I don’t want one any more…

Posted on November 20th, 2008 in BMW,Opinion by Julian Edgar


It’s perhaps the only car that I have always wanted – well, from the day of its release, anyway.


The year was 1988 and the BMW 750iL was an astonishing car – twin electronically-controlled throttles, 12 cylinders, a limousine that handled so well that contemporary magazine testers were able to triple advisory speed limit signs around corners. On just six of the twelve cylinders, it could still exceed 200 km/h…


I’ve watched and watched as their prices have fallen – in 1988 the cars were $216,000; each year since they’ve got lower. Now, they’re under $10,000.


Less than ten grand for what was amongst the very fastest of four door cars in the world, a superbly equipped, beautiful looking sedan from that long ago time when BMW styling still had grace and cohesion.


Now some might be wondering how a 12 cylinder limousine fits with my love of hybrid cars, and my ownership of a Honda Insight and Toyota Prius (the latter currently off the road). But there’s no conflict: first and foremost I am a car enthusiast – that’s all cars. I have absolutely no problem with enthusiasts driving the thirstiest, most polluting of cars – if they are used only as collectable, weekend fun cars.


And for me, a BMW 750iL would be just that – a weekend toy to cruise in. I’d drive my tiny 1-litre, 3-cylinder + electric car during the week, then step into a 5-litre, 12-cylinder  long-wheel-base classic on weekends. And love doing so.


‘BMW 750il’ are letters and numbers I type into car sales websites on a regular basis – probably every few weeks, in fact. Doing this has taught me that the current value is about that aforementioned $10,000 – a little more for low kilometre cars with service records; a little less for private imports or high kilometre cars.


So when I saw the white BMW 750iL parked beside the country road that leads down from the mountain where I live, my eyes were immediately drawn. Especially when I saw the ‘Want this?’ sign (that’s used instead of a ‘For Sale’ in this area).


I pulled over, inspected the car – and was impressed with its condition. Especially when I saw the $9,500 asking price.


I was on my way to an appointment, so I had plenty of time to mull over it. If it had less than 200,000 kilometres on it and had service records, at that price it would be very attractive. I rang the number to find that both applied – and it was a two-owner car!


This was looking good…


I agreed to meet the owner back at the car but arrived early, early enough to look really closely. I found a few deficiencies – some odd dents in the roof, and the lower half of a door had been (pretty poorly) re-painted. These cars are notorious for having defective rear dampers – as these are self-levelling air designs, a very expensive fix is needed. So I bounced the front and then the back, to find that the front was as I expected – pretty soft – but the rear was very firm.


Still, that wasn’t nearly enough to discourage me…


The owner arrived, I inspected the interior (near perfect!) and then we went for a drive.




I need to preface these comments with the fact that I know it was a 20 year old car. I know that even with only 187,000 kilometres covered over that time, you don’t expect it to drive like a new car. I also know that even with very extensive receipts, including some for expensive maintenance on the rear dampers, you can never be sure that the car isn’t exhibiting problems of age rather than design. However, by the same token, it would be hard to find an unrestored car with such a good history.


But to be blunt, I thought it drove pretty horribly.


The steering had a very slow ratio around centre, immediately making the car feel unresponsive. The throttle was long-travel and even when it was nailed to the firewall, the performance (of this car anyway) wasn’t anything to write home about, The rear suspension was as stiff as an old Holden ute (surely there must have been a problem with those ‘fixed’ dampers); there was a whine from somewhere (fuel pump?) and the trans simply felt old.


And it wasn’t like driving an old classic – say a 1960s car – where some of these traits would be forgivable. Instead, it was very much like driving a well preserved mid 1990s Holden Statesman, but with better interior features and trim.


So now, after exactly 20 years of longing for one, I don’t want a BMW 750iL any more…



27 Responses to 'I don’t want one any more…'

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  1. Jason said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 6:33 am

    Julian, had you actually ever driven one prior to this one ??, It’s often the case that the expectations of some peoples ‘dream cars’ lose their appeal once they acually own it, or in your case, drive them.

    I was in a similar position – determined that I wanted an R32 GT-R from the day I first saw it. This was a model that was on many peoples “wish list’. For about 10 years I researched them, checked prices, and spent hours admiring them in show-rooms and at car shows etc. Once I could eventually afford one and found a perfect condition one-owner locally delivered second hand one, I jumped on it and two days later I owned it..

