7 Series: A brief history

With the upcoming release of the next generation BMW 7 Series we thought a nice stroll down memory lane would be in order. We have compiled a brief history of the model line since the inception of the 7 moniker in 1977.

The first 7 Series followed the BMW design that was introduced in the 1977 6 Series coupe. It combined an elegant exterior along with new technical innovations. This original 7 (E23) was designed to provide the sporty handling of a BMW along with powerful refined engines in a package for the upper class of society. The initial flagship of this first 7 series was released in 1980 as the 745i. Interestingly enough the car ‘s designation did not indicate displacement (and many thought today’s models started that trend!) it was powered by a 3.2 litre turbo 6-cylinder engine.It was one of the performance leaders in the sedan segment at the time. Over the 9-year span it was built (1977-1986) about 280,000 of this model were produced. It was a huge success for BMW.

The second step in the 7 Series (E32) evolution was greeted to much fanfare when it was introduced in 1986. Car critics were pleased with the elegance, power, handling and use of technology. With this style came the worlds introduction to the long wheel base “L” which provided an increase of 4.5i inches in length and an increase in opulence as well. The first 7 Series models were equipped only with six-cylinder engines; this second generation would change that.In 1987, the first German produced twelve-cylinder sedan since the end of the 1930s was introduced as the BMW brands flagship model, the 750iL. At the time it utilized a 5.0l engine that produced 296 horsepower and almost as much torque. In 1992, BMW finally added 8 cylinder engines to the lineup (730i, 740i) bridging the gap between the 6 and 12 cylinder models. Over 300,000 of these cars were produced for customers during the production run.

The third installment of the 7er (E38) is one to marvel at. From the initial launch in 1994 to the end of production it was a car for the ages. Auto Motor und Sport described the car as “Slim and light on its feet “. It featured all of the amenities of a luxury sedan with the exhilarating drive characteristics of a smaller car. This car was the beginning of today’s luxury car, with modern technologies, comforts and exclusivity. It featured a wide range of engines and was the first luxury sedan to feature a diesel power plant (EU) since the 1980s Mercedes Benzes.The lineup ranged from 6 to 12 cylinder engine combinations world wide. After a total of 71/2 years around 327,000 cars were produced some of which you still see driving around today.

That brings us to the current model, known to as the E65/66. It has surpassed the sales records of the previous models in the 7 family and once again changed the face of the luxury car industry. With its release in late 2001 it was a car that grabbed people’s attention, for the good and the bad. It ushered in a new era in terms of BMW design thanks to the likes of Chris Bangle and his initially controversial “flame” surfacing as well as his take on the rear end of cars. Over time other brands have imitated the look and the public has realized they love it. Engines were vastly improved, suspension tuned and lightened (though the size of the car was increased along with overall weight) and oodles of technology was found throughout. Oh, the technology! That leads us to the wonders of iDrive. The car critics and press hated it (many still do or just choose not to understand/judge it in the latest form). This 7 series will long be remembered for the introduction of the do it all iDrive system. It revolutionized how we operate cars by removing countless buttons, knobs and sliders and placing all those controls in a menu guided computer-like interface. When released this car was the best driving, most opulent and technology-laden vehicle in its class.

BMW has also released two versions of this model that can be powered by hydrogen. One with a dual fuel setup that can also be run on traditional gasoline or a hydrogen only version.

While it has put up a good fight it has fallen off in the last few years but with the next generation to be released in the coming weeks you can rest assured the BMW 7 series will once again be the pinnacle of the class. For more information on the upcoming 7 please see here

Source: BMW Photos: BMW/After Midnight

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  • Ray

    My wife and have been driving E38 since 1997, one was a total lost last December, and the other E38 already has 217,000 miles… may ready for trade-in. The other BMW previous owned have been E32, E34, E39, and Isetta. However, I have been speculating in keeping the E38 until it reaches 300,000 miles. The E38 has been great car including my E31.

    Be well,

  • Kim Richard Navin

    Hello, I’ve sent a comment via your home page to Dr Norbert Reithofer and staff hopefully, at BMW Classic Museum regarding chassis number 5750001 (The engine is 5750001 also).

    Since you have some history on the 7 Series, do you know the history of this 6/1977 show and test car? It’s one of those cars which has “slipped through the cracks” at BMW because I’ve owned it for the past 21 years in Australia. It is Silver/ Blue cloth interior and manual four speed gearbox.

    It was the “Autocar Magazine” test car ( I have a copy of the article ). I’ve been told that it was the Earls Court and Munich motor show car but I don’t have any documents or photos of this. Do You?

    I did attempt to confirm the history by sending a Fax to BMW in 1988 but they replied saying that BMW didn’t have such records other than the manufacturing records, which I have a copy of plus a record of a previous owner and the shipping records.

    As these unique cars get older, there may be some information which has been gathered in order to preserve the BMW history.

    Being the oldest 733i RHD in the world, it belongs in a Museum….. It has travelled 157,000 miles and is on restricted classic car registration.

    I would like one day to drive it from Australia (where it ended up living) to Germany (where it was manufactured and born). That would make a good “lifestyle documentory”…….

    I would appreciate any information that you might be able to find and any contact details / emails of people who would be able to confirm the cars history.

    Thank you very much, Kim

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