Saturday, September 24, 2011

The $15,000 Question - BMW E38 7 Series

My wife asked me a dangerous question the other night.  It was dangerous enough on its own, but that night we were drinking Pimms and enjoying the cool evening breeze:   

"What would you buy for $15,000?" she asked. 

I hoped it was a rhetorical question.  Car nuts like me are a cross between serial monogamists and high functioning heroin addicts, and like an addict I became tormented by her question.  Not because I was scared of falling off the wagon and replacing my Oldsmobile, but because I didn't have an immediate answer to the question.

The problem is, there are lots of choices for $15K.  On the practical side, any number of late model sedans are available with low miles and a factory warranty.  But for the same money, you can also buy any choice of high end luxury sedans from eight or ten years ago.  Cars like the Mercedes S Class, Lexus LS, Jaguar XK, or one of my other favorites, the E38 BMW 7 Series. 

The E38 is by no means cheap to own.  It costs more to run than a Honda Civic.  It guzzles fuel and is as maintenance intensive as a Desperate Housewife.  But for the same price as said Honda, you can buy a flagship luxury sedan that sold for almost six figures when new.  One that has heated, massaging seats, dual climate control, sat nav, and more features than you could want.  Owning one would be like dating Teri Hatcher--sure there could be problems... but it's Teri Hatcher.           

Compared to the later 7 Series with its Bangle-butt and flame surfaces, the E38 has a clean, almost timeless style to it.  And unlike the Mercedes, Lexus, or just about any other full sized luxury sled, it is a driver's car.   I like it as much, if not more, than the Jaguar XKR.  But while the Jag only fires the synapses on the right side of my brain, the BMW appeals to my left brain as well.

Besides the great styling and performance, it offers the practicality of a large car and its almost indestructible.  For those times when it needs maintenance, there is a large online community to offer advice and a number of independent repair shops in town, both of which could help take the sting out the bills.  Plus, you can buy one for much less than $15K.  In fact, if you're careful, you could almost buy two.

As I write this post, there are several well cared for examples, near where I live, for less than $10K.  Unfortunately, they all have very high mileage and are for sale at the kinds of "fly by night" places run out of a trailer on a vacant lot. 

But there is a 2001 740i at a nearby Ford dealership that would be very tempting...