James Gibson, courtesy of Silverstone Auctions
The BMW 850 CSi was the factory’s flagship model in the mid-1990s. It featured the silky-smooth S70 V12 engine mated to a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission and was one of the first cars to offer drive-by-wire throttle control. Developed from the M70, the S70 increased the bore and stroke and utilized more-aggressive valve timings, resulting in an increase in maximum power to an impressive 380 hp at 5,300 and torque to 402 ft-lb at 4,000 rpm. With the hydraulic control unit mounted on the differential, the 850 uses hydraulic rear steering linked to Servotronic front steering to give precise, high-speed stability and harness the S70’s significant power output for a great driving experience. Discovered by rock legend and Jamiroquai frontman Jay Kay (an avid BMW collector), it was purchased and added to his private collection as only the second owner of the car from new. Recently fitted with a new battery and having been professionally stored and maintained during his ownership, the car is now offered for sale publically for the first time since it was new. The indicated mileage is currently just 12,777 in the hands of its two owners, and the car remains in excellent condition. The 850 CSi is now a rare car (BMW GB only supplied 138) and this is a wonderful opportunity for a collector to acquire a true modern classic that has impeccable provenance and still offers the convenience and safety of relatively modern technology.    

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1996 BMW 850 CSi
Years Produced:1994–96
Number Produced:Worldwide, 1,510; North America, 225
Original List Price:$103,950
SCM Valuation:$111,435 (subject car)
Chassis Number Location:On plate riveted to right front shock tower
Engine Number Location:On plate attached to right front shock tower
Club Info:BMW Car Club of America
Alternatives:1992–93 Mercedes-Benz 600 SEC, 1993–95 Porsche 928 GTS, 1987–88 BMW M6
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 329, sold for $111,436, including buyer’s premium, at Silverstone’s Birmingham, U.K., auction on November 10, 2018.

“Where’s the beef?” was a popular catchphrase that originated in the 1980s, when the Wendy’s hamburger chain launched their new advertising campaign.

“Where’s the beef” quickly became popular culture in America —the saying was absorbed into the English language as an everyday way of questioning the substance of just about anything. Car and Driver published its inaugural review of the first-generation BMW 850i in July 1991. It summed up the flagship BMW as underwhelming and even referenced Wendy’s commercial in the story’s headline — “Never mind the beef, where’s the magic?”

Author Rich Ceppos further noted: “You’d hope that a device for serious driving like the 850i would have sharp-as-a-knife road manners. Hell, BMW practically invented the sports sedan, so that shouldn’t be too pressing an order. But here, too, the 850i disappoints. It feels wide of beam and bulky. Its steering is loose and woozy. On anything but billiard-table-perfect pavement, it simply doesn’t know where straight-ahead is; it sniffs around like a bloodhound in search of a scent and requires constant minding just to keep it centered in the lane. Amazingly, the 850i even stumbles over the seams in the pavement when you change lanes.”

Bad reviews for the first-gen car

The broader automotive press panned the first-generation E31 850i as a vehicle devoid of passion and lacking the soul of a BMW.

For $91,000 (approximately $168,000 in today’s dollars), everyone was expecting a religious experience — the 850i under-delivered and left the market wanting more. The banality of the original car was the raison d’être for the birth of the heavily upgraded CSi version that arrived in 1994. BMW went back to the drawing board and built the car they should have created in the first place.

They got the CSi right

Initially unveiled to the public in 1989, the E31 was considered far more than a mere successor to Paul Braq’s venerable E24 6-series.

Designed in 1986 by Klaus Kapitza, the pillarless design appears as an evolved, modern and sporty take on Bruno Sacco’s understated but opulent Mercedes-Benz C126 SEC. The E31 cost more than $1 billion to develop. The 8-Series car sought to move the performance needle to an entirely new level — at a much higher price than other European sports coupes of the era. With a drag coefficient of 0.29 and a V12 powerplant, the new BMW super coupe was (despite its faults) a sleek and powerful machine.

The E31 stood at the vanguard of innovation. It was the first street-legal car to offer a V12 with a 6-speed manual transmission. It had a groundbreaking fly-by-wire throttle control system and carried an all-new multi-link rear axle. The car was produced in various 8- and 12-cylinder iterations for almost 10 years — a very long production run by any measure.

In total, more than 30,621 E31s were built for the global market. Only 1,510 units carried the esteemed CSi designation. Our subject vehicle is rarer still — given its right-hand-drive configuration.

What made the CSi special

BMW never produced an official M version of the E31. However, engineers did some development work on an M prototype, and the CSi became the beneficiary of key enhancements that were initially slated for the stillborn M8.

Under the hood, the CSi V12 was so heavily modified that BMW had to re-designate the engine with an entirely new code (the CSi V12 motor is known internally as the S70B56). The upgraded engine had improved fuel injection and made 25% more horsepower than the 850i. Other enhancements for the CSi included staggered wheels, upgraded bodywork and a heavily modified suspension.

Now a modern classic

With the 850 CSi, BMW achieved its goal of adding beef and trimming the bun.

Because of its comparative rarity and the significant factory performance upgrades, the 850 CSi is slowly emerging as a legitimate modern classic. Several have recently traded for over six figures. Our subject car sold for $111,436 and is an investment-grade, low-mileage survivor. Relative to recent comparable sales, this car was extremely well bought.

Our subject 850 CSi wears the most desirable color of Cosmos Black on black leather, and it has less than 13,000 miles. A reasonably concise ownership history gives this CSi an excellent provenance.

From a condition, rarity and color perspective, our subject car easily checks all the boxes and might be the best E31 CSi to have come to market in a long time.

Given the low production numbers and the fact that most CSis were driven hard, it might be quite some time before we see another one this good. The buyer of this CSi went home with a lot of beef and oodles of sizzle. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Silverstone Auctions.)

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