Rewind: Capsule Review, 1988 BMW 750iL

Now it can be told, more than twenty years after the fact. This recent kid-smashing-up-press-car incident has caused me to think about my own misspent youth and the potential parallels between it and that of Little Lord Cheney. My father was a decorated war hero rather than a demoted war reporter, and when I crunched the nose of my first car my dad responded by taking away my license for an entire year and forcing me to ride a bicycle to my job washing dishes from 8pm to 2am at the local pizza-delivery place. He also made me learn how to drive on his stick-shift BMW 733i, so I never had the chance to drive a car through a garage door.

Still, I can point to a few incidents of damn-the-torpedos bad judgment in my teen years, and perhaps my favorite one was the day I found myself behind the wheel of a brand-new BMW 750il and decided to take a shot at one hundred and fifty-five miles per hour.

In the summer of 1989, my one-year license suspension came to a end and I was permitted to go to work for David Hobbs BMW as a parts and service delivery driver. This was a reasonably miserable job, as it mostly consisted of driving replacement body panels to local collision shops. I drove a stakebed Plymouth Arrow truck — the little-known and even less-loved badge-engineered variant of the Dodge Ram 50, itself a badge-engineered Mitsubishi Mighty Max — which had a tape player but did not have power brakes. When my co-worker totaled the truck, I rejoiced… until the replacement arrived, a four-speed Ranger without power steering and a max speed of sixty miles per hour downhill.

I considered myself a bit of a wheelman in this, my eighteenth year, but in truth everything I knew about driving had been learned from one snowy winter powersliding a bias-ply-tired Mercury Marquis around. I’d also read a lot of Car and Driver, so I could regurgitate everything their staff knew, which wasn’t much. I did, however, know that the new BMW 750il could read the exalted, improbable speed of 155 miles per hour.

Don’t laugh. Here in 2010, when Camry Value Editions can clock fourteen-second quarter-miles and SUVs regularly knock on the door of 170mph, the idea of doing 155 doesn’t seem so impressive. Twenty-one years ago, it was almost unheard of. Unless you had a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or a recent Corvette, you weren’t gonna come close. And here’s BMW, with an outrageous twelve-cylinder luxury car that can take you to Mach 0.2 with the air-conditioning on! Not that the dealer would ever let the parts-delivery kid drive one.

Until, that is, the day when a typically snobbish Eighties Bimmer customer called and demanded that his car be returned to him across town. He had one of our loaners, and none of the service writers had time to make the trip, so I was called up to the sales desk. They told me to spend five quality minutes with a can of DL Hand Cleaner and to deliver the car without incident. I knew immediately that I was going to try for 155. I had the same dreamy, dazed certainty that comes over a teenaged boy the first time a girl slides her jeans off. This was going to happen.

My first impressions sitting down in the E32 750il was that it wasn’t much of a step over Dad’s previous-gen 733i. Most of the surfaces were flat, boring, and cheap-looking. Only the impressive tape player saved the visual day. The seats were wide, flat, not sporty. The five-liter V-12, already considered an “irredeemable piece of shit” by the shop mechanics, was utterly quiet and characterless. Still, it punched me forward like nothing I’d ever driven. The 533i which held pride of place in my personal Top Trumps was a sled compared to this. Time to go for a ride.

The downtown freeway, I-70, was bumper-to-bumper and it appeared I wasn’t going to have a chance to cheat death… but five miles from the client’s exit, open lanes began to appear so I pressed throttle to carpet and literally grabbed the wheel for dear life. I’d never beaten 90mph, but I was past 100 before I began to feel any kind of concern about the situation. Up and up the needle drifted as the traffic flashed by. Into the V-rated-tire zone, the big BMW wasn’t perfectly stable, following the road crown and the tractor-trailer-generated depressions in the road with a few alarming wobbles. Just as I cleared 140 a car ahead wandered into my lane. I jammed the brakes, passed it on the right, took a breath, and accelerated again.

Back up to 140 and I could see the exit ahead. One mile left. The “Seventy-Five Oil” didn’t exactly scream for the limiter. Slowly we approached 150… then past it… did I hit the limiter? A pair of trucks reeled back into the windshield. I mashed the brake with all the subtlety of a newspaper journo hackin’ it up at Mosport and swung across the solid white lines onto the exit ramp at the last minute.

