Pick of the Day: 1991 BMW 850i, a GT coupe powered by V12 magic

This cross-country cruiser is an original survivor with very low mileage

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BMW
The BMW 850i is a powerful grand-touring car built for long-distance road trips

There are GT cars and then there are serious GT cars. Most GTs are powered by inline-6 or V8 engines, but the top-tier cars in this category have V12 engines under their bonnets.

There is something magical about the sound of a V12 starting up that is a visceral assault on the senses. And the music of a V12 as it approaches redline is the stuff dreams are made of.

BMW

BMW might be known for manufacturing some of the finest inline-6 engines in the world, but there was a time when they stretched their legs and gave us a V12 that was as good or better than anyone else had created. They placed this engine in the 750il sedan and the cars of the 850 series.

With a proper grand-touring car being a 2-door, the E31 850i seems like the ultimate German GT.

The Pick of the Day is 1991 BMW 850i in original unblemished condition with just 22,654 miles on its odometer, according to the Farmingdale, New York, dealer advertising the V12 coupe on ClassicCars.com.

BMW

Introduced in 1990, the E31 was a halo car for BMW. The company spent an estimated 1.5 billion Deutsche Marks on the project. The car was well-received when introduced but BMWs timing for a luxury V12 coupe could not have been worse.

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A global recession took hold during the early 1990s along with a spike in oil prices, resulting in the $70,000-plus BMW with poor fuel economy becoming a slow seller. BMW sold only 7,232 8-series cars in the US during its seven-year production run and built a worldwide total of only 30,621.


But times have changed. Today, we have a temporary drastic reduction in the cost of fuel and these stunning grand touring cars can be had for less than half the price they cost when new.

In fact, during this time of sketchy air travel due to this stupid virus, we may be in a new golden age for these spectacular cars. The E31 is the kind of car that can cross the United States in smooth comfort in a few days, making it a viable alternative to getting on an airplane for a 5-hour flight that might be full of infectious people.

This BMW 850i is a two-owner car from new, the seller says, with its original paint in Calypso Red Metallic and factory beige leather interior. The car has been cherished from new and is in exceptional condition in all respects, the seller adds.  

BMW

From the pictures with the ad, this truly looks like a flawless example of a time-warp 850i.  You should know up front that these cars can be a maintenance nightmare if you buy a bad one, so it would behoove you to obtain the best possible example available.

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The biggest reason for trouble is the complexity of the car’s ignition and fuel-injection systems. Since BMW did not have another V12 before the 850 but had been building 6-cylinder cars for years, they decided to just double up on what’s essentially a twin 6. That means the 850i has two separate ignition and fuel systems, connected by BMWs first drive-by-wire throttle. They are not cheap to service, although neither are they the witchcraft some people make them out to be.

BMW

This very-low-mileage 850i survivor is offered with a fair asking price of $39,900.

To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day

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Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

10 COMMENTS

    • Photos submitted to ClassicCars.com become the property of the website. So no, not stolen. Most of the dealers are delighted when we pick one of their cars to feature, which boosts visibility and probable sale, as well as raising the profile of the dealership. Click on the Pick of the Day red link at the end of the article, which will take you to the seller’s ad, with more information including price and location.

  1. Oh, I remember these from new. Quick, Autobahn fast, silent interior, lovely exhaust note, way more presence than photos can show, and BMW’s typical immaculate build quality.
    Until something electronic went awry.
    Then, well, write big checks, because the multiple computers are way more primitive- and stupid- than we have now. So diagnosis relies far more on your mechanic’s experience… hourly, anyone?
    No, not witchcraft, just an overly fiddly, overly complex bit of kit cobbled together to show off.
    My suggestion would be buy it for the presence, and have an aftermarket tuner provide a unified ignition/injection solution, save the factory stuff for Barrett Jackson in 2060.
    There was a time I considered this V12 for a transplant into a Hallett flatbottom, to replace a tired and played old school blown/injected Olds 455 driving a Berkeley jetpump.
    The injection was easy- plenty of aftermarket straight stack Hilborns/Kinsers would have been fine. The ignition? In the pre-aftermarket computer age? I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work, although it would have dominated the lake, and with overtransom headers would have sounded like Armageddon. Alas. And yes, I read the lit, read BMW’s manuals, and reached out. Nobody made a computer to fit, and to run dual Joe Hunt magnetos required a lot more machining and fiddling than I could afford… woulda looked cool, tho’.
    This thing is great, but a money pit, mileage notwithstanding. A pretty color too- all the one’s I’ve seen were grey or black.

    • Guessing you’re the type who puts Chev V8s into V12 Jags. Do you have any actual experience or do you just read the web? V12 850 CSi auctions for 6 figures.

      • I think you’re spot on! I’ve owned my ’93 850Ci for over 15yrs now. There’s 163k on the odometer and sadly, I have NO horror stories to report. Only smiles whenever I get behind the wheel.

  2. I never comment,however I think Mike is a really decent guy. Emotions override intellect when it comes to BMWs .it nice to have have all the info before making a decision, I hope my three sons would get the same before leaping on a car like this
    Great website

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