• Technical data
The idea of an upper class coupé was there in 1981 already, green light for project E31 was finally given 1984. Internally the decision wasn't undisputed because it wasn't clear if in six years time people would buy a car that costs DM 140,000 (EUR 70,000). The 850 wasn't just an improvement of another car, it was designed from scratch which made the decision risky.
Two years later, 1986 and four years before mass production started, the design phase was over and construction began. This took place at CAD workstations, back then still almost unusual.
In 1987 BMW began to assemble the first metal prototypes after design and aerodynamics changes were as good as finished. This first prototype that was actually able to drive cost 2 million German Marks (1,000,000 Euro). Every other test vehicle - and there were 100 - wasn't much cheaper either, they were all above 1.5 Million Marks (750,000 Euro) because they were all built by hand out of specially handmade parts. Many of those very expensive prototypes ended their life at a concrete wall. Crash testing.
One of these prototypes was presented to the BMW staff on June 15th 1989 in Munich's 'Bayernhalle'. At that point about 2000 people were taking part in the development of the E31.
After much simulated test bench running (see pictures), the first real test drives (still with a cloaked car) started on July 4th 1989 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The 8000 test kilometers (5000 miles) covered there equal 150,000 kilometers (93,000 miles) of daily use.
By the end of August 1989 the first tests in the USA were conducted in order to test the car under extreme temperatures and with american fuel. One, if not the biggest target group was living in America.
So tests in polar regions followed tests in Death Valley at 50°C, going full throttle for hours. But that is not all. After that the black painted car had to stand still in the heat for an hour with running engine. Driving up and down mountain roads with extreme changes in temperature and air pressure have been done also.
While the tests were still in progress, the BMW 850i was presented to the public in the beginning of September 1989 on the IAA in Frankfurt/Main, Germany - with stunning success. 5000 orders have been placed within the eight days of the motor show alone, before the car was even ready for production, which started in the beginning of February 1990 in Dingolfing (14 days later as planned). If you had ordered a car back then you would have to wait three years for it to be delivered.
The cost of development for the BMW 850i alone were one billion German Marks (500,000,000 Euro)!