Buying Guide Why not treat yourself to a little bit of luxury in the form of the bargainous E65 7 Series? BMW E65 V8 7 series. The E65 was a shock when it arrived but it’s actually aged rather well and the V8 versions in particular offer staggering value for money as a used buy. Words: Andy Everett and Bob Harper. Photography: #BMW
There’s no doubt that when the E65/E66 #BMW-7-Series
arrived on the scene back in 2001 it was a big shock. Huge, in fact. The three generations of car that had preceded it had possessed a certain understated style – they might have been the all-singing, all-dancing range-toppers packing the latest up-to-date technology but they didn’t shout about it with the way they looked. So it was understandable when jaws dropped and tongues wagged with the arrival of the E65 7 Series.
Whereas the previous machines had managed to hide their size with delicate styling it almost seemed that with the E65, Adrian van Hooydonk (the car’s chief designer) had gone out of his way to make it seem as big and as imposing as possible. And dare we say it, a little ugly, too. The kidney grilles were huge, the headlights gave it the look of a lugubrious drunk waking up after a particularly heavy session and the slab sides led to the famous bootlid treatment that was soon dubbed the ‘Bangle Butt’. Pretty? No. Imposing? Yes.
But it wasn’t just the exterior that shocked the BMW world as inside there were so many new things to get used to. The handbrake was BMW’s first electronic effort – a push button to the right of the steering wheel on the dash and the gear lever had moved to the steering column… which made space on the centre console for the new, all-singing, all-dancing iDrive system. We’ve become accustomed to this over the ensuing 14 years or so but back in 2001 it took a little getting used to, especially as in its first incarnation the iDrive was far from intuitive and clunky in some respects – changing radio stations was a very awkward process for those of us brought up on push button presets.
So far we haven’t really painted very positive picture of the Seven, but while there was much to confuse and confuddle new owners there was also plenty to like. Performance and economy were both pretty decent from the new Valvetronic V8s and there was so much gadgetry packed into the car that it could more or less do anything. And the best bit is that today you could be running around in one from as little as around £4000. There are cheaper ones out there but we reckon you’d probably be best avoiding the lowest end of the E65 market as you could end up buying a whole heap of trouble. The best news is that large petrol V8 engined limos aren’t in huge demand right now so you should be able to bag a bargain – you’ll struggle to spend more than £10k on one of these and that would be for a low mileage later face-lifted example with full history and all the bells and whistles.
We’re concentrating on the V8 models here – diesels are more expensive – and there’s something about the E65 that really suits the urgency of the V8’s performance. If you do a high mileage it probably won’t be your cup of tea, but if you tend to cover a lower than average distance in your car then you do get a huge amount of bang for your buck with an E65.
The 7 Series was initially launched with a 272hp 3.5-litre V8 and a 333hp 4.5-litre V8 and while both engines were more than capable of punting the Seven along at a considerable pace thanks to the inclusion of double #Vanos
and Valvetronic, it was the 4.5-litre version that would prove to be the best option. The extra 61hp and 66lb ft of torque meant a 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds compared to the 735i’s 7.6 seconds and the difference in fuel economy between the 735i and 745i was so small that the latter was the obvious choice for those with the extra £4000 to spend.
Both cars were very well spec’d as standard and all V8s came with DSC, PDC, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys, sat nav, BMW Professional radio and Hi-Fi speaker system, CD changer, dual-zone auto air-con, Dynamic Drive, electric front seats and cruise control. The long wheelbase Li models added selflevelling rear suspension and a sun-blind for the rear windscreen. There was also a Sport option, and while it lacked a body kit, it did include 19-inch wheels, Sports suspension, High-gloss Shadowline trim, Sports seats, a three-spoke wheel and matt Vavona wood.
Naturally enough the options list was extensive and you could have spent the price of a 3 Series on upgrades, if you so wanted. Electronic damper control (£760), bi-xenon lights (£470), Logic7 speaker system (£500), Comfort seats (£1160 for the front and £1960 at the back), Club leather (£2860) and a rear entertainment package (£2250) gives you some idea of what was on offer. You could also have heated, cooling and massage seats, soft close doors, double glazing and a TV, too.
In 2005, the E65 received a face-lift, which softened its hard-edged features and, to our eyes, gave it a much more pleasant visage, even if it did lose some of its outright aggression. The styling changes were subtle but made a big difference, resulting in a far more cohesive design, with slightly larger kidney grilles, reshaped headlights with floating angel eyes, a larger front valence and restyled foglights, while at the back the rear bumper was mildly tweaked, the light clusters now wrapped around the bootlid and a thin chrome strip ran from edge to edge just above the numberplate. On the inside there was nicer wood trim and revised iDrive with a reshaped, leather topped controller. The V8s were upgraded, too, with the arrival of a 306hp 740i to replace the 735i and the 750i with its 367hp 4.8- litre engine replacing the 745i.
Over the year there were some minor spec changes but broadly speaking the V8 machines remained unchanged, although a sunroof became standard and Dynamic Drive was demoted to being an option during the car’s life. Eventually the E65 bowed out in 2008 to be replaced by the first of the F Generation machines, the F01 7 Series.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
The E65 came on a variety of 18- and 19-inch wheels; 17s were available on the six-cylinder cars only. 18- and 19-inch tyres are relatively inexpensive these days. You can get a set of four 245/50x18 Hankooks fitted for around £400 or a pair of front Pirellis for £250. 19-inch wheels? A pair of 245/45x19 Dunlop SP Sports are just over £260 and a pair of 275/40x19 Vredesteins about the same. Chinese tyre companies like Maxxis, Landsail and Davanti are on the ball these days – pay around £80- 90 each for these sizes and all three have decent wear, noise and wet grip ratings.
Regarding the brakes, discs and pads can be bought from the aftermarket, with quality brake discs like Pagid being around £110 a pair and front pads under £40 for the set. Brake hydraulics are good, and even the ABS block doesn’t seem to give much trouble. If it does, forget buying new as it’s pricey but reckon on £250 for a good used one. Valvetronic engines use a diesel type brake vacuum pump.
These can fail (very hard brake pedal) and a new pump is £373. The E65 was the first BMW with an electronic handbrake. They use conventional calipers and the usual rear discs with the handbrake shoes inside. A big electric motor in the transmission tunnel area pulls on the handbrake cables and this system is generally okay… as long as the battery doesn’t go flat, that is!
The E65 completely eradicated the E38’s tendency to suffer from scabby rust – it really is a superbly built car. Double glazed glass can sometimes suffer ‘milking’ in the corners and edges. Make sure the spare wheel well is bone dry. If not it could be down to tired lamp gaskets or the boot seal; both these can be rejuvenated by Vaseline, if they’re not damaged. The vertical felt window channels need a shot of spray grease so the windows power up and down smoothly, taking the strain off the regulators. The window regulators are quite robust. Door handles also need a shot of spray grease occasionally, too. Ensure the sunroof drains are clear as a blocked one will soak the front carpet, damaging any modules underneath, such as the DSC system’s yaw sensor (passenger front). Bonnet release levers can break if the release latches haven’t been lubricated.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure that an E65 is for you. It’s a pretty large machine so make sure it’ll fit in your garage/parking space and that it’s not going to be too big for your needs. If you’re looking at a pre-face-lift car you’ll also need to make sure you can get along with the iDrive system – it’s much harder to grapple with than the revised version in the later cars. With the familiarity that ownership brings, though, we reckon everyone should be able to get to grips with it.
Once you’re satisfied you still want one you’ll need to decide as to which engine suits you best – the 745i and 750i do seem more common than the two smaller-engined machines so you’ll have more choice with the bigger power units. But if the right car comes up in the right spec we wouldn’t discount any of the engine options. All are capable of covering ground pretty rapidly and servicing and economy costs hardly vary between the four cars. Try and hunt down an original brochure for the E65 and decide which options you really want – air conditioned massage seats might be enjoyable but you’ll severely restrict your choice of cars if you limit yourself to having certain options. And while soft close doors and auto opening bootlids are nice to have, they do add complexity – and potentially cost – when they go wrong. If your air conditioned seat stops working you can live with it, but if your door or the boot won’t shut, you can’t! In terms of cost to repair, the big ticket items to avoid would be electronic damper control, Dynamic Drive and self-levelling rear suspension. Otherwise the normal rules apply; look at as many as you can and get a feel for how they drive. Look for full history and evidence of recent expenditure and buy the best you can afford.
