It’s finally here. The highly anticipated and most requested post (well I received at least one polite email enquiry) I’ve ever written. Actually it’s the article I have been itching to write since day one. It concerns perhaps the most complete car ever made.
The object of this truly deserved praise currently resides in my driveway. It is without doubt the best ever work from the pen of a little known Austrian designer who was also responsible for the second biggest disappointment in my memory (the deeply dissatisfying E36- more of this another day). Boyke Boyer (he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page) spent the tail end of the ’80s and the first couple of years of the ’90s honing this sleek saloon shaped slice of perfection. It’s true that both the E39 5 series and the F06/F12 6 series are two of Munich’s finest, however I am convinced that the car we are talking about here remains indubitably the best looking Bavarian of the last 25 years.
The E38 7 series was launched in 1995 and was criticized by some motoring hacks (blind, clueless, raving lunatics obviously) at launch for being a little too conservative and evolutionary. Reputedly boasting more computing power than Apollo 11, it was further honed and improved over the following 6 years and it reached the pinnacle of it’s greatness during the run out period in spring 2001.
When I was looking to do what any normal and sane person would naturally do, (purchase an E38), there was a ’98 obsidian black 750Li for sale on a forecourt just 2 kilometres from where I live. 2 straight sixes married together in an impossibly creamy, silky, velvety, luscious, luxurious and glass smooth utopian creation. It had deep pile carpet, double glazing and even veneered picnic tables. The only time I have ever driven (or even been in a V12). I am ashamed to report that despite a limited warranty from the dealer I was way too much of a wuss to really ever contemplate buying it. The other reason I didn’t buy it was because of the car I actually bought.
That car is the Aspen Silver 728i MSport gracing our driveway. A run out model, built in May 2001 less than 4 weeks before production of this glorious car finished. Specced better than 95% of brand new cars this truly is a machine that is all things to all men. If you were given just one car that you had to keep for your entire life (an interesting dilemma, no?) this must surely be it. Admittedly you might not choose the wimpy 728i but what stage of life would this car not suit? What a car to start your driving career in, then becoming perfect “family bus” with loads of space for up to three kids (you would need to be certified to have more than three!) and a cavernous boot. It’s still quicker than and handles just as well as if not better than almost anything else out there and you’ll never feel a pitying look of disdain from a doorman pulling up at even the poshest hotel. Once you reach middle age chuck a panama hat on the parcel shelf it becomes the perfect old duffer’s barge. Can anything else tick all these boxes yet come in a package slicker than George Clooney? I don’t think so.
Performance from the M52TU straight 6 is probably just on the right side of acceptable. Power from it’s 2.8 litres is just on the wrong side of 200 hp. It does however waft along with the gorgeous smoothness you’d expect from an inline 6. For those for whom six cylinders didn’t cut it the most popular block was the 4.4 V8. There was a smaller 3.5 V8 and a couple of diesels were also offered. Luckily the oil burners didn’t make it to our shores and I have no further information or interest in these particular powerplants.
In fairness the (relatively wimpy) 2.8 residing under that gorgeously long bonnet is pretty quick if you drop it into sport and keep the revs above 3,500. This however will drop fuel consumption to below 10 MPG. The best you can hope for is a little better than 30MPG on the motorway when the engine spins at around 2,000 at the legal limit. 1st is geared so short that you can squirt off the line much quicker than pretty much anything else and even after over 2 years it still surprises. The gearbox is silky smooth and almost impossible to catch out, however 5th is a bit of a fig leaf to give it some degree of respectability in the fuel consumption stakes. In truth it is leggier than a Rod Stewart squeeze and really struggles to do anything more than maintain your speed (providing it’s flat or downhill. The slightest incline results in a gear change). It’s crying out for a sixth ratio between 4th and 5th. After over 160,000 miles the seemingly bulletproof engine seems to only get smoother never missing a beat. The brakes (for anyone used to a newer car) initially seem to require a little more effort than expected but are actually unbelievably communicative – you can slow and stop the car with incredible precision and accuracy. A couple of people and tons of comment on various boards suggested that the firmed up suspension on the MSport model didn’t particularly suit the car. I admit that it’s no Lotus Elise but it combines the kind of handling you have no right to expect from a 5 metre long bus weighing in at over 1700 kilos with a luxobarge waftiness that is truly astonishing.
The interior though is somewhere very special. They really don’t make them like this anymore. No fiddly idrive or ipod nonsense. No distracting 42″ TV screen. Just proper buttons that are well laid out and do what needs doing. Sometimes you see a car with nice beige nappa leather or even a tan alcantara and you would be forgiven for (briefly) thinking “that looks nice “. Seriously though these are not really appropriate colours for the interior (nor any other part of a car). Black leather contour seats and anthracite headlining. A strip of polished birch. 3 spoke sports steering wheel. Need I say more?
This is a really special car, and to be it’s custodian absolutely feels special. Every trip no matter how short is a pleasure. It attracts just the right amount of attention. Unlikely to be vandalised or stolen but it will be appreciated by those who recognise a truly exceptional vehicle. I challenge anyone to find a car that could more completely accompany a life.