I stepped out of the car two minutes later, sweat staining my dirty “BMW Service” T-shirt, and sat shaking in an office as our important client demonstrated his importance by making a desperately poor, tired, and frightened seventeen-year-old wait half an hour to exchange keys. The loaner car was a 325iX, BMW’s unlamented all-wheel-drive E30 sedan, and I knew it was considered pretty hot stuff, but I didn’t even bother to hit the speed limit on the way back. I’d done it. I’d reached a speed very few American drivers could honestly say they’d seen, and I’d been paid $3.45 an hour for the drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about the escapade, and for this and many other entirely legitimate reasons (such as falling asleep in the parking lot during lunch and waking up hours later after the shop had closed) I was released from the employ of David Hobbs BMW a month later. It would take me a decade before I owned a BMW myself, and by then the dealership, of which I was far from being the most incompetent employee, had managed to wander out of business. I would like to tell you I’m wiser now, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s only that time flies and sometimes you need a wide-open throttle to catch up.

34 Replies to “Rewind: Capsule Review, 1988 BMW 750iL”

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Yes. I met him a grand total of twice. He was the very definition of an absentee owner and the business suffered as a result. Hard to believe you could a make a mess out of a BMW franchise but his team managed the task.

      • AvatarShoogy Bee

        David Hobbs owned a Honda dealership in the Milwaukee area as well. It’s still around – I believe his son runs it these days.

  1. Avatar-Nate

    I didn’t exceed 100 MPH until I was in my 20’s due to lack of anything that’d go that fast .

    I love your various $tealership stories and the others generated in the comments section .

    I did a few foolish things but always needed the damn paycheck too much to risk serious idiocy .

    TIP: don’t get married and have kids when you’re 18


    • AvatarJosh Howard

      In a great many ways, the world would be a far better place if more people got married and had kids when they were 18. Not saying it’s for everyone, but I think we’ve lost something in pushing our wrecklessness out to older and older ages via increased length of childhood. The struggle either brings you closer or blows things up. Historically speaking, it worked out pretty well. My biggest regret in life so far is waiting so long to marry my wife and have our baby girl. Yes, it sucks to feel broke. That little smile makes it worth it though. I often wonder what foolishness I would have passed up if we would have tied the knot closer to my early 20s rather than my mid 20s. Always enjoy your comments, Nate.

      • Avatar-Nate

        Thanx Josh ;

        After my childhood I worry endlessly that I may have somehow screwed up my beloved Son, so far he’s done far better than I could have dreamed .

        @ SSE, your descriptions are spot on .

        Twenty tears ago I began driving old Mercedes Diesels (W123’s, all of them) and was told to run them up as fast as they’d go occasionally to heat up and blow out the accumulated carbon, this worked well, one time I got my hands on a Garmin and was amazed to see this old nail would get up to 135MPH, scaring the crap right out of me as I’ve been a junkyard junkie since the 1960’s (big V8’s & bias ply tires, shudder) and have seen and worked on/with many grisly wrecks , some like Jack, my Son and others here, were apparently born with a driving skillset I can only dream of .

        I recently discovered the wastgate on that particular ‘Benz Diesel is broken and that’s why it would go so damn fast at less than full throttle, I now know it had 20# of boost when wound up that tight, no wonder I fried a the 5 piston before 400,000 miles .

        (BTW: Parenting is often scarier than doing the ton on a borrowed Motocycle)

    • AvatarNoID

      Married at 17, first child at 18, 3 kids by the time I graduated with my BS at the ripe old age of 24.

      I admit that sometimes I look at the daily drivers, vacations, project cars, weekend escapades, and home projects of my similarly-aged-but-childless peers and feel what I’m not ashamed to call jealous. But there’s something about the love of your children and comfort of a truly known woman beside you that those things simply can’t touch. Yeah, the bills suck and continually being in First World Survival Mode as the head of a SIMK household wears on you, but at the end of the day (which far too often is far too close to the beginning of the next day) it all feels much more worthwhile.

      All that to say this, Nate: You do you, and don’t pine for the experiences of others. Chances are they think your grass is greener anyways.

      • Avatarhank chinaski

        Good on you. The current practice of extended childhood is the path to extinction. Donning my tinfoil hat, I’d say it’s intentional, to break the bonds of the extended family to replace them with IngSoc and CrapCorp Inc.
        If the clones can navigate the minefield of triple digit Tinderella careergirls, it would be nice to have (legitimate) grandchildren before Social Security kicks in.

        • Avatarnightfly

          There are a lot of reasons in favor of earlier marriage and family: one lessens the chance of winding up like my Dad, dying way too young. The sooner one’s family is begun, the less likely one is to leave behind a gaggle of school-aged children and a substantial debt. Second is that those kids will have a much more active parent when they are active kids themselves. Third, the eldest will age naturally into helper roles just when the parents are approaching middle age, and any surprise children will have a lot of people to help them along and set good examples.

