The 1993 BMW 850ci you see here would have cost about $85,000 when it was new, almost $150,000 in today’s money. If you do want one today, it took me nine seconds to find a decent-looking example on Craigslist for under nine grand. There’s depreciation, and then there’s whatever that is.
They’re cheap now for two reasons: E31s (the 8 Series chassis code) are monstrously expensive to maintain, and the quintessentially 1990s styling was at the nadir of fashion until very recently.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the wedge cars of the ’90s are creeping up on being cool again thanks to the cyclical nature of style and the phenomenon that is Radwood. That means decent examples of the original 8 Series will start to look like they’re worth restoring soon.
And right now the perfect example of that is Clarion’s better-than-new 1993 850ci.
(Full disclosure: Car audio company Clarion arranged for us to drive this BMW 8 Series, along with the DB9, both of which are owned by the Chief of the Clarion Builds Program you’ve seen on Jalopnik. Clarion also hired professional car photographer Larry Chen to document these machines on the road. The DB11 was on loan from Aston Martin directly.)
Over the last couple years, Clarion has been expanding its business from supplying OEMs with car stereos to selling aftermarket equipment straight to enthusiast car owners like us.
To get people fired up and showcase its new toys, the stereo company has been building show cars loaded with goodies. Clarion and its partners are doing a bang-up job of it, too. Surely you’ve seen their strikingly clean BMW 2002 and Acura NSX we’ve featured on Jalopnik before.
This V12 8 Series wasn’t supposed to be on the company’s roster of demonstration vehicles. It’s actually owned personally by a Clarion executive. But he posed the same question many car enthusiasts have asked: Can you turn an inexpensive, unloved pseudo-classic into something as super as a brand new six-figure GT car with the right modifications?
But Gharapetian’s car has gone through a lot more than just a restoration.
Purchased in straight-but-imperfect condition with less than 40,000 miles on its odometer, Clarion’s E31 8 Series showed up with a tired paint job, worn suspension, at least one oil leak, a few dings and scrapes, and like most U.S.-market 8s, an automatic transmission.
All that had to go. But the idea behind this build was to create something that felt factory. “OEM and then some” as I’ve heard it described. Basically, the plan was to make the car BMW could have, would have, and should have made if the technology and economics of 1993 were a little different.
Coast Motor Werk headed up the project, but a few outfits came together to make what I’m pretty sure is the best BMW 8 Series on the road come to life.
Working our way from the outside in, New Century BMW had the body cleaned up and resprayed in Carbon Black. If you look closely, you can see there’s just a hint of blue that adds a subtle layer of depth to the design.
Parallel five-spoke BMW 37 Series wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires were fitted over StopTech brake rotors, while the car’s saggy suspension was swapped for Bilstein B8 Performance Plus dampers with Eibach Pro-Kit lowering springs.
The 12-cylinder engine was tuned up and leaky gaskets were replaced, but primarily left stock besides some decorative bits, K&N filters and a custom-made exhaust system.
This Bimmer’s performance gains primarily come from the new transmission, which is a six-speed Getrag 560G with a 3.15:1 LSD. That alone is a transformative measure from an auto with an open diff, but I think what really takes Clarion’s 8 Series from sweet to spectacular is the interior.
Every old piece of BMW plastic has been replaced with a fresh one, and the soft surfaces have been recovered in a Ferrari leather color called “Spice” by Westminster Upholstery.
It feels as lovely as it looks, and so does the three-spoke Euro 850CSi steering wheel with its tiny air bag and the matching 850CSi M shift knob.
A car audio shop called Beach Autosound made a custom enclosure for a Z25W 10-inch subwoofer between the rear seats, and of course Clarion’s fanciest NX807 seven-inch touchscreen head unit is the centerpiece of the car’s command console.
Now, I’m no audiophile. Sometimes I listen to music in my car by putting Spotify on my phone and leaving it in a cupholder. But the thing about slicing and dicing Angeles Crest Highway with a high-energy synthwave playlist drenching the custom interior of a resto-modded manual-swapped 1993 BMW 850Ci is that, apparently, driving experiences do not get much better.
I felt like I was in a time machine when I climbed into this car, but one that was malfunctioning. Was I in 1993? 2017? No, I’d crossed into a parallel universe where it was the future and also 20 years ago at the same time, like Back To The Future’s vision of our current decade where the primary threat to public safety was youth gangs on hoverboards.
The car still looks decidedly ’90s but feels contemporary. The Bimmer tucked in and pounced out of a pull-off as I dropped the clutch, and the car was instantly confidently galloping from one long corner to the next. The 850 didn’t want to scream, though. It felt heavy underneath me, while the thin window pillars and dainty response of the shifter made the car feel a little delicate.
It feels smooth and strong, and the weight of the car comes through the three-spoke steering wheel with refreshing accuracy. But you’re never going to forget that there’s about 4,000 pounds of BMW under your ass.
This car’s happy pace is not a raucous one, but it feels good in your hands and sounds musical at any speed. Those thin pillars between the roof and body give you plenty of opportunities to take in the view, one more reason this is such a prime touring car.
The 8 Series was a halo car when it was new. But now you’re more likely to see one languishing at a shady used car lot on an ugly set of wheels than cruising the PCH like it deserves to be doing.
As far as I’m concerned, Clarion has proved that we shouldn’t let these cars rot. Wedges are in, all-things-90s are cool again, and with the right set of treatments a tired old 8 Series can be revived into an amazing grand touring car.
If this story doesn’t inspire you to show the 8 Series more love, I hope it will at least get your wheels turning about other under-appreciated and cheap-to-buy classics that could become legends with the right injection of new technology.