Rounding out 2019, I’d like to take a look at one of my favorite cars. I came of driving age during the reign of the E31, and I still remember magazines taunting that the ‘M8’ would soon be with us. Of course, it never came – at least, not until today. But we still did get an E31 breathed upon by the Motorsports division in the spectacular 850CSi. The heart of the CSi was a special “S” motor. In this case, BMW Motorsport GmbH took the M70 and beefed it up seriously. Bored out to 5.6 liters and with compression bumped up and revised electronic programing, the resulting S70 took BMW’s V12 from 296 horsepower to 372 with 420 lb.ft of torque on tap. Macht schnell, indeed! But there were a host of other changes; offered only with a manual 6-speed gearbox, the CSi also got a quicker steering rack, Euro M5 brakes, shorter and stiffer springs, and M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17? staggered wheels. A new body kit made the elegant E31 look much more menacing, too. Europeans even had the option of 18? M Parallels and, amazingly, 4-wheel steering.
In 1994, this car cost almost $110,000. Today that’s nothing, as you can spec a special-order M3 up to that amount. But back then? That was nearly the price of three M3s. These super coupes have never really come down in price, as like their contemporary the 928GTS, they have maintained an aura of unobtainium and sacredness to a generation of motoring enthusiasts. Just 225 made it to the U.S., and this is one of 14 Orient Blue Metallic (317) examples. I think I’m in love…
I recently looked at a Laguna Green Metallic 850i 6-speed and talked a bit about just why they’re so special. It’s definitely a car you don’t see every day:
1991 BMW 850i
Out of the 4,194 5.0 V12 M70-equipped, only 847 came to the United States between 1990 and 1994 (as the re-badged 850Ci) with a 6-speed manual transmission. While that’s not quite as rare and desirable as the 850CSi, nevertheless the manual E31s are pretty special bits of kit and very hard to come across. But today we get to look at another, and it’s again a cool 90s color:
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The E31 was BMW’s first real attempt at integrating lots of computer designs and controls into one of their road cars. The clean-sheet design resulted in a 2-door grand tourer that shared some visual similarities with the great M1, but stood apart as a more practical cruiser. Unlike the E24, the windows could fully drop, revealing a graceful pillarless design to match the sweeping greenhouse. The sharp nose amazingly hid an even larger motor than its predecessor; in fact, it was basically two conjoined M30s. That configuration certainly has some drawbacks, but there was no denying that the 850i had serious presence and credentials with the M70 V12 kicking out 300 horsepower.
However, BMW softened the character of what potentially could have been a screamer. Many were outfit with 16″ wheels for a better ride and tied to an automatic transmission. This was truly a GT car, and not the supercar slayer that BMW teased with its M8 Concept. Still, there are a few which were hooked to 6-speed manual transmissions prior to the launch of the manual-only 850CSi, and they’re a whole lot cheaper than the M-modded model is trading for today:
Recently on our Facebook page I posted a poll to see what our fans would like us to write-up. The choice in that poll was between two different generations of Grand Tourer; cars with the same purpose but very different execution. The Porsche 928GTS was at the end of its illustrious production run, the ultimate evolution of the V8 transaxle design. On the other hand, the fairly recently introduced 850CSi wasn’t quite the ‘M8’ BMW had teased, but in a post-Recession economy it was still pretty special. The 928GTS clocked in to work with a slightly revised exterior, 17″ Cup wheels, giant Brembo brakes and a stonking 5.4 liter 4-cam V8 capable of 345 horsepower. The 850CSi was, of course, also naturally aspirated, but a 5.6 liter V12 lay under its computer-designed angular bodywork. The E31 was heavily breathed upon by BMW’s Motorsport division, the S70 laughed at Porsche’s V8 by channeling 372 horsepower to the rear wheels solely through a 6-speed manual gearbox. Like the 928, bodywork revisions, M-System II forged wheels and mega brakes along with suspension updates helped justify the lofty price.
In their days, both of these cars could eclipse $100,000 easily with options. The thing is, they’ve never really come down in price. Both were quite limited production; a total of 1,510 850CSis were made with only 225 sent to the U.S., while 2,877 928GTSs were made, with I believe 451 landing in North America.
The Facebook poll came down to a dead heat between the two, each with 44 votes. So, I did my best to come up with two worthy examples priced closely to consider today:
Considering just how rare they are, it’s quite special that we get to look at a second Colorline 850CSi in such short order. And this one is quite a bit more rare to find than the prior Tobago Blue example. Only 13 were ordered in the rarest combination – Calypso Red Metallic with Trinidad Red and Black Nappa leather. This is really about as rare as an E31 gets.
Since I didn’t cover the differences between the EG91/2 (Euro) and EG93 (US) 850CSis, it’s worth taking a look at that. Euro-spec 850CSis got additional oil cooling for the differential and engine, along with 13.6″ floating rotors and different side mirrors. The front end also got special smoked lenses. I covered a bit more about what made all 850CSis special in the last post:
1994 BMW 850CSi Colorline
There are a few reasons to really prefer today’s CSi over the Tobago Blue. Beyond the increased rarity, this one has far fewer miles and the presentation is much better. There’s a lot more information provided, too. And, it’s already on this side of the Atlantic, though you’ll need to wait a few more months until it’s ready to roll into the U.S.. Of course, there is one drawback…and it’s a big one:
Continuing on the theme of defacto M cars started with the South African 745i, today let’s look at the much more famous example of the 850CSi. I came of driving age during the reign of the E31, and I still remember magazines taunting that the ‘M8’ would soon be with us. Of course, it never came – at least, not until today. But we still did get an E31 breathed upon by the Motorsports division in the spectacular 850CSi.
