12 Cylinders for Under $10k: 1991 BMW 850i

I love the E31 8-series.

It debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1989. The E31 did not replace the E24 6-series but heralded a whole new class of grand tourer for BMW. Over 1.5 billion Deutschmark was spent developing the car, and as a result a host of new technology debuted on it. It was the first road car to have a V12 engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, among the first cars to have an electronic "fly-by-wire" electronic throttle, and one of the first BMW (along with the Z1) to use a multi-link suspension. The low beams, high beams and foglamps were all integrated together in the pop-up headlights. Inside was a seat-integrated retaining system.

Covering all the mechanical wizardry was a totally new CAD-drafted body with a remarkably low drag coefficient of 0.29. Working closely under legendary chief Claus Luthe, the design is credited to newcomer Klaus Kapitza and is the only production BMW to bear his mark. He helped develop and patent some alloy wheels and a rollbar but that was it before moving to Porsche. 

But what a mark it is! The E31 manages to take all the best elements of several BMW cars leading up to it. The slim nose, hidden headlights and slim horizontal turn indicator recall the M1. The chiseled rear and broad taillights are directly inspired by the E32 and E34 of the same era. The whole thing is sleek and cool the way nothing else is. It was also very influential. The rectangular side mirrors were used on every BMW after until the early 2000s. Inside, the a/c vents housed close to the instrument cluster probably inspired the E36 dashboard.

Initial cars were offered with just the 5.0-liter 498cc V12 engine that produced 295 horsepower to the rear-wheels. Along with the E32 750i/iL, BMW beat Mercedes-Benz in the race to a V12 in German sedans and coupes. In 1994, the same 8-cylinder used in the E32 740i/iL and E34 540i was offered. It had a similar power band as the V12, but was affected by the Nikiasil fiasco.

At the time, BMW was still more synonymous with "luxury" than "sport" in the US, and combined with our preferences and skill level, meant that Most E31 that came to the U.S. were equipped with automatic transmissions. This critically hurt their collector and resale value. And as groundbreaking as the V12 engine seemed, it was eventually proven too good to be true; as in over-engineered, and extremely expensive to maintain and fix. Values on them plummeted and as far as I can tell are still falling, despite only 7,232 being sold here over seven years. Still, it's a modern classic in the making.

These run the gamut in condition now. Maintenance records are a must, and as few owners as possible. Check for rust and accidents (usually speed related). Other than that, get in and zip off. The seller of this example say it has 126k miles.

Available here on ebay in Trenton, New Jersey with 13 bids at $3,177.51 and a Buy-It-Now of $7,500.


  1. A 126,000 mile V12-powered flagship personal luxury coupe from BMW...pretty much the definition of "buy now, pay later." Pretty car, sure, is it worth the pain? And, rest assured, there will be pain.

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