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Video | I Bought the Cheapest BMW 850i on Autotrader

After selling my 2005 BMW 745i, I made good on my promise to take a mulligan with BMW ownership. My history with the brand is full of miserable experiences, and buying the often maligned and badly aging Bangle-era 7 Series certainly wasn’t going change that. In hopes for making a fresh start, I bought the BMW I’ve always wanted — a 1991 850i. See the 1991 BMW 850i models for sale near you

The 850i has always been my favorite BMW, as it has the perfect nose, inspired by the M1, along with a smooth V12 that looks like someone fitted a church’s pipe organ under the hood. I also love the amber glow of the airplane cockpit-like interior, with pillarless side windows — and the popup headlights put the cherry on top. In my deranged mind, the 8 Series would get a HoovieScore of over 9,000.

Since the 850i with an automatic really isn’t worth very much nowadays, there are plenty of neglected examples out there for under $5,000 — but even I’m not crazy enough to buy one of those. It’s very easy for someone to fall behind on repairs with one of these — and with many expensive parts due to the rare chassis and V12 engine, bringing one back from the brink could easily cost double the price of buying a nice, low-mileage one in the first place. I ended up spending $7,500 on the cheapest 850i advertised on Autotrader, which — at 154,000 miles — had higher mileage than some 850 models, though it came with the added bonus of a complete service history.

When I say complete, I mean right down to the original window sticker and purchase documents. The original owner managed to negotiate $14,000 off the $82,000 sticker price in December 1991, and he clearly loved this thing enough to keep it well maintained until 2017. In the last decade, he spent over $20,000 keeping up with repairs — but even with this impressive pedigree, this 850i still showed up at my door with some surprises. Given it was an aging BMW that had been sitting for some time (and given that I bought it in my usual, reckless fashion without inspecting it beforehand), this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

On the first drive, I thought I was in big trouble. The suspension felt horribly loose, despite service records showing most of it had been rebuilt, and the engine bay was making some scary noises. Some accessory was making a disturbing death screech — but even more frightening was the metallic knocking noise coming from the engine. I assumed the worst.

Thankfully, my mechanic put my fears at ease pretty quickly, as the engine tick is coming from a failing belt tensioner and the death screech is coming from the air conditioning compressor, which is mercifully one of the few cheap, generic parts attached to this V12. The majority of the steering play was actually due to a loose wheel. Apparently, whoever installed the stock wheels before shipping me this car forgot to torque the left front wheel, leaving the lugs only finger tight.

While this was pretty to scary to think about later (considering I drove 40 miles to my mechanic with a loose wheel, and considering I jostled the car about several times trying to figure out what was loose in the front end), it was quite a relief to know my latest purchase is much better off than my first impression. The final tally for repairs shouldn’t be too bad — but, of course, I probably won’t stop there.

This car is begging to have a manual transmission swapped into it, which would make the experience of driving this 8 Series twice as fun (and also make the car twice as valuable). Sourcing parts from a wrecked manual-transmission 850i would make it a straightforward, bolt-in job — but I have no idea where I can source a rare setup like that, nor how much it would cost. Also, I have a few other big projects in front of it — and since piling on another might prompt my family to lock me in a padded room, I think I’ll enjoy this 850i as-is for a while. Find a 1991 BMW 850i for sale

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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  1. I looked at and test drove auto and manual trans versions of the 850i when new. The stick shift model was really hard to find and I so wanted to like it more than I did. Around town and at any speed under 100mph, it was numb and dull. Ultimately I bought a new SL500. Auto trans not withstanding, the Benz delivered everything the BMW promised, but missed. It was ( and still is) a great example of 90s German engineering without regard to cost.  

  2. I’m amazed you didn’t know to check the lugnut torque, Tyler. With all the cars you’ve owned/sold…that’s kind of a basic one. Glad you didn’t have to pay for it seriously.

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