    After 10 mths and 11,000km of ownership I finally admitted to myself that the reality never lived up to my expectations and sold it.

    Whilst I don’t regret ever buying it (I made money when I sold it), it was a big lesson for me in being more practical and less emotional about ‘dream cars’

    Now.. does anyone have an Audi RS6 Avant that they want to sell me for under $50,000 ??? – I need to ‘learn my lesson’…. again

  2. phand said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 8:56 am

    I think it is just a sign of how car design has progressed in the last 15-20 years.

    What was once a top car in its class is relegated to the extreme lower levels in just a few model cycles. As electronics and computer aided design is utilised even more then the gap is not really going to decrease.

  3. Julian Edgar said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 9:35 am



    My Austin 1800 has far better interior space than any current car I know of the same exterior size, and a better ride qualty to boot. The 1960’s Mitsubishi Colt I drove the other day had much better vision than any current car of the same size.

  4. James W said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 2:08 pm


    “Whilst I don’t regret ever buying it (I made money when I sold it), it was a big lesson for me in being more practical and less emotional about ‘dream cars’”

    I too learnt a similar lesson, I got hooked on Datsun 1600s when I was young. Came to 16, went out and found a nice one, bought it… and she was a pig. Threw way too much money at her, then gave up.

    Then I learnt my lesson again, this time with a TX3 Laser (4WD and turbo). Again threw a bunch of cash, but in the end I just hated driving it to work. Sore back from stiff suspension, sore ears from the exhaust.

    I now have a BA Fairmont Ghia. Certainly not my dream car, but it works. 4 doors are great, got a towball for my bikerack (I ride bikes a lot) so I can go on adventures wherever, and I converted it to gas which means it costs virtually nothing to run. Add to that the fact I ride my bike to work 90% of the time, well, it’s perfect for me.

    Still, a 32 or 34 skyline tempts me, as do WRX wagons. I just have to keep telling myself that I’ve been there and done that, I can’t afford two cars, and the novelty will eventually wear off…

  5. Thomas Johnson said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    I like to drive my 1971 (HG) Holden and 1968 Morris Minor Traveller (woodie). I like the space inside these cars, how the roof pillars are so much smaller, and the visibility is great. I also like doors that don’t have 15cm thick trim on the inside, and that I’m not totally surrounded by a massive plastic dash an console. I reckon the fuel economy and running costs are better than many late model cars too. They might be a little slow (less worry about speed cameras) and quite a bit more noisy, but I can live with that.

    Probably the biggest hassle is rust and wood rot, although they are garaged so these only develop slowly.

  6. Peter Tawadros said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Julian, that’s just the sort of wake-up call I needed. Now to finish it off, can you go and test-drive the following:

    BMW 850i
    Citroen DS
    Ferrari Testarossa
    Dodge Viper RT/10
    Supercharged Ariel Atom 2
    Daihatsu Mira TRxx
    Doble Series E
    Hudson Pacemaker

    and tell me I don’t want them any more? When you get through that list I’ll give you a few more 🙂

  7. Tom Westmacott said,

    on November 20th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I believe the slow steering is designed to make it easier to control at 155mph on a narrow, twisting, two-lane autobahn, and is a general BMW trait.

    Aside from the march of progress, I am also interested in how cars can ‘go off’ as they age; even when nothing is broken outright, various rubber bushes may break down, mechanisms develop slack or go out of adjustment, and so on. This also means that two used cars of the same model and similar age and mileage can feel very different.

    I would be really interested in knowing what the main areas are that degrade with age and use, because I like older cars but want them to drive as well as possible.

  8. Henri said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Julian, About five years ago, I’m riding my bicycle around Minneapolis, and here’s a damaged front end of a BMW sticking out of a garage. Turns out its a doctor’s 1988 750il that her kid ran into something folding in the RF corner and bending a tie rod. I gave the doctor 300USD for the car. Still have it. Went through many proposals for ‘what to do with it’ as fuel prices went up-up-up, including street-rod, trike, etc. Vehicle has great parts on it, and one of world’s worst/least reliable electronics. Vehicle is employment security for person who understands and repairs it (as is a 745il). Anyway, am going to take apart and collect its parts and squash the body. Thinking engine will make a great table under a sheet of glass, or interesting mailbox support. Years ago in National Geographic, a Vimy repro aircraft was built with these engines to retrace a historic flight that may have gone from UK to either S Africa or Australia. Engine it tough, but overall concept and execution of the vehicle are marginal for anywhere other than Autobahn.

  9. Chris Katko said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 2:34 am

    >Aside from the march of progress, I am also interested in how cars can ‘go off’ as they age; even when nothing is broken outright, various rubber bushes may break down, mechanisms develop slack or go out of adjustment, and so on. This also means that two used cars of the same model and similar age and mileage can feel very different.

    That’s a very good point. Unless a car is garage kept in a temperature-regulated environment, all of the rubber bushings will wear out regardless of driving them. They will be forced to expand and contract with every heat cycle (especially outdoors where cold temperatures make rubber very brittle) and over time they build cracks and pits just like dry rotting tires or warn belts They also lose their elasticity.

    So if you’re buying an old car: PLAN on doing a compete suspension bushing overhaul–regardless of miles–or you’ll never really get to see what the car was supposed to handle like.

    I’ve got a 1990 Eagle Talon with 250,000 miles (400,000km) being rebuilt. I’ll be sure to do some skidpad tests, and measure the dampers before and after the suspension overhaul to confirm how much of a difference we’re talking about. But I’m confident in the idea that heat cycles over time kill rubber.

  10. WVB said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Funny how we all get tempted by cars we see, read and hear about from our youth or just the other day. I have a list of sorts too.
    MGTC, MkII Jaguar 3.4, 60s Cooper S, BMW 3.0 CSL, Ferrari 246GT, E49 Charger, MGBGTV8, Series I Mazda RX7, WRX, R34GTR.
    Being a mechanic from another life I got to drive most of these and heaps more so never really had to buy them to find out except the E49 the CSL & R34. I would love a chance to try one of these. I can say that I enjoyed driving the rest of them and I don’t think I was ever disappointed by any. MKII jags are fantastic but cumbersome and SI RX-7s were sublime when new but have withered over the years due to inept maintenance and a properly sorted MGBGTV8 is a tonic.
    I restored a 997cc mini cooper complete with woeful brakes when I was 18 and still have and love it. The WRX I ended up with never disappoints even though it’s a 02MY that most faithful would likely disapprove of. This car is much more daily friendly that any 94 to 99 models I have experienced except slightly slower.
    and dad still has 2 MGTCs, a TD and a sunbeam alpine.
    I could add to my wish list, a Lotus 25, 33, 49, 72, BRM P25, all FJ & F1 Brabhams, all FJ & F1 Coopers, Elfin Streamliner, Mk3 Lola…………on and on…………..sorry I’ll shut up now.

  11. Brad said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I have always liked 850i’s which of course have the same engine as the 750iL and was very disappointed by the long gear ratios in the 4 speed gearbox. 1st goes to 90kmh, 2nd to 160kmh. I spent two years looking at various 850i’s until I decided I really wanted a 6 speed manual. I ended up buying an 850CSi of which there are 3 others of in NZ, and also 3 in Aussie. Anyways, it has 380hp instead of 300hp like the normal 750iL and 850i as well as 6 close gears. It is simply a stunning car 😀

  12. Peter Tawadros said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Noooo Brad you’re not supposed to say that!!!

    *goes to carsales.com.au to drool*

  13. Julian Edgar said,

    on November 21st, 2008 at 6:38 pm


  14. Rich O'Neil said,

    on November 22nd, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Perhaps Julian it has something to do with owning a 97 LS400 and your wife also having an earlier one ?
    I very much enjoyed your writings on those cars especially ” The Road to Change ”
    Ls400’s while not a sports car are still the best put together car in the world and time has shown this to be true .
    Recently I have been driving my boss’s late model $60,000 dollar V8 Commodore , and people have been commenting ” oh how nice to have the use of such a car ”
    Well no actually it’s not , the Commodore is just horrible…everywhere .
    My own family car is a 90 model Celsior [ same as a LS400 with more goodies ] and in comparison the Commodore just doesn’t rate
    Yes I have sent about 2 1/2 grand doing all the bush’s and air shocks , but my thing drives like new and the Commodore shows just how cheaply it has been made and it’s only 40,000 K’s old , I prefer driving my normal works car…a 2001 2.7 Hilux diesel , at least it has no pretensions !!
    I just can’t understand how people are paying $40,000 plus for a V8 Commodore when for the same money you could have a 2000 model sub 100,000 k LS for the same money
    Anyhow very sorry to see a your BMW dream shattered .
    Mine was shattered when I bought a 92 model 320i after having a 84 323i , one was really a car…and the other ?
    Still not sure .

