1992 BMW 850CSi E31

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

Woody and Buzz were breaking the box office back when this E31 850CSi rolled off the production line. Twenty-seven years later, the little-used period piece has a few tales to tell… Words: Dan Bevis. Photography: Jason Dodd.

Stunning E31 8 Series

This E31 850CSi rolled off the production line twenty-seven years ago, this little-used example has a few tales to tell…

Forty-two. This number, as any oldschool sci-fi fan will be happy to tell you, is the answer to life, the universe and everything. We bring it up here because we need to talk about scarcity. You see, this is a hugely desirable currency in the automotive world; look at the Ferrari F40 – the bedroom wall poster for countless kids of the ’80s and ’90s, it’s an obscure and seldom-seen beast.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

Certainly not something you spot on the road every day. And how many of those were built? 1,311 examples, all-in. Or take the case of the Lamborghini Miura, the original supercar – indeed, the car for which the very term ‘supercar’ was coined. Just 764 Miuras were built. As a total percentage of all the cars ever made, that’s… well, it’s a figure so tiny our calculator started emitting smoke when we tried to figure it out. But the car you see here, the BMW 850CSi E31? This relatively unassuming retro curio is rare fruit indeed. There are just forty-two examples of this car registered on Britain’s roads today – an obscure variant of an already reclusive machine.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

The E31-generation 8 Series was a brilliant polymath, conceived as a supremely luxurious grand tourer, but all underpinned by unabashed sporting prowess. An inspired combination of luxury, elegance, technological innovation and good oldfashioned grunt, it was developed at eye-watering cost to slot a fresh luxury GT niche into BMW’s model line-up. An extensive programme of wind tunnel testing was embarked upon to allow the coupé to shimmer through the air like a Teflon butterfly, as it was always the plan to shove huge and muscular engines into these cars, so it helped to make them as (relatively) economical as possible. The launch-model 850i came equipped with an M70 5.0-litre V12, which served up a robust 296hp and 332lb ft; it could be optioned with a 4-speed auto or – for the first time ever in a V12-engined road car – a 6-speed manual. A 4.0-litre V8 was later added to the range, which found itself usurped not long after by a 4.4-litre version; by this time the V12 range-topper was badged ‘850Ci’ and had been upgraded to an M73 5.4-litre V12. This creamy-smooth 322hp twelve-pot was shared with the Rolls- Royce Silver Seraph, but that bold step into upper-echelon opulence wasn’t the end of the tale. No, this was a model that just couldn’t stop trying to better itself over and over again, and in 1992 the 850CSi arrived. Reverting to the M70 engine but evolving it so comprehensively that it was awarded its own model code (S70), this was an absolute hellbeast of an engine – the displacement enlarged to 5.6-litres, and hair-raising peak figures of 375hp and 406lb ft. It was arguably the car the E31 was always meant to be, and its jewel-like party piece of an engine was neatly complemented by stiffened and lowered suspension (although not too stiff of course, this is still a GT at heart), a 15 percent reduced steering ratio, redesigned bumpers for superior aerodynamic flow, meatier brakes, an oil cooler, and a diff cooler. A truly formidable creation on all conceivable fronts.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31 - interior

It’s a special thing, for sure, and the one we have here is even more special than most. Why? Because aside from the being the full-fat CSi that’s also equipped with a manual gearbox, this astoundingly tidy car only has 29,000-miles on the clock from new. It’s a time-warp, trapped in amber; everything works and it’s as fabulous to drive as ever it was, and yet somehow it’s managed to escape the ravages of time and continue to exist as if it’s still the 1990s.

Its owner is a lifelong enthusiast by the name of Don Wearing, and the more we learn about this man and his passion for cars in general and BMWs in particular, the more this car makes sense. Don’s been in the motor trade for fifty-odd years, and Bavarian fare has walked tall in his affections since the 1980s.

“My first BMW was a 1983 735i E23,” he says, “and this was followed by an ’1989 E32 735i, in Larch Silver with Buffalo leather and a manual gearbox. It was a really lovely car, although in time I started to hanker after something a little more sporty to accompany it.”

