack of good engine and rarity of 6 speed make it a hard sell.

  4. Carter
    Carter June 26, 2014

    Vic and others, thanks for the input. Vic, Sorry I didn’t respond to your email sooner, but here’s my response:

    I think if you just want to go fast for not much money, the CLK55 isn’t a bad option. In a straight line, it’s certainly the match for some more expensive cars and cars that have a more sporting reputation. However, a few things. One, I think the E31 shape is much prettier than the post W124 Benz models. There are lots of subtle details on the 8 that make it really cool in my mind. It’s not the prettiest BMW ever made, but I think it was a fitting replacement for the 6 series and a nice departure for the company. Second, the E31 is still from the well-built generation of BMWs (for the most part). They spent a lot of money on development of the chassis at a time where Mercedes-Benz was seriously taking a step away from quality on purpose. I think the designs of the interior are much more pleasing and still look contemporary and fresh, but to me the Benz designs look dated. Hands down, the CLK55 has better looking wheels than the standard 850. And in terms of engines, I think I’d rather have the Mercedes-Benz unit than the V12. But if I’m honest and I think about cruising to a weekend destination, I think the 8 would get my vote every time even if it was slower. It has a presence that I don’t think the CLK matches. The CLK is flashier and shoutier, but I just don’t see personally how it gets the job done better. Plus, my mid-40s stoner neighbor deadbeat dad who lives with his mom in a second-floor apartment and doesn’t have a job has a convertible CLK430 AMG package – and the alcoholic retiree woman down the street that insists on using my address and not understanding why her mail and packages are delivered to my house also has one. I guess ultimately I like that the 8 series doesn’t attract either of those demographics.

  5. Vic
    Vic June 26, 2014

    Oh well – to each their own.
    I guess I never fell in love with the Battlestar Galactica looks of the 8 series and having driven one I was left empty under acceleration and the back seats – wow – they make the rear seats in a 911 look like Lazy Boy lounger. I would be interested in seeing how the 850 listed here would fare in a match up with the silver CLK55 on eBay right now.
    I know which one would circle a race track a lot faster.

  6. JC
    JC June 26, 2014

    Carter, can you expand on this comment? “at a time where Mercedes-Benz was seriously taking a step away from quality on purpose.”

    I’m curious what you mean.

  7. Carter
    Carter June 26, 2014

    JC, Sure – the step from the W124 to W210 was clearly a budget limitation, not an engineering limitation. Though I don’t have a particular source to site, I seem to recall even Mercedes-Benz coming out and saying that they had in fact backed their engineering standards down to make greater profits. I don’t think many people these days look at Mercedes-Benz models as a lifetime car, but there was a point pre-1990 where that was certainly a possibility. The same extends to both the C-class and S-class. I think Mercedes-Benz has upped its standards in the past decade with an attempt to correct the major problems in quality they experienced in the late 90s/early 00 period. Around us, it’s rare to see a W210 in good condition but W124s in good condition are a regular site. Perhaps that isn’t empirical data, but I think it points to the level of quality of the cars. I can’t really remember ever seeing a very rusty W124, but it’s rare to see a W210 around here without rust.

    Point being, while the power/money ratio on those 90s/00s cars is compelling from a performance perspective I’d choose one of the earlier and better built cars if I was looking for a keeper. But, that’s me!

  8. Carter
    Carter June 26, 2014

    Vic, that sure looks like a great example, and from a performance perspective it’s hard to argue with the value especially in comparison to the 8 series. This conversation reminds me of the Top Gear clip on the CL600 v. 850i – it’s hilarious, poignant and worth the watch if you haven’t seen it:

    However, if I was going the German muscle car route, I’d probably opt for something lower key:

    Ok, with higher miles this probably isn’t the one to buy. But with 340 hp, a manual, awd and a wagon package these cars are sweet and can be had for about the same as the CLK you posted.

    Of course, at that point, you could also look for a higher mile RS6 too and take it to another performance level. If you accept that any of these cars are going to need regular and expensive services, none of them are particularly a bad deal in the grand scheme of things!

    By the way, they didn’t show the results but if I remember correctly Clarkson’s Benz broke within the two week period and Hammond’s 8 was still running. Someone could probably correct me though!

  9. Vic
    Vic June 27, 2014

    Warning – long response.

    Carter – agree with all. I have always been smitten by high performance wagons. They are the ultimate statement made by a driver that his focus is on performance and not show. When we lived in Italy I regularly saw M5 Touring models and couldn’t stop drooling over them. I firmly believe that the M5 Touring’s appearance is an exception to the above only because it looks better than the Sedan.

    WRT Top Gear – yes I saw that episode and chuckled because I own a CL600 (albeit a later 2005 model with the 493hp V12 Twin Turbo). The 2002 model they tested was the 360hp model and it soundly blew the 850i away in terms of sheer performance but several episodes later Jeremy appeared with a repair sheet as long as his arm.

    The CL does not suffer lack of maintenance lightly. I bought mine used with 50K miles for less than 1/5 the original sticker so I balanced future maintenance costs against the low initial purchase price. After having driven it I couldn’t pass it up for the price – it is the exact opposite of my M3 in every way. An Autobahn stormer vs a racetrack refugee.

    In a straight line the Twin Turbo V12 is a beast – made to transit 100’s of miles at high speed (it gets 25mpg at 80mph but 18mpg at 40mph???). Floor it below 60mpg and the traction control light will flicker on and off until things settle out around 80mph as it struggles to gain traction. A friend of mine has a C6 Corvette with an automatic. After a series of lunch debates we finally decided to test the machines in a straight line. For the Corvette it was simply embarrassing, 2-3 car lengths by 60, fully in rear view mirror going through 100 and opening.

    At 15K miles per year I estimate annual cost of ownership for CL600 right at $3K. My E46 M3 has been around half of that for the same annual mileage. So maintenance costs need to be considered very carefully (same with similar year S Class sedans). If you are not willing to stay on top of maintenance the CL will eventually break you.

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