BMW 760Li (E66) | The Brave Pill

Website bosses use lots of different data points to mark the success or failure of stories. Number of views, time spent on page, social engagement and - of course - the all-important question of how long before forum commentators suggest hammering frozen sausages into someone's lawn are all carefully scrutinized. But Pill employs simpler metrics when it comes to selecting the cars featured here, with the two most important being cylinder count and bang per buck.

Our average in the first of these categories is currently rising, with this week's BMW 760Li marking a run of three 12-cylinder honeypots in a row, following on from a Maybach 62 and Audi Q7 6.0-litre TDI. The Beemer scores exceptionally well in the second of these as well. While we have featured cheaper V12s in the past, none has got close to the range-topping 7's power-to-pound ratio. Buy this week's car for the full asking price and you'll be spending just Β£21.46 on each horsepower.

Middle-aged 7-Series have long offered compelling value to bargemen in search of an upmarket banger, but this week's 760Li is a different proposition to the 730Ds that appeal to those on tighter budgets. This V12-powered super saloon is for those with a tolerant regard for the risk of iceberg-sized bills, not to mention mpg that will only very rarely rise above the teens.

While time hasn't been kind to the design of the E65 7-Series, we weren't a whole lot nicer to it when new. Created under the overwatch of BMW's then design supremo Chris Bangle, but from an original proposal from current design boss Adrian van Hooydonk, this 7 was pretty much the opposite of its predecessor. The E38 looked like a slightly upscaled 5-Series from most angles, handsome but generic; the E65 was designed to make a splash.

It certainly did. I was at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2001 when it was unveiled. The melted-looking headlights and tubby flanks were challenging enough, but when the turntable started to expose the back it triggered the sound of several hundred spectators collectively sucking teeth. The elongated tailgate was unarguably distinctive, but soon earned the nickname "Bangle butt."

Sometimes design takes a while to work its magic, and several of the other BMW efforts from this era of "flame surfacing" have aged impressively well; the E85 first-gen Z4 and E60 5-Series for starters. But although the E65's bulbous styling has its fans, they could probably get away with booking a small village hall if they all wanted to meet up.

Inside the 7-Series was almost equally radical, being the first big executive to take the step away from the "one button, one job" demarcation that was becoming increasingly hard with the rise of equipment levels. The E65 had a screen mounted in a deep cowl in the centre of the dashboard, previously displays had felt far more stuck-on, with the bigger shock being the presence of what looked at first glance to be an upturned Mr. Kipling's apple pie tin between the seats. This was the i-Drive controller, in charge of entertainment, navigation and other functions. This had eight planes and had to be slid, turned and clicked to access different menus, with many complaints about the system's non-intuitive nature, and the fact that even changing radio stations had become a multi-stage task.

Yet there was much to control, this 7 being a true tech pioneer. Indeed it's hard to think of another car that debuted more features, a non-exhaustive list of firsts including a six-speed autobox, an electric parking brake, optional active anti-roll bars and adaptive bi-xenon headlights. It was the first BMW to get adaptive cruise, a smart key, DVD-based navigation and a CAN-BUS data transfer system to link its various modules.

Beyond the mild irritation of getting used to iDrive the rest of the 7's cabin was outstanding. It was spacious, well-finished and supremely comfortable, one of those cars that was capable of taking pain out of the longest journeys. BMW's British press launches often take place in far-flung locations with a select group of hacks allowed to drive cars home when the event finishes. The 7-Series was introduced in the Algarve and I was charged with bringing a 745i home for a magazine group test under major deadline-enforced time pressure. I left the hotel in Portugal at 9 o'clock one morning and was in London at 4am the following day, having only stopped for fuel, Red Bull and a 40 minute nap on the Eurotunnel. I was knackered, obviously - but much less than I should have been.

Doing the same trip in this 760Li would have probably taken a fair bit longer and would certainly been more expensive. I couldn't have gone any faster without the near certainty of a night in a Spanish or French prison, but there would have been much more time staring at numbers rising on petrol pumps. The V12 was a truly mighty powerplant, with direct injection (another first) and proper basement-to-penthouse urge that meant it felt enormously quick and unflustered at the same time. It also had a wonderful snarl when pushed hard, and also what might politely be described as a drinking problem under hard use. The weight difference between it and the six- and eight-cylinder versions also gave a considerably less agile dynamic character. Lesser versions of this 7-Series were a hoot to hustle, but the extra mass of the 760i was obvious in twistier stuff. Far better to stay crushing continents.

