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In the world of consumer products, bigger usually means better. The four bed house is trumpeted as being more aspirational than the three bed. The desirability of televisions is measured in inches and you’ll need one with a large screen to fill your spacious living room. Don’t think about mowing the expansive lawn without a capacious grass box on your mower. When dinner time rolls around the pie enthusiast may find enjoyment in a generous helping, and who can resist an extra side helping of cauliflower cheese and a bowl of chunky chips? It’s all fun and games until you can’t fit into your 38 inch waist trousers anymore. Nobody really wants to have to buy supersized clothes. So, clinical obesity aside, bigger is usually better, but this doesn’t necessarily apply to motoring.

Back in January, our own Tony Wawryk found a tempting BMW E3 for sale and remarked that it represented great value for money compared to its smaller relatives. Today we’re following up on that train of thought by looking at an example of its successor, the BMW E23, where the same value calculation holds true. Although they were expensive and aspirational when new, larger BMWs are not particularly sought after today. The market favours the compact sports saloons above all. E10s (2002s) are established classics and safe investments. The original E21 3-Series has been gaining ground whilst interest in the E30 generation has been driven by strong asking prices for the original M3 and some 325i variants. These small BMWs are all easy to keep and drive well, which is what most people want from a classic car. Moving up one size, the Neue Klasse saloons of the 1960s and the subsequent E12 and E28 variant 5-Series attract a niche following. Historic touring car racers hold the 1800Ti and 2000Ti models in high regard and the E12 M535i paved the way for the autobahn-storming E28 M5. The more humble variants of these cars don’t attract the same adulation and can still be bought for sensible money. The final rung on the sizing ladder is a distinctly lonelier place however, where there are few fire breathing halo models to speak and tumbleweed blows through the collective memory. The market seems to have made its mind up and decided that in the world of old BMWs, bigger is not actually better. Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves of the forgotten BMW of the 70s and 80s; the E23 7-Series.

The E23 was the first generation of the 7-Series family, and replaced the old E3 range. Launched in 1977, the E23 was designed to be a technological tour de force to rival the top executive car of the day; the W116 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Shaped by Paul Bracq during his time as Design Director at BMW, the 7-Series was a more adventurous design than the contemporary Merc. The trademark sharknose grille and quad headlamps were backed up by an aerodynamic body, the chrome waistline trims of old being replaced by smooth sides and a minimum of fuss. In addition to all the luxuries expected of the segment, BMW also offered new convenience features such as a trip computer, check control panel, service interval indicator, climate control and heated seats. An in-car telephone could be specified so captains of industry could close deals whilst on the move, and as production gathered pace brand new safety technology was introduced, such as ABS braking and eventually a driver’s airbag too. All 7-Series used the iconic M30 6-cylinder engine; most with Bosch fuel injection, with only the early 728 and 730 retaining Solex four barrel carburettors. The top of the line 745i was available in left hand drive only and powered by a turbocharged 3.2 litre M30 variant producing 252bhp. A subtle facelift in 1983 brought changes inside and out, along with revised rear suspension underneath. One of those options that seemed a good idea at the time were metric Michelin TRX tyres and wheels, to the deep joy of any 21st Century enthusiast having to dig deep for authentic rubber 40 years later. The E23 sold well enough and a total of 285,000 were built by the time production finished in 1986. These days however, they exist in the shadows of their smaller brethren and you’ll be lucky to spot one on the roads or showgrounds.

Yet we’ve spotted a rare opportunity to buy one in the forthcoming sale at Anglia Car Auctions on 13th April. At the time of writing, further details on this pre-facelift 1979 carburettor fed 728 are still awaited by Anglia, but it certainly looks the part with deep bronze paintwork beautifully complemented by a light beige cloth interior. A quick check of the MOT history shows it passed the test a few days ago with only a couple of advisories for sticky brakes, probably due to lack of use. Old MOT results are searchable online back to 2005 so the lack of any records for this car indicate it may have been in storage for at least 13 years. If this is the case there’s a fair chance the declared mileage of 84k may well be genuine. The car also has the desirable and rare manual transmission, factory turbine alloys and a bootlid spoiler, though personally I would lose the towbar. The auction house’s estimate is £4,000 to £5,000 which looks like stonking value compared to the prices of the smaller BMWs – and for that matter it’s predecessor, the E3. As for the issue of size, it remains a large car but from a 21stCentury perspective it’s not as huge as it once might have seemed. A 2018 Ford Mondeo is larger in every dimension and even the very latest 2019 3-Series is only six inches shorter, with the wheelbase actually being longer than the E23. Here are a few pictures which we have borrowed from ACA’s auction catalogue:

As with any prospective purchase you should thoroughly check it out yourself, but the market is hardly flooded with E23s and this one pulls off the difficult trick of being a completely tasteful 1970s executive express. The manual transmission and the rare and distinctive factory colour only add to the appeal. If you end up being the lucky new owner, please tell us how you get on. We’re watching with interest. Here’s the link to auction catalogue by ACA: 1979 BMW 728



With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to

4 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    Although I prefer this car’s successor, the E32, this one does indeed look very smart and potentially tremendous value – £4,000 to £5,000 seems almost ludicrously cheap. Perhaps people are put off big classics (a W116 or an XJ6 – especially the smaller-engine versions – would not be much more, if at all) by what they perceive to be high running costs and potentially expensive repairs, but I doubt these would be significantly higher than for a mid-sized classic. Interesting that it’s smaller than a current Mondeo! For this money it won’t be perfect, but for someone looking for distinctive luxury travel on a budget, this 728 would fit the bill nicely, I would have thought.

  2. Anders Bilidt

    Ouuuu… I really like this one!
    Now if I hadn’t 1) very recently bought my Scimitar as my daily classic and 2) committed myself to having more diversity in my garage (i.e. fewer BMW’s), then this would have no doubt been an auction I would have been attending. Granted, I prefer the predecessor, the E3, but they are also a fair bit dearer than the E23s. I’ve always really liked the E23. They’ve aged well imho and are truly great executive saloons – comfortable, well engineered and with a distinct sporting edge compared to its period competitors.
    Someone will get themselves a seriously competent saloon at mere pocketmoney with this one…

  3. Dave Leadbetter

    I was curious enough to go back and look at the result on this one… Drum Roll… Result including Premium: £4,452.

    120,000 miles, service history until it went into storage, and ready to go again. Seems fair to me.

  4. Claus Ebberfeld

    A good thing that I wasn’t present at that auction, @dave-leadbetter : For a long period of time (years after they were new, obviously – back THEN I tought they wer fab) I actually didn’t care much for the E23 but in recent years I have become rather fond of the thought of one belonging to my garage – for diversity, as @anders-bilidt says.

    With fabric interior and those warm seventies colours this one would be a nice antidote to my XJ12.


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