Don started flicking through Auto Trader (this, remember, was in the good old days when the Auto Trader was a printed mag, so you could draw rings around your favourites and lose yourself in inquisitive phone calls and inky fingers), and his eye was caught by a Mitsubishi 3000GT. For the uninitiated, this was something of a technical powerhouse in the early-1990s. Japanese manufacturers were keenly developing supercoupés with one eye firmly on the North American market – the Mk4 Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX are both now celebrated as icons, but the 3000GT (known domestically as the GTO) was a keen contender too, with its 286hp 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive, four-wheel- steering and active aero. It’s easy to see why Don was tempted.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

“When I went to view the Mitsubishi, however, it was parked next to an 840Ci,” he recalls, “and it was immediately obvious that the BMW was just in another league. So I decided to save up for a while and buy the better car.” This was undoubtedly a sound decision. While both cars were conceived to create a bridge between luxury GTs and sports cars within their respective model ranges, the E31 8 Series did it far more convincingly; the 3000GT is frankly a bit of a mess to drive (not least because it’s got a really annoying steering wheel with big fat spokes in just the wrong places) and it doesn’t know whether it wants to be firm or comfy, whereas the BMW knows exactly what it’s about and pulls off the Jekyll-and- Hyde trick with aplomb.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31 - rear

So, a little while down the line, Don was ready to go shopping. And in a thoroughly pleasing thought process tinged with more than a little inevitability, he was adamant that he’d buy one with a manual gearbox which, in turn, led him to become laser-focused on the V12 CSi flagship.

“Back in late 1998, I went to Sytner Warwick to look at an example in Daytona Violet,” he says. “In my mind I was picturing more of a Techno Violet which would have suited it rather better, but in the metal I just didn’t think the Daytona suited the car at all. It was also a little rougher than I’d have liked. However, the dealer had quite a few 8 Series in stock, and sitting next door was this car, in Arctic Silver with the black leather trim. The salesman was very candid in saying that these 8 Series were becoming monuments, they were increasingly hard to shift. So we struck a deal and, in January ’99, I took it home!”

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

The car at the time had 24,000-miles on the clock, and you’ll note from the photos that the dash today reads 29,037. How can it be possible, that this beloved and cherished car has covered just 5,000-miles since premillennium, an average of under 230-miles a year? Well, having an awkward garage has helped to keep the car fresh.

“The car’s always been kept garaged, it just about fits in there,” Don laughs. “When we moved into our bungalow in the early 1990s I thought it’d be a stopgap before getting a bigger place with more space for cars, but my wife fell in love with it so we’re still here. The garage is a bit awkward to get in and out of, and I’ve always had other cars to play with as well, so the CSi has only come out on very special occasions.”

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

It’s been out to various shows over the years, along with the odd longer road-trip, but for the most part it sits in stasis, cosied up in the garage hooked up to a battery conditioner. As such, it’s pretty much never been out in the rain, hasn’t been ravaged by winter salt. Naturally cars like to be used and there’s always the danger that things can seize up or stop working, electronics can fail and so on, but Don’s car appears to be remarkably willing and amenable in this aspect. “When it does come out of the garage, it always starts easily, firing straight away on all twelve cylinders,” he assures us. “Everything still works, all the electrics are fine and so is the four-wheel steering, there are no warning lights. It’s all exactly as it should be. Funnily enough, it’s still got the same Michelins on it that it had in the nineties, they haven’t perished, and it also still has its running-in stickers from Sytner.”

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

A proper time-warp, this, a real period piece – and it turns out that playing the long game here has been a very canny move on Don’s part. There came a time around a decade ago when values of the E31 really tanked, so he figured he may as well hang onto it. In recent years prices have really escalated rapidly, and now the fact that this is an outstandingly tidy and original, low-mileage example of a manual V12 means that he’s sitting on a bit of a goldmine. Not that he’s planning to sell it, of course. For one thing, it’s a faff to get it out of the garage! And having owned it for so long, the affection for this 850 runs very deep. It may not quite be the answer to life, the universe and everything, but the CSi certainly does answer a lot of questions. A true polymath, and an increasingly desirable one too.

1992 BMW 850CSi E31

The Power Of 12

The S70 is one of the rarest engine formats in BMW’s history. The M70 upon which it was based launched in 1987, an SOHC V12 that was essentially a pair of 2.5-litre M20 straight-sixes on a common crank, although naturally it wasn’t quite that simple: the M70 had an alloy block, hydraulic lifters, a timing chain instead of belts and Electronic Throttle Control. Found in the E32 750i and the E31 850i and 850Ci, it’s a rare and impressive thing. But the S70 was on a whole other level: its 5576cc displacement produced an incredible 375hp and 406lb ft and, given the low sales of this top-tier model, only 1,510 units of the S70B56 engine were produced.

There’s a further pub boast here too. A redesigned version of the S70, with unique S50-based heads, VANOS, dry-sump lubrication and individual throttle bodies created the S70/2. And where do we find that engine? Yep, the McLaren F1…


  • ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: S70B56 5.6-litre 24v V12, 6-speed manual
  • CHASSIS: OE stiffened/lowered suspension, 15% reduced steering ratio, staggered 17-inch ‘Throwing Star’ wheels
  • EXTERIOR: Arctic Silver, E36 boot spoiler
  • INTERIOR: Black leather trim, BMW Bavaria Professional audio
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