As BMW gears up for the launch of the latest 7-series here in Malaysia, let’s take a look back at the history and heritage of the Munich firm’s flagship model.
1. E3 (1968 – 1977)
Back in the 1950s, BMW was on the verge of bankruptcy. The folks at Munich won’t want you to know this, but in 1959, BMW was just a whisker away from being sold to, of all companies, Daimler-Benz. Since then, the Bavarians went on to introduce the iconic New Class line, of which the famous 2002 was a member.
The success of the New Class enabled BMW to grow from strength to strength, and they went to challenge Mercedes head on with the New Six product line, which were a series of six-cylinder engine sedans and coupes. The coupes were known internally as the E9, while the four-door sedans were designated as the E3.
Although the E3 is recognised as the ancestor of the 7-series, they were not known as such yet. Initially, it came in two versions, the 2500 and 2800 – no prizes for guessing the engine size, such is the extent of German naming creativity. Even back then, the E3 had set the stage for BMW’s long-running battle against Merc, beating the equivalent S-class in powerplant smoothness, but losing out in interior space.
Having set its sights to gun down Merc, BM had furnished the E3 with a comprehensive spec list, offering disc brakes and independent suspension all-round as a statement of intent. The bulletproof M30 powerplant debuted in the E3, but remained in service all the way to the mid-90s, powering the likes of the 535i and 735i.
Notable versions of the E3 include the US-only BMW Bavaria (which was a 2500 specced with the 2800’s engine), and the long wheelbase 3.3Li – curiously badged as so, considering the engine only displaced 3,188cc.
2. E23 (1977 – 1986)
In 1972, the BMW 5-series was launched to replace the New Six sedans. Designated as the E12, it started BMW‘s three-digit nomenclature for naming its models, and was powered by a series of four-cylinder engines from the New Class and six-cylinder engines from the New Six. It was actually smaller than the E3, which meant that the latter continued service until 1977, when the E23 was launched to replace it.
The E23 slotted above the E12 5-series, and was dubbed the 7-series. It was powered entirely by inline-six cylinder engines, most of them carried over from the E3. It moved the game on from the E3 with advanced features such as ABS, fuel injection, power seats, power windows, and power sided mirrors.
In left-hand drive markets, there was the top-of-the-line 745i powered by a version of the M30 engine displacing 3,205cc, boosted by turbocharging to churn out 249hp @ 5,200rpm and 374Nm @ 2,600rpm. In 1984, the engine grew to 3,430cc, but had turbo boost reduced from 0.69bar to 0.41bar, with BMW quoting identical output figures. This setup never saw light in RHD markets, because the turbocharger could not be configured to fit in the engine bay for RHD versions.
Of course, in Malaysia, if you do see one, chances are it’s running with a Nissan or Toyota engine under the hood.
3. E32 (1987 – 1994)
BMW retired the E23 after 10 years of service, replacing it with the E32. The fabled M30 straight-six engine continues to see action here in the 730i and 735i, displacing 2,986cc and 3,430cc respectively. Moving further up the food chain, BMW introduced V8 and V12 engines in the 7 for the first time.
The 5.0-litre V12 M70 powerplant debuted in the 750i in 1987, while the V8 M60 engines only appeared in 1992. The M60 came in two guises – the 3.0-litre M60B30 and the 4.0-litre M60B40. The M70 block served as the basis for the S70/1 6.1-litre V12 used in the McLaren F1. However, the M60 had a less glorious history, with its Nikasil engine linings susceptible to corrosion when used with high sulphur fuel. BMW eventually had to replace many of the affected engines using Alusil as a substitute material.
Like the E28 from the E3, the E32 was also a far more advanced car compared to its predecessor. The upper mountings of the seat belts self-adjust when you adjust the seats front and back. The window seals are engineered to press the rubber on the glass when the window is closed and loosens when the window is open. Forgot to close your windows after locking your car? No worries, stick your keys into the door handle, twist to ‘lock’ hold it there, the windows go up themselves. It even pioneered projector headlights.
All it did not do was fly… oh, well…
4. E38 (1995 – 2001)
The E38 was launched to replace the E32 after seven years of service. It was the first 7-series offered with a diesel engine in the 725tds, offered alongside the petrol-powered V8 variants 730i, 735i, 740i, and also the V12 750i. Eventually added to the lineup were the 728i, 730d and 740d.
In 1996, BMW debuted its now-famous Steptronic semi-automatic transmission in the 750i while upsizing the 740i’s V8 from 4.0-litres to 4.4-litres. Inside, the electronically adjusted driver’s seats have memory functions, and features Active Comfort Seats which BMW claims to reduce fatigue in both driver and passengers.
5. E65 (2002 – 2008)
Despite being labelled by many as such, the E65 7-series was not Chris Bangle’s first creation at BMW, though it was the one that made him the most famous (or infamous) designer of the car world. Can you name the chief designer of Honda, Toyota or Mercedes? I suspect not.
Bangle attempted to revolutionise the styling language of BMW for the new century, and this first attempt at that effort was horrible. Even after six years, it’s still ugly. Like in previous 7-series, BMW engineered many revolutionary features in this car. The infamous iDrive made its debut here as BMW attempted to re-write the driving rulebook.
In place of a gear lever, is an electronic steering mounted gear stalk controlling outputs to the 6-speed auto from ZF. The car was so laden by electronics that early units were plagued by software failure. BMW has never managed get the measure of the S-class, and in the E65, they never stood a chance.
6. F01 (2009 – )
The F01 7-series made its world premier in September 2008, and will be officially launched in Malaysia on 14 Jan 2009. As of Saturday 10 Jan, a long wheelbase 740Li was parked in Auto Bavaria Bukit Bintang showroom. Currently, only three models are available – 730d, 740i and 750i.
Watch out for more details on AW after the launch.