Spoiler: they gave MB the edge.
By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG eBay Motors
FINDING an 80s BMW 7-Series whose very tyres haven’t seen their last millimeter of tread scrubbed is, sadly, a challenge.
This is especially true of the great e32 gen. (1987-1994) which have largely led very hard lives judging by the sickly, three digit dogs that proliferate the Internet.
That’s what makes this mint Californian example such a find. A 1985 BMW 735i, it’s part of the original e23 generation 7’s that the Bavarians sold from 1977 through 1986.
As some of you recall from our filmed road test of the 733i from 2007, the classic e23’s road manners seem downright wooden by today’s highly assisted standards. And yet, a well maintained example exudes a classic Black Forest charm that is, to many, the very heart and soul of the roundel.
Considering that this particular sedan hails from (typically) dry California, has only 154K miles on the odometer, a loved interior and exterior, plus the original radio (!), and is selling for a reasonable buy-it-now price of $3,995, this seems an offer too good to be true.
Apparently others agree, as the vintage 7er has 15 bids as this post goes to post. As always, caveat emptor. Any car with low miles can suffer from a slew of problems that are every bit as detrimental to the vehicle’s welfare and – your wallet – as those that are driven hard.
I have a confession to make:
While BMW’s latest flagship, the as tested one hundred thousand three hundred twenty dollar 2009 750Li is an object of technical brilliance, it fails to move me.
Oh, it propels like a rocket.
The Twin-turbo V8 with 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, the bulk of which is readily available from 1800-4500 rpm thanks to those terrific turbos, makes this 7-Series faster than any of its swift predecessors.
Zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Mid-range acceleration bests the old school M5.
And, God, does it coddle and cosset. The new 7 is the quintessence of German comfort: effortless, adjustable in countless ways (except for the fixed rear seats in this model), heated, cooled, and supple but made as solidly as if from the bark of some titanium tree. What’s more, the interior’s supremely insulated and S-Class roomy.
And as a generational contrast to highlight just how far the Bavarians have come, you could drive all day in this 750Li and still feel reasonably rested with your blood circulated, your back ‘n bottom in good shape, and your mind relatively alert whereas you could drive all day in a 1983 733i and feel like you’ve run three miles in steel-toed work boots.
But like the old 7, in the new 7 -a sedan that’s an amalgamation of the old three box formula and the wedge theory- has a hood that extends out far in front of the driver’s view. In most Bimmers, the sightline ends at the dash which keeps things feeling tight ‘n right.
But where the lines of the old shark’s bonnet look angular and sharply defined, this 7’s flowing curves which pinch at either end in two sweeping arcs (like the 3er) would make a terrific stunt double for a 1999 Buick LeSabre.
And in titanium silver metallic, you’re almost convinced that this is grand pa’s car. Only much cooler.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME?
The 7er’s external form is one of our hero’s tragic flaws. There’s nothing wrong with the interior; with Oyster Nappa hides matched with what BMW’s calling “High Gloss Fine Line Wood”, it’s a cool, Germanic environ.
The sedan’s dash is back to being driver centered along with the dash mounted joystick shifter, as the Gods of Valhalla intended.
But the exterior is an aesthetic mess.
Perhaps, my own taste is a generational thing.
In fact I think it is, because the E38 7-Series in jet black on black never, ever fails to stop me dead in my tracks. When I drove past a 2000/2001 740iL one evening in the 750Li, I almost rolled down my window to ask if the other driver wanted to swap cars.
Similarly handsome was the signature cashmere E32. A 1988 735i and a 1992 740i are two sedans that will live inside my heart forever.
And therein lays my own personal conflict.
Such is my ardor for the 7-Series line, second only to the S-Class, that throughout my days with the 750Li, I continually asked myself how I could objectively (as is humanly possible) cover this new car. Were I judge in a court case, I’d have to recuse myself.
But we’re not in a court of law (knock on wood). And the fact is I do know a thing or two about where BMW’s been and I’m not liking the avenue this new 7’s taken by virtue of its styling, size, and Lexus-like softness. It’s trying to be too many things to too many people. The focus, the precise essence is noticeably absent.
Too much is often just that.
To be clear, it’s not for the plethora of watch dog technology and on board computers. Though they hog center stage, they’re little short of amazing and are a sophisticated furthering of BMW’s preliminary efforts with trip computers and stability programs all those years ago.
Let’s explore for a sec…
The second generation iDrive is actually user friendly. Below the rotary dial are a set of hot buttons that get you where you need to go on the computer’s many menus faster than if you scrolled. Amen!
But often time I’d have to switch off the wide screen as I found myself spending as much as 20% of my driving time watching static “TV” and not the road.
Thank goodness then, for the collision warning system, a sensor guided alert that flashes a red BMW on the heads up display and the instrument panel warning of an impending collision. This saved my distracted bacon once in slow, stop ‘n go traffic.
That said, some technical feats still need fine tuning.
For example, the active cruise control (ACC) would never work in the fast lane. If the car you’re following is doing 75 mph, the system will slow your progress (by gentle brake application) to 64 mph – or some similarly safe number. This means that traffic behind you will grow to hate you.
Also, the blind spot detection system which lights yellow triangles from the corresponding rear view mirror that the approaching car is traveling on, will likely displease most aggressive Bimmer drivers as it also vibrates the steering wheel in warning when an approaching vehicle is a full car length away.
I could go on. And so I will.
The lane departure system which gauges whether you’re drifting out of your lane also vibrates the steering wheel in conjunction with a visual alert appearing in the HUD. This and the other features are defeatable, but they could prove useful to the late night road warrior.
But back to where it counts.
As I’d mentioned, the V8 is a thrill a mile – or – a relaxed cruiser. It’s an incredibly capable powerplant and it’s the new 7’s crown jewel. The active air suspension, on the other hand, is a little bit of a let down.
There’s an old BMW adage that BMW never built a suspension that couldn’t keep up with the speeds the engine produces. In this case, the V8 is so capable, the luxury tuned bellows are entirely outmatched. Select one of four modes, “Comfort”, “Normal”, “Sport”, and “Sport +” which deactivates the traction control, and the suspension along with the transmission and engine change their tenor.
The difference in ride quality is readily apparent. The 7 practically wafts Rolls style in “Comfort”. And in “Sport”, the car seems ready to spring while registering every bump in the road.
Still, I took the same increasing radius, concrete walled offramp/connector three times in each mode save for Sport + while noting my exit speed.
Driving fast each time, the big 7 leaning hard on the driverside tyres, and returned similar numbers: 57, 54, and 56 mph, respectively.
To give you some idea of where these speed stats fall on the grand scale of my own automotive relativity, the fastest I’ve managed this tightening turn is 60 mph (in a 128i convertible) and the slowest is 45 mph in my li’l Panzer (Benz 300E 4-Matic).
Of course this indicates varying levels of nerve on my part, but it also tells you that my confidence did not grow nor did the 7’s apparent grip increase when switching from Comfort to Normal to Sport modes. I had, in fact, all 245/50 tyres howling.
To be fair, it also demonstrates how well this luxo barge manages a corner despite itself.
But that point segues us nicely to another of this 7’s troubles – size and weight.
At 205.2 inches, it’s as long as a LWB W140 generation Benz S600, with a 126 inch wheelbase that’s three inches longer than the old Benz’s wheelbase. And at 4,640 lbs it’s about as heavy as the old gen. S420.
And while the active steering, brakes, and suspension do a great job of disguising the weight with sporty litheness of feel, the car can only match the inflated expectation to a point.
Coming down hard from easily attainable, super-legal speeds elicits tail wag from the rear. And full out panic stops take a lot longer to execute than the pedal feel would otherwise suggest.
And another BMW test…
Approach a piece of road that drops suddenly away and one of several things can happen.
In a typical car, at lows speeds the front suspension will drop out from beneath the car leading into a nose dive or at higher speeds the car will simply catch air and bottom out on landing.
In any BMW worth its salt, the Bimmer will do neither. An E39 M5, an E32 735i, an E46 328i, whatever, will follow asphalt or catch air and land on its feet – not bottoming out.
Approach this challenge in the 750Li and the front wheels drop away and the car will nose dive. It cushions you from the harsh change, but it just doesn’t respond fast enough to road conditions.
The simple-is-beautiful Macpherson strut setup seems to shine about now…
Like all good 7’s, the 750Li lies about its weight. But if all that’s being too critical (it isn’t, really) let’s remember that the F01/F02 generation 7-Series is a step back from the abyss and step forward in terms of comfort.
And from the rear and the side profiles, surface tension has made a welcome comeback. And thank Heaven, the last car (E65/E66) looked like the genetic cross mutation of a vampire bat and a sea cow.
In short, there are plenty of positives. But none lead me to desire this car in the same way I lusted after its esteemed forebears. It may be more engaging than the current S-Class, but the Benz’s current flagship is truer to the grand Benz ethos than the 7 is to its own creed.
I fear for those who long for performance over luxury in their BMWs, the solution is to hazard a used E38 or E32 7er, enjoy the smaller scaled thrills of a new 1-Series, or pine on the memory of sevens past.
The R129 generation (1989-2001) Mercedes SL – post-op
By Gunnar Heinrich
SUCH is the prolific lifespan of most of Stuttgart or Munich’s creations (typically 7-10 years) that mid-cycle “facelifts” are often called for to keep the Benzes and Bimmers appearing fresh against upstart competition.
Sound like the anxious existence of an aging Hollywood actress? Well, it is more or less.
