The South African 745i Was The First M7

If you’re lucky enough to live near a Menard’s, you’ve discovered by now that it’s far more than just a home improvement store. As a young homeowner, I find myself there quite often, picking up everything from plumbing fittings, to Christmas lights, to bedding for my chickens. One of the best parts of the store is the bin of cheap DVDs near the front register, filled with action movies you’ve never heard of.

Recently, I picked up Vehicle 19, a South African car chase movie starring Paul Walker as a guy who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie reminded me of how popular BMWs are in South Africa—they show up everywhere, with a black E34 and a pair of E36 police cars giving chase at different points in the story. Details about the movie can be found here.

South Africa has been home to some interesting exclusive models—the county hosts BMW’s oldest factory outside of Europe in Rosslyn, after all. Since I’ve been on a 7 Series kick lately, now’s as good a time as any to talk about the E23 745i. While the conventional 745i received a turbocharged engine, this was a no-go in righthand-drive South Africa.

Since the turbocharger and its associated plumbing took up a considerable amount of space on the right side of the engine bay, there was no room left for a steering column on righthand-drive cars. Instead, BMW’s solution was to fit the M88/3 engine from the contemporary M5 and M6 into the E23, unintentionally creating an M7.

The suspension was similarly upgraded, and capped off with 16″ Mahle BBS wheels. In the end, the South African 745i had over 30 horsepower more than its turbocharged, European cousin, and it handled better, too.

Just over 200 were produced, with less than two dozen leaving the factory with a manual transmission. One of these was entered by BMW in the South African Modified Saloon Car Championship, and went on to win in 1985. To date, it’s the only time that BMW has ever taken a 7 Series racing.

While the follow-up to the E23, the E32, would use a V8, V12, and even a prototype V16 engine, it’s interesting to see how BMW catered to the righthand-drive South African market by using a high-strung M racing in place of the largely experimental M102 and M106 turbocharged units of the conventional model. Things have come nearly full-circle as of the last few years though, in the form of the M760Li xDrive you can gawk at below, which uses a 6.6-liter V12 developing 600 hp and 627 pound-feet in its most updated form, enough to catapult the 5,000-pound sedan from zero to 60 well short of the four-second threshold.—Cam VanDerHorst

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]

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