          Not everyone can do this, or even should do this, but there ought to be reasons for delay beyond just “Oh, I’m 25 and there’s plenty of time.” That’s a perfect recipe to find oneself sitting around at 35, lamenting alone with Pink Floyd lyrics playing way too loud in your empty apartment.

      • Avatar-Nate

        Thanx NoID ;

        I also had the great fun of riding Motocyles with my Son every where when he was 12 through his settling down .

        Now, sadly he only races or commutes on Motos these days .

        I have few regrets, I’ll never be rich nor famous but life has been pretty good to me so far .

        I’m pretty sure the lean $ days of his youth taught him to appreciate things and handle his money better ~ he certainly lives a higher standard of living than I ever did or will .


  2. AvatarRod Jones

    Great story. Around the same time I had a 300ZX Twin Turbo that I had bought wrecked and put back together and added a big diameter exhaust system. One day on the 60 freeway headed east from Moreno Valley California I decided to see how fast it will go which ended up being 155. I thought it was pretty damned impressive for a 1990s car. The only car I have owned since that would go that fast was my 2009 BMW 335d. The BMW literally felt at home going that fast where the Nissan was shall we say Twitchy.

  3. AvatarSkynet Service Engineer

    There is a certain point of velocity, different for every vehicle, at which all distraction fades away and one is left in a moment of zen. A strange blend of total calm and total alertness, conscious of the laws being broken but uncaring, letting the feedback of steering and noise and read outs suggest the right course of action—anything but “slow down”, naturally. The seductive siren song of redline in the highest gear and highest glory growing further and further out of reach as horsepower struggles to overcome aerodynamics.

    The next level to this occurs when the safety barrier—the Mach wall of sanity—is crossed. No longer is this an academic exercise, enough room to run off or slow down, enough traction to evade a deer appearing around the back road’s corner, enough time to spot a trooper and haul it down enough to get a large ticket instead of a small set of handcuffs.

    No, at this stage you gamble with the only currency you will ever truly own—your own life. Your future. Your finances and health, job prospects and relationships—although usually they don’t enter into the thought process—if there is a thought process. The table stakes are life. Or death. And either way, done with every possible intent to avoid anybody else.

    It eliminates thought altogether. With everything to lose and nothing but a confirmation of your mastery over your own testosterone-poisoned soul to gain, it is possible to become one with the machine. Long habits of careful practice descend from consciousness to subliminal movements. Your hands and feet control without instruction, without awareness, and this is the eye of the storm and a fierce exhiliration at surviving to reach it and for every eternal moment you can let it possess you.

    Eventually it must fade as all things do. Fluids are low. Fluids are high. Temperatures have altered, perhaps traction is not what it once was. Perhaps the part of you that is organic is low on adrenaline at last, perhaps it is the hour of deer, rubber slipping, or zealous local law enforcement. The right foot moves. Ulysses puts cotton in his ears and becomes able to resist the siren’s synthetic scream.

    Nothing has been gained, the cold comedown, the shakes as the sane-thinking rational part of you once again returns to think about just how many close calls you failed to care about, that you have to go to work / home to your family / on with your life / back to the rental agency. But yet, the shakes are also of joy, of tears, of almost uncontrollable laughter. You have played a game with Death, the game of physics, the simplified game of life.

    And you are here in your victory.

    “Sir, do you know why I stopped you tonight? Sir, your engine is smoking. SIR PLEASE GET BACK IN YOUR VEHICLE.”

    My body has been hurt. It is only human to say ouch, to look first before anything.

    This point is different for every person and every vehicle. Some are sublime and composed as they crest the ton with grace and horses to spare. Some require more caning and less absolute quantity of speed. Some people’s organic engines do not generate sufficient nerve to break the maximum legal Texas limits, some people require liter-bike velocities.

    I have been exhilarated and terrified in a 66-horsepower—in 1982–hatchback at 80 miles per hour and measured a heart rate of resting 60 in a diesel van at 95 miles per hour. I was taken for a 130mph ride in a road-adhering lizard of a Porsche at 8, watching traffic rewind backwards, stationary, despite knowing they were doing highway speed.

    It is a transformative experience, staring into the face of the infinite as seen in the form of the eternal road.

    “Sir, do you know how long I’ve been trying to catch up with you?”

    Ten minutes of transcendence. What is that truly worth?

    • AvatarMental

      It’s worth nothing of course, and everything.

