Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Back in the mid 1980’s BMW were already dominating the luxury cruiser market with the E24 635CSi. Hence when the 8 series was released many people saw it as a successor to the 6 series, whilst in fact BMW’s plan with the 8 was for it to be classed completely differently, as they designed it to move beyond the market of the smaller 6. With a much higher price tag, better performance and next-level technology, the 8 series unsurprisingly became BMW’s flagship car. However, the original 850ci V12 initially did not take off as BMW had hoped, and unfortunately sales were minimal. It wasn’t until the release of the smaller 840ci V8 that sales started picking up, although to this very day the 8 series still remains a rare and sought after car. Let’s face it, the majority of examples we see on the road are completely standard, usually with a retired gentleman in the driver’s seat. So when Matt Clifford got in touch to inform me that he was planning to put one on air, I immediately became very excited.
Matt only recently became aware of the 8 series platform. He’d never seen or knew about them until a few months back, when he saw one on the road for the first time. Since that sighting, Matt was hooked. He fell for the factory features that the car offered… pop up headlights, pillarless body, power memory seats, and of course the 4.4 litre V8 under the hood. After much searching and fixating online, he realised it was a car that is rarely modified. He knew it was prime for lowering, and would look phenomenal on air. Plus, it would be the first one in the world.
Matt was initially going to spend a small fortune on his R32, but after realising what he could do with an 8 series, this idea was shelved and quickly sold in order for him to find the perfect E31. The 8 series is a big, expensive car to run, and they are notorious for being ‘money pits’, which is why so many people tend to avoid them. Matt knew the risks, and decided to spend the money on a good one rather than be tempted by a much cheaper example. What a result, he ended up finding a 1998 840ci Sport in one of the best possible colour combos – Velvet Blue Metallic with contrasting Ivory White leather interior.
The spec was perfect and just what Matt was looking for. Mechanically the car was almost sound.. bar a few small issues such as bushes and some other niggles that Matt managed to get the dealer’s to sort out before collection. He didn’t want any unfortunate failures with his new Autobahn stormer.
Matt’s 840i came on the factory BMW ‘Throwing Star’ wheels, which played some part in his new choice of upgrade. Wanting to mimic the factory look, but bring it into the 21st century, he opted for a custom set of 19″ polished Rotiform’ TMBs – a staggered set with 9j fronts and huge 10j rears which are perfectly suited to the car that already has infinite space in the rear wheel wells to tuck these huge wheels. Tyre wise, Matt opted for 215/35’s up front and 235/35’s at the rear for optimal fitment. Unfortunately the wheels were only available in 5×112 so Matt had to overcome this by adding some custom G23 20mm adaptors all round.
Being an automotive videographer, Matt has spent plenty of time shooting and dealing with countless bagged cars through Watercooled Society and his own company, Matt Media. After experiencing the intuitive and user friendly system on several cars, he knew he wanted to go for an Airlift Performance kit to get the 840ci sitting on the floor, but be drivable at the same time with no effort whatsoever. As I’ve mentioned before, these are expensive cars to look after – Matt didn’t want to be ruining the underside of the car by driving it static at the height he’d have liked. It was time to get this baby on air.
After much research for someone that would do the job properly, Matt opted for the skills of PURE Customs in Coventry to undertake the mammoth task of installing the Airlift universal kit. This included mating the factory hubs to the new Air Lift struts which involved lots of precision, cutting and welding to get it as low to the ground as possible, just as Matt required. Like us, he feels that if you’re going to put a car on air, you’d better make sure it’s going to be as low as physically possible, or don’t bother at all. It’s fair to say that the guys at PURE Customs did a tremendous job and completely delivered on that.
The interior is as you would expect from an 80s/90s luxury barge.. fully loaded. And of course it has that retro vibe to it. The Ivory White sports leather interior is prestige, and has been kept in outstanding condition, very surprising for a colour that is usually overly worn and marked due to its age. Matt recently upgraded from the factory 4-spoke airbag steering wheel to a much more desirable 3-spoke ‘sport’ BMW wheel, which has been completely re-trimmed with the M-power colours – a clever way to modernise the interior.
Everything else inside the cabin has been kept stock, which I love. So many people tend to go overboard with seats, or stripping a car unnecessarily, but Matt has kept the 8 series as it should be, luxurious and comfortable. The only other thing you’ll notice that is out of the ordinary, bar the steering wheel, is the Airlift AutoPilot V2 controller – one of the most advanced and user friendly air management controllers on the market.
Being one of the later produced E31’s, Matt’s 840ci left the factory with the newer 4.4litre M62B44 V8 lump delivering 286bhp, which gave improved fuel economy and more torque than the older M60B40 engine, although the MPG is still abysmal. This is mated to a 5-speed auto box which is ideal for the cruiser that it essentially is.
Clearly Matt has created something very special. Everywhere he goes the car is attention grabbing, with its dominating presence. They’re mean looking cars as stock, but seeing that front end sitting flat on the floor takes it to a new level. Matt has mentioned numerous times how happy he is about having not spent the money on his old R32 – as this would’ve been a common sight in the car scene. Instead, he’s now built a car that is different and which reflects his personality. At the end of the day, an enthusiast’s car is one of the most treasured objects he or she will own.
The later ‘Sport’ models shipped with a few goodies as seen on the 850CSI, including reshaped Sport front and rear bumpers, ‘M’ wing mirrors and redesigned sport front seats with pull out leg support, as seen earlier.
Don’t you just love those pop up headlights, too? For a car that Matt has only owned for 6 months, it’s already been seen my millions of people around the world due to it being snapped at every car show Matt has attended this year. It just oozes beauty, luxury and prestige in a most stunning package. It goes to show what you can achieve if you think outside the box… so, those of you wanting to take on a new project, try to think of a model that hasn’t been done to death. If executed correctly, the results can be truly amazing. There’s no denying that this is one of my favourite cars of 2014, and I cannot wait to see what subtle changes Matt has up his sleeve for next year – the car will hopefully will be making an appearance at Ultimate Dubs for the start of the 2015 show season.