  15. Bob Jay said,

    on November 22nd, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Hey Julian, I sympathize! Always wanted a BMW 5 series, ever since the 1970’s, but always left test drives of used examples disappointed. So I bought three sucessive V8 Commodores during the 1980s and then a Merc 280 (better built and less trouble to own than BMWs). Wanted to like the Merc, appreciated many design features but found the driving experience dull. Even tried to buy a Jaguar XJ6 but again found them to be pretty tired when you only have about half the price of a new Falcadore to spend. During the 1990’s the same storey – older benchmark cars were outclassed by newer and lower mileage locals, this time a string of Falcons including one like Fred the 5 speed EF Futura. A low mileage TJ Magna sports Auto was nice for 3 years early this century but after the (extended) warranty ran out I became fearful of repair costs and in 2007 bought a 2005 BA 11 XR6 in preference to the 2000 or 2001 BMW 528 and 530 I drove on the same day. (Actually the 530 was MUCH dearer). While the BMW 5 series/Merc E Class remain benchmark cars, in Australia we pay massively marked up prices; just check out the US prices . Today a two year old local car in the $25,000 range comes pretty close overall to a five or six year old European for the same money on the used car market. Regarding BMWs in particular, it seems that unlike the Anzacs, age DOES weary them.
    So a 1980s BMW…..No way. Bob Jay

  16. doctorpat said,

    on November 25th, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    What about the reverse? Cars that you were never really impressed by in theory, but when you drove one…WOW!

    I’ll nominate the series 2 RX7 with the 12A turbo. What a great little car! And just as good, for half the price, was the Starion turbo. In 1999 I could have got the RX7 for about $6000, and the Starion for about $3000. These days, you’d be lucky to find them for much under $10k.

    Also, the Hyundai Getz. After enduring a few of the Excels, I was shocked at how good the Getz was.

  17. John T said,

    on November 25th, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Hi Julian, love your work – can relate to the dream cars not living up to reality concept but I actually wated to write about your comment re `thirsty, polluting cars’ – my take is that its all down to how you drive them…I have an XB coupe that for the last 5 years has had a slowly dying 250 2V six in it on LPG – enough became enough and it had to be replaced, so a Fairlane with recently recond 351 was purchased (for $500 !!) – I pulled the motor, did my own auto to 4 speed conversion, and now it is in, running LPg, and the truly amazing thing is that in normal driving I’m using LESS fuel !! This goes out the window if I drive like a psycho and light up the tyres every five minutes, but if I drive normally (not, may I stress, `economically’ – just not crazily) fuel economy is better than the 6 was…TopGear also made the same point chasing a Prius with a V8 M3 BMW, after 10 laps the Prius was 2 mpg worse off. I know I’m preaching to the converted with you in that you’d readily understand this but many people out there assume a V8 is bad and an `economy’ car must be better…

  18. Julian Edgar said,

    on November 26th, 2008 at 9:10 am

    I never watch Top Gear and all the bits and pieces I hear (like the one you mentioned) just confirm my choice. What a completely stupid exercise – why not take both off-road and test their fording ability, or see which one can do the longest car jump, or something else equally dumb?

    Re the point about driving cars and economy,I can agree only to an extent. Really economical cars in my experience always get better fuel economy, even if driven hard, than larger engine thirsty cars. The only exception I can think of was my 354cc Honda Z, that had to be redlined everywhere and so gave relatively poor fuel economy considering its size.

  19. doctorpat said,

    on November 26th, 2008 at 9:29 am

    So what you are comparing is a good condition, well tuned 351 manual to a poor condition auto 250? In the same car (same weight, same aero drag)?

    In that case, I would expect the 351 to be better, unless it was tuned for pure top end power, at the expense of economy.

    The example of a Prius vs a M3 is somewhat different. The Prius is lighter, more aerodynamic, and doesn’t have a worse gearbox than the M3 (for efficiency anyway).

