Test Driven: 1997 BMW 840Ci

It’s a shark with wheels. I always loved how this car looked when I was little.

It isn’t every day that you find a car in your area that’s one of only 801 like it in the country.  Yet, that is exactly what happened to me, when I was surfing the Internet, an opportunity landed in my lap faster than a hot bowl of soup.  Just around the bend was a 1997 BMW 840Ci—with less than 90K miles under its belt, I decided it deserved a drive.

Headlights up = The Right Stuff.

There are some that believe the E31 8-Series was a direct replacement to the E24 BMW 6.  This isn’t necessarily true—the 8 Series occupied a higher place in the market than its preceding personal luxury coupe.  V8s and V12s were offered during most of the run, with the V12 taking up most of the sales during the entire run.  The V8 was only available with the automatic transmission in the US, but the one I was driving had the updated M62B44 4.4L V8, with 282hp on tap and plenty of extras to play with.  These cars came loaded when new—this example had heated leather, a moonroof, cassette player (apparently no CD), automatic air conditioning, and traction control.  Back in the Nineties, this was one coupe that people really sought after, and for 13K at this dealer, this looked like a hell of a deal.

No, the horn didn’t work. And the brakes felt a little funny. But for the most part, this 840Ci was incredibly well-kept.

On the move, a few things were apparent at first.  The horn wasn’t working, which I eventually stopped caring about.  The brake pedal felt somewhat soft, but that’s something that can be fixed without much issue.  These things eat fuel as well—according to the EPA, it will struggle to attain any more than 15MPG in the city (highway driving is probably at least 20MPG thanks to its German breeding as a GT car).  Of course, all that mattered little after I first floored the gas pedal on the highway.  It was clear to me on the move that the car had an aftermarket exhaust, which not only sounded vicious, but looked like a million bucks.

It may not look new, but this M62 V8 is so smooth and powerful that I didn’t care about the car itself being 14 years old.

I was expecting swiftness, this being a big BMW with a V8 engine up front, but I was still surprised.  Despite being an older V8, it still has more than enough power for anyone, and there’s an astounding amount of punch from anywhere along the engine’s power band.  It’s smooth enough for simple highway cruising, but drop the hammer, and the car launches itself through traffic like a big silver missile.  BMW made the M62 for a good period of time, and despite this being an earlier one, it was mechanically sound.  While not a big American V8 rumble, its distinct burble (which becomes an epic bark as you push the gas pedal through the carpet) was musical.  I took corners on off-ramps at speeds of up to about 60MPH, with the car not even breaking a sweat.  It may ride a little hard and feel somewhat big in traffic, but in its element (whether on the highway or in the corners), it feels much smaller.  This is a car for people with good taste and a love for the open road; the engine note, the steering feel, and the power on tap all contribute to a feeling of true invincibility, something I can’t say for a lot of cars I’ve driven over the years.

On the inside, this interior doesn’t look like much today, but when it was new, the 8-Series was a top-of-the-line car, with all the toys one could want at the time.

The interior was pleasant, with only one or two minor drawbacks.  The seats, surprisingly, weren’t as grippy as I expected, and the back seats shouldn’t have been added—they’re downright inhospitable for small children.  I loved the visibility—BMW did a great job of making the driver feel completely in control of this car—and with the headlights up, the view out is iconic.  It’s too bad this car didn’t sell that well in the USA—it’s a rarity to see one these days in my area, and I was genuinely proud to pilot one.  At speed, it feels safe and secure (80+ felt right at home in this car), and in town, it’s easier to drive than a Prius.  It has a trunk sized for a few pieces of small luggage, and a gas tank that holds 23.5 gallons—enough for a nice long trip.  GT cars are some of the best all-around cars, and BMW did an excellent job with the 840Ci.

-Al

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