Like the SA 745i, the heart of the CSi was a special “S” motor. In this case, BMW Motorsport GmbH took the M70 and beefed it up seriously. Bored out to 5.6 liters and with compression bumped up and revised electronic programing, the resulting S70 took BMW’s V12 from 296 horsepower to 372 with 420 lb.ft of torque on tap. Macht schnell, indeed! But there were a host of other changes; offered only with a manual 6-speed gearbox, the CSi also got a quicker steering rack, Euro M5 brakes, shorter and stiffer springs, and M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17″ staggered wheels. A new body kit made the elegant E31 look much more menacing, too. Europeans even had the option of 18″ M Parallels and, amazingly, 4-wheel steering.
In 1994, this car cost almost $110,000. Today that’s nothing, as you can spec a special-order M3 up to that amount. But back then? That was nearly the price of three M3s. These super coupes have never really come down in price, as like their contemporary the 928GTS, they have maintained an aura of unobtainium and sacredness to a generation of motoring enthusiasts. With only 225 brought stateside, perhaps it’s worth considering importing this one?
Yesterday, Craig took a look at a very nice and quite affordable E32 750iL. These cars have traditionally been one of the most affordable ways to get into a V12 sedan, and consequently coming across a generally well sorted one that doesn’t require an extensive amount of service is difficult.
But the M70B50 also found its way into the replacement for aging E24. The revolutionary E31 signaled a leap forward in sophistication, refinement and styling from other period BMWs. Minus small details, it still looks reasonably fresh today; something that can’t be said of many 1980s-era designs. The three-quarter view above, for example, is mimicked closely by BMW’s own current 4-series today and the Audi A5. Yet as with the E32, the E31 has been the gateway into V12 Grand Tourers for many with aspirations loftier than their bank accounts. Finding a pristine, early 850i isn’t an everyday occurrence, so this one was certainly worth a look. It didn’t hurt that it’s been breathed on by Dinan, either.
The E31 8-series (1989-1999) was available inÂ 840Ci, 850Ci and 850CSi guises. The 840 came with aÂ 4.0 liter V8 (later upgraded to 4.4 liters), while the 850 was powered by aÂ 5.0 liter V12 motor. This engine was bored outÂ toÂ 5.6 liters for the range-toppingÂ CSi version. (The cousin of an abandoned project to build anÂ M8,Â the CSi also came with aÂ 6-speed manual gearbox, stiffer steering and suspension, and a model-specificÂ bodykit.) Low slung and sleek, with pop up headlights, no B-pillars and a wedge-shaped profile, the 8-seriesÂ was undeniably gorgeous. It was also incredibly expensive, both to buy and to repair, and a little underwhelming, particularly in entry level form, where the car’sÂ performance never really matched the highlyÂ exotic exterior. That last criticism now seems a little unfair,Â since these carsÂ wereÂ sold asÂ grand tourers, not out-and-out sports cars. Still, the 8-series hasÂ remained somewhat under appreciated. AsÂ a result, entry level models can be found for a fraction of their original cost. This car is indeedÂ a base modelÂ 840Ci, but it’s definitelyÂ not cheap. That’s because it carries a number ofÂ desirable features and upgrades, including some more usually found on the CSi model.
Following on to the Mercedes-Benz SL600 Silver Arrow that Andy featured yesterday, here’s an equally rare German flagship from the 1990s: the BMW 850CSI. While a BMW M8 was never officially produced, if you wanted your 8 series coupe with a bit of M flavor this was as close as you were going to get. The E31 8 series wasn’t as popular as its predecessor, the E24 6 series. A little over 30,000 E31s were manufactured in comparison to the longer production run of the E24, which saw over 86,000 examples produced. Out of those 30,000 8 series, only 1,510 were the model you see here. With an increase in capacity to 5.6 liters, the 850CSi cranked out 375 horsepower and was mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual gearbox. With uprated brakes, suspension and Style 21 throwing star alloys, this was a fetching package. This example for sale in North Carolina has yet to cross the 30,000 mile mark, good for those seeking a collector piece.
A few days ago driving through traffic, a lean, low and angular shape drifted in between cars ahead of me. It stood out mostly because it was so different than the pool of SUVs it swam through. Like a shark parting a school of mackerel, it was a beautiful 840ci with M-System II wheels fit, and it was positively beautiful to see. What really struck me was the size though, more than anything else. I’ve never really thought of the 8-series as a small car – but there it was, dwarfed by the modern automobiles that surrounded it. Most other drivers ignored the door-wedge profile, but I sat transfixed remembering how revolutionary this car was when it was launched. When I happened across this 1995 840ci in my searches, a car which Paul featured back in January, I couldn’t help but want to write it up:
The below post originally appeared on our site January 10, 2015: