The 8-series was produced for ten years but was sold in the States for just over half that time. For the 1993 model year, the name was changed to 850Ci, and the V-8-powered 840Ci was added for '94. The 840Ci was some $20,000 cheaper but just as quick, so in response, the 850Ci's V-12 eventually was enlarged to 5.4 liters, its output bumped to 322 hp, and the four-speed automatic replaced by a five-speed. But neither V-12 ever sated speed freaks.

   That job was reserved for the 1994-1997 850CSi. Built by Motorsport GmbH, the CSi wasn't given an M8 badge because that name was reserved for an even more potent 8-series that was still under development (but never saw production). Still, the CSi's fire-breathing 372-hp, 5.6-liter V-12 was heavily massaged, as was its suspension and steering, and it was finally the 8-series that hard-core enthusiasts wanted all along.

      It still is, and unfortunately that demand is reflected in its price. An 850CSi can command five times as much as a run-of-the-mill 850i. But it's the lesser 850i's affordability that makes it so compelling - for less than the price of a brand-new Nissan Versa, you can own one of the most visually stunning German cars of the past half-century. Case in point, I recently drove an 850i to the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. Unfazed by the mundane Bentleys and dime-a-dozen Rolls-Royces surrounding me, the valet attendant asked for permission to park the BMW up front. "I just want to look at it all day," he said.

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