BMW 8 Series - The Bargain Basement top "Beemer"

 

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So - why go out and buy one of these?

 

What follows is very much a personal viewpoint. You are welcome to disagree with any or all of it.

 

I've never owned a BMW before and wasn't really in a hurry to rush out and buy one.

They are perfectly good cars, but nothing jumped out at me that I really liked.

Also, there are lots about - and I like to buy less common, less popular (some would say odd) vehicles and like it even better if they are the last of the line or type - so there won't be a newer, better version. 

I was even mindful of the perception among some other drivers that BMW owners are selfish or even childish on the road. Shouldn't worry me I know, but buying cars is rarely an objective choice alone (since writing this Clarkson et al have now declared Audi to be the new BMW when it comes to a certain type of driver it seems)..

 

Now I have always admired the 8 Series (from afar at first, but more closely as time has passed and prices have dropped, dropped further and then dropped some more). I hate to (and simply can't afford to) "throw" money away each year due to depreciation - so I look for cars that have fallen at least 75% before I step in. Some folks will sacrifice almost everything to be able to buy the "right car", but I'm obviously not a true enthusiast, as I refuse to spend over £10,000 to buy a car - ever!

The 8 series is such glorious overkill; designers and engineers having a great time before the men in suits catch on and spoil the fun. This car is so over-engineered, so over-indulgent, so extravagant and has such road presence that it always turns heads.

Of course it's flawed; not the fastest, not the best handling, not this and not that, but hey, since when has car choice ever been a totally logical thing?

I'm not put off by the insults that this is "just" a grand tourer. I want a grand tourer, with grunt and pace when I need/want it, along with solidity, and comfort.

The 8 has all this with added rarity value and is a whole lot of car for so little money.

 

Would you want one?

If you want the absolute last word in race track handling, buy something else.

If money is no object, there are newer more impressive cars out there.

If you are an average person , who wants decent handling and good performance, delivered effortlessly in comfort and safety, with unparalleled road presence, well, this car could be for you.

These cars cost an absolute fortune when new, but prices have fallen to the extent that mine, for example, cost me £58,000 less than its new price. So now they are very affordable, yet still look like they shouldn’t be. Servicing and parts are pricey, but not outrageous.

Ignore all the official road tests, which are largely plagiarised anyway, and totally miss the point. See one in the flesh – photos just don’t them justice.Drive one and you'll soon know if you’ve been hooked. Make sure you look at several, because they vary hugely and there are enough about (just) to be choosey. I bought one so I’m biased, but the fact that I bought one of these and not something else is significant in itself.......and I am very choosey indeed!

Why buy this one?

I'd looked at quite a few.

Many were perfectly good cars.

This one, with 100,000 miles (exactly) on the clock wasn't on the face of it an obvious choice, but I tried to introduce a little logic into the process - but even so, it was surprisingly hard to beat that 100k mile psychological barrier! Car longevity has changed beyond all recognition over the last 30 years, but our perceptions about what constitutes a high mileage hasn't. Not to worry - keeps the prices down!

I'd seen a couple of 150k+ milers in excellent condition, but much more interesting, I'd seen cars with as little as 40k on their odometers looking and driving a whole lot more "tired" than this one.

This is clearly one of those cars where how the miles were racked up can be at least as important as the actual number on the readout.

Imagine a car doing 10 miles across London each day - mileage of 25k.

Imagine the same car doing 40 miles down the M1 each day - mileage of 100k.

How much more desirable and valuable should the 25k car be?

 

 

I only intend doing about 3000 miles each year as an absolute maximum. It won't be used for commuting, etc. Just enjoyment.

This 8 had a full main agent service history, with all receipts, service details, spare keys, etc, etc, etc.

The car had five months remaining on its BMW warranty, which I used extensively (but be warned - and my local dealer told me this - since BMW farmed out the warranties to a third party organisation, far more items are being rejected as "wear" rather than "defect").

The car was the latest and last version with the 4.4L engine, steptronic, etc. 

I did look at earlier 850's and 4.0 V8's as well and did briefly consider a CSi. The Csi is the collector's choice, it is very rare and (relatively) very expensive - but apart from the cost, I really did want my grand tourer to have a dual mode steptronic auto (not available on the Csi). Some 8 owners swear that the automatic gearbox cars are inferior to the manual versions. My view is that neither is better in absolute terms - it is simply down to your own criteria and which you prefer.

This car had absolutely every extra I knew about, and some I didn't know were available.

It was the right price - why are they so cheap?!

(Buying one of these new or nearly new must've been madness - the motoring press were right - with this individual specification that's a  lot of depreciation since new!)

It was the best colour - in my opinion - and I'm the one spending the money.

It had a superb two tone interior.

It was local and I got on very well with the seller.

Car was bought in April 2005.

 

How's this one special?

 

1.    

Small stuff first. "No model inscription" base model BMW's are a common sight, but on these cars? It's a no cost option, but still rare on this model.

2.

Not after-market, but BMW PDC, the only dealer fitted option on the car that I am aware of - common today, but still rocket science in 1997. (PDC now updated - see below)

 

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3.    

The radio/cassette was a BMW Professional Series, not the normal Business fitment. Another factory upgrade and a significant one.

4.    

None of the others I looked at (though of course they exist - probably loads of them) had the full set of dual mode heated seats, electric rear blind and Electronic Damping Control (which works and I like and I know will cost a fortune if it fails). 

In fact, EDC was a real eye opener. I'd been warned away from it, and nearly didn't consider this car because of it.

Having tried it I am a convert and wouldn't be without it.

 

This car also has the electric memory steering wheel (works with the memory mirrors and lifts up when you turn off the ignition - to aid the exit of generously proportioned persons I guess). Then there's that thing where you can get the nearside mirror to point at the kerb when you engage reverse.

It has cruise control - which I originally thought was standard.

It's also got a tracker fitted and headlamp washers, etc (apparently these aren't standard either - that's German cars for you).

 

bmw11.jpg (245427 bytes) .........................(Steering wheel has now been changed - see below).

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4.    

The leather trim is what makes this car extra special - in my opinion. The "individual" interiors most often seen have a standard interior with coloured piping added (£300 option).

More "individual" individual ones have the whole face of the seats in a different colour. This one, even more rare, has two tone seats. It looks spot on and is how they all should have been trimmed in my opinion. This is the same as found in some 850 CSi's.

 

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What next? - A list of "enhancements" in chronological order.

(Does not include service items or standard replacement parts.)

 

This is where I venture into risky territory. To some, any modification or addition will be seen as a devaluing waste of time. How could I possible improve on something which took the best BMW brains and hundreds of millions to produce?

Easy - and easy for three reasons:

a: Things have moved on since the car was first designed in the late 80's.

b: As an owner I can focus on one aspect (say the sound system) which was specified to be good, but not outstanding in specialist terms.

c: My personal tastes may vary from the generic corporate conservatism necessary in mainstream cars. It's my car, so my personal tastes matter! (As long as I don't ruin it or modify it in a way that could affect insurance).

 

1.

Given BMW service costs, I've invested in the diagnostic software and hardware to plug into my laptop.

I can do pretty much full diagnostics, systems checks, resets and everything else they do at the dealer (all the main bits anyway).

This has been very handy for things like the Airbag light which came on after I removed the seats to give everything a good clean, etc.

 

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I don't have a car lift, but do have a pit, a heavy duty hoist and many years of experience of working on cars (and a good selection of tools - for example three torque wrenches!).

The car will have a continued full service history - but through me. If I can't do a particular job - some of the special tools really are special - then it will go to BMW.

Some won't accept this semi-DIY approach, but others who know what they're looking for, look at the printouts and receipts, the garage and equipment, usually realise that this car has probably had more care and attention than it could ever get at a dealer. Care being the operative word.

 

2.

The paint work was good, but did have the usual car park scars and stone chips. Nothing bad, but close-up the effect just made it all look a little tired.

I decided that as I would be keeping this car for a while I would treat it to a good re-spray to make it look as near to new as possible.

A good respray - that is "invisible", can cost loads, but  my total budget for the getting the car as I wanted it (including buying it!) was £11,000.

Luckily I was able to rely on the Iliffe Body Centre in Market Harborough. 

Richard Iliffe has had many years experience of working on BMW's, exotics and classics - he won't cut corners - and he doesn't rip you off!

I have been to him more than once before.

The whole job took nearly five weeks and should've cost a fortune - luckily it didn't. Also, I was welcome to pop in and do my bit and save lots of pennies.

The time taken really shows. The car doesn't look resprayed - just brand new. Nice one Richard and team!

 

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3.

The 17" split rim wheels came with new Dunlop SP9000 tyres (you can see them in the pictures above).

Only problem is I'd seen another car with M5 18" twin spoke wheels.

They just looked so much better (in my opinion) on this car than the split rims.

Add that to the fact that the original wheels would need a complex and expensive refurbishment to bring them up to my required standard.

I checked out the parts list software I have for the car to see what was available as a legitimate option or upgrade from BMW when the car was made.

There they were, the same M5 wheels I liked offered as a legitimate option for the E31. I could put them on and still keep things OEM BMW and in keeping. 

An even bigger bonus was the set of new tyres - Goodyear Eagles (245/40ZR18 fronts and 285/35ZR18 rears - sizes as for optional OEM upgrade for this car - so again all as intended by BMW).

These came from the chap who sold me the car (has tyre company contacts) and were an even bigger bargain than the wheels.

 

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4.

The whole interior has been thoroughly cleaned and sealed to keep it in tip top condition. 

I have also grafted in a hinged centre arm rest (from a BMW 3 Series - not sure which variant as I bought it on Ebay). Why the Eight didn't have an arm rest I've no idea - it looks unfinished without one. I had to cut the arm rest mounting and the rear of the arm rest itself and then bonded/screwed a different hinge to the back. I then had to partially remove the tunnel cover to build in a substantial mount (I tried "keyhole surgery" going in through the cassette holder opening, but arm rest still wobbled too much. I think it looks right, covers the cubby hole and is comfortable. However, just in case a future owner were to object, it's been designed to be removed and leave no trace. The ultimate compliment is when this and my other mods are totally ignored - as they are assumed to be standard BMW fitment. I considered having it colour matched grey, but as the console/handbrake and gear gaiters are all black it looks fine as it is.

 

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5.

I have also bought an original M-sport rear spoiler from BMW.

This is on the BMW E31 parts CD and is designed specifically for this car.

This was a definite change of mind. Originally I didn't think the spoiler would suit the car, less is more and all that.

However, I was given the chance to borrow one, which I could rest on the boot to see how it looked.

I wasn't expecting to like it, in all photos I'd seen the spoiler looked awkward - like an add-on.

Putting it on the car it looked better than I thought, but I had no urge to buy one.

But, when I took it off the boot, the rear of the car looked too low and somehow wrong.

I tried it on and off repeatedly and checked it out from all different angles. 

How annoying - in the flesh the spoiler worked, it looked better with it on - I took some photos, better off.

 Given that real life counts more than a photo I decided to buy one from BMW who, for once, gave me a good discount.

Mind you - the quality of the moulding was remarkably poor. Ripples everywhere. 

Had it replaced and the replacement was just as bad. BMW told me that this was the way they were made (excuse me?!).

I "persuaded" customer services to pay for having it made good and gave it to Iliffe Bodycentre. They had to do some serious filling and sanding to get it looking the way I'd expect from BMW.

The spoiler looked good, but somehow not quite right. I checked other 8's with spoilers and they looked the same. The spoilers always looked as if they were sagging slightly, yet a long straight edge showed the span of the spoilers was straight, that is, completely uncurved.  This was the problem. The boot lid has a slight raised curve as it should. The two didn't look quite right together, also, there was far more flex than I'd like.

My solution was to add two small supports. Getting these to look and work just right was quite a task and drilling the boot lid is not for the timid, but they push the spoiler into a very slight curve so that it looks, well, right. The supports also make it ten times more rigid at speed and much more resistant to careless handling or leaning!

 

bmw19.jpg (108015 bytes) (Rear spoiler now changed - See pictures below for new DIY rear spoiler).

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6.

Only a small detail, but the chrome tail pipe finishers were looking tired with the chrome plate crazed and thin.

When I discovered a set of BMW replacements would cost about £70 I sought a more substantial yet cheaper alternative.

What you see are solid turned stainless steel tail pipes. I contact of mine just happened to have offcuts of the right section of stainless tube.

They are made of 3mm+ section and will last for ever.

I think they look good too.

 

7.

Even with a factory upgraded head unit the sound system was simply not good enough.

One problem is that the Lexus I had before had such a superb standard sound system and this just had to be made at least as good.

I fitted replacement high quality tweeters in the front as the existing ones at knee height aren't ideally placed or of sufficiently high quality.

Even this was more of a job than it appeared.

The supplied mounts (even though they were adjustable) made the tweeters point at an odd angle and looked very much like add-ons.

I had to make my own mountings to make it look more "factory fit". This entailed turning a wooden cylinder, cutting, sanding into a complex curved cone, drilling and painting - all for a tweeter mount! 

The result far exceeded expectations, the overall sound is far more open without being harsh - definitely worth the effort.

Again, just in case, I have a spare pair of trim panels so all traces of these can be removed if desired in the future.

I'm not absolutely happy with the look of these and may do a version 2 which should look even more "factory fit".

 

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Next challenge. How to fit a subwoofer so that it sounds right, looks genuine and can be removed if required by any future owner and, importantly, still leaves a decent sized boot!

The standard sound system lacked decent low frequencies. I needed to do something about the boomy bass with little or no reproduction of very deep notes. I was not prepared to alter the whole system as I don't want to change the character of the car.

