Retrospective: A Brief History of BMW via Window Stickers

Featured Posts, Interesting | December 2nd, 2010 by 6

Without a doubt, BMW is a company at one of the most important crossroads in its long history. In the last few years, BMW Group …

Without a doubt, BMW is a company at one of the most important crossroads in its long history. In the last few years, BMW Group have realigned some of their key objectives in the future of their product line – namely a massive systems push under the EfficientDynamics umbrella along with improved safety and driving technologies. A new and potent blend of technology and efficiency to be coupled to the already enthusiastic driving dynamics expected from Munich. One gets the feeling that this major shift in product direction hasn’t been seen since likely the late 1980’s to early 1990’s when consumers saw a major shift in onboard systems when the 3, 5 and 7 Series transitioned from the E30, E28 and E23 to the E36, E34 and E32, respectively

Many of these features and continued technological evolutions are what keep car buyers and enthusiasts coming back for each new generation of BMW. One trait that seems to be prevail among enthusiasts when buying new or even used cars is the possession of and display of window stickers  as a sort of automotive scalp claimed – a reminder of cars they’ve loved or an extra perk to pass off to the next buyer when its time to sell the trusty Bavarian kept in the garage.

1988 E24 M6 window sticker 1 655x900

1988 BMW E24 M6 Sticker

While many narratives have been written about BMW as a company or a particular model line; the window stickers of owners weave their own tail of the progression of BMW’s models and the ever-fun-to-acknowledge growing size and weight as the Bavarians continue to move forward with newer, more advanced products. Take for example a 2008 E90 M3 versus it’s grandfather the E36 M3.

The current generation is obviously the fastest, best-handling M3 to date and also carries with it, along with the X5/6 M, the most advanced driving systems and concepts BMW offers via Electronic Damping Control, the DriveLogic-equipped Double Clutch transmission and an optional carbon fiber roof for a lower center of gravity for improved balance. Of course, the creature comforts have increased with features like Comfort Access and its push-button starter, iPod and smart phone connectivity and satellite radio. Below is a  window sticker of a 2008 E90 M3 sedan that’s had most of the option boxes checked and rings in at a hearty price tag of $61,850. Despite this price, the E90/92 series M3 is commuting its owners to work during the week and kicking ass at most tracks around the world on the weekend as a technological tour-de-force and high-revving machine with the S65 V8 pumping out 414HP at a heady 8,400 RPMs.

2008 BMW E90 M3 Sticker

By contrast and only 10 years prior to that, see the 1998 E36 M3 sedan by comparison. The E36 M3 sedan (the first M3 sedan) rings in at a starting price of $39,700 – $14,100 below that of its two generations-on successor. In looking at the E36 M3 with its neutered U.S. motor pushing out only 240HP versus the 300+ of it’s European companion(thanks U.S. Emissions standards!) it seems almost as though it was a stripped down model when compared to the 2008 version. Disappointingly, this particular 1998 version is equipped with an automatic transmission – and no it’s not an automatic like the DCT transmission in the E90. However, this car did provide class-winning handling for its time and the best practicality for its performance by a long shot. So, while these two super sedans are miles apart in terms of outright capabilities and they’re aligned under the simple premise of being best in class relative to their peers.

1998 M3 Sticker E36 1998 M3 Sedan E36_2

1998 E36 M3 Sticker Page 1 & 2

So what’s been gained in 12 years of progress? Well, quite a bit actually. 174HP, about 1,400RPMs and a plethora of luxury equipment and a massive dose of on-board driving systems to keep the rear of the M3 planted to the tarmac. The downside? The price went up and perhaps a bit of tactility was lost. But was it? If the M3 can lap a bit faster and in 2009 dollars the 1998 $39,700 base price of the E36 equates to roughly $52,000. So, the M3, in the last 12 years, has technically only gone up about $1,800 while rocketing forward in standard equipment and outright speed.

While 10 years difference can highlight some major advancements – let’s take a look at the difference between a 1988 E24 M6 and a 2010 M6 – a whopping 22 years adrift. Both the E24 and E63 carry with them an important role in the annals of BMW History: they’re both big coupes – something BMW has almost always had in their line-up since the late 1960’s. The first coupe to set the standard was the timeless E9 coupe of the 1970’s  primarily in the 3.0CSi guise. With that model eventually ending production in 1976 the E24 6 Series was produced and would keep a familiar place in BMW’s line-up for another 13 years before being superseded by the even more expensive and fast E31 8 Series.

