BMW 8 Series – A super GT ahead of its time

22nd June 2017
Dan Prosser

Hidden behind stacks of cardboard boxes in a dusty warehouse in Munich, tucked away in some dimly lit corner, there exists a stillborn super-GT. A one-off prototype, it’s powered by a 550bhp V12. Its body panels are carbon fibre to save weight and its chassis was honed by some of the finest sports car engineers in the business. 

It’s a very modern-sounding recipe for a high-performance coupe. As it happens, the prototype in question is nearing its 30th birthday. The definitive super-GT of 2017 – the Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe – is scarcely any more powerful with 577bhp, which means our dead-on-arrival two-door was so far ahead of its time the world just wasn’t ready for it.

Perhaps that’s why its maker, BMW, canned the project. There was no market, it reckoned, for such an exotic, powerful and, one assumes, expensive GT car in the economically depressed early '90s. More’s the pity, the M8 never was.

The E31 BMW 8 Series – the luxurious coupe the M8 mule was based upon – was launched in 1989, edging the Bavarian marque into a territory it hadn’t explored for several generations: that of the very high-end grand tourer. In many ways the 8 Series was a groundbreaking car, what with it having been designed using state-of-the-art CAD techniques at a time when most cars were still being sketched, and also for its clever five-link rear suspension in place of more conventional semi-trailing arms.

The steering column adjusted electronically – it did on good days, at least – and the boot latch was motorised. Then there was the drive-by-wire throttle and the electronic dampers and, of course, the unusual climate control system that allowed the driver to set one temperature and the passenger a different one altogether. The 8 Series was, in its day, a very modern machine. 


There was also a certain confidence, even a nobility, about its styling, right the way from the vestigial double kidney grille at the front to the oversized rear lights. All these years later it remains a handsome coupe.

But to behold the thing today is to get a pretty good idea of what it’s like to drive. It looks big, which makes it look heavy. At around 1,900kg, that’s a pretty fair description. In fact, the 8 Series was less athletic than the contemporary M5, despite that car’s more humble saloon underpinnings. The big coupe was built to cruise in comfort and style, not chase after Porsches.

The M8 may never have seen the light of day, but in the 850i, 850Ci and, finally, the 381bhp 850CSi, there was at least a three-strong raft of V12 alternatives from which to choose. (In a period review of the 850i, US magazine Car and Driver reckoned the 296bhp coupe accelerated ‘from standstill like an F-16 being launched off a carrier,’ before continuing, with not a hint of irony, ‘blast-off to 60mph takes just 6.3 seconds’. How times change). The vast majority of 8 Series were 850is, while a much smaller number, barely a quarter of the 30,000 ever sold, were entry-level V8 840Cis.


In 1999, after a decade on sale, the 8 Series was allowed to retire. Now, almost 20 years later, BMW is set to replace it with an all-new model. Due to arrive in 2018, the second-generation 8 Series was previewed by a concept car at last month’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy.

The striking show car appeared alongside a pair of original 8 Series one-offs that never made it past the prototype stage: an elegant cabriolet and, all the way from that dusty Munich warehouse, the stillborn M8. 

A new 8 Series is good news indeed, but it gets better. Just days after its unveiling, BMW published photographs of a heavily camouflaged 8 Series development car. It carried social media-friendly registration plates that read ‘#BMW #M8’. The wait has been long, but BMW’s super-GT will live after all.   

  • BMW

  • 8-Series

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