Final article I have for you this week is of this very impressive machine.
This is also from R&T’s 1987 July issue:
These were the peak of the 7 series. The S class was aging by 1987 and this 735i looks so modern next to it. This body would see V12s and eventually V8 and show off the best BMW had to offer.
The inline 6 seems to be falling a little behind the curve, but that was probably due to the weight gain. Jaguar had the same problem but got their output up pretty quick with the 4.0. This 3.5 lasted into the nineties without any power bump. I suppose BMW spent a lot on the V12 and wanted you to buy that. The Japanese coming into this market with V8s in 1989 would upend that applecart.
This 7 series is less than a second quicker in all important measures of acceleration than a Ford Festiva L that costs about a ninth as much. Unlike comparisons between ’70s Corvettes and the 2010 Civics that will run with them, I’m talking about two cars that were introduced at the same time. No wonder Lexus showed up one day and proceeded to sell more premium cars than anyone had previously thought there was a market for.
The more disconcerting thing about this era of 7 series is that the interior, at a glance, looks about as cheap and Spartan as the Festiva had. I don’t really care if my luxobarge is slow so much as I don’t want to be staring at black plastic.
This BMW suffered a bit by being BMW’s first effort at stuffing an airbag into a steering wheel hub. It was also one of the early killer airbags, designed to restrain a large, unbelted driver. The result was airbags that killed women and small men, so steering wheel airbags were depowered and shrank, allowing wheels to regain a bit of style.
I think a lot of other details are lost to black and white photography. My memory of ’80s 7-series cars is that they had a band of very nice wood across the dashboard and along the doors. It is true that many of the controls were black plastic, but they were also durable. There was an absence of bright-work because reflections on glass are bad and ornamentation for ornamentation sake was considered tacky by West Germans at the time. Post-reunification, any spartan impulses or restraint have been eradicated from the German psyche, and now they make the most ornate gin palaces on wheels ever conceived.
The guy I bought a Hillman parts car from had two of these 3.5 and V12 series 7s the V12 he loved having paid $3500 for it( they were $240k new here) the 3.5 though tidy he tried to give me it had the usual BMW electrical gremlins associated with poorly thought out electronic systems of yore, I see its gone now probably for scrap when prices were up. Nice cars but Lexus did it properly.
I briefly owned an 88 735iL and an 86 Mercedes 420SEL at the same time…both were well-worn by the time I bought them. My impression was that the MB was a much more solid car, and faster, but the BMW was prettier and seemed lost “stodgy” and not as much of an old man’s car as the Benz.
If I was going to buy one now, I’d choose the W126 in a heartbeat.
I’m with you, Cincy, I would go MB over Broke My Wallet any day, if I were to be an idiot and go back to European ever again. But I won’t. The parts prices and catalogs of restoration parts for my Ford truck will keep me where I need to be. Even the price of air cooled VW’s, and parts, has gotten out of hand. Back in the day, VW’s were known as poor mans Porsche’s. Today, they are Porsche’s, and vintage Porsche’s are now for the Jay Leno types.
I can’t believe my wife & I actually considered a [used] 7-series as a family car. I’m glad we didn’t; for one thing, she wouldn’t let me drive it anywhere near its limits. And long-term ownership costs would frighten •both• of us.
One might come out ahead buying two lesser cars (keeping one in reserve) for the price of one German luxury sedan. Same issue with the Tiger I vs. Panzer IV.
BTW, have BMW & Benz adopted Lean Production yet?
I’ve had plenty of wheel time on this car’s big brother, a 1994 740i. It’s a bank-vault solid, well built and elegant car and having owned the predecessor, an ’82 733i prior, I found them to be enormously different, as opposed to a “facelift” as this article claims. I enjoyed the 740i, the 32 valve 4.0 V8 (282 horsepower) was surprisingly willing to rev but perhaps a little anemic around town, as it weighed well over two tons at that point, and the five speed auto wasn’t afraid to hold a gear without hand shifting.
I would say in retrospect that I appreciated the lines, elegance and character of the earlier iteration more than the one featured in this article, although that might have had to do with the manual transmission on the e23 vs the newer car’s automatic.
This generation I’m afraid was the one where BMWs have earned a reputation for finicky electrics. Mine (the earlier 7 series) through seven years of hard ownership (young driver that I was) had no electrical problems beyond the odd lightbulb, was simple to work on, with affordable and easily attainable parts. That and for some reason the fasteners were incredibly well made, always came out intact (virtually unheard of in a New England car) and the systems seemed brilliantly designed.
One final thought about these is that it’s very easy to creep up to super legal speeds without realizing it. They’re butter smooth (particularly when equipped with fresh Michelin tires) and beg to go faster. I always dreamed of really opening it up the way it was built to be driven.
I transplanted a 5 speed into my e32 and it transformed the car into a true sport sedan.
I remember spending 20 hours trying to make the heat turn off and finally put a ball valve under the hood.
I once owned an 89 750iL and it was a magnificent machine. It had an ideal ride and handling balance unmatched by any car I’ve driven since. When pushed hard it would seem to shrink around you like you were driving a much smaller car. The legroom in the back was limousine like and the rear seat had a powered lower cushion that would move fore and aft and alter the recline of the seat-back. It had that wonderful BMW quality where the steering, suspension, throttle and brakes all seemed of a piece and working in harmony to make driving a joy.
the “only issue” is that it has a tendency to stall when its first started. on a fifty five thousand dollar car (with tax, license, etc)
wow. no wonder the LS400 cleaned house when it came out.
only time ive ever seen a toyota product do that was a 2000 RAV4 with a dirty IAC valve.
