BMW 7 Series Celebration 40 years

With the 7 Series hitting its 40th birthday, Bob Harper looks back at what’s made this model range a pioneer of the motoring landscape since 1977. Seventh wonders 7 Series Celebration 40 years of luxury motoring. Then and now; BMW 7 Series production now spans 40 years.

BMW’s flagship model is on its sixth incarnation, and it’s always been a machine that you could look to and determine which parts of its high-tech make-up would be filtering down the range.

It sets the tone for the technological highlights and styling direction that the company will be taking and, while it’s always been a very high-end machine, it should never be regarded as simply a luxury limousine for those who like to sit in the back. BMWs have always been about the driving experience and, as such, the Seven represents the default choice for the company director who wanted to drive his car at the weekend.

BMW 7 Series Celebration 40 years

BMW 7 Series Celebration 40 years

BMW 7 Series Celebration 40 years
BMW 7 Series Celebration 40 years G12 vs. E23


BMW E23: 1977

If the 1950s had been the years of teetering on a precipice for BMW, and the 1960s represented a period of consolidation, the 1970s were a time for making progress and firmly establishing what BMW – as a brand – would become.

The first of the ‘Series’ cars arrived with the E12 Five, then we had the 3 Series and then the 6 Series. The final piece in that particular jigsaw – the E23 7 Series – made its appearance in 1977.

The new model replaced the long-in-the- tooth E3 saloons, and was very clearly related to the Six, with a shark-nosed front end and considerably higher equipment levels than the outgoing car.

Initially, it was available as a 728, 730 and 733i, with the former pairing running carburettors, while the range-topping 733i featured Bosch electronic injection, giving it 197hp and pretty sprightly performance. The engine was the M30 big ‘six, and was coupled to a three-speed auto or a four-speed manual; the 733i received the only five-speed manual in the line-up. The car was clearly aimed at the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and, while it couldn’t match the Merc for ride comfort, it was certainly the better driver’s car.

The Mercedes was also the first production car to be fitted with Bosch’s ABS as an option, but the E23 was the second and, if the Merc had beaten it on the braking front, BMW countered with the E23 being the first car to be fitted with a check control system. What’s more, when it was face-lifted in 1979, it became the first car in the world to be fitted with Bosch Motronic fuel-injection (732i, 735i and 728i).

BMW briefly flirted with an even higher-performance model, the 745i, powered by a turbocharged M30, but its prodigious thirst and high price put buyers off. In South Africa there was even an M88-powered 745i, with the engine from the E28 M5! The E23 was a long-lived model, soldiering on until 1986 when an entirely different Seven would arrive.

The driver-focused interior of the E23. This was the first car to be fitted with a check control system (panel located to the left of the steering wheel, below the air vent).

1977 BMW 733i E23

1977 BMW 733i E23. The first 7 Series – the E23, launched in 1977 – replaced the long-in-the-tooth E3 saloon, and was clearly related to the 6 Series, with a shark-nosed front and good equipment levels.

It became the first car in the world to be fitted with Bosch Motronic fuel-injection.

{module BMW E23 Club}


BMW E32: 1986

If the first generation of 7 Series had ably demonstrated that BMW could successfully take the game to Mercedes, then the E32 cemented the 7 Series’ position as a serious contender. The company packed as much technology as possible into the new car and, where the E23 had really begun to look its age, the new model was more rounded and had a very sleek and stylish look (overseen by Claus Luthe) that hid its inherent bulk superbly well.

You could have been forgiven for thinking it was just a re-clothed E23 as, initially, BMW stuck with the tried and tested (and, it has to be said, still superb) M30 engines in 3.0- and 3.5-litre capacities. These were mated to a four-speed automatic ‘box or a five-speed manual.

However, BMW pulled out all the stops with the car and inside it was sumptuously luxurious, boasting brilliant ergonomics and that driver-centric feel that’s characterised so many BMWs. It might have been a luxury limo, but the driver could still enjoy his time behind the wheel.

The specification included goodies such as climate control, electric memory seats, wipers that stopped when the car was stationary plus a switchable gearbox mode allowing for a more sporty drive if required.

BMW 750iL E32

BMW 750iL E32

The biggest news, though, was the 1987 arrival of the 750i, with its 5.0-litre, 300hp V12 – the first German car so equipped for 50 years – and it certainly trumped Mercedes’ V8 offerings at that time. Later in its life, the E32 gained V8 engines and a new four-speed auto with Adaptive Transmission Control and, while the Nikasil V8 might not have had a wonderful reliability record, a 740i was still a brilliant car to drive.