The original N62 was used in the 735i and 745 and it’s a good reliable unit. It uses VVT #Valvetronic
technology yet is far less prone to the issues that afflict the four-cylinder N42 (VVT motors, timing chains, eccentric shafts and so on). However, it does have problems in old age. The first one is oil consumption due to worn rings/bores and anything that’s a bit smoky is best avoided. Cars that have had regular oil and filter changes as well as long trips won’t suffer from this, and we’d recommend an oil and filter change every year or 10,000 miles using a fully synthetic oil. The other problem is the coolant cross tube in the block. On the previous M62 V8 (E39, E38 etc), the tube was removable without a massive amount of dismounting but for the N62, BMW engineers designed it so the tube is sandwiched between the block and the front timing case. The official repair is engine out, heads and sump off, which is around 30 hours of labour. Companies in the US sell an expanding tube that requires around six hours of labour but the part is still a few hundred dollars to buy. I’ve managed to repair one of these using a modified version of a standard BMW pipe and it cost around £600 – far more cost-effective on a £3500 car.
N62s also like to leak oil. The plastic cam cover gaskets are the main culprit but if they aren’t badly cracked or distorted then a new rubber gasket, some proper quality sealer and careful fitting can reduce or eliminate this.
The later units on the 740i and 750i from 2005 (N62N units) are reckoned to be a better engine in terms of the bore wear and cam cover leaks but that’s just because they’re newer. The cam covers were improved in late 2006 but any N62 variant that’s been properly maintained will be fine. Head gasket problems are very rare. Vanos units can fail but they’re more reliable than on the four-cylinder cars; sadly though, the vanos units and VVT motors are not the same as the four-cylinder units and used parts are rare. The DIVA variable intake manifold system seems to be reliable, too, but most of these cars will now need to have the crankcase ventilation system replaced – the oil separator valve and its rubber pipes.
No matter what year or engine it has, the car must run perfectly smoothly. A new MoT is a fair indicator that the engine is running fine, as any problems with over-fuelling, misfires or the VVT system not working correctly will result in a fail on emissions. A new VVT motor is £230.
Cooling system prices? From BMW a radiator is £461 and a water pump £256 – pay £175 for a Hella radiator and £67 for a Circoli water pump.
Steering and suspension
Here is where money can be consumed. The E65 is a heavy car and at over ten years and 100,000 miles, you may well need to replace parts.
The E65 comes with three separate suspension types: standard cars; EDC; and Dynamic Drive. The standard Boge Sachs dampers have a good long life and even at 100,000 miles they’re generally still okay. They’re £311 each from BMW and about half that from Boge via ECP. On to the EDC; many E65s come with it and front struts cost over £800 each. Dynamic Drive, though, is another can of worms. If its anti-roll bar motors start leaking it needs to be replaced, costing £1527. In other words, then, it’s probably worth avoiding. The original 735i and 745i brochures claimed that it was standard equipment but it was a common option on these cars. By the time the E65 was face-lifted in ’05, it was standard only on the V12 cars. If the car you’re looking at does have it, inspect the roll bars carefully for leaks and pray.
The rest of it is down to wishbones, balljoints and bushes. After a slow start, the aftermarket has caught up with the E65 and you can now buy standard type front dampers as well as suspension arms, drop links and bushes from the likes of Euro Car Parts. You will struggle to find a servotronic steering rack though (£2000 new) and this is where breakers come in useful. Be aware, though, that E65s are not being scrapped at anything like the rate that the E38 is. E65s are still in demand and breakers are having to buy complete running cars to service the demand for used parts.
This is the area where most of the E65’s ills will be found. Early cars were a bit of a disaster with a multitude of problems such as all the windows opening at once randomly and plenty of other glitches. However, BMW got on the case and worked hard to rectify this and these early cars should all have been modified by the dealers at each service as software upgrades came along plus, of course, warranty repairs. By 2004 the car was pretty much debugged but that’s not to say they’re perfect because no car of this age and complexity can ever be. The battery really is the life source of the E65. It has to be both the right amperage, correctly coded to the car’s battery control module, and it must also be in perfect condition. Anything less and the car will misbehave – even new cars in BMW showrooms that had been sat overnight with the interior light left on would be a pain until the battery had been trickle charged and any fault codes erased.
There are many options on the E65 to add to the complexity – electronic damper control, tyre pressure control, automatic bootlid actuation, comfort access, soft closing doors, heated comfort seats, active cruise control, TV function and so on. The iDrive system was in its infancy in 2001 and it does take some getting used to, both if you’re coming from a pre-iDrive era car or regressing from a newer one. The CD player in the glovebox can fail and the sat nav is at the age now where a TomTom stuck to the screen can do a better job as it can often crash, as can the iDrive system, while the radio is known for just stopping dead. If you buy an E65, you may as well put your voltmeter on eBay because to fix one of these you need a laptop with both INPA and a clever 12-year-old to tell you how to use it. Do not underestimate the E65’s capacity for generating odd electronic problems.
