Collectible Classic: 1991-1997 BMW 850i

Eric McCandless

The 8-series was produced for ten years but was sold in the States for just over half that time. For the 1993 model year, the name was changed to 850Ci, and the V-8-powered 840Ci was added for '94. The 840Ci was some $20,000 cheaper but just as quick, so in response, the 850Ci's V-12 eventually was enlarged to 5.4 liters, its output bumped to 322 hp, and the four-speed automatic replaced by a five-speed. But neither V-12 ever sated speed freaks.

That job was reserved for the 1994-1997 850CSi. Built by Motorsport GmbH, the CSi wasn't given an M8 badge because that name was reserved for an even more potent 8-series that was still under development (but never saw production). Still, the CSi's fire-breathing 372-hp, 5.6-liter V-12 was heavily massaged, as was its suspension and steering, and it was finally the 8-series that hard-core enthusiasts wanted all along.

It still is, and unfortunately that demand is reflected in its price. An 850CSi can command five times as much as a run-of-the-mill 850i. But it's the lesser 850i's affordability that makes it so compelling - for less than the price of a brand-new Nissan Versa, you can own one of the most visually stunning German cars of the past half-century. Case in point, I recently drove an 850i to the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. Unfazed by the mundane Bentleys and dime-a-dozen Rolls-Royces surrounding me, the valet attendant asked for permission to park the BMW up front. "I just want to look at it all day," he said.

Unfortunately, your mechanic will want to park the 850i out front, too, as it'll likely be his favorite cash cow. The V-12 has two of almost everything (including batteries and fuel-injection systems), so it's double the trouble. The 8-series is notoriously expensive to maintain by regular BMW standards - although not necessarily by exotic-car standards - and if you're in the market for one, you'd be a fool not to buy the most well-maintained, best-documented example you can find. One like the spectacular Alpine white coupe in these photographs, for example. Owner Jeff Ivarson has pampered this 1992 850i (which rides on aftermarket AC Schnitzer wheels) like a trust-fund baby since it was new, and like so many trust-fund babies, its net worth has plummeted through the years. But its looks haven't, making the beautiful 850i perhaps the most affordable entry into the rarefied world of the V-12-powered grand tourer.

THE SPECS

Engines: 5.0L SOHC V-12, 296 hp, 332 lb-ft;
5.4L SOHC V-12, 322 hp, 361 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 4- or 5-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Suspension, Front: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/r: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Weight: 4123 lb

THE INFOYears produced
1991-1997 (U.S. market)Number sold
4170 (U.S. market)Original price
$86,540 (1991)Value today
$5000-$20,000

Why buy?
The starter sound. It exhibits none of the crude rowr-rowr-rowr of an underendowed starter motor struggling to heave pistons high and low. Instead, the 850i's robust starter engages with the metallic ring of an All-Clad saucepan being struck with a wooden spoon. It spins the V-12 at a constant rate, with a delicate and consistent whir that endlessly captivates onlookers. And, oh, the car is gorgeous.

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