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Saturday, January 19, 2008

BMW 8-series

BMW 8-series. At its launch in 1991 a top-spec 850i auto coupé would have cost £62,000.

The trend is magnified in the used car market where the price of luxury motors has fallen through the floor. This means that you can pick up an early 8-series for just £6,000.

When they were launched, all the models were powered by a 5 litre V12 engine producing 300bhp. It wasn’t the most rapid coupé you could buy but it was one of the smoothest. With 5 litres under the bonnet and around 4,180lb of car to shift, it also wasn’t the most economical car, and owners will tell you that they spend a lot of time and money visiting petrol stations.

In mid-1993 BMW introduced a cheaper, more economical 8-series. Powered by a 4 litre 286bhp engine, the 840 weighed nearly 220lb less and would have been more than a match for the existing 850 had BMW not done something about it. But it did, handing the original 850 over to BMW Motorsport, its tuning division, which tweaked the engine to 5.6 litres — adding 80bhp — and revolutionised the car’s dynamic ability through a series of changes to the transmission, suspension, steering and aerodynamics. These second-generation 850s are the ones to buy.

As the flagship of the BMW range the 8-series came with all the toys and you’ll find electrically adjustable seats, air-conditioning, on-board computer, traction control and computer-controlled suspension lurking beneath the bodywork.

Fortunately — BMW build quality being what it is — most of these systems are still robust but problems can occur, and when they do they can be very expensive to fix, so it’s worth having the car checked over by a BMW dealer before you buy. If there’s work that needs doing it is worth getting a quote before you buy, which you can use to negotiate the price down with the seller.

But it’s easy to forget the pitfalls when you stand in front of an 8-series — its looks alone are enough to weaken many buyers’ resolve. The long, low bonnet, bulbous wheel arches and powerful rear end look as good today as they did at its launch.

Slide inside the leather-clad interior and it’s all good familiar BMW stuff, with well laid out switchgear and big clear dials. The front seats are large and supportive, and with full electric adjustment it’s easy to get comfortable. The memory function for the seat adjustment is a boon and even remembers side and rear-view mirror positions, something that many modern cars still don’t offer.

But despite the car’s size and weight, headroom can be an issue for taller drivers, thanks in no small part to an electric sunroof. Reclining the front seat liberates a few more millimetres above your head but at the expense of rear legroom.

With dwindling sales BMW stopped producing the flagship 850 in 1996, although the 840 remained available until 2000. Today a second-hand 8-series is a rare sight on a BMW forecourt, the majority of used examples selling privately or passing through specialist used car dealers. But if you can find one and you want to experience luxury motoring for a fraction of the original cost, there are few cars to match it.

Seats Full electric adjustment with memory functions; essential to check all motors work on both driver and passenger side

Suspension Cars from 1993 on came with electronically controlled suspension; check system for warning lights

Brakes Disc brakes all round; check for warping or ridges on the discs

Wheels Alloys as standard, larger 8Jx17 rims on Sport models

Insurance Group 20 insurance although limited-mileage policies can significantly reduce the premium

Windscreen wipers These automatically adjust pressure to the screen dependent on road speed

Engine Some owners report cylinder-bore erosion on V8 models

Multiplex wiring Improves reliability but can make components more expensive and faults difficult to trace

Headlamps Check pop-up headlamp motors work

Transmission V12 available with six-speed manual or five-speed auto; V8 with five-speed manual or auto. All are strong and rarely cause problems.


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