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Video: Is Buying a BMW 850i a Cheap Way to Own a V12 Car?

BMW 8 Series Generation E31

The BMW E31 is the first generation of the BMW 8 Series. It is a grand tourer built by BMW from 1990 to 1999 powered by either a V8 or V12 engine. While it did supplant the original E24 based 6 Series in 1991, a common misconception is that the 8 Series was developed as a successor. It was actually in an entirely new model class aimed at a different market, with a substantially higher price and performance than the 6 Series.

The 8 Series debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in early September 1989. The 8 Series was designed to move beyond the market of the original 6 Series. The 8 Series had substantially improved performance, as well as a far higher purchase price.

Over 1.5 billion Deutsche Mark was spent on total development (2008 USD nearly $1 billion). BMW used CAD tools, still unusual at the time, to design the car’s all-new body. Combined with wind tunnel testing, the resulting car had a drag coefficient of 0.29, a major improvement from the previous BMW M6/635CSi’s 0.39.

The 8 Series offered the first V12 engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission on a road car. It was one of the first vehicles to be fitted with an electronic drive-by-wire throttle. The 8 Series was one of BMW’s first cars, together with the Z1, to use a multi-link rear axle.

While CAD modeling allowed the car’s unibody to be 8 lb (3 kg) lighter than that of its predecessor, the car was significantly heavier when completed due to the large engine and added luxury items—a source of criticism from those who wanted BMW to concentrate on the driving experience. Some of the car’s weight may have been due to its pillar-less “hardtop” body style, which lacked a “B” post.

Sales of the 8 Series were affected by the global recession of the early 1990s, the Persian Gulf War, and energy price spikes. As a result, plans for the high performance M8 variant were dropped in 1991.

BMW pulled the 8 Series from the North American market in 1997, having sold only 7,232 cars over a seven year period. BMW continued production for Europe until 1999. The ultimate worldwide production total was 31,062. The base price for an entry-level 8 series in the early 1990’s started in the US $70,000 range, which is US $134,241 in 2018.

Development

Development of the 8 Series began in July 1981, with both the final design phase reaching completion and production development starting in 1986.

The idea of an upper class coupé was there in 1981 already, green light for project E31 was finally given 1984.

Internally the decision wasn't undisputed because it wasn't clear if in six years time people would buy a car that costs DM 140,000 (EUR 70,000).

The 850 wasn't just an improvement of another car, it was designed from scratch which made the decision risky.

Two years later, 1986 and four years before mass production started, the design phase was over and construction began. This took place at CAD workstations, back then still almost unusual.

The 6 series was used as a testbed for E31 components like chassis, drivetrain and steering
Computer controlled testbenches simulate the Nordschleife circuit and test the body for stiffness

In 1987 BMW began to assemble the first metal prototypes after design and aerodynamics changes were as good as finished. This first prototype that was actually able to drive cost 2 million German Marks (1,000,000 Euro).

Every other test vehicle - and there were 100 - wasn't much cheaper either, they were all above 1.5 Million Marks (750,000 Euro) because they were all built by hand out of specially handmade parts.

Many of those very expensive prototypes ended their life at a concrete wall. Crash testing.

One of these prototypes was presented to the BMW staff on June 15th 1989 in Munich's 'Bayernhalle'. At that point about 2000 people were taking part in the development of the E31.

After much simulated test bench running (see pictures), the first real test drives (still with a cloaked car) started on July 4th 1989 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The 8000 test kilometers (5000 miles) covered there equal 150,000 kilometers (93,000 miles) of daily use.

By the end of August 1989 the first tests in the USA were conducted in order to test the car under extreme temperatures and with american fuel. One, if not the biggest target group was living in America.

So tests in polar regions followed tests in Death Valley at 50°C, going full throttle for hours. But that is not all. After that the black painted car had to stand still in the heat for an hour with running engine. Driving up and down mountain roads with extreme changes in temperature and air pressure have been done also.

An early test car with lots of measuring systems. Tyres, wheels, engine management and many other values were constantly checked and documented.

While the tests were still in progress, the BMW 850i was presented to the public in the beginning of September 1989 on the IAA in Frankfurt/Main, Germany - with stunning success.

5000 orders have been placed within the eight days of the motor show alone, before the car was even ready for production, which started in the beginning of February 1990 in Dingolfing (14 days later as planned).

If you had ordered a car back then you would have to wait three years for it to be delivered.

BMW 8 Series E31 Specs
 
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