The original BMW 7-Series debuted in 1977 and became a favorite of successful dentists and realtors worldwide. When its bigger, plusher, and faster E32 successor appeared for the 1986 model year, it was the perfect car for conspicuous-consumption-crazed 1980s California, much more devilish than its staid S-Class competitors. Here’s a 1988 735iL in a Northern California self-service wrecking yard.
In 1988, stock-option millionaires were being minted at ever-increasing rates in Silicon Valley, just a few miles from this car’s final resting place. 400 miles to the south, crooked bankers grew fat looting soon-to-be-defunct S&Ls. These newly rich and powerful oligarchs wanted to drive big, fast European machinery; some bought Jags and Benzes, but the real players went for the 7-Series.
The 296-horse V12 was king of the E32 powerplants in 1988, of course, but the “Big Six” 3.4-liter I6 in this car made an impressive-for-the time 208 horsepower.
BMW was an early adopter of electronic odometer displays, so we’ll never know how many miles were on this car at the time of its demise. Maintenance on the E32 was neither infrequent nor affordable, so many of these cars met their ends when their fifth owners couldn’t afford a $ 350 repair. This one lasted a full 30 years, longer than most Accords and Volvo 240s.
How much? An impressive 58 grand for a new ’88 735iL, which comes to more than $ 123,000 in inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars. If you insisted on the V12-equipped 750iL, the price tag soared to $ 67,000 (about $ 143,000 in 2018 dollars). Meanwhile, the Jaguar XJ6 and XJ-S started at $ 40,500 and $ 41,500, respectively; the Mercedes-Benz 560SEL went for $ 68,660 and the Turin-Hamtramck-built Cadillac Allanté for $ 56,533.
Makes you want to get rich!