Memories of My 7 Series Journey
2003 is now so long ago in my driving history that I can’t quite remember what I drove before this BMW 7 Series (E32). Ah, yes I can, a 1987 BMW 525e (the Euro E28 ‘Eta). Either way, it was about 30 or 40 cars, three houses, one wife and several girlfriends ago. I can still recall with clarity the first time I saw F262OVL to use its UK registration. It was in the car park of a local car auction but it wasn’t an entry, and in 2003 these E32 7 Series were orphans, thirsty old BMW’s that nobody wanted. Skid row prestige on secondhand tires, clinging to life.
The Arrival of the E32: A Challenge to Mercedes
The E32 BMW 7 Series arrived in 1986 as a proper poke in the eye to Mercedes who thought that the W126 S-Class was as good and a big car could be – well, we’ve got news for you. The S-Class was indeed a fine machine but not as “nice” as a Jaguar somehow. Replacing the slab-sided droopy-tailed E23 of 1977 – a car that missed the bullseye – the E32 ran from 1986 to 1994 without a single facelift if you discount the wide grille of the V8 cars, itself robbed from the 1987 V12 750iL. The E32 arrived the same years as the Jaguar XJ40, itself another major leap forward for its maker and in the eighties and early nineties all three battled it out in the showroom.
The Influence of Designers on the E32
The E32 7 Series was an early BMW styled under the watchful eye of Claus Luthe who styled the E30 and E28, both masterful reworkings of the previous designs of Paul Bracq who also penned the E23. Bracq’s designs are fine of course but the Luthe restyles gave them a wedgier, leaner look. You can credit Luthe’s design team with the NSU Ro80, Audi 50, and the BMW E36, E34, and the E31 8 Series amongst others – Google the guy.
Appreciating BMW’s E32: A Personal Experience
Back in the day, an impressive sight was to see a dark-colored BMW 735i hustling along a motorway and whilst the styling isn’t quite as resolved as the magnificent E34 5 Series, I would still stop by at a local BMW dealership on my way back home after a weekend and admire cars like the Bronzit 635CSi in the showroom and always cast an appreciative eye over the E32 and the E34. Some feel that the E39 5 Series was the pinnacle of BMW design but I disagree – to me, it looks a bit tubby and doesn’t quite have the svelte lines of the 1988 car.
A Serendipitous Find: My BMW 730i
So, back to my car. I left a note on the screen for the owner to call. I needed a cheap car and this fitted the bill – straight, original, unrusty (E32s were good in this respect) and best of all, a manual gearbox. I was always wary of old ZF automatics as the last thing a cheap old car needs is a major mechanical drama, and I’d had too many with tired autos. And this car was BASIC.
Being a 730i, it came with cloth seats and no options apart from the standard sunroof and alloy wheels. No air conditioning, no cruise control, no OBC, no nothing. Whoever bought this new really, really wanted a 7 Series as a similar amount of cash would have bought a much better equipped 530i and almost a standard 535i. I never had a call back from my note on the screen though.
The Enigmatic Bawtry and its Car Auctions
So, it was a pleasant evening in Bawtry, a pleasant little town whose only black mark was the car auction. Three times a week, hordes of nefarious-looking guys and closely related women (perhaps too closely) descended on Bawtry in something resembling the locust plague from the book of Exodus. Highly polished wrecks bought the week before lined the street outside as it became a used car bazaar, hastily written ‘4 sale’ signs in the side windows matching the owners’ stance. Leaning against the wall, these cigarette-smoking car pimps in lumberjack shirts would eyeball anyone taking one iota of interest.
A Chance Encounter at the Car Auction
Not me though mate. I’m buying direct from the source and tonight, for one night only, is that very same dark blue 7 Series in the lineup. I patiently wait and within 20 minutes, it glides in sounding very healthy. I chat to the driver. I get the thumbs up – it’s all good.
Bidding started at 100 pounds and at £500, the hammer falls and I now own a 14 car old BMW 730i with 204,000 miles on the odometer. I go and pay, get the keys, fire it up and head out onto the open road. And it’s perfect. It whistles along at 80 mph, temp gauge needle bang centre, no knocks, rattles, odd noises, or vibrations. Back home, I retrieve the owners’ handbook pack from the glovebox and am amazed to see that this car has a full-service record with a fat sheaf of invoices and an oil change performed just a month before.
