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BMW 6-Series (E24) buying guide, history and review

Words: Matthew Hayward

It might have been a great Touring Car racer, as well as a great autobahn cruiser, yet it was the small but memorable part in the 1980s film Innerspace that first opened my eyes to the E24. The perfect choice for the film’s menacing villain, this big, sharp-looking coupé was just about the coolest-looking thing I’d ever seen – and it still looks as good today.

Whether you’re interested in the rarity and purity of the early cars, or the exceptional race-bred pedigree of the M635 CSi, the E24 remains a seriously desirable – and surprisingly overlooked – car today. The sweet spot is arguably the post-1982 635 CSi. This slice of 1980s German exotica can still be had for very sensible money, they are still great to drive, and they’re even better to look at. Here’s what you need to know.

BMW 6-Series E24 model history

Penned by Paul Bracq as a successor to the E9 Coupé, the fantastically sharp 6-series was launched in 1976. The earliest examples were built by Karmann, and initially sold with a 3.0-litre straight-six as the 185bhp 630 CS (not available in the UK), or a 200bhp 3.2-litre – borrowed from the range-topping 3.3 Li saloon – in the fuel-injected 633 CSi. BMW offered four-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and a five-speed manual soon followed. The underpinnings were very much a development of those found under the E12 5-series, which meant MacPherson struts up front and semi-trailing arms at the rear.

Within the first 18 months, BMW took production of the 6-series in-house at its Dingolfing plant, although Karmann continued to manufacture the bodies. In 1978 the 633 CSi was replaced by the 635 CSi, complete with a new 218bhp 3.5-litre engine. Thanks to its new close-ratio five-speed gearbox, it could hit 60mph in 7.4 seconds and go on to 140mph, although the automatics were slower. 1978 saw the introduction of a new entry-level model, the fuel-injected 628 CSi.

BMW 630CS BMW 630CS
BMW 635CSi BMW 635CSi

1982 marked a huge turning point for the BMW 6-series, as it received a major mid-life facelift. Gone were the slender bumpers; in their place a far more modern-looking deep bodykit, matched with larger wheels. Inside, the dashboard was updated, with a new three-spoke steering wheel. The changes were more than skin deep, too, because the older E12 suspension was updated with a far superior E28-based set-up. The engine line-up was also upgraded, with a more efficient 3.4-litre now fitted to the 635 CSi. From 1983 an improved four-speed gearbox was fitted.

The most exciting version came in 1984 with the introduction of the M635 CSi. European-spec versions were powered by a slightly revised version of the M1’s 286bhp M88 engine, which took the 6-series into the big leagues with a sub-7.0sec 0-60mph time and a 158mph top speed. Although sold in the US as the M6, this version wasn’t fitted with the full-fat engine due to emissions regulations – there was a less potent 256bhp S38 engine. The US-spec bumpers were adopted for the Highline models in 1987.

Production of all models ended in 1989, making the E24 the longest-lived BMW of all time. It wasn’t directly replaced, although the 8-series took over the mantle of flagship BMW coupé when it was launched in 1990.

Common problems

• Although the 6-series is beautifully built and well-engineered, rust is a huge issue. Front wings rot out for fun and replacements are tricky to find. Inner wings, sills, rear ’arches and rear diff’ mounts are also prone to extensive corrosion. Restoration costs can quickly add up to more than the value of a mint example.

• The condition of the cooling system is critical.

• Suspension needs to be in fine fettle or the cars can feel loose.

• A good amount of spares are readily available, but expensive. Certain parts can be difficult to find.

• Look for ABS faults, as these can be difficult to fix.

What to pay?

The earliest Karmann-built models are particularly sought after. Prices for usable cars start from about £20,000, with the best – and with the desired five-speed manual – going up to £50,000. The 635 CSi and the ‘cooking’ models remain the most affordable. Prices start from around £15,000; expect to pay from £20,000 and up to £45,000 for the nicest. The M635 CSi is the most valuable, with top cars commanding over £100,000 and decent runners starting from about £35,000.

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