Very few things in the world are as badass as an E31 (Series 8) BMW. It is a huge, mean looking, complicated machine that makes me feel all tingly inside. I’ll confess, I didn’t know much about these and I don’t know anyone who has one, so I had to dig around a bit more than usual to write this little article. Those among you who are frequent readers of this blog (just kidding, there aren’t any) know that in this situation I like to browse owner reviews and just generally ask around, find out what’s what. I was prepared for the E31 to be something straight out of Dante’s Inferno in terms of reliability and general maintenance costs and associated headaches, just terrible and daunting in every way. But I was surprised! We’ll get to that in a minute, first, a bit of eye candy.
Look at that! Isn’t it just one of the sexiest things to ever move around in 4 wheels? When I think Series 8, Imagine something exactly like this: black, slick, clean, intimidating, timeless. This beautiful thing belongs to Bimmerforums member “Koizumi”. The E31 BMW was made in 4 different versions: 840Ci (V8), 850i (V12 – 296 bhp), 850 Ci (322 bhp) and the pièce de résistance, 850 CSi (V12 – 380 bhp); this is the one I’ll go all gooey for later on in the article. The previous pics were taken in ´08 and back then, “Koizumi” was talking about lowering that baby and putting on a CSi kit (this particular car is an 840Ci) which I sincerely hope didn’t happen! This is the main thing with the E31; no matter if it’s a V8 or V12 model: people mess with it and that’s never good. The car has a very delicate, extremely well balanced line and anything, anything at all clashes with it and messes it up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people doing neat stuff to their cars, I love a good customization. But in this case, it’s a huge no no. Lowering an E31 makes it look terrible; putting a body kit on an E31 makes it look terrible; putting a spoiler on an E31 makes it look terrible…you see the pattern here? Hell, even different rims on it are usually a really bad idea, I don’t even like the B12 ones (Alpina made a version of these cars called the B12)! To me, a beautiful Series 8 is a stock one (on the outside at least).
That being said, if in the future I’d cave in under the constant “they’re so damn purty!!!” pressure (I will) and buy one of these bimmers, I would undoubtedly go for a CSi. These were the most powerful, the top of the food chain and there’s no way I’d settle for anything less. That 5.6L S70 V12 is gorgeous, it must be mine and the proper 6 speed manual gearbox attached to it only sweetens the deal. The CSi does 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds, which is alright when you remember that these are mid 90’s figures on a super heavy (close to 2 tones), super luxurious coupe. The only issue I have with the CSi is – you guessed it – the different body parts on it.
The 8 Series big Kahuna has different front and rear bumpers and I much rather see the car with the super slick unspoiled looks it has in the “lower” models; actually, if I was a CSi owner, if it wasn’t for airflow issues I’d very likely fit normal bumpers on it (and after that statement, E31 owners all around the world are picking up their pitchforks and lighting torches).
Now you’re probably thinking “when are you gonna get back to the reliability thing you opened with?” Keep your pants on, I’m on it! The E31 (in all its versions) is actually fairly reliable; of course the V12 powered ones are always a bit pricier to patch up when it comes to engine related issues but no surprise there. In general and as you’d expect some things (power stuff) may need fixing because after all, these are 20 year old cars. The heat in the engine bay reportedly makes a lot of plastic pieces brittle but that’s no shocker either. Parts are naturally expensive and sometimes difficult to get a hold of, but if you register with an owners club and ask around a bit, check the classifieds section, you’ll find that there is a lot you can fix yourself and someone will most likely point you to used parts in good, fairly affordable condition. This being said, it’s good to remember that the 8 Series was in development for a long, long time; BMW spent a pretty penny getting these things right and it shows. Ever heard of overengineering? These are it.
Owning what was once a flagship isn’t going to be as economical as running a Camry, but that’s well established and the Toyota wouldn’t put the gigantic, silly grin on your face that one of these will. Do you need the 850 CSi titan? No, in fact just for the sake of driving around in a comfortable (unless you’re in the back seats because those are only fit for Oompa Loompas) stylish (if slightly slow) and pretty thing, you could go with an 840. But for the full shock and awe factor, to really make it special, the V12 is the way to go and the CSi is the prize to shoot for. What’s de damage? Let’s see, in the 840 category, 12 grand buys you a really nice one. For the 850 crowd, (I and Ci) anything in the 16 to 25 range is fairly okay. Now the big one, the CSi…that will cost you a little extra and you need to actually find one first. I could only spot 3 or 4 and these were in the 40 to 50.000 range.
Ending on a sad note. The last time I spotted an 8 Series was almost a year ago in Lisbon (Portugal) and it was a terrible sight. The car was unloved, had a bunch of cosmetic damage…just heartbreaking. Plus, it wasn’t a CSi but had a CSi badge which made it even sadder. People need to show a little TLC to their rides, especially when they’re on a certain level.
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