Buying Guide: BMW 840Ci E31

When the 8 Series was unveiled to the world in 1989 it was natural to assume the stylish coupé was a direct replacement for the ageing E24 6 Series, especially as production had ended that same year. But although the timing might have been right, the 8 Series was no successor to the E24’s throne. Instead it was marketed not as an improved replacement but as something entirely different altogether. BMW had aimed its sights higher and the 8 Series was to be marketed as a prestige GT car with new, unrivalled levels of style, luxury and power, of which it had plenty.

It immediately caught the public’s imagination, as BMW had not built a car with such visual impact since the BMW M1 E26. The sleek and elegant design featured proportions that were nigh on perfect from just about any angle. The long flowing lines of the bonnet incorporated large pop-up headlights and there was still space for a classic kidney grille up front, too. The low and slender roofline was complimented by the lack of a B-pillar and led gracefully into the defined and muscular looking rear end, finished with a wall of red taillights and the four imposing exhaust pipes. Inside were four leather-adorned thrones with the dashboard and switchgear angled towards the driver.

Similar to the 6 Series Highline models the leather trim extended across from the seats to the door panels, lower dashboard and even the sun visors. There were no weedy engines choices to taint the image either and upon its release the only choice was the 300hp 5.0-litre V12 borrowed from the E32 7 Series. Then, in 1994 came the 840Ci, which was visually identical to the 850Ci except for the one telltale; the exhaust’s tailpipes were round instead of square. It was fitted with the newly developed M60 4.0-litre, lightweight, V8 engine originally destined for the 7 Series. This was the first V8 configuration BMW had built for a road car in nearly 30 years and it was a cutting edge design. Constructed entirely of aluminium it weighed a little over 200kg and featured a sophisticated 32-valve, quad camshaft arrangement. So although it was down over 1000cc and fourcylinders on its bigger, older brother it produced similar figures; a wholesome 286hp at 5800rpm and 295lb ft of torque at 4500rpm.

The engine came coupled to a five-speed automatic gearbox, although there was an option to select a six-speed manual but this was seldom chosen. After all, the 8 Series was being marketed as a capable and prestigious cruiser rather than an all out sports car. Still, the strong performing V8 gave the 840Ci more than enough gusto to offer some solid acceleration figures, even when muzzled by the automatic gearbox. The 62mph sprint took 7.4 seconds, some half-a-second slower than the manual version but top speed was still limited to 155mph.

The price for a new 840Ci back in 1994 was a mighty £52,950, which was around £14,000 less than the 850Ci. But then you did get a lot for your money, as you would hope. Electric seats with driver memory were standard fitment, as was air-con, an electric sunroof and a 12-speaker stereo system. To further enhance the driving ability the 8 Series could also be selected with an early version of Electronic Damper Control, Servotronic steering (later A standard fitment) and even Active Rear Axle Kinematics (better known as a form of rear-wheel steering). An electric rear blind, CD changer, headlight washers, cruise control and heated seats were also options borrowed from the Seven.

Despite being a relatively new design of engine, BMW replaced the M60 V8 in 1996 with an improved version named the M62. Capacity was increased to 4.4-litres this time but peak power was still listed as 286hp although it arrived 100rpm earlier. More importantly, torque was increased to 310lb ft and again, this arrived earlier, now peaking at just 3900rpm. 62mph now came in 6.6 seconds for the manual version and 7.0 seconds for the automatic, the latter helped by the introduction of the updated Steptronic automatic gearbox. This allowed the driver to change between gears using the lever if preferred, and again, a six-speed manual gearbox was an option but it was rare and only a handful were ever built.

A year later, in 1997, along came the 840Ci Sport in an effort to sustain sales towards what was to become the last few years of production for the big coupé. Sales hadn’t been great overall for the Eight although surprisingly, the UK turned out to be the third largest market for the model behind Germany and the USA. The Sport gave a new edge to the 840Ci, particularly in the styling department thanks to the body kit borrowed from the 380hp 850CSi model comprising a lower front bumper with an integral splitter, a lower rear bumper style diffuser and twin-arm aerodynamic wing mirrors similar to that of the E36 M3. It helped improve high-speed stability, too. It was fitted with the 17-inch ‘Throwing Star’ alloys that also came with the 850CSi that worked to cool the brakes. Also in the package came harder Sports suspension, seats, a matching steering wheel and anthracite headlining. An extended range of Individual colours were also released with the new range and, amazingly, the Sport model cost the same as a regular 840Ci at £55,500 in 1997.

It meant the 8 Series went out with a bang and production ended for all models in 1999.


