Celebrating over 25 years of Bavaria's flagship v12 battle cruisers
What comes to mind when one thinks typically of cars powered by a dozen cylinders? Chances are that thought would have invariably drifted over to the rarefied stables in the North of Italy where a handful of men, dressed impeccably – show up to work late on a Tuesday to handcraft some of the most exquisite creations known to men in the form of sheet metal and cast aluminum, licked in a scarlet shade of crimson maybe silver, brought to life by not just four or six or even eight pistons but rather a dozen of them, to the tune of harmony that makes any petrol head cringe in a hybrid mix of fear and excitement.
More often than times, these creations are beyond the means and imagination of the lay man that gets the scarce opportunity to catch a glimpse of them as it rolls past them in the high streets. But what If you were the sort of well-heeled chap that could very well afford these marvelous creations but were getting on a bit in life and would rather have something a lot more luxurious and spacious than a cramped Prancing Horse for example but also demanded performance (thereabouts)? There has never been a car of such caliber for such the discerning individual. But wait.
In March of 1986, BMW pulled the covers back on what could only be called the thorn in the side of an S-Class. The 7-Series range has always been for the astute soul who ought to drive his spacious long wheelbase Ultimate Driving Machine when he isn’t being wafted about in complete and utter luxury.
Naturally however the Bavarians aimed this at the high-end luxury market at the time, BMW then subsequently re-introduced the already-in-production E32 model with a 5.0L V12 codenamed - the M70. They achieved this feat by welding a couple of 2.5L straight-six engines taken from the BMW E30 3-series and hooked it up to a central crankshaft. It was a single overhead cam affair that produced circa 300hp at 5,200 revolutions and chucked out 450 Nm of torque in the process. Not bad by standards of the late 80’s.
Back in the day, the Bavarians were the sort of company that must have thought themselves to be somewhat invincible engine builders and pioneers of innovation, and one would opine that the train of thought was somewhat justified by the fact the boffins we’re scheming up something to make their V12 powered E32 look like yesterday’s Turkey Curry.
Hence with that, BMW’s engineers retrofitted the E32 model 7-Series with a monstrosity that measured as the chaps from Crewe would say ‘six and three quarter litre’ in the form of a V16. Yes you read that right. A 408hp, sixteen-cylinder lump that kicked out a massive 637 Nm of torque at 3,900 rpm while tipping the scales at 310kg. Massive could well be an understatement. It was dubbed Project GoldFish its engineers and sadly remains a topic for another day.
Anyways, this twelve-er held the lime light once again, when it debuted in 1992, powering the fastest production road car in the world, at the time - The McLaren F1. The M70 engine was heavily reworked by the company’s infamous M-Sport division. The result of all that tuning was a fire breathing ghoul that surpassed Gordon Murray's requirements. It would eventually be put on a dynamometer where engineers recorded 618hp and 651Nm of twist out of it. Incredible! Rowan Atkinson certainly thought so too.
Manufactured from between 1994 and 2001, the E38 model then became the pride of the luxury marque, and even saw it fit for silver-screen royalty James Bond who in the 1997 spy-thriller Tomorrow Never Dies, piloted it to stardom with the help of Pierce Brosnan's Ericsson JB988 phone courtesy of Q-Branch. However, minus the machine guns and the driverless tech, we end up with a 5.4L V12 making a broadly similar output as its predecessor with 320 hp and 490 Nm of torque, an engine that went on in life to power the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph when Bimmer eventually bought the rights to the Rolls Royce name in the late 20th century.
The 750i/Li was loaded to the brim with technological innovations such as the e-CAT catalytic converter system, ShiftTronic automatic transmission courtesy of ZF, Xenon headlights and GPS navigation. On the safety front though, BMW had kitted the E38 with ITS (Inflatable Tubular System) and HPS or Head Protection System which are essentially multi-point deployment airbag systems. A class leading contender for its time.
The E38 was eventually succeeded by the 760i E65 model. This was the turning point in history of the 7-Series. Just to produce this car and future models at its plant in Dingolfing, BMW shelled out a scarcely believable 500 million Euros for the purpose of upgrading and retooling the factory.
The company was also seriously contemplating an M-Sport version to keep up with the like of Audi's S8 and Mercedes' S55 AMG. History is an indication of that decision, they opted out. However they did redesign the N73 engine to include ValveTronic and VANOS to help keep it with the times. The engine is relative of that used in the Rolls Royce Phantom if you must know.
This 6.0-litre twelve banger came with direct injection for the first time in a 7-Series. It featured tech such as ValveTronic – BMW’s variable valve lift technology which helped produce 454 hp and an astonishing 720 Nm of torque at mere 3,500 revs. This model also came with active anti-roll bars and Electronic Damper Control- Continuous (EDC-C) for a much improved ride quality. It was also the first sedan in the world at the time to be sold with a six-speed transmission and an infinitely variable intake manifold.
It was the first BMW to come with adaptive Xenon headlight technology and a Push/Start system. The E65 also came with a radar-based Active Cruise Control. However BMW also fitted the tediously complicated iDrive system which was badly received by owners at the time for being needlessly complicated. That being said, the 760Li was a revolutionary model and not to mention, the most expensive model in the barn. Since the prelude of this article, we’ve gone back over 25 years in time, and here we arrive at the current cutting edge uber-fast limousine, the F02.
Jam-packed with tech and gadgets, the F02 also debuted the ActiveHybrid7 model with a 0.4kW battery pack paired to a V8 engine. The F02 is also the first 7-Series to feature ZF’s hugely popular eight-speed cog-box.
The F02 also debuted the new ConnectedDrive system that features a host of safety system such as Night Vision, Dynamic Light Spot, High-Beam Assistant and BMW Parking Assistant. The 7-er came with other such systems like Active Protection with detects imminent accidents, which then prepares the driver by automatically pretensioning the seat belts, closing the windows and sunroof while simultaneously activating the post-collision braking.
The F02 featured top-end wizardry with the likes of Lane Departure Warning, Front Collision Warning, Pedestrian Protection and City Collision Mitigation systems. No wonder the 760Li carried a price tag heftier than that of a BMW i8.
At a monstrous 540 hp and 750 Nm of torque from 1,500rpm, you would be forgiven if you thought this flagship battle-cruiser is powered by a uranium-fueled nuclear reactor. The F02 boasts a century sprint time that is 0.2 secs faster than the outgoing F10 M5 model just to put things into perspective.
The addition of twin-scroll turbochargers strapped to its 60° banks help give it enough grunt to make M5 owners quake in their pants. With all that power, these engines are unbelievably smooth at idle and at constant driving speed. Hallmarks of a great limousine mill.
However, given the downsizing trend and low-volume sales, it proves harder and harder for V12's to stay within the limelight and production for that matter. But for all that it’s worth, in the 20-over years and counting that BMW has been making them, they’ve done an excellent job in showing the world what utter performance and absolute luxury look like going hand-in-hand.
Be sure to check out the galleries below. Pictures courtesy of the BMW Group.