    On the other hand, the Prius was never intended for the track, Top Gear should have taken them both to a mountain road and tested them there. At least that’s a real situation that a real Prius driver will find themselves in.

    On the gripping hand, I bet the Top Gear test was entertaining, it always is. 🙂

  20. Ford Man said,

    on November 26th, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Clarkson really made a fool of himself with that conclusion.

    Top Gear is entertaining – not informative.

  21. Rick said,

    on November 26th, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Yes, it was entertaining and nothing more. It was never meant to be a scientific exercise, but what Clarkson said at the end rang true – It’s not the type of car you drive, it’s how you drive it that affects economy. It’s no point owning an economy car if you are going to drive it hard to keep up with other more powerful cars.
    I own an ’82 BMW 528i and it is a better car to drive in every way to the ’92 VP Commodore V6 I also drive. It’s been more reliable over the last 4 years, gets better economy, is faster and is still much tighter in the body. And everything electrical on it works as intended. The steering in the BMW is still the best of any car I have driven, I can only suggest the 750i you drove was not maintained as good as others. Watched the latest Top Gear, Clarkson drove a Jaguar twin turbo V6 diesel more than 650 miles on one tank and for most of the trip was trying to get BAD economy from it. When he finished they worked out it would get nearly 1000miles (1600km!) on one tank, if driven for economy.

  22. Ford Man said,

    on November 27th, 2008 at 6:45 am

    My Focus tdci fuel consumption (average per tank) ranges from 5.2 – 7.0 lt/100km, my X6T 9.4 – 14.0 lt/100km. So yes driving style does make a difference. But vehicle choice is far more important. It simply not reasonable (or possible) to drive the Focus so badly it consumes at much as a Falcon driven well.

    At best Clarkson’s conclusion is just wrong, at worst – deliberately misleading. It’s easy to be suckered in unless you do the experiment yourself.

    By the way, Jag test engineers used to unofficially ‘race’ from the UK to Italy for testing. The diesel cars would always beat the petrol ones (even supercharged!), simply by not stopping as often for fuel.

  23. Ben said,

    on November 27th, 2008 at 10:28 am

    They weren’t racing, it was just a co-incedence that they started from the same spot and ended at the same spot seconds apart, while speeding…

    Back to reality I heard of a few people who used to race Mini’s. The 900cc would be their main car, with two 1275’s used to ‘tow’ the 900 up the straights via drafting. The end result was that the 900 was doing the same lap times as the 1275’s, but didn’t have to pit…

  24. Darin said,

    on November 28th, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Ah yes. desires, dream and reality cars! As a long time car nut and with my modified r31 skyline getting a bit long in tooth, I’ve eyed lots of potential purchases over the last year or two. Then I decided it might be useful to actually check them out properly. As a result Evo 7/8, Wrx and 90s Soarers promptly disappeared from the list. Why? The seating/wheel position was awful (I’m tall) and didn’t have sufficient adjustment. If I can’t be comfortable in the car it’s no good to me, no matter how well it goes or handles. The old Skyline with a few tweaks to the seating and steering still feels much better to drive. Interestingly I drove an import Galant vr4 the other day and it felt good, so I think I might get one…..then again the other day I spotted a….

  25. Jay said,

    on November 30th, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    I guarantee a test between a BMW 116i and an M3 under the same conditions would show the M3 even more economical.

  26. FRUGAL_ONE said,

    on December 9th, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    You forgot to mention what a money pit they can be to keep running.
    I think manifold-back exhaust system is $5k.
    The best thing i can say about this is i love the name 75 OIL!.

    Wait a bit longer and buy the superior cloned one, a V12 Toyota Century

    Cheers, keep up the great work!

  27. Marcel said,

    on January 9th, 2009 at 1:47 am

    I think you simply found a bad example.
    Steering ratio -> These recirc ball (!) gearboxes are known to develop play. Easily adjusted out, but needs to be done. That’s almost certainly the problem ; they don’t have extremely slow steering.
    Performance -> these cars SHOULD be pretty fast, but often suffer from bad MAFs easily robbing half their power. Amazingly they still run fairly smoothly, causing many owners to not notice. Suspension and tranny, what can I say… you’re judging the car by one worn out – perhaps even mistreated – example. Actually, from the description I’d say it has at least 100k more on it than the gauges show.

    Just goes to show you should have driven one *above* 10k, and there’s a reason this one was just 9.5K…