I had a 1986 brochure for 750iL like this one:
It listed the top speed of 186mph (300km/h) with an asterisk next to it, denoting the top speed being electronically restricted. This might have prompted the “gentlemen’s agreement” amongst German manufacturers (beside Porsche) to institute 250km/h restriction.
The brochures from 1987 and later showed only 155mph (250km/h) with no asterisk and note about the restricted top speed.
I bet this had transpired the cottage industry of modifiers and computer programmers to hack the ECU to remove the restriction and to improve the performance…
There must have been some rules about the top speed, the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton Elite was similarly limited after reports of a 200mph sedan reached the authorities ears. Now it 155mph and the power shuts off.
It would be awesome to have a manual transmission in a sedan this huge. I bet this E32 series was the last generation to offer it up, and there were probably very few takers. Now if they ever offered the V12 and a stick shift…
A 2016 Honda Accord EX is about the same size, and offers 6 speed
For a time, 750s were floating around out there in running condition for $1200-1500, but I was scared-off by the stories of 3 engine computers…one for each bank of cylinders, and one that talked to the other two…seemed a little scary.
My 735iL had the power back seat too, very cool feature that the kids enjoyed playing with…I seem to recall the front and rear headrests were powered too…3 of the 4 worked on mine. The self leveling suspension was a little wonky on mine, had I kept it, that would have been my next project.
I sold it, told the buyer that the a/c compressor kept blowing its fuse…apparently there’s a $60 control unit that goes bad. The buyer, who I knew, thought he’d save the $60 and do his own backyard wiring job…wound up catching it on fire and cooking the engine compartment and dash…off it went to the salvage yard.
Truth be known, I found the E28 cars more to my liking, especially 5 speed 528e…had a couple of those…simpler to work on, a little smaller, same great upright driving position and amazing visibility.
Freaking Servotronic steering; ruins everything. Unless yr going highway speeds, it’s like yr driving an ’86 Legend and you can literally steer with your fingertips. That’s a major fly in the ointment for a BMW, especially a classic one like the E32. I remember when these cars were new and how amazing they looked. VERY high-tech, but very tasteful. And secure, even with semi-trailing arms.
During my late 20s and early 30s, I was obsessed with these cars, and the thought of owning one. The combination of luxury, prestige, handling, the cars’ classic yet modern looks, as well as BMW’s reputation for being chick bait, all played a factor.
Twice I almost bought one- or would have. The first was a recent trade-in at the Chevy dealer I was working at the time. It was a 1990 735il- light metallic blue with dark blue pinstriping and a black leather interior. It only had 90,000 miles on it. The car was obviously pampered by its previous owner. The paint was as smooth and glossy as a Victoria’s Secret model’s backside, the leather upholstery had zero cracks or rips, and there were no rust spots or dings anywhere to be found. A real creampuff.
I mentioned my interest in the car to Larry, the used car sales manager at the time. He didn’t really respond- he got a funny look on his face and told me we’d talk later. He spent the rest of the day avoiding me. When I finally caught him in his office, he came up with a hasty, half-baked story about how selling wholesale trade-ins to emloyees was too much of a liability, he couldn’t do it, and the car would have to be sent to auction. Interestingly, that didn’t stop him from selling a crappy Geo Storm to the head lot porter’s youngest daughter a month earlier. Hmmm…
A few months later, I found another one at the BMW dealer up the street. This one was a charcoal grey-on-tan 1991 traded in by a retired firefighter. This one was slightly rougher than the blue ’90, but still nice. A friend and I talked to the sales guy- a young newcomer who hadn’t been there long. He took my info down and informed me that because that particular BMW dealer was owned by the same parent company as the Chevy dealer, I qualified for the employee discount- even on wholesale vehicles. He handed me his card, and I never heard from him again.
I called his direct line several times and never got a response. I finally stopped by there a week later to find out what was going on. The car was gone, shipped off to a wholesaler. The young fellow I had talked with about it had quit just the day before.
In all my years of buying and selling old cars, the weirdness factor when dealing with BMW sellers has been off the charts. I could write a book.
I’ve always liked this generation of the 7-series, and I’ve liked the 7 series pre Chris Bangle era. They’ve always been the BMWs that’ve appealed to my tastes, big good looking luxury cars that are less Spartan and softer riding than the hard edged counterparts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these just align with my tastes in what I look for in a luxury car. Wouldn’t wish to own one though, apparently these turn into maintenance nightmares that would rival an XJ-S, if I wanted a big Teutonic German luxury car, I would stick with the W126.
I like the pre-Bangle 7-series too, with its toned and elegant body. Below a 1998 740i, a one owner (an Italian lady) car.
The E38 7-series, like that 740i, are the ones that really speak to me. The E32 cars look good enough as standard-wheelbase models, but the LWB E32 has always looked rather pudgy to me, and those seemed to be more common as time went on.
I can appreciate the E32 but it’s not particularly one of my favorite BMW models.
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