The BMW 8-Series is a Grand Tourer that was produced from 1989 to 1999 and served as BMW’s flagship car in the early 1990s. The 8-Series (also known as the E31), supplanted BMW’s E24 based 6-Series, but it was not designed to replace that line. In fact, the 8-Series was developed as an entirely new class of car targeted to a different audience. It featured better performance (and a correspondingly higher price tag) than the 6-Series. Developed by BMW in the mid-1980s, the 8-Series was created to be the ultimate in luxury car performance. In fact, BMW spent roughly $1 billion on the research and development that went into the 8-Series. Unfortunately, due to prohibitively high purchase prices and a wide variety of external factors, BMW decided to discontinue the 8-Series in 1999 after several years of near dismal sales numbers.
A wide variety of models and trims were offered over the decade-long 8-Series production, each model featuring an impressive engine designed for high performance. The cars were built with BMW’s luxurious 750iL in mind, but featured several key differences. For one, the drive of the 8-Series was considerably sportier than that of the 750iL, with tight suspension, impressive grip on the road, and superior handling. Pokey acceleration and a comfortable interior rounded out the 8-Series, and the cars debuted at a price point significantly higher than their inspiration, the 750iL. Despite being stylish and safe, the 8-Series never found its footing among local car buyers or buyers abroad, potentially due to the high price.
Despite this fact, the 8-Series has developed a cult-like following both in Australia and abroad. It is undoubtedly considered a classic, close to the status of an exotic. While this is a good thing for a seller, it’s not necessarily the best for a buyer. Buyers should be prepared to look hard to find the perfect 8-Series, as they are rare on the pre-owned market.
The 8-Series was offered in either a V8 or a V12 option. While the engine options varied from year to year, they were all pretty impressive in terms of performance, a testament to BMW’s commitment to quality engineering.
The first 8-Series model that launched was the 850i. This was by far the most popular model throughout the production run of the 8-Series. That particular car came equipped with a 5.0-litre V12 engine capable of producing 221kW of power and an impressive 450Nm of torque. Following a facelift, the 850i became the 850Ci in 1995. That car featured a 5.4-litre V12 240kW engine with 490Nm of torque. The range-topper in the 8-Series was the 850CSi, introduced in 1992, which boasted a 5.6-litre V12 engine with an output of 280kw and a torque of 550Nm.
The 850i, BMW’s original 8-Series model, featured Automatic Stability Control as a safety feature, in addition to a Seat-Integrated Belt System that was a first for the German automaker. All models came with a driver’s side airbag and antilock brakes. An option on the original model was Electronic Damping Control, which adjusted the suspension’s firmness according to the driving style and allowed drivers to switch between “Comfort” and “Sport” suspension with the flick of a switch.
Later versions gained passenger airbags, maple trim, sport suspension, 17-inch tires, antitheft alarm, and a 250-watt stereo system. Starting in 1993, each model throughout production was available with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The 8-Series saw significant competition from both Mercedes and Lexus. Competition from Mercedes came in the form of the buzz-worthy 500SL roadster, which featured a 5.0-litre V8 engine with an output of 240kW. Lexus’s rival offering was the SC400, a Grand Tourer that featured a V8 4.0-litre engine with an output of 186kW of power and 353NM of torque in its original incarnation and 216kW of power and 407Nm of torque in later incarnations.