The V12 BMW 850i Is for Nostalgia-Addled Masochists

Screenshot: Regular Car Reviews (YouTube)

There’s a new BMW 8 Series out, but it will never eclipse what the original 8 offered: A sky-high asking price, natural aspiration, V12 availability and styling that radically departed from what BMW was offering at the time. What makes the original car memorable today is how much of an outlier it was in the early ‘90s. To own one now, you kind of have to be a masochist.

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Don’t get me wrong. I, too, am a nostalgia-addled fool, but I am no masochist. I would love to drive an 850i one day, but I would never own one. The people who willingly buy and own a vintage 8 Series are the kinds of people who ask for trouble.

Regular Car Reviews recently got behind the wheel of a black 1991 BMW 850i. The car still pulls incredibly well, especially in the higher speeds, despite it being lower on power and torque than you’d expect.

While this particular 850i is allegedly pretty reliable, that still doesn’t mean that the maintenance costs are cheap and infrequent. You had a V12 engine that was created by smashing two straight-six engines together for crying out loud.

Then, redundantly, as Mr. Regular points out, “There were also two ECUs, two fuel pumps, two fuel rails, two distributors, two mass air-flow sensors, two crankshaft position sensors, two coolant temperature sensors and two electronically controlled throttle bodies.” To me, this translates to two times the amount of things to potentially go wrong and need replacing.

Nobody accidentally stumbles into 850i ownership. People who buy these cars know what they are getting into. Perhaps the call of the satin-smooth, Autobahn-riding V12 drowns out all the other issues, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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You get the 850i because you love the wedge shape and you’ve convinced yourself that you can live with an over-engineered, aged BMW that was produced during the Reagan administration. It didn’t sell well, Mr. Regular theorizes, because it came out too late for the public to truly appreciate it. By 1991, the recession was already underway. Who could buy a car like that?

Because of this, the original 8 Series is a rare car. You don’t see that many of them. Every time I do, though, I wonder about the poor soul at the wheel. Are they doing it out of some sense of duty or obligation? Or is 850i ownership something they welcomed with open arms?

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About the author

Kristen Lee

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.