1988 E24 M6 Window Sticker_2
1988 E24 M6

From looking at this sticker – you get a good look inside the E24 M6 in its penultimate year of production: 1989. In final guise, the M6 came with beastly 3.5L inline-6 M88 engine – yes, the same that powered the epic M1 coupe – pumping out 286HP in full, unfiltered European spec and brought with it a exhaust note that would melt eardrums in a single rev.

Aside from the beefy engine, lucky customers also had a limited slip differential to keep the rear wheels in check and a 5-speed Getrag manual ‘box to ensure maximum driving pleasure. Luxury amenities included Nappa leather, an LCD digital quartz clock – the absolute pinnacle of 80’s technology and sophistication!

Jump ahead two decades and BMW has graced the public with the technical tour-de-force that is the E63 M6 with the S85 V10. The horsepower has nearly doubled from 286 to 507HP – topping the output of Niki Lauda’s 1975 Ferrari 312T Formula One car. Speaking of Formula One, not unlike the original M6, the V10 of the E63 had its roots in motorsport via the BMW-Sauber F1 team-derived powerplant. Power is controlled via 7-speed sequential gearbox(another nod to Formula One) and modified Dynamic Stability Control with M Dynamic mode. Another substantial difference is the materials used. The E63 benefited from a wide application of carbon fiber, aluminum and light weight, advanced plastics compared to the steel and plastics the E24 had to make do with.

Simply put – the E63 M6 is a modern Intel i7 processor compared to the E24 from the days of the Apple II.

To draw an even great significance in age and progress – and for fun  – let’s take a look at the window sticker of a 3.0CSi pre-1975 model (the year BMW of North America was established – prior to that Max Hoffman was chief importer of all things automotive and Bavarian) . If the E63 is a Pentium processor, the E24 an Apple II and then, from looking at the spec sheet, the E9 is a slide ruler.

The 3.0CS was where it started for many, with the flared, boxy coupe sailing over crests in the Nurburgring or skipping across the suspension-shattering Sebring track in CSL spec. Aside from the highly successful racing version, the 3.0 CS came with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection or twin carberators – the i model indicating the more advanced Bosch injection system.

pre-1975 3.0CS

Pre-1975 BMW 3.0 CS window sticker

The lucky buyers of this big BMW coupe had other options to pick up such as metallic paint (I vote Golf Yellow or Inka Orange), a limited slip differential, and an air conditioner. While it is most definitely sparse by today’s standards, the  E9 was still a premium model as BMW was working hard to establish themselves as a premium auto maker still in infancy. With a sticker price of $14,575  – in today’s dollars that would be $62,702 new. With fully restored 3.0 CS’s going for the $30k to $40k range – save yourself the cost of an M6 and just pick up a mint E9 – you’ll save $40 to 60 grand and have an instant classic! For a true M6 rival – take on the 3.0 CSL – if you can find one to pry out of someone’s hands for a reasonable sum.

While that might not be the most sound logic – it would definitely make you the most popular enthusiast at the local CCA meet.

However, while obviously the economic and social aspect of the automotive industry has changed – in looking at last 40 or so years of BMW via the little sticker on the window of each car, you can see that the focus has remained the same: enthusiastic driving machines for the masses. For those reasons I find the next decade for BMW to be such a curious time. As cars begin the inevitable shift to hybrid powertrains and regenerative technologies (read: KERS for the road) and cars like the VEDC move from fiction to fact – will enthusiasts still look back in the year 2020 and have the same passion for their car and want to keep and frame window stickers as a sort of automotive totem pole? Or are cars doomed to the fate of microwaves and Toyotas; faceless appliances just as easily replaceable as the next with little emotion about it?

After all, we’re on the edge of the automotive future whether we like it or not. We hope you enjoy the many window stickers we’ve found of BMW’s over the last 40 years from the 3.0CS to an E34 540i to an the original 1999 M Coupe in the gallery below.