BMW may bill itself as “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, and while its cars may offer a better than average driving experience, like most competitors, it’s no secret that Bimmers have gotten a bit softer over the years. A plethora of luxury and technology features, more spacious vehicles, tamer ride, and driver aids galore is how BMW can post record sales of over 1.6 million cars globally. Thankfully for enthusiasts, by retaining things like manual transmissions, powerful engines, balanced chassis and the legendary M Series, the Bavarians still make some of the best-handling, fun-to-drive cars in the world.
Flash back two to three decades however, and BMWs were very different cars. Choice of vehicle was much more limited, but in a good way. There were no GTs, Sports Activity Vehicles, or Gran Coupes filling every segment imaginable. Back then, you basically had four logical models. There were the 7- and 5-Series sedans, largely reserved for affluent, mature buyers; the entry-level, yuppie-grabbing 3-Series; and the most exclusive Bimmer, the personal luxury 6-Series coupe.
Introduced in Europe in early 1976, E24 6-Series coupe succeeded the iconic E9 CS, which in turn had replaced 2000C/CS coupes. Trading the E9’s rounder sheet metal for more wedged-shaped lines, the E24 was by all means, a good-looking if not particularly revolutionary design.
As with most European cars exported to North America, engine choices were limited. Arriving one year later, as a 1977 model with larger bumpers, the 630CSi was powered by a 176 horsepower, 185 lb-ft torque inline-6, mated to either a standard 4-speed manual or special order 3-speed automatic. It’s quite interesting to think of a time when most European imports were purchased with manuals. But as I said, it was different, simpler time.
Powertrain upgrades for the 6-Series occurred over the next decade. Mid-way through 1978, the 3.0 liter was replaced with a more powerful 3.2 liter I6. This engine was in turn succeeded by a 3.4 liter I6 in 1985. Despite being 3.2 and 3.4 liters, these models were called 633CSi and 635CSi, respectively. In that time, both transmissions gained a gear each.
But the real Bavarian beast came in the form of the M6. While the Germans first received their 282 horsepower M635CSi in 1983, Americans had to wait until 1987 for the M6 to arrive. Due to stricter emissions standards, U.S.-spec M6s received a number of mechanical modifications and the addition of a catalytic converter, which naturally dropped output compared to homeland models.
With a base price tag of $58,720 in 1987 ($122,970 in 2014 dollars), the M6 was no cheap thrill. If it’s any solace, a 2014 M6 coupe starts at only $111,900 (excluding destination & handling). And if its EPA-estimated 10 city/19 highway miles per gallon wasn’t enough of an additional wallet emptier, a gas guzzler tax of $2,250 was slapped onto the 1987 M6’s price tag. But hey, we all need to make small sacrifices in the name of fun.
All M6s were powered by a modified version of the same DOCH, 24-valve 3.5 liter I6 that powered the BMW M1. Its 256 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm were enough to propel the M6 from zero to sixty in a quick 6.1 seconds (as tested by Car and Driver). Top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph. As a performance model, the only transmission available was a slick Getrag 5-speed manual.
As a true sports car, the M6 was more than simply your average 6-Series coupe with a more powerful engine. Stiffer, shorter coil springs replaced the standard units for a firmer ride. Gas-pressured shock absorbers, recalibrated anti-roll bars, raised steering feel, and a 0.5-inch lower ride height all owed to the M6’s improved handling. Standard Michelin TRX 240/45VR-415 tires added grip to handle the increased power.
Visual modifications were tastefully subtle. A deck-lid spoiler, 16-inch alloys, and minimal “M” badging were the only ways to externally tell the M6 apart from a standard 635CSi. Our featured example wears non-original BBS-style 16-inch accessory alloys.
Opening either one of its two doors revealed a very driver-oriented interior. While one used to the pillowy leather and faux wood trim of say, a Cadillac Eldorado, may have described the M6’s interior as spartan, in reality it was quite the opposite. Fine hand-stitched Nappa leather covered the seats, steering wheel, dashboard, arm rests, glove box, and door panels. Heated, ten-way power adjustable front sports seats were standard, the driver’s with 3-position memory.
While rear-seat passengers may have been a tad short on leg room, they were compensated with bolstered individual seats, center console with armrest, rear sunshade, and their own climate controls. Highlighting its ultra-luxury features was a standard refrigerated ice cooler, located in the rear center console–perfect for a bottle of Champagne.
This particular Cinnabar Red over Lotus White 1987 M6 is one of only 1,632 exported to the United States for the 1987 through 1989 model years. An additional 135 M6s were exported to Canada for these years, bringing the total North American M6s to 1,767. All North American specification M6s were produced from November 1986 through September 1988. Our featured car is #38 of the 1,632 U.S. models.
As the ad states, it is an unrestored, rust-free California car with 147,000 miles. With no visible rust, including the undercarriage which I took a peek at, it would appear that this car did indeed spend most of its life in a warmer climate than New England. The only cosmetic defects I could detect were some scuffs on the front lip spoiler, and the typical leather wear one would expect from a 27-year old car with almost 150,000 miles on it.
Although I shot these photos back in April, the M6 is still there, now under the carport wearing a car cover. Perhaps the seller has changed his mind? Its advertised price of $20,000 may seem a bit steep for a 27-year old vehicle, but its actually right on par with what these very rare and truly wonderful BMWs are selling for these days.