      As I near 48 rotations around the sun, I read your comments with absolute understanding. I have yet to own a vehicle that I never tested the top speed on. Some as innocuous as a 71 Kombi Camper (73 mph) to a 2nd gen Supra on the Autobahn (250 kilometers indicated).

      Your description is spot on, even the bit about ignorance. After that 250 kph run, a co-worker mentioned I had done that on “R” rated tires. I remember thinking how stupid that was, but not being scared. Even though I know I should have been.

      Any number of ill planned runs later, I recall a solid, flat run of a few miles to the front gate of Schriever AFB just outside Falcon Colorado. I had an appointment and was coming to work after 9 on my GSXR 1000. It was a clear day and I just thought “why not?” At 150 the chip said no mas.

      I am not being flippant. I have recognized limits in roads or traffic. A 2 years ago I backed off my VFR at 140 plus becuase I couldn’t see far enough over a rise. But at 2 AM on the Kansas turnpike in 2011, I was deep into the 140s in my 996 before I arrived at the same decision. She had more but the road was approaching a service center I I knew there would be law enforcement. Those speeds don’t get you tickets.

      Even as I type this, I know I should be bothered, and yet I am not. My RV like most Ford trucks shuts off at 95. My Boxster accelerates at too slow of a speed for me to find the other end, but it has seen 130 indicated. My Suburban is runs against the wall of aerodynamics just past 120. A little more when it’s cold and the 5.3 can muster some extra hp. My V Star 650? 90 if I lay on the tank and drop my left arm.

      Just to keep it honest, my Vino 50 cc scooter is 42 down a steep hill.

      I do value the safety of others so all of these shenanigans have occurred on empty stretches of blacktop at unused hours, usually early mornings and the first sign of taillights results in a lift.

      But yeah, a deer, dog, hell even a raccoon at that speed is a disaster but it never enters my thoughts when I am doing it. It won’t be a deterrent for my next vehicle.

      “Do you know why I stopped you?”

      Of course sir,

      “Do you know why you were doing it?”

      I’m not sure I do. I just felt like I had to.

      • AvatarMARK

        I get it too. I’ve always topped out (or come very close) everything I’ve owned, two wheels and four, and plenty of rental units, two wheels and four. I’m still bummed I didn’t find a good spot last month in Ireland to see what the Honda NC750X “appliance bike” rental I had would do.

      • AvatarKevin Jaeger

        High speed by itself isn’t dangerous as long as the road conditions are good. It sounds like Jack’s immature run with the customer’s BMW was indeed reckless, but I’ve certainly done similar speeds on empty roads or in Germany where it’s perfectly legal.

        But doing that with a customer’s car in traffic? Wow, that certainly was ridiculously poor judgement.

      • Avatareverybodyhatesscott

        I’ve topped out every vehicle I’ve owned too with the exception of my R-1. Going 186 mph doesn’t seem like a good idea anymore. 10 years ago I might have had a different opinion.

      • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

        I hit a coyote in an S-10 with the engine bouncing off the rev limiter at ~92 and it just disappeared. I don’t think an average sized dog or a raccoon would really do anything at almost any speed.

    • AvatarCarmine

      This was really great.

      There is a certain thing about breaking that barrier, whatever it is, be it 106 in a LeSabre or 140 in Trans Am(done both) that puts you in a certain zone, all the switches are lit up, you’re Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, out the on the bleeding edge, no chance for rescue, no chance for escape.

  4. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    Speed is relative to where you are in my humble opinion. What is fast on the street is barely moving on a track. I have been at eye watering speeds on both. Fastest I have driven on the street was around 160, in a Buick Roadmaster. Yes, you read that correctly. At first glance the car SEEMED normal, except, well, it sits a little low. And there don’t seem to be any remnants of the factory bumpers. And, damn, them are some big ole tires. As it unfolded, the owner had a NASCAR style chassis built for it, installed a blown stroked 455CI block engine. And let me tell you, that car would make a baptist minister want to take up drinking. We used to run around the outer loop of I-285 at about 2-4am, a distance of 62.7 miles. My personal best, in a built 2.2 engine Dodge, was 24 1/2 minutes
    Fastest on a track was on a drag strip. A friend ran a big block rear engine dragster in NHRA and I took it for a few passes when considering buying it. With the “stutter box” shut off, and not laying over on the top end, it would run around 7.10 seconds at around 180mph. But being a track, the speeds I ran my little hot rod Dodge on the street, seemed 3 times faster.
    At the top of the frightening fast tho, is still in the sprint car. I’m not certain, but I think I saw Jesus pointing at me and shaking his head.

      • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

        Yep, I’m kinda around metro ATL (at least when I’m home, spend a lotta time onna road). I’m out in Newton, near to Jasper county, where them Duke boys used to play.

        My current travels have me on the road until mid October, at the moment I’m up in Jacks part of the world, Then I head to Virginia, then Florida before I get home.

        Drop me a note sometime and we can go find a cold beverage.

  5. AvatarWidgetsltd

    While in Germany last week, I requested a BMW 1-Series rental. What I got was a Mini John Cooper Works cabrio. In an unrestricted section of the Autobahn, somewhere between Munich and Stuttgart, I saw 211 km/h. That’s 131 mph. I was sure that the car had more speed in it, but given the traffic conditions I didn’t want to try for more. I’m no longer as carefree as I was at 18 or 25 years old. Apparently it can reach 245 km/h.

  6. Avatarscotten

    I’m still waiting for you to punch both Peter Cheney and his son in their faces. I vaguely remember that story from TTAC from 2010 and remember despising them and I still have not gotten over it!

  7. Avatarltrftc

    I can’t believe it’s over 8 years since I read that story. Jack, when did you race old man Lutz and his Caddy? That’s a story worth a re-run.

  8. AvatarDanio

    I remember the first time I tried for the high score in my mom’s 1G Taurus. 117mph and then sailed through the air after hitting a raised rail crossing. Blew out a strut but managed to save it, but not my underwear.

  9. AvatarCompaq Deskpro

    My 2014 Challenger with V6 and Mercedes 5 speed auto runs out of gearing at 139 mph. ZF 8 speed should have no trouble getting to 155.

  10. AvatarWulfgar

    Like most here, I feel the need to exercise whatever I own. From my youthful days in a V6 Mercury Capri to my 1973 455 4-speed Trans Am all the way to my Sublime Hellcat I’ve felt exhilaration in pushing every one. But motorcycles give me the biggest rush, especially the effortless speed modern hyper-bikes build. I’ve had the luxury of being on tracks in the U.S., Spain and Germany and there is nothing that compares. To me, at least.

  11. AvatarPaul Alexander

    My parents wouldn’t allow me to take the driver’s test until I learned stick, which I did in my dad’s Ranger. It was also a model sans power steering as well as having a first gear that had a very idiosyncratic clutch engagement that my father didn’t think required repair despite acknowledging the difficulty of getting the thing moving. After I got my license, I went through first an ’81 Accord hatchback and then an 1985 Tempo, both of which made merging at highway speed nothing short of, um, exhilarating. I then got what I considered a rocket ship: a V6 powered 1989 Chevy S-10. There’s a long stretch of straight, flat, normally empty road that comes straight off the freeway that leads directly into my hometown, and one night I decided to see what she was capable of. I crested 100 and made it all the way to 110MPH. It felt like I had established a new land speed record.

  12. AvatarE. Ryan Cheek

    I still haven’t seen 155mph from behind the wheel. However, after my parents gave up trying to teach me how to drive a manual, in my ’89 325i, my best friend came over and took over instructor duties. He drove my car to the end of our long rural country road to the largest church parking lot on that side of town. We switched places and with renewed confidence I took the driver’s seat. First time applying equal and opposing pressures to the throttle and clutch the car slid perfectly into first gear and we were off. I was so excited I just kept accelerating. Luckily the 1.2 mile semi-straight leaving the church parking lot proved perfectly long enough for me to send the white needle just past 100mph. I was so focused after managing to move the car forward without sputters or chirps I never realized my bff was screaming for his life. His obscenities hit my ears like a clash of symbols once I let off the accelerator and my smile faded. Apparently that was his first time over 100mph….ever. (Lame parents)

  13. AvatarGlenn Kramer

    I had a 750 in ’92. One early morning in North Carolina, the interstate was empty and… I centered the car on the lane divider and opened it up. 100 came and went. 110, 120, 130, the road started to look really narrow. At between 135 and 140, I had had enough. I eased off, the car smirked at me, “will that be all, sir?”. When it got down to 90, it felt like I could get out and walk. The 750 and 850 were the only cars I’ve owned that made me feel inadequate, they were far better cars than I was a driver.

  14. AvatarDirt Roads

    Let’s see, 125 in my old Corvette and it had a lot left. Hit 135 on my old Sabre 65 and it had a lot left.

    But at some point during both those runs, the thought hit me, if I’m going to go this fast, I should be in the air. You know, with wings and a propeller.

  15. AvatarJim Zeigler

    Hit an armadillo at 125 in a borrowed 5.7L GTO. Replacing the lower valence hurt my 19 year-old pocketbook something awful.


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