1 Jul 1990
BMW’S 8 Series was a classic case of the wrong car at the wrong place at the wrong time.
When it was conceived in the mid-‘80s the world was just embracing the go-go greed-is-good values that made that decade so decadent.
But post Black Monday’s stock-market crash on October 19 1987, and the slow but subsequent retraction of the world economy, combined with Japan’s bubble-economy burst, there simply weren’t enough buyers around – let alone interested – in an expensive super-coupe.
Anyway, everybody was talking about Mazda’s brilliantly simple and affordable MX-5/Miata to care about the V12 850i when it was released in Australia in mid-1990.
It was a heavy, high-tech luxury grand tourer that, for some reason, neither performed like a sports car nor cosseted like a luxury one.
This was despite the implementation of active rear axle kinematics, electronic damper control, automatic stability and traction control systems – as one critic said, it was a technological overkill that sullied the purity of the performance potential of the 850i.
And the styling – with traces of 6 Series and mid-engine BMW M1 supercar but, really, without a strong or clear identity – didn’t help either.
Its profligate V12’s 220kW and 450Nm – channelled to the rear wheels via a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox – somehow never felt like a 12-cylinder powerplant should.
BMW tried to address the 8 Series’ serious lack of buyer interest with the ‘Ci’ facelift of 1993, which split the model into the 840Ci and 850Ci.
The former was fitted with a 210kW/400Nm version of BMW’s 4.0-litre V8 engine, and – combined with a five-speed automatic gearbox and a lighter overall kerb weight – made for a much more convincing grand tourer at a significant price saving over the old 850i.
Meanwhile BMW packed more luxury into the new 850Ci model, implemented some of the minor trim alterations, and added a new double-overhead valve head to the 5.0-litre V12 for greater efficiency and economy. But sales remained slow and by early ’95 the V12 8 Series vanished.
In 1996 another round of changes, including a small facelift, introduced Tiptronic-style sequential-shift control to the five-speed automatic models in the 840Ci, along with an all-new 4.4-litre V8 producing 210kW and 420Nm.
But by then the 840Ci was looking old. Even BMW fans are surprised to learn that the model soldiered on until the middle of 2000.
BMW had built 30,621 E31 8 Series from 1989 to 1999.