BMW 750iL E32 interior

BMW 750iL E32 interior. The E32’s interior was sumptuously luxurious and boasted brilliant ergonomics and that driver-centric feel.

{module BMW E32 Club}


BMW E38: 1994

Initial responses to the third generation Seven weren’t hugely complimentary, mainly as the car was so similar in exterior design to the E32. It was very much a work of evolution and, if the critics were disappointed that BMW hadn’t been more revolutionary, it proved to be a good move as Mercedes’ more avant-guarde, slabsided S-Class was criticised for its looks.

Its launch also coincided with a time of austerity, and the restrained appearance of the E38 eventually garnered a following. Mechanically it was bang up to date, utilising the M60 V8s in the same capacities as they’d been seen in the last of the E32s, but it was a hugely complex machine and featured a significant amount of CANbus wiring, first seen on the BMW 850i E31. BMW even boasted that the car contained more computing power than NASA had had at its disposal for the Apollo 11 moon landing.

As you’d expect from a car that was packing so much tech, it had a number of firsts and perhaps the most significant of these – from a safety point of view – was that the E38 was the first car to be fitted with side head airbags as standard. It was also the first European production car to feature satellite navigation as a standard fitment on higher-end models. There was a rangetopper in the form of the 750i and this had a reworked and enlarged V12. Also, during the production run, the V8s were given larger swept volumes to counteract criticisms that they were a little lacking in torque.

1999 BMW 750iL E38 facelift

1999 BMW 750iL E38 facelift. The sleek and stylish lines of the E32, introduced in 1986, hid the model’s bulk extremely well.

While the normal E38 could (like the E32 before it) be ordered in standard and ‘iL’ wheelbases, the E38 also spawned an ‘L7’ model aimed at Asian markets, which had a 25cm-longer wheelbase than the iL model. The ever-increasing importance of diesel was also making its presence felt and, in some markets, a 725tds was available.

When BMW developed its 3.0-litre, direct- injection unit, the 730d became a hugely popular model. Building on this, BMW upped the ante further with the 740d, powered by a 241hp V8 that developed a monstrous (for its time) 413lb ft of torque. The E38 was the most successful Seven to date, selling over 327,000 examples in its seven-year model run.

BMW 750iL E38 interior LHD

BMW 750iL E38 interior LHD. The third-generation 7 Series – the E38 introduced in 1994 – was an evolution rather than a revolution that proved the most popular with buyers to date. BMW sold over 327,000 of them over its seven-year production run. The E38 was the first car to be fitted with side head airbags as standard, and the first European production car to feature satellite navigation as a standard fit (on top models).
{module BMW E38 Club}

BMW pulled out all the stops with the car and inside it was sumptuously luxurious.


E65: 2001

If there had been some consternation at the debut of the E38 for its conventional styling, there was uproar within the BMW world when the Adrian van Hooydonkpenned E65 first saw the light of day. A revolutionary design and then some.

It was physically bigger in all directions than the E38 and really looked it – it was bulbous, and most observers thought it was ugly, especially the odd boot lid that seemed to sit on the body. It gradually became accepted, though, and the 2005 face-lift certainly tidied things up somewhat and banished the original’s somewhat lugubrious ‘eyes’.

Once again, under the skin, there had been a huge technological uplift from the previous generation of Seven. The launch engine line-up was 735i and 745i, and these both featured BMW’s new N62 V8 with Valvetronic, pumping out 268 and 329hp respectively. These were accompanied by a 215hp 730d and, in 2002, the range was expanded to include a 730i and the range-topping 760i, with a 6.0-litre, 439hp V12 under its not insubstantial bonnet. A more powerful diesel was also offered with a refinement of the E38’s 4.0-litre V8 in the 740d.

BMW 760Li High Security E66

BMW 760Li High Security E66. The E65 was bigger in all directions than the E38 and really looked it – it was bulbous and most observers thought it was ugly!

All engines were mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox and, in a radical departure, BMW changed to a steering-column-mounted gear lever as there was no longer a physical connection between the gearbox and the lever. It even had a push-button operated handbrake, and ditched the traditional key in favour of a stop/start button.

