1999 BMW 740i
1999 BMW 740i. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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The latest iteration of BMW’s big 7-series, launched in 2002, was the first of the company’s vehicles to abandon the clean and classy lines that defined Bimmers for decades. And while the current 7-series was greeted with criticism when it arrived, its forebear – the outgoing 1995-2001 model, known internally and to Bimmerphiles as the E38 – was bid a fond adieu as one of the best-looking cars that BMW had ever produced.

The E38 7-series was sold in three models. The 740i was a regular-wheelbase model powered by a 4.0-litre V8 making 282 horsepower, while the 740iL used the same engine and rode on a longer wheelbase. The 750iL got the stretch treatment as well, but used a 5.4-litre V12 engine. In 1996, the V8 got a bump in displacement to 4.4 litres, and while horsepower remained the same, the bigger engine made a little more torque, and both horsepower and torque peaked a little earlier in the rev range. All E38 7-series’ used a five-speed automatic.

Fuel consumption numbers for those drivetrains ranged from 14 L/100 km (city) and 9.2 L/100 km (highway) for V8-powered models, and 16 to 17 L/100 kms (city) and 11 L/100 kms (highway) for the V12-powered 750iL.

The E38 7-series was not crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). All cars, though, had anti-lock brakes, and side airbags were standard from 1997 onward. In 1995, traction control was optional on V8-powered models and standard on the 750iL, but that feature was made standard on all models in 1996.

The issue of reliability in high-end German cars is always a touchy one, and nothing is different here. While this generation of 7-series is highly regarded as a high-speed, long-distance cruiser, its long-term durability seems less solid. A list of common problems can be found here (http://www.bimmerboard.com/forums/posts/71397). A few of the better known issues are radiator failures after 80-100,000 kilometres; transmission problems are common, and can be aggravated by the installation of lower-quality aftermarket transmission fluid filters; power steering hoses are prone to leakage, and it’s recommended to have the bolts that secure the oil pump to the inside of the engine block checked. These can loosen over time and fall into the oil pan; the worst-case scenario is that a stray bolt could cause catastrophic engine damage.

Luckily, there are plenty of BMW-related resources on the web. The most comprehensive is www.E38.org, which is basically a list of links to other websites dedicated to the E38 7-series; if you’re considering buying a used one, start your research at E38.org.

As far as prices go, used E38s are hardly unattainable, with 740i values ranging from $10,850 for a 1995 model to $32,425 for the most recent 2001 version. Many BMW enthusiasts advise that while the purchase prices are attractive, maintenance and repair costs for these complicated cars can be prohibitive. Nevertheless, a quick look on AutoTrader.com in Ontario brought up a couple of potential cherries: a 2001 740i with the Sport and Premium option packages, with 114,000 kilometres for just under $23,000; and a 1995 740i with a low 117,000 km on it for $10,000.

There’s no questioning the appeal of big, powerful cars like the 7-series to enthusiasts, but this is a class of car that’s simply out of reach as a new-vehicle purchase. It’s only when a car gets to a certain age – the five-to-10 year age range that the E38 falls into – that they become attainable to drivers of average financial standing. We’d hardly call you crazy for wanting one of these – it’s one of our favourite German cars of all time. But while the price of admission may not be a problem, the cost of staying in the game might be too much for some to handle. Bear that in mind while you try to avoid drooling on the leather seats at the used car lot.

For a complete list of Autos’s Used Car Reviews, click here .

Online resources

  • www.E38.org – Click onto this site for an extensive list of maintenance and repair tips for the E38 7-series. As mentioned in the above article, there’s also a list of common issues, and a long list of things to look for when shopping for an E38.

  • www.bimmerforums.com – this is one of the most comprehensive BMW enthusiast sites on the web. The forums here are a veritable encyclopedia of BMW knowledge with sections dedicated to the company’s many models, past and present. Membership is free.
  • www.dtmpower.net – DTMPower calls itself “the future of BMW tuning.” As such, it caters to BMW owners interested in modifying their cars. Like BimmerForums, this site’s discussion area is split up into sections for each BMW model, plus sections dedicated to other car-related talk. Membership is free.
  • www.hotbimmer.net – HotBimmer.net features a polished layout and gives more attention to general BMW news and updates than some other BMW sites. Despite a smaller member base, there’s still a lot of good information here. Membership is free.
  • www.mwerks.com – The membership statistics for Mwerks.com are deceiving, listing more than 200,000 members. This site is run by Vortex Media Group, which also manages VWVortex.com, a huge Volkswagen enthusiast community. Mwerks.com is actually one of the lesser-populated sites in the Vortex empire, but a free membership here also gets you access to The Car Lounge, a very active general automotive interest community that’s full of knowledgeable members.
  • http://bimmer.roadfly.com/bmw/forums/E38.com – this URL takes you to RoadFly.org’s E38 7-series discussion forums. The layout is simple, and the forums use an antiquated style of displaying member’s posts and threads, but there’s lots of information here. Membership is free.


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001182; Units affected: 4,812

2001: Certain passenger vehicles. The engine auxiliary/cooling fan operation, including variable speed, is electronically controlled. Failure of the fan motor can cause the electrical circuitry of the fan control unit to overload and fail, causing the fan to stop operating. If this were to occur, engine overheating and subsequent engine damage could result. In addition, it is possible for the failure of the electrical circuitry to cause a fire in the fan control unit located in the front of the engine compartment. Correction: Dealers will replace the fan.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist.

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