The German factory has a long history of producing high speed coupes. In the thirties, the construction of the autobahns encouraged manufactures to create ever faster cars; the BMW 327/ 80 was an elegant streamlined coupe that would reach over 90 mph on its 80 bhp and its design was carried over to become the post war Bristol 400 with a style that was still modern ten years later.

BMW 850CSI

In the ‘fifties BMW were struggling for an identity, making big V-8 powered saloons and little motorcycle powered Isettas with nothing in between. The 507 was the two seater sports coupe, using the running gear of the bigger saloons in a somewhat different style, the traditional twin intakes on a horizontal plane – very much a period classic.

Came the 1961 resurgence of BMW with the launch of new generation heralded by the 4 door 1500 and the Munich firm embarked on the line that is recognizably still with us clean, modern lines characterized by the ever present twin radiator intakes in a variety of proportions, and always classically front engined rear drive. The basic single overhead camshaft engine configuration was unchanged for many years, but all expect the smallest 4 cylinder engines now have twin camshaft four valve heads. The first coupe in this range was the 2000Cin 1966, the top of the range at that time.

When the 6 cylinder engine arrived for larger cars in 1968 the 2800CS came too, slightly shorter and with two doors. This became the 3.0CS in 1971 and on into the competition 3.0CSL, the same, only lighter, with some aliminium body panels. By 1975 BMW had embarked on the new model designation, a type number preceding the engine size, as 525 – 5 – series with 2.5 liter engine.

BMW 850 CSi (e31)

Form then on, the coupes have had their own series and more distinctive styling to set them apart form their saloon cousins; the first was the 630CS in 1976, a range enlarged two years later with a new cylinder block for the 635CSi, its 218 bhp making it a 140 mph car. When BMW introduced the M range, the 1983 M635CSi had a twin overhead camshaft 4 valve engine to give bhp 286 bhp and over 150 mph, still a very desirable car 12 years on.

The coupes were always the top of the range and were produced in smaller numbers but, by using many body panels form the saloon series, they were not too much more expensive; the 6 series used a 7 series front end and running gear, and continued to use the old parts when the new 7 series arrived in 1986; part of this new range was 750i using a 5 liter V-12 with 300 bhp which could obviously outperform the 635CSi, which was also looking a bit dated.

So to get coupe back on top of the range, BMW created the 850i using the same magnificent V-12 in a style that stood well apart form the other models still a beautiful car several years after its 1989 launch. The late ‘eighties was the heyday of the very fast car and it was appropriate that BMW should have one capable of 160 mph. Greener thoughts brought in a smaller engine, the all new 4 valve, 4 liter, V-8 with 286 bhp which was added to the 7 series range in 1992. The lighter, more efficient unit made the car almost as fast as those with the V-12, so a 5.6 liter 850CSi version was added with 380 bhp, and the 850Ci was enlarged to 5.3 liters and 326 bhp; those who wanted the looks and less power could have the 286 bhp 840Ci which was added to the range at the beginning of 1993.

Performance figures taken on the 300 bhp 850i produced a maximum speed of 159 mph. Although BMW now limit the maximum to 155 mph, another 27% of power should certainly yield 170 mph, so the acceleration figures below have also been adjusted. Some have described the 8 series as anachronistic, a car with only style, even more performance and less space to separate it form the 7 series; but it is a superb style