Low-Class Yuppie: What If There Had Been An E31 830i?

Shower thoughts: We’ve all had them. They’re the sort of thing that seem really profound at the time, but don’t typically hold up to further scrutiny. As a result, we usually keep them to ourselves. But today I’m sharing one particular shower thought, exposing the inner workings of my brain to ridicule and scrutiny. There are two very good reasons for this: One, I have a deadline looming, and I haven’t accomplished anything of consequence on my project car.

Two, I discovered that BMW once had the same exact idea that I did.

Some things never change; the larger, more expensive, and more luxurious 8 Series has once again supplanted the 6 Series as BMW’s flagship coupe. The ultimate in hedonism, its styling is such that it’s simply too big to be a coupe, and yet too small to be a proper sedan. For those who like to show off, there’s nothing better. It’s the ultimate triumph of form over function.

BMW big coupes have always been this way, even back to the E9 and the E3 before that. Back in the freewheeling 1980s, the E24 6 Series was the king of opulent luxury in a sporty package; it let everyone know that you had arrived in both the physical and metaphorical sense.

The rest of the world paid attention. In fact Ford’s MN-12 platform, upon which the 1990s Thunderbirds and Cougars were built, was designed to compete with an updated 6 Series that never came. Instead, the 6 Series was replaced by the mighty E31, an even more dramatic execution of the Bavarian big-coupe concept.

The expensive 8 Series ostensibly priced many returning 6 Series customers out of the market when they traded in their E24s. A similar situation happened at Porsche back in the 1960s when 911 development ran over budget, and the end result was a car that replaced the 356 while costing substantially more. Porsche’s solution was the 912, effectively a decontented 911 with a 356C engine.

What would BMW have done in the early 1990s to retain E24 customers? Simple: a downscale E31.

My idea for an entry-level E31—call it an 830i—would effectively be a stripped-down base-model version of the 8 Series. When I woke up with the idea, I spent the entire morning (showering, getting ready, driving to work) thinking about exactly how BMW might have lowered the cost of such a car.

What I didn’t expect to find was that BMW had had the exact same idea that I had. They actually went as far as building eighteen prototypes and tested them extensively. No specifications have been released, but we can safely assume that the car used the same three-liter variant of the M60 engine found in my E34 wagon, good for about 220 horsepower.

They were committed enough that an 830 badge is actually visible in their parts diagrams for E31 badging, albeit with no corresponding part number. Still, BMW was apparently not happy with the result of the project, and all but one of the prototypes have been destroyed.

Aside from the engine, I’m assuming that quite a few subtle but important differences would have set the 830i apart from its more powerful siblings. The suspension and brakes would come directly from the 540i, as well as the 15″ Style 5 wheels. Interior options would include a deleted rear seat standard, with the option of adding it back at an additional cost.

The body would use the fixed rear-quarter window with a B-pillar configuration seen in the M8 concept. In that application, it improved structural rigidity; here, it serves to lower cost and complication, while also helping to offset the development cost of that project, making a production version more feasible.

Further reducing cost, the pop-up headlamps would be replaced with fixed versions, possibly from the Z1, along with a revised hood and front bumper. Then again, such an overhaul of the front-end sheetmetal could be more effort than it’s worth.

Perhaps it was wise for BMW to avoid cheapening the 8 Series brand with a lower-cost entry-level model, preserving its halo status and making it a ’90s icon. With prices for E31s increasing on a seemingly daily basis, BMW’s big coupe clearly maintains a hold on the hearts of BMW enthusiasts everywhere.—Cam VanDerHorst

BMW images courtesy BMW AG; Thunderbird image courtesy Ford Motor Company.

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