Upgrades and Adventures
From here, the car is pressed into regular service but that awful grey cloth trim has got to go. A trawl of the junkyards finds me a complete black leather trim from an E32 with manual front seats complete with the fold-down front armrests, and a day is spent removing the grey stuff before cleaning and installing black leather – total cost, £120. Likewise, I raided yards and found an onboard computer and a cruise control kit, all easily plugged into the E32’s ready-made wiring loom.
Epic Journeys and Unforgettable Moments
In 2006, I was still using it and it now had about 230,000 miles. Even so, I drove down to the BMW ’02 Series 40th-anniversary tour in Bavaria rather than fly. I collected Dan the photographer in London, drove down to Dover for the 7 am ferry and was on French soil by 9. From Calais it was an easy cruise across France and into Germany – Lille, Metz, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Ulm, Augsburg, and Munich before gliding down to Garmisch for a 7 pm finish and a well-deserved beer or three – make that a very fine local Pils. The 730i did the trip with nonchalance, cruise set at 80 mph whilst Dan and I worked our way through a pack of Marlboros, stopping only for breakfast in Reims and later for fuel. 900 miles in 17 hours. Yes, and…?
Fast forward to 2007 and just after having some paintwork done to make it look really nice again, my drunk neighbor drove into the rear fender, damaging that, the tail light and the bumper. Excellent! BMW quoted £3000 to replace the welded-on wing and so the car was an insurance total loss.
However, I had just renewed the insurance on a classic car policy with an agreed value of £2000 and the upshot was a check for £1700 and retention of a dented 7 Series. I sourced a secondhand light unit and paid a local paint shop £350 to do a very good job of repairing the rear quarter.
Continuing Adventures and Enduring Love
Another long trip in 2008 was an impromptu 500 miles to see a Lady friend, 250 each way. The trip there was fine, the return more so. Setting off at 3 am on a clear and starry Monday morning, the A303 east and the A34 north were both deserted apart from a horse running across the A34 followed by its owner. I’m not joking. The 730i and I barreled up the A34 up to Oxford and then the M42 underneath Birmingham while observing a glorious turquoise and orange sunrise that made the West Midlands seem impossibly exotic. I got home at 7:30, locked the car with the clunk of old school central locking and got about 3 hours sleep before starting the day all over again.
Celebrating Milestones and Ongoing Care
April 2009 marked 20 years since F262OVL was built and so my good friend Phil and I boarded the ferry at Hull and landed 18 hours later in Holland on a busy morning. Europe and Germany in particular seems so big compared to the UK. You cross into Germany at Monchengladbach with the next targets being Bonn and Koblenz and even at a steady 80 or 90 moh it just seems to go on forever. At 5 pm though we pull into the Dingolfing factory to meet our press contact at BMW and take some photos in the Dingolfing showroom/display area before heading into Munich and an interesting evening in the Hofbrauhaus.
The following morning is OVL’s birthday and we head back to Dingolfing again where the factory service department do an oil and filter change and put a prized stamp in the service book – in fact, it’s a new one as the 1989 original is full.
The Final Chapter: A Garage Queen
Since 2010, the car has been semi-retired and lives in my workshop as a garage queen. I had the whole car minus the roof repainted a few years ago to bring it up to show condition and it has worn a wide grille 750i bonnet since around 2011 – plus I managed to find a set of five of the incredibly rare Style 3 dished alloy wheels from the 1987-88 750iL.
I had these restored and found that new center caps were so rare that I had the last four from BMW. The original exhaust was replaced by a genuine BMW system in 2007 and to my amazement, the car still had its 1989 stamped clutch (made in West Germany) when we fitted a new one about 3 years and 2000 miles ago. The original odometer failed in 2006 and I replaced it with a secondhand one, keeping a tally of the mileages and eventually having the correct mileage reinstated – it’s currently on 316,000 miles.
A Timeless Bond
Now approaching its 35th year, folks I haven’t seen in a while ask me if I still have ‘that old 7 Series’. Of course I have. It’s not really worth that much and certainly not enough to sell it. I couldn’t bear to see anyone else driving it or to see it ruined with 20-inch wheels and air suspension. I’ve had it too long and it’s wormed its way into my soul that little bit too much.