Much of what goes wrong here is covered in electrics but there are a few titbits. Steering wheels can look a bit ropey at this age, particularly the earlier ones with the light coloured leather. Unless the leather is damaged it’s best to do any reconditioning with the wheel on the car as removing it will require the use of diagnostics to recode it, particularly the airbag warning light. The E65 was the first BMW to use the current type key and starter button and, as it wears, the key and steering lock can become recalcitrant. Whilst it’s possible to take it apart and just remove the steering lock peg, this is now an MoT fail as it needs to work. They can be reprogrammed with wider parameters to cure this, and Grosvenor Garage in Reading is adept at this.
Finally, radio reception problems can often be caused by a failed diversity amplifier, and a new one is often a better plan that trying a used one – they are not as failure prone as those used on the 5 Series Touring, for example.
Transmission and drivetrain
The E65 broke new ground in 2001, having a sixspeed automatic gearbox with mechatronics. Mechatronics means that the gearbox ECU is combined with the valve body in the gearbox itself but despite the ECU being immersed in hot oil, it actually very rarely fails. The actual valve body unit can, however. On the previous five-speeder, the two halves of the valve block had a paper gasket in between but due to higher line pressure, the sixspeed valve block uses a special black sealer that is applied at the factory. In old age it’s quite possible that a bit of sealer can get blown out, leading to a pressure drop in that circuit. This will show up as a harsh shift as the ECU tries to compensate.
A harsh first to second (and vice versa) shift is common so you need to see if a software update resolves this. Early cars did have a number of software updates to improve the unit but if the car has this problem then either another gearbox is needed or a new Mechatronics unit from BMW, at £3000. Other problems include the finned plastic sump/filter unit leaking and the only answer is a new sump – they aren’t silly expensive at £165. As for oil and filter changes, these units are sealed for life but a new sump/filter and topping up with the correct unit will do it no harm at all. The gearbox can also leak oil from the rubber gasket around the electrical plug in the side of the box and, as there is no dipstick, any oil leaks must be rectified immediately.
Apart from these issues, the six-speed ’box is a good tough unit that doesn’t suffer from split brake drums like there previous five-speed ’box did. There can be problems with the electronic selector switch on the column but, overall, the transmission is surprisingly reliable. The propshaft and differential almost never give any trouble.
Should you buy an E65? If you’re brave and like gadgets then go for it. 14 years ago, the E65 really was a tremendous thing and even now a good one is an incredible blend of dynamic ability, intriguing gadgets and sheer go. The 745i and 750i really do shift and the smaller-engined versions are not shy either. We think in time, the E65 (particularly the preface- lift) will become a cult car because it really did move the game along. As ever, avoid the cheaper cars that don’t come with invoices and a well-stamped service book – they are not worth having unless they’re cheap and you’re useful with spanners; if all else fails, you can make a decent profit breaking it! Good ones with 100,000 miles or less start at £4000 and if you’re less than confident about checking it out then getting a BMW dealer or specialist to put it on a ramp for an hour to check everything, including the emissions, will definitely be money well spent.
BMW DEALER SPECIALIST
OIL SERVICE £165 £175
OIL SERVICE PLUS MICRO FILTER £285 £227
BRAKE FLUID £81 £64
VEHICLE CHECK £79 £79
FRONT BRAKE PADS £207 £160
REAR BRAKE PADS £212 £158
Service prices courtesy of Sytner BMW Sheffield (0114 275 5077) and Grosvenor Motor Company, Reading (0118 958 3481). Prices are inclusive of parts and VAT.
E65 7 Series – V8 models 735i / 740i / 745i / 750i
ENGINE: V8, 32-valve V8, 32-valve V8, 32-valve V8, 32-valve #N62
CAPACITY: 3600cc 4000cc 4398cc 4799cc
MAX POWER: 272hp @ 6200rpm 306hp @ 6300rpm 333hp @ 6100rpm 367hp @ 6300rpm
MAX TORQUE: 266lb ft @ 3700rpm 288lb ft @ 3500rpm 332lb ft @ 3600rpm 361lb ft @ 3400rpm
0-62MPH: 7.5 seconds 6.8 seconds 6.3 seconds 5.9 seconds
TOP SPEED: 155mph 155mph 155mph 155mph
ECONOMY: 26.4mpg 25.2mpg 25.9mpg 24.8mpg
EMISSIONS CO2: 259g/km 267g/km 263g/km 271g/km
PRICE (NEW): £52,750 (2003) £56,550 (2006) £56,950 (2003) £61,000 (2006)