I chose a 10" sub and suitable adjustable amplifier and mounted them in a custom unit which included a measured, braced and damped speaker enclosure and a fan cooled section to house the original and extra amplifiers. I then had to work out how to tap into the bizarre "high but not high" line inputs between the head unit and BMW amplifier/crossover.

This involved some experimenting with resistors to allow use of proper line inputs to the extra amplifier.

The unit was made so that it isn't resting on the boot floor (so the carpet can still come out from over the spare wheel).

It was made from very well braced plywood to give the required rigidity without taking several seconds off the 0-60 time which can happen with "oh so heavy" MDF.

What is more, it can be removed and the trim panels put back so that a future owner could revert to "standard".

The speaker is behind the ski bag (removed - but again, refittable).

The only permanent alteration and the most important in terms of aesthetics was a way to allow the sound to get through the First Aid carrier.

The end product is a result of a lot of thought and it again has been given the ultimate compliment - it's ignored (because people assume it's original).

As part of the reversion process, the grille can't be removed, but the First Aid kit can still be put back in as there is still the room and fixings.

 

How does it sound? Fabulous. Wonderful deep bass in the car - virtually inaudible outside the car. This would be a terrible disappointment to those who like to advertise their "sound investment" to all passers-by or even those in nearby buildings!

How much boot space is lost? The whole amplifier/speaker enclosure unit sticks out from the seat end of the boot by exactly 18cm and as yet has presented no problems at all.

 

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8.
Given the car's status and low driving position behind the headlights I took advantage of an excellent offer to fit proper HID headlights.
The ballasts were securely mounted below the headlight units so that they were protected, in the right place to avoid stressing wires during "pop-up" and completely invisible. The bulb harness is completely inside the light unit to make bulb changing easy should it be necessary.
There is no clue to any modification until you turn on the lights - Wow!
Only problem was that the sidelights now looked very yellow.....

9.
LED clusters were bought and modified to fit the sidelight units. This was quite a job as some LED lights just don't look right and I wanted an OE look (as always).
There was a fair bit of cutting and soldering required - not to mention some calculation and trial and error to fit ballast resistors to stop the computer from reporting bulb failures.

Pictures to follow......

10.
One aspect of the car that many owners of late models almost universally don't like is the bland looking four spoke steering wheel.
It just looks so, well, unsporty and when it is this item that is right in front of you, which you use to steer the car - it's hard to ignore.
I managed to last three years with the old wheel, but kept watching posts on the ClubE31 website about members who chaged theirs.
When I found an E36 MSport wheel on Ebay, in immaculate condition, complete with airbag and slip ring and at a very reasonable price - well I had to buy it. Below are the before and after pictures. As you can guess I am very pleased with the result!

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11.
The car has EDC which I wouldn’t be without.
It all works, but has done over 100k miles and new BMW replacements would set me back nearly £3000!
With this in mind I decided to take my shocks to Sportsline Suspension in Buckingham.
They rebuilt all four units for about a third of the cost of new ones. They even upgraded some of the parts.
I am very happy with the result. The car handles and rides better and the shocks should certainly now last the remainder of the lifetime of the car!

In the picture below you can see the rebuilt strut along with new discs, stainless braided brake hoses and rebuilt Brembo calipers.

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12.
I finally decided that the OEM spoiler just didn't work visually with the lines of the car.
So, I decided to make my own rear spoiler.
I began by buying a spare bootlid to play with (99p bargain from Ebay!) and a £4.99 Citroen Xantia rear spoiler (also from Ebay).

The Xantia spoiler had the beginnings of a decent shape, but needed extensive cutting, shutting, realligning and reprofiling to get it to become an BMW 8 Series spoiler.
Suffice to say this took many hours of work and deliberation.

Finally - after a lot of hard work, the finished article.....

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13.
The OEM PDC may have been a status symbol in 1997, but the large ugly sensors began to get on my nerves.

Also, at a car show meet, I decided that the pre "rear difuser" cars looked better - mainly because the M rear diffuser sticks down too far - hence being almost universally being called the "spice rack"!

This final pictures show what I did about these........



What next?

 

 I've read with interest some of the active forums dealing with the Eight Series.

Some owners are real enthusiasts and appear willing to spend huge sums of money on superchargers, turbochargers, upgraded brakes and a whole host of other modifications. 

If I really wanted to do similar, like most people I would find a way. It's a question of priorities.

Right now I can't think of any major changes I want to make.

Update

After 9 years of ownership I finally reached the point where I simply fancied a change.

The car was sold and I now have another "interesting" coupe, an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage.