Junkyard Gem: 1985 BMW 635CSi

During the middle 1980s, well-heeled American car shoppers wishing to drive a flashy, powerful coupe had plenty of tempting options. Detroit would sell you an Eldorado or Mark VII, for example, while Mercedes-Benz offered a two-door version of the mighty W126 proto-S-Class and Jaguar had the XJS with two doors and a V12 under the hood. If you wanted the evilest-looking new coupe of them all in 1985, the one that looked like its trunk was full of kilos of white powder and maybe a deceased business rival or two, you had but one choice: the BMW E24 6 Series. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, a first-year 635CSI now residing in a Northern California self-service car graveyard.

BMW sold the E24 here from the 1977 through 1989 model years, and it shared much of its chassis design with that of the E12 and E28 5 Series. In fact, the cheaper 5 Series generally proved to be quicker than its 6 Series cousin, due to the E24’s heavier weight, but the E24 looked faster.

23 1985 BMW 633CSi in California junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

For 1985, U.S.-market BMWs with the “Big Six” engine got a displacement upgrade over the previous year, from a nominal 3.3 liters to a nominal 3.5 liters. This meant that the 533i, 633CSi and 733i became the 535i, 635CSi and 735i here. This engine was rated at 182 horsepower and 214 pound-feet.

24 1985 BMW 633CSi in California junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

BMW cheated a bit on engine designations during this period, with the “3.3” engine displacing an actual 3.21 liters and the “3.5” displacing a mere 3.43 liters. On the other side of the Atlantic, the turbocharged version of the 7 Series was called the 745i, despite its 3.2-liter engine, presumably because turbocharging was considered magical at that time. In any case, the 1985 635CSi was respectably quick for its era, though noticeably slower than its European-market counterparts and their dirtier-running engines.

16 1985 BMW 633CSi in California junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Americans had been falling out of love with manual transmissions for decades by the time this car was sold, and so it has a ZF four-speed automatic. Later in the decade, U.S.-market 6 Series buyers were charged the same for two pedals or three, but in 1985 the automatic cost an extra $750, or $2,319 in 2023 money.

13 1985 BMW 633CSi in California junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Junkyard shoppers stripped everything from the interior of this car before I arrived, so it must have been in nice shape.

35 1985 BMW 633CSi in California junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

How much did it cost when new? The MSRP for this car was $41,315, which comes to about $120,534 after inflation. The 7 Series was cheaper than the 6 series that year, with a $36,880 list price ($107,595 today). The Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC cost $57,100 in 1985, or an impressive $166,585 in 2023 dollars. Put another way, you could buy seven new ’85 Chevy Sprints for the price of a single 635CSi, with enough left over to install a good aftermarket audio system in the Suzuki-built Chevrolet.

As for those proletariat worms willing to be seen in public in a Sprint, BMW had this to say: “As long as there are people who can afford perfection, BMW will continue to pursue it.”

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