The options list was almost as long as War and Peace, and featured electrically-massaging, heated and cooled seats, Dynamic Drive (the world’s first use of hydraulically-controlled anti-roll bars on a production car), Adaptive Cruise Control, Softclose doors – the list was almost endless.

But it was the car’s iDrive that caused the most consternation – it was slow, clunky and not desperately intuitive. Owners generally got the hang of it, but journalists who may have only tested the car briefly, really struggled to get to grips with it. It was improved with the car’s facelift but we’d have to wait a few more generations for the iDrive to become the excellent operating system that it is today.

BMW 760Li E66 LWB-version interior LHD

BMW 760Li E66 LWB-version interior LHD. The E65’s iDrive was slow, clunky and not desperately intuitive. The column-mounted gear selector wasn’t particularly popular, either.



F01: 2008

After the shock of the E65, no one was quite sure what to expect from the new Seven – the first car to sport a F designation in its BMW naming system – but it was a much more traditional design, that looked far less bulbous than the outgoing machine.

It had still grown a little in length thanks to a longer wheelbase (by 8cm), but BMW traditionalists were happy to see a return to a conventional siting for the gear lever, even though there was still no mechanical link to the ‘box. The handbrake was also located back to the centre console, although it was still electrically-operated.

Bar the entry-level 730i, the entire range was fitted with turbocharged engines – a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six in the 740i, a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 in the 750i and an absolute monster of a twin-turbo V12 in the 760i, pushing out a prodigious 536hp and 550lb ft of torque.

Three diesels were offered (although not in all markets) – a 730d, 740d and 750d with the latter’s triple turbo in-line 3.0- litre rivalling the 6.0-litre’s torque output, at 546lb ft! Towards the end of the car’s life, all engines were mated to the new, and seriously good, eight-speed automatic transmission, and for the first time in the 7 Series, too.

There were plenty of technical innovations seen on this 7 Series, such as Integral Active Steering, xDrive all-wheel drive, a head-up display and pedestrian recognition on the optional night vision system. There was a blind-sport warning system, an Active Cruise Control system that could bring the car to a standstill and the dashpod could be ordered with a black-panel display allowing many different scenarios. It’s safe to say that an E23 7 Series driver would have been quite bemused!

Things got more modern and yet a little more conventional inside the F01 7 Series.

The F01, introduced in 2008, was a much more traditional design, and looked far less bulbous than the E65.

After the shock of the E65 no one was quite sure what to expect from the new Seven


G11: 2015

So to the latest machine in the illustrious line-up of Sevens; the G11. This is the first Seven to receive the G moniker, and also the first to get a whole host of tech that’s filtering down the range.

There’s the famous ‘gesture control’; all you need to do to turn the car stereo down is waggle your finger in a circular motion in front of the iDrive screen. It can be spec’d with ambient air fresheners, massage seats with a plethora of different programmes, an Executive Lounge rear seating setup with electrically adjustable footrest and even a ‘Sky Lounge’ with twinkly lights in the roof lining!

And then there’s the car’s lightweight construction with a carbon core that saves a significant amount of weight and, horror of horrors, the Seven can now be ordered with four-cylinder engines; the 730i and the 725d (although neither of these models can be ordered in the UK).

There’s one four-cylinder model for UK consumption, though, and that’s the plug-in hybrid, the 740e, and while the F01 featured a Hybrid, it wasn’t anywhere as ‘eco’ as this new model, which can cover 20 miles on electricity alone.

2018 BMW M760Li xDrive V12 Excellence G12

2018 BMW M760Li xDrive V12 Excellence G12

Then, of course, at the other end of the scale, we have the BMW M760Li xDrive G12 – the first Seven to officially carry an M badge, even if it is an M Performance machine rather than a full-on M car. It packs 610hp and a monstrous 590lb ft of torque and can accelerate from 0-62mph in just 3.7 seconds, making it the most accelerative BMW road car ever made. Not bad for a two-tonne limo!

The 7 Series has always embodied the contemporary, yet backs this up with advanced and, in some cases, never-before seen technology designed to help optimise driving dynamics and efficiency, safety, user-friendliness and long-distance comfort. From the E23 to the G11, it’s always been at the forefront, and a worthy flagship of the range – long may it continue.


A well-spec’d, G11 7 Series (introduced in 2015) can be a technological tour de force.

The G11 interior is as luxurious as ever, there’s even a ‘Sky Lounge’ option, with twinkly lights in the roof lining!

{module BMW G11/12}


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.