Buying one

Considering the 8 Series enjoyed a ten-year-long production run not many cars were actually built in that time period and only 3004 were produced for the UK market. That’s not many but the good news is around 45 per cent of them were later M62 840Ci models, as these proved to be popular, making them the easiest to find on the secondhand market.

Arguably, they also provide the best driving experience as the lively V8 likes to rev, especially compared to the overly smooth and refined 850Ci V12 version and there’s very little between the performance figures. They are extremely comfortable and although heavy in corners when pushed, the luxurious Eight still holds up well on today’s roads. But only if it’s healthy and, sadly, there is plenty to go wrong. Although they might be cheap to buy now, at the time they cost over £50,000 and the maintenance costs reflect that. Generally, the later M62 was deemed to be the better engine but check to make sure you know what you’re getting. During the 1995/1996 changeover year there were cars built with either engine fitted. Also, if you’re looking for a manual version rather than an automatic be prepared for a long wait; less than 60 right-hand drive 840Ci manuals were ever built.

Be aware that day-to-day running costs aren’t exactly great for the 8 Series either but then it’s not a daily runabout for the majority of owners. There’s a massive fuel tank (larger than most BMW models at 90-litres) which is handy thanks to the fuel consumption figures. BMW quoted as much as 36.7mpg was possible on a run, but 20mpg was the average to expect. At least with the giant fuel tank you could achieve a good range though. Tax costs £230 for 12 months and the good news is insurance; all 8 Series models are officially modern classics now and cheap insurance can be had. But then any money saved should be put in a big pot marked maintenance, as we’ll explain when pointing out what to look for when buying one. Price-wise you can bag yourself an 840Ci for as little as £3000, and we actually found a taxed and tested example with a wholesome 237,000 miles on the clock in need of some TLC for £2750. However, unless you’re glutton for punishment, alarms bells should be ringing that it will more than likely have a whole host of issues so it’s far more sensible to budget a substantial amount more.

Spend around £4000 and you can bag yourself what appear to be good examples, although it’s hard to tell with these cars without looking at them. Nearer to £5000 will ensure you’re getting something good. At the top end of the market, a well-cared-for, low-mileage late model Sport in a desirable colour will command around the £10,000 mark but by then you’re knocking into 850CSi territory which is where most 8 Series fans would usually go.

They are extremely comfortable and… the luxurious Eight still holds up well on today’s roads.


Bodywork

Rust isn’t the same concern it is on other BMWs of the same time period but you still have to keep an eye out. Corrosion is most common around the sunroof panel and due to its double-skinned design it usually requires replacing, which is fairly costly. Also check around the wheel arches as dirt tends to collect and corrodes the body from the inside out. The sills are known for rusting, particularly at the rear edge, and corrosion can also occur under the batteries. If you’re looking for a Sport model with the full body kit make sure it’s a genuine example and has all the correct bits including the M-style wing mirrors and seats; there are replicas floating around. Also remember they only came with the later M62 4.4- litre engine.

Because the car doesn’t have B-pillars the front and rear window has to join perfectly when up to make a seal so make sure it does so without problem as they can go out of alignment. The rear window glass tends to delaminate over time making it go milky and this is expensive to replace.

If the rear lights develop an intermittent fault then check the wiring that passes from the boot to the body as it’s sometimes known to fray.


Interior

Whilst the interior was well built the seats tend to let high mileage cars down as they can reflect wear badly. Short of having them retrimmed or trying to source a replacement, there’s not a lot you can do. The Multifunction Information Display unit mounted in the centre console usually always starts to lose a few pixels over time, which is annoying but they can be repaired for around £105 from companies such as www.clusterepairsuk.co.uk.

The Eights hate being low on batteries and if voltage drops the car will do all manner of strange things that you might not relate to the power supply at first, from gearbox issues to warning lights whilst driving. Faults also tend to develop with the ignition barrel over time, so if anything peculiar occurs with the keys rotating freely and nothing registering on the dashboard then check here. The electric seats can be problematic, too. If functionality is limited then it’s usually either a loose or severed wire or something wedged in the worm drive that moves the seats. Removing the seat for inspection is best in these cases. The cup holders mounted in the glovebox tend to break very easily so consider yourself lucky if they are in working order.


Engine

In the car’s history, the one big issue (which can still occasionally crop up) is a problem with the M60 engine’s Nikasil liner. Thankfully, this should no longer be a concern as the consensus is that if a car was going to have a problem, then it would have had it by now. Oil leaks are more of an issue, particularly from the valve covers and require new gaskets to cure them. The later M62 4.4-litre engine is generally very reliable and the only thing to look out for is a problem with the timing chain tensioner, which can be expensive to replace. Whilst the engines themselves are strong units, items such as the exhaust systems are much more of a headache. They are prone to rust and costly to repair, so many owners have had custom-made stainless steel exhausts fitted.

