We don’t know what BMW wished for when it blew the candles for the 8-Series’ 25th birthday this past weekend, but we’re confidents that many of the the 260 owners from 20 countries, 120 of whom came with their cars to the brand’s headquarters in Munich, Germany, crossed their fingers and hoped the Bavarians would consider making a new 8-Series sometime in the near future.
The get-together was organized by the BMW 8 Series club 8er.org and ClubE31 Worldwide Owners Group e.V. with support from the BMW Club International Office.
One of only two BMWs to be designed with pop up lights, the other one being the M1, the E31 codenamed 8-Series was a big step forward in many ways for the German firm when it launched the car in 1989 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It was a clean sheet design with BMW using CAD tools to develop the car’s all-new slippery body that boasted a drag coefficient of 0.29.
The 850i was the second post-war German car to be powered by a 12-cylinder engine, the first being the 750i that was presented two years earlier, while it was also the first car in the world to combine a V12 with a six-speed manual and one of the first to use an electronic “fly-by-wire” throttle.
Other new features included the belt system integrated into the seats, an electrically adjustable steering column with memory function, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror, remote-control central locking and side windows that were automatically lowered or raised when the doors were opened or closed to improve sealing and reduce wind noise.
In 1990, BMW also introduced an Automatic Stability Control plus Traction (ASC+T), speed-sensitive power steering and the Electronic Damper Control (EDC) system.
Initially, the E31 launched as the 850i with a 5.0-liter V12 developing 300PS (296hp) and 450Nm (332 lb-ft) paired to either a 6-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic, with the former propelling the 1,790kg (3,946 lbs) 2+2 coupe to 100km/h (62mph) in 6.8 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h (155mph).
In 1993, the range was enhanced with the 850CSi which some viewed as an M8 in everything but the name (the M badges were featured on the engine). It had a bigger V12 engine with a displacement of 5.6-liters producing 381PS (376hp) and 550Nm (406 lb-ft) paired exclusively to a six-speed manual that allowed the coupe to break the 100km/h barrier in under six seconds.
The following year, BMW introduced the 850Ci with a 326PS (324hp) 5.4-liter V12 offered only with a new five-speed automatic, and the 840Ci featuring a 286PS (282hp) 4.0-liter V8 , which in mid-1995 was replaced with a 299PS (295hp) 4.4-liter V8, offered with a 5-speed auto, or in some markets including Europe, but not North America, a 6-speed stick shift.
The 8-Series remained in production until 1999, with BMW selling a total of 30,621 examples, 24 of which were hand built at BMW’s Rosslyn plant in South Africa for tax reasons. More than two thirds of all cars sold were 12-cylinder models (1,510 of which were 850CSi coupes), with one in six models equipped with a manual.
BMW also created a few prototype models, including the M8, 850Ci Convertible and 830i, the latter fitted with a 3.0-liter V8 with 218 PS (215hp) from the 530i / 730i models, none of which received the green light for production.
Overall, the 8-Series wasn’t a true success story for BMW, as the car was hindered by complicated and costly electronics, increased weight (at least back then), and above all, the misconception that it was a thoroughbred sports car when in reality, it was a luxury grand tourer with a sporty flair at best. The global recession of the early 1990s and the Gulf War also didn’t help its case. What it did have going for it were the high-tech solutions and features, and the sleek exterior design, which still looks great today (even though some called it a glorified, Bauhaus-flavored KITT / Pontiac Trans Am) as does its interior.
By John Halas