An old name in the luxury sedan game, the 7 Series has been a yardstick for decades.
We've already covered a lot of the big names in luxury in other series, the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Bentley Mulsanne, these are the heavy hitters. But what about mainstream luxury cars, the ones you'll see more than a couple times a year? These are cars like the BMW 7 Series, which sell in exponentially bigger numbers than anything from Rolls-Royce. Like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the 7 Series is a mainstay of luxury cars, one that you can depend on to be at the top of its game.
The 7 Series was first introduced in 1977 as a replacement for the New Six. BMW had been rapidly evolving from a maker of small cars into a luxury brand during the late Sixties and early Seventies, moving away from tiny cars like the Isetta into bigger sedans. The New Six bridged that gap to an extent, but the first generation of the 7 Series still wasn't quite how we think of it today. In those days, it was available only with a selection of inline six-cylinder engines and a manual transmission was offered as well. But even if it wasn't quite as huge or powerful as later 7 Series models, it was still quite technologically advanced.
BMW had been something of a pioneer in turbocharging technology, and in 1979, it brought out a turbo version of the 7 Series. The car had a 3.2-liter turbo inline-six but was badged as the 745i, one of many confusing badges used by BMW over the years. The 745i was offered only with an automatic transmission, but otherwise had quite a few options not found on other models. These included heated seats, a leather-wrapped phone and interior leather made of water buffalo hide. The second generation debuted in 1986 and it was radically different from the previous 7 Series.
The styling wasn't actually a huge departure, but the car now came with the usual inline-six engines as well as a pair of V8 options and a whopping 5.0-liter V12. This V12 was not only double the number of cylinders as the previous generation offered, but it was also a very advanced engine for its time. It produced 300 horsepower, and the 750i would become the first car in BMW history to need the electronically-regulated top speed of 155mph. There was also an integrated phone and fax machine, as well as a wine chiller, traction control and a system to automatically increase spring tension to keep the windshield wipers firmly planted to the windshield at higher speeds.
The special car from this generation never actually made it past the prototype phase. This was known as the 767i Goldfish, a prototype with a V16 engine. Such was the size of the engine that the radiator had to be moved to the trunk, which had to be fitted with vents. Badass as this car would have been, BMW recognized that 7 Series buyers tended to be a bit more conservative than the kind of lunatic needed to create a market for the Goldfish. There were, however, a couple of Alpina models offered, so that's something. The third generation which debuted in 1994 is still considered by many to be very best 7 Series ever offered.
This was the last of the line to be offered with a manual transmission, and also the last to be offered without BMW's initially poorly-received iDrive system. Contributing to this generation's popularity were numerous film appearances, far more than any other generation. A seriously incomplete but still impressive list includes "Live Free or Die Hard", "The Game", "Enemy of the State", "Bad Santa", "Fun With Dick and Jane" and very prominent roles in both "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "The Transporter". The latter is significant because it debuted after the fourth generation of the car had already launched, but the filmmakers still elected to use the older car.
This is actually indicative of what was going on at dealerships at the time as well. People were finding the iDrive system on the new car to be so difficult and generally unpleasant to use, to say nothing of the controversial new styling, that used models from the previous generation actually went through a period where they were increasing in value. In total, BMW sold more than 340,000 units of this generation, quite a feat. The fourth generation debuted in 2001 and was a much more obviously tech-heavy model than the previous generation, something continued in the current generation.
This is something Mercedes-Benz was already emphasizing in the S-Class, and Audi would also follow shortly thereafter with much more obvious tech in the A8. The current generation debuted in 2009 and received a facelift for this year. It has moved even further upmarket over the years, especially when it comes to the V12-powered 535-horsepower 760Li model. It cost some pretty serious money, but it will not disappoint.