Like many other older BMWs the Eight’s cooling system can overheat. The basic parts corrode and then leak, usually creating steam to help you pinpoint where it’s from. The expansion tank, hoses, thermostat housing and water pump bearing all leak when they fail. Also the fan and temperature sensor are known to fail, causing more issues.


Wheels, tyres and brakes

The Brembo callipers are known for seizing which usually causes a terrible judder through the steering wheel and hugely reduces braking performance. Check for any strange markings the pad is leaving on the disc. Corroded brakes lines and hoses are also fairly common and can be expensive to replace if you’re after originals. A hissing sound under braking from the footwell is a sign the brake accumulator is due a replacement. There are plenty of cars wearing non-standard wheels but it’s always nice to see the Throwing Stars or staggered split-rims still. They are wide though and tyres are expensive, so give them a check over. Also, it’s worth noting that if you need to source a replacement Throwing Star alloy for whatever reason, then the Eights are slightly different to the very similar E34 M5 versions due the offset.


Steering and suspension

Being big, heavy and powerful cars all of the 8 Series range likes to knock out a bush or two. It’s a complex suspension setup, too, which doesn’t help and if anything is worn you will usually know about it through a vibration in the steering wheel that will get progressively worse, particularly at speed. The first things to change in this instance are the upper arms and bushes, then lower arms and ball joints before replacing the rest of the front-end bushes, tie-rods and anti-roll bar joints. That should cure any front end vibration but if the rear feels unstable and unpredictable during cornering then it’s time to go through and replace all of the rear end bushes too, starting with the control arm and axle carrier bushes.

If the car is fitted with optional EDC then the general consensus is that if it hasn’t failed already, it will do. Direct replacement dampers from BMW cost more than most 840Cis are worth and although they can be rebuilt a vast majority remove the EDC and replace them with aftermarket dampers such as Bilstein. Power steering fluid leaks are also common due to corroded hoses.


Transmission and drivetrain

Now they are getting older the automatic gearboxes do kick up a few issues, some worse than others. The early 5HP30 gearboxes were generally far less troublesome but the later 5HP24 Steptronic gearboxes fitted to the post-1996 cars suffered from an internal piston seal issue that allowed excess wear to occur on the clutch pack. The result is usually problems selecting gears, particularly reverse and the cure is a costly rebuild.

Another annoying issue is an occasional stutter or judder at speed, a continual cycle of revs dropping and picking up on its own and a droning noise under heavy acceleration low down. All of these symptoms point to the torque converter’s lock-up clutch. Changing the gearbox fluid helps things and you can sometimes get away with adding an aftermarket additive designed to help the torque converter work but, otherwise, it requires a costly replacement. If you find one of the very rare manual versions then there’s less to worry about as the gearbox is sturdy, although notchy changes can be cured with an oil change. It is worth checking that the clutch operates smoothly and that the bite point isn’t too high as removing the gearbox is a time-consuming, and thus expensive, process.


Verdict

The 8 Series E31 is fast becoming a BMW icon and although it is already considered one by enthusiasts it won’t be long until others cotton on to the car’s appeal. Find a nice one today and they still return everything the car delivered upon release: luxury, style and performance that, when looked after, will go on for miles. But be under no illusion, there are plenty of issues to either be aware of or steer clear of and many are expensive to sort. Due to its complicated nature, as the Eight gets older the list of issues will grow unless it’s maintained regularly and to a good standard. Also general running costs aren’t to be taken lightly but then the best things are never cheap and the 840Ci E31 is definitely the best coupé of this type that BMW has ever built. With prices staying steady and with a few bargain buys to be had, we would say now is a good time to try a go at 8 Series ownership.

TECH DATA
BMW

 840Ci 4.4-litre M62

840iCi 4.0-litre M60

ENGINE:  V8, 32-valve, BMW M62B44 TU  BMW M60B40
CAPACITY:  4398cc 3982cc
MAX POWER:(DIN) 286hp @ 5700rpm  286hp @ 5900rpm
MAX TORQUE: (DIN) 310lb ft @ 3900rpm  295lb ft @ 4300rpm
0-62MPH:  6.6 seconds (7.0) 6.9 seconds (7.4)
TOP SPEED:  155mph (limited) 
WEIGHT:
PRICE WHEN NEW:  £55,500 (1997) £52,950 (1993)

 

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