Here are four cases in point where a trip to the plastic surgeon yielded a cleaner look that managed to eclipse the original plus one example that could’ve used a follow up…
BMW E34 5-Series (1988-1994)
Arguably the handsomest midsize sedan BMW has yet to build, the 5er was angular, lean, and cleanly drew the automaker into the 90s. But those facets that worked under the Bush Administration seemed dated mid-way through the Clinton years – particularly when most rivals were bulking up into heftier shapes.
Below, the easy fix.
The 90s refit added a lower apron to the front bumper – better channeling air to the front brakes – and minimized the horizontal plastic slats – a styling cue from the 70s – in favor of adding painted sheetmetal surrounding the chromed kidney grille. The effect, however subtle, was a modernizing step that segued nicely into the succeeding e39 generation (1995-2003).
Mercedes-Benz R129 SL-Class (1989-2001)
The automotive press was merciless in their spite of the sport light by the time it had reached its finale in 2001. They labeled the Benz a “dinosaur” with all the big, lumbering connotations for performance that the attribution meant.
Still, when the SL made its debut in the 80s alongside the W126 S-Class, it was a pioneer in German excellence in design that had replaced the truly ancient R107 (1971-1989). Still, the SL would receive not one but two facelift in its lifespan. The last (and best) occuring in 1998.
It’s amazing what tweaking the headlamps of a car can do to the overall appearance. With translucent lenses, we see a more dynamic face thanks the Xenon projectors. Visually, the “eyes” of the car appear wider, too. That along with bolder body-colored bumpers, slightly twisted side skirts (on Sport packaged models), and larger, fewer spoked rims – gave more credibility to the “sport” in “sport light”.
Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class (1991-1999)
Hot on the heels of the W126 generation (1979-1991), many of the automotive press labeled this big Benz “too much of a good thing”. Indeed, its designer Bruno Sacco lamented that he thought the W140 “two inches too tall.” Whatever the case, Benz let pleats out of this suit and were quick to take it back in.
The 1996 refit turned the initial car’s frown upside down – yielding a smiling front air dam. The headlights were slightly tampered with too as were the side indicators which became translucent – replacing the bright signature Mercedes orange. There still wasn’t much Benz could do with the heavy appearance – but the second variation made subtle amends with added lines to regain a sense of surface tension that the original never had.
BMW E65/66 7-Series (2001-2008)
Portly and flamed to a crisp, the first of Chris Bangle’s new generation of flame surfaced BMWs left BMW’s former chief designer fearing for his life for the ire of incensed Bimmer traditionalists. Admittedly, the flagship Bimmer had a hard act to follow…but this was a bit much. Hence the hasty and comprehensive corrective surgery in 2005…
Once again, surface tension was introduced to a design that had none. Stronger lines cleaved into the hood and trunk cut through the original car’s bloat. That and taller wheels, more rectangular(ish) headlights, a smiling front air dam (the original glowered with two foglamps for clumsy fangs – think Sweetums from The Muppets ) and a cleaner boot line (less Bangle but) made for a sharper finish to this most controversial 7.
Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class (1995-2003)
Now for the exception. The first generation of the handsome, oval-headlamped midsize Benzes enchanted the automotive press when it was first unveiled. But quality control problems marred the sedan’s production life and Mercedes’ otherwise sterling facade – including an unforgivable lack of structural rigidity in the crash tests. Sadly, the best looking midsize Benz Stuttgart has yet built is also takes the top prize in poorest build quality.
Unfortunately, the mid-cycle fix took away a large portion of the original W210’s charm. Strangely scalloped from air intakes replaced the first iteration’s form & function horizontal slats. The front bumper was reshaped giving the sedan less ground clearance and a more forward leaning stance.
Those signature oval headlamps lost the bright orange “eye lid” contrast to a milky, opaque disguise. The afterthought side mirror signal lights didn’t work either for their inclusion seemed clumsily executed. Slimmer tail lamps, a more slanted grille, the list of missteps goes on…
And there you have it: four facelifts that improved upon the original art work – and one that really didn’t.
Your ass here ->
By Gunnar Heinrich
CHILL that’s what I should’ve said to myself when BMW unleashed the new F01 7-series upon us all hot ‘n nasty like and then unveiled a pallet of colors that would keep the folks in the retirement home sleeping softly. But I should’ve known better. And the Individual Program is why.
By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG BMW-Werke-Dingolfing
WATCHING a video online that showcased the fascinating study in efficiency that is BMW’s Dingolfing plant – the enormous Bavarian factory that assembles the 5, 6, and 7-Series – an interesting bit of imagery caught my eye.
You see, of the 280,000 some odd BMWs that leave the world’s largest Bimmer plant each year, many of those cars are transported on the backs of Mercedes-Benz trucks (as pictured). While this is business as usual for most German concerns, it’s nonetheless funny that one arch-rival’s product should facilitate getting the other rival’s product to market.
It’s kind of like watching Republicans and Democrats sling mud at each other on the Hill only to find out that after-hours they all attend the same Washington cocktail parties.