COTC Exclusive: 1981 BMW 733i Manual

This beautiful copper BMW is coming out of storage for the first time in months and offered for sale by the original owner. Now it's your chance to treat yourself.

Imagine just landing your first big job. What do you do to celebrate?

The seller of this vehicle bought it for himself at Mid County BMW in Tenafly, New Jersey to mark an exciting new chapter in his career back in 1981. The fact that he chose a BMW and has kept it this long says a lot about the superior quality and charm of this modern classic.

The E23 chassis was produced from 1977 to 1987. It is notable for being the first generation of BMW 7-series, and was their flagship vehicle. Powered by a range of 6-cylinder engines and rear-wheel drive, these were as sporty as they were luxurious and comfortable.

The styling is courtesy of a Frenchman named Paul Bracq and is nothing short of iconic. Although he only designed a couple of vehicles for BMW, his vision both built on the past and looked boldly to the future for the brand. The E23 7-series is riveting. The forward-leaning "shark" nose is instantly menacing, and the combination of quad-round headlights and narrow twin slot BMW grille give the front a a semi-human, semi-robot look, mimicking eyes and nostrils that are perceptually flared and alert. The whole shape of the car is easy on the eyes. In person it's actually smaller than you'd think, about the size of today's 5-series, and with careful use of sheet-metal it gives off a lean, frugal look. In fact, early 7-series didn't even come with passenger side mirrors. The seller added a mirror from a later model car for better visibility.

Only the 733i, 735i and L7 were offered in North America during the model's lifespan. The 733i featured a 3.2-litre inline 6-cylinder engine.
The E23 had numerous advanced features and conveniences for the time, like a light panel that monitored all vital systems and could be "tested" with the push of a button to check for any faults, along with a service interval indicator, on-board computer and climate control. These things can still be appreciated by today's driver.

This '81 733i survivor is blessed with a clean and straight body. The most striking aspect of the exterior is the condition of the paint, a raspberry-orange color that just pops out in sunlight. The seller repainted the car in its original color in 1997. It's still deep, glossy and nearly flawless. There is no visible rust on the exterior, and only some bubbling on the bottom of the passenger side rear pillar.

All panels line up seamlessly. There are no dings, dents or even any major scratches on the paint. The car seems to have never been in an accident.

The seller rebuilt the engine in 1995. The odometer currently reads 185,097. This car was driven regularly all its life before being put into storage 5 months ago.

Mechanically, it starts, runs, shifts and drives fine. The engine doesn't put out a lot of horsepower by today's standards but has a lot of low end gusto. What really makes the driving experience special is the rare manual transmission this car has. Since American drivers preferred automatic transmissions, especially on larger sedans, most 7-series were shipped with automatics. The combination of torquey engine, stick shift and rear-wheel drive can still make this vehicle a sprightly performer.

The interior is in remarkably good condition considering the age and miles. The seller replaced the driver's seat with the original leather. There is usual wear from normal usage, but the build quality and craftsmanship still shines through. BMW interiors of the '70s and '80s were some of the best out there and have stood the test of time. They were specifically designed to be as functional as possible. Not surprisingly, usefulness also led to good aesthetics. Every switch, dial and button is perfectly sculpted to be pleasing to the touch, work well and look good. The large steering wheel has a funky ellipsoid center. The instrument cluster houses three crystal clear analogue gauges of white numerals over black dials. The center console is angled towards the driver for ease of reach and vision. The wood is real wood. It's these kinds of things that make you realize why this brand commands so much respect. Sitting inside it is like being a member of a club. The interior actually has this wonderful musky scent of vintage leather and plastics.

BMW built over 280,000 E23 7-series, but a good number have succumbed to rust and been junked. You rarely seem them on the roads anymore. Examples that are still driven have usually have had multiple owners and dubious history. This is a unique opportunity to acquire a one-owner 733i in very good condition and with a rare manual transmission. This car was one of the best cars money could buy in its day. Times may have changed, but it's still a good car for what will be a fraction of the original sticker price. Just as the car was originally bought in celebration, it's waiting to be enjoyed by the next owner in the same way.

The vehicle has been stored at and is currently located in Seekonk, Massachusettes at Seekonk Car Storage.

The seller is asking $5,400 and is open to offers.

Click here to submit an email inquiry if you are interested in purchasing this vehicle.


  1. Nice example - it looks like it's in pretty good condition for almost 200K miles. GCFSB recently featured two 733i's with manual transmissions also. They had lower mileage, but both were my least favorite color - white.

    Pet peeve: ads with no price listed. A buyer is only going to pay what it's worth - holding back the price just wastes everyone's time.

    1. Larry, thanks for the comments. I personally photographed the car and all I can say is that it looks amazing.

      I agree about ads with no prices, although one could interpret it as the owner being open to negotiating. However after reviewing with the seller we now have an asking price and I added it to my listing.

    2. Thanks for adding the pricing, Sam.

      Kudos to the seller for starting with a reasonable asking price - it will generate a lot more buyer interest, and increase the likelihood of getting closer to his asking price (due to more interested buyers competing for it).

      I wish I could pursue it. It's fairly local to me, and I like the uncommon color on an already uncommon car. After several purchases earlier this year, I need to rebuild the car fund first.

      Best of luck to the seller. Nice car.