The 760's appeal was always most limited by its stonking pricetag. In the UK it was BMW's most expensive model, with an Β£84,700 price in 2007 making it 20 grand more than the 750Li that sat below it. Depreciation was predictably savage and sales were low; fewer than 200 were sold here. Our Pill is a very late facelifted example; the vendor reckons it is probably the last 760Li brought into the country. (Being long wheelbase, as almost all 760s were, it is technically an E66 rather than an E65.) The advert's inclusion of a build sheet shows that it seems pretty much fully loaded with adaptive suspension, soft-close doors, an onboard TV and the Professional digital audio system. The MOT history suggests a predictable enthusiasm for consuming brakes, suspension components and tyres, but nothing too scary. The seller is even promising to refurbish the wheels and service the car before handing it over; all that and a "sensible offers considered" suggestion of some wiggle room.

While reckoned to be mechanically tough - with the V12 not having the tendency to eat valve oil seals of earlier V8s - any 760Li is going to be pricey to run; our vendor admits to having Β£3000-worth of invoices from the last two years, which can probably be regarded as a baseline for ongoing spend. The E65's various control modules are all coded to the car meaning that even simple problems can require a serious amount of specialist knowledge to solve. On the plus side, many electrical issues are traced to weak batteries, with replacement immediately solving them. So always try that first.

It's been said before, but cars like this 760Li aren't really going to exist for much longer in anything like this kind of price and condition. If you do have ambitions to own a bargain V12 then don't hold onto the dream for too long. This 7-Series is a car with some serious junk in the trunk, but will somebody be brave enough to make this booty call?

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Comments (74) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Nerdherder 05 Oct 2019

    "compelling value to bargemen in search of an upmarket banger"

    Plus I'd pop the pill in this case.

  • cerb4.5lee 05 Oct 2019

    Very well written and I really enjoyed reading that. thumbup

    Apart from the terrible looks(Chris Bangle has a lot to answer for) this really appeals to me, I've always been a fan of the 7 series and this engine is the star of the show for sure.

    I wish I was brave enough.

  • Motorsport3 05 Oct 2019

    Who would want that over say a QPV ?

  • missing the VR6 05 Oct 2019

    MOT until Oct 25th!!

  • Prinny 05 Oct 2019

    I’ve had mine nearly 3 years, as said, they’re so good for distance. The comfort seats remain the best I’ve ever sat in (and absolutely destroy the Volvo/Saab seats so often touted as ‘best’ - but that’s a different topic). There’s quite a few owners on here too.

    Things the text doesn’t mention (at MD prices)
    • The logic7 amplifier hides in one of the boot sides, and can overheat - it’s a design flaw. £1300.
    • HPFP, these are unique to the N73 engine and the diaphragm in them can tear. Long starting is a clue they’re on the way out. They will be >£2500 each (there’s two), although the forums do have an alternative that’s much cheaper.
    • Spark plugs are every 80k miles, it requires removal of the inlet manifold to do them. £800. (So check these have been done on the ad car).
    I wouldn’t buy an early car - they’re full of niggles - as the pill says, this car introduced a lot of firsts to the market. An ‘04 reg on is much more reliable. The easiest way to check this (outside of the number plate) is to look at the i-drive controller. The original design has no buttons associated with it, just the Mr. Kipling tin, the ‘better’ cars have two buttons to go with it.

    20” wheels look good, 18” wheels ride beautifully (not Citröen CX levels, but not far off). 19” probably best all-round compromise.

    Two comments on the ad:
    • it has had a BMW approved warranty. As the car’s under 100k miles, I’d take that to mean that everything is in good shape, but it also has meant the owner was either incredibly lucky buying it as approved used, or has been shelling out £££ for the privilege. IIRC, it’s around £400/mo!
    • Why show the toolkit in the bootlid when the screwdriver and locking wheelnut key are missing? That’s just poor.
    Finally, a picture of mine with it’s relation.

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