Final Parking Space: 1982 BMW 733i

Murilee Martin

When it came time for the Bayerische Moteren Werke to replace the Bavaria luxury sedan, the bigger, faster and generally more futuristic E23 was that car. Debuting as a 1978 model in the United States, the E23 was the first of a line of BMW 7 Series cars that is now in its seventh generation. Here’s a high-mile early-ish E23, found in a Northern California car graveyard recently.

1982 BMW 733i interior dash gauge mileage
Murilee Martin

When I’m walking junkyard rows, I’m always on the lookout for odometers with impressively high final readings. The 339,999 miles traveled by this 7 Series during its career beats every discarded BMW I’ve ever documented, though it’s nowhere near the highest-mile German machine I’ve found (a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E with better than 600,000 miles gets that honor, while a 1996 Toyota Avalon that traversed close to a million miles sits at the top of the overall scoreboard). To be fair to the 7 Series, though, BMW went to electronic odometers on those cars earlier than most manufacturers (1987) and those are nearly impossible to read in a junkyard.

1982 BMW 733i rear badge
Murilee Martin

The only 7 Series model sold through BMW dealers in the United States from the 1978 through 1984 model years was the 733i, after which it became the 735i until replaced here by its E32 successor for the 1988 model year. Europeans could buy many more flavors of the E23, including the turbocharged 745i, and plenty of those cars migrated across the Atlantic thanks to the gray market.

1982 BMW 733i engine
Murilee Martin

This car is a U.S.-market model, so it was built with a fuel-injected 3.2-liter single-overhead cam straight-six rated at 181 horsepower and 195 pound-feet. That was serious power for 1982 America, when a new Cadillac Sedan DeVille got just 125 horses from its 4.1-liter pushrod V-8 and even the mighty Mercedes-Benz 380 SEL had a mere 155 horsepower under the hood.

1982 BMW 733i interior automatic shifter
Murilee Martin

Believe it or not, a five-speed manual transmission was base equipment in U.S.-market E23s, though nearly every buyer (including the one who purchased this car) insisted on the optional automatic. The price tag for the automatic in 1982 was $775, or about $2581 in 2024 dollars. I’ve found exactly one junked E23 with three pedals after all these years.

1982 BMW 733i interior seatbacks
Murilee Martin

Anyone who could have afforded to buy a new E23 probably didn’t bat an eye at loading it up with options; the MSRP for this car was a proletariat-excluding $33,315 ($110,957 after inflation). Meanwhile, a new 1982 Mercedes-Benz 380 SEL started at $44,820 ($149,274 today) and the Jaguar XJ6 was a relative bargain at $30,067 ($100,139 now).

1982 BMW 733i interior climate control
Murilee Martin

Look at all that electronic gadgetry on the dash! It wasn’t cheap to repair malfunctioning electronics in these cars, but buyers knew what they were getting into.

1982 BMW 733i radio antennae
Murilee Martin

If you were a proper high-roller during the early-to-middle 1980s, you needed one of these car-phone antennas (or a cheap fake from J.C. Whitney) on your decklid.

1982 BMW 733i interior front
Murilee Martin

This car appears to have had a fairly straight body and intact interior when it arrived here. Since that time, junkyard shoppers have torn up the interior in search of parts to buy.


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    Had one of those tinker-toys in ’81, with a big dealer discount. The German Mark was overvalued to the dollar, and adjusting after Carter, so they were getting cheaper by the week. Out of warranty in ’84, with 36K, it needed $6000 to fix a leaky sunroof and a sticky throttle. Said NO, and traded it on a new Lexus and never looked back. Whoever drove this one was a mechanic, or a glutton for punishment.

    Rob Siegel should buy this – he could probably write 25 articles about restoring it, and I’d enjoy reading them.

    I bought a 1979 733i second-hand in 1985. It had the four-speed manual transmission and was a blast to drive. Alas, it was also an ordeal to maintain the car without going into heavy debt, as the car was rather fragile, especially electrical parts and the extensive vacuum-operated and cable-operated mechanical components like windows, door locks, and sunroof. The engine cooling system and the air conditioner never functioned properly. The steering and suspension were prone to breakage and misalignment from even minor road imperfections. It was a essentially a beautiful piece of non-functional, static sculpture.

    I was at the BMW dealer here in Williamsport Pa. in 1986 and the whole place was buzzing because none other than former VP Spiro T. Agnew had stopped in on his way home to buy a new 7 series car, they were waiting for a $68k bank transfer to clear.

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