BMW 2800

12,000 miles with prestige German saloon.

(Autocar, 16th April 1970. By Geoffrey P. Howard. UK.)

First impressions can be fickle. Lots of cars with yards of showroom appeal dull off in use and become quite mundane with continued acquaintance, and a driver can become so familiar with his car that any shortcomings pass unnoticed as they develop. My feelings on the 24 July 1969 remain as fresh as if it were yesterday, largely because I relived them all over again last week when I reacquainted myself with the same car after a considerable lapse away from it.

   As regular readers will know there has been a BMW of one kind or another in use as an Autocar staff car for several years now. From a manual 1800 we moved to an automatic 2000 and then to one of the first 2002s in which we covered a very reliable 30,000 miles. Last July Mike Scarlett and Stuart Bladon went on a trip to Munich to pick up and bring home our new six-cylinder saloon. We had requested a 2500 manual car with power steering.

   It was a blistering hot summer’s day when they arrived back in the office, cheerful, perspiring and cluttered with the impedimenta of the job. With a nonchalance that comes only after years of self-control, Mike muttered “Oh, by the way, your car has an extra 300 c.c.” Composure went by the board as I scrambled down to the car park to find the first right-hand drive 2800 in deep regal red, with grey cord upholstery and no power steering.

   “Impressed” is a king-sized understatement of how half the office, it seemed, reacted to a detail examination of our new toy. It was a beautiful piece of engineering from end to end, with quite the best laid out cockpit I have come across and an incredible tool kit hidden in the boot lid lining.

   If the 2800 impressed in the car park, it positively sparkled on the road. The inline six-cylinder engine is incredibly smooth all the way from a 750 rpm idle to the red mark at 6,200 rpm … and beyond. The running-in instructions were as generous as one would expect and Mike had taken a hasty picture on the autobahn outside Munich as the total mileage recorder passed all the zeros from its 99,978 (minus 22 in effect, to allow for factory testing) starting figure. Note that he is below 4,000 rpm and indicating just short of 80 mph, all within the manufacturer’s recommended limits; not bad for a brand new car.

   The trip back was made in remarkably good time and the car was in fine fettle after the 700-mile journey on which it averaged 24.6 mpg. It went straight to MLG at Chiswick for the first service and for seat belts to be fitted. The only complaints were a peculiar induction whistle on idling which had developed in Belgium, and the beginnings of a rattle from the gearbox when idling in neutral. The whistle persisted for some time and then disappeared, while the rattle got slowly worse, especially when the transmission was really warm.

   At the first glance one aspect of the detail trim had jarred my aesthetic senses. Decorative grille panles on the top of the bonnet lid were a garish chrome-plated plastic, while similar grilles for the air extractors on the rear quarter panels were sprayed in body colour. All four were easily removed and I sprayed them with a can of Bradville mat black aerosol, dramatically improving the effect to my eye at least.

   There was no trouble at all during the early part of the car’s life (although we were keeping a watchful ear on the gearbox) until one day in September when I was on a trip to Brighton. Just as I entered the busy part of the western town shopping area a most alarming scraping noise started up in the left front hub. Everyone stopped to stare at the noise which was at the same pitch, but louder, as an exhaust system dragging in the road. A hasty check showed nothing adrift so I crept noisily to the local BMW distributors, Seven Dials Motors, arriving just as the workshop was breaking for lunch.

   Without introducing myself I put them to the test and they came up trumps. Immediate inspection revealed that one of the retaining bolts for the disc dust shield had worked loose, dropped out and become jammed in the lip of the sheet metal shield, being rubbed by the edge of the disc as the wheel turned. It took a little while to find a replacement bold of the right size, but I was on my way again soon after lunch with a receipt for £1 10s. in my pocket.

  The next item in the car’s programme was to measure the performance at MIRA which we did at a mileage of just over 4,500. It was during this tests that I began to sense the engine becoming slightly rough on the overrun. By the time we had returned to London the re was quite a definite resonance in what was up until then a perfectly smooth unit. I thought no more of it until Mike Scarlett reported he had abandoned the car on M1 with the crankshaft nose pulley adrift. This incorporates a torsional damper and had obviously been coming loose for some time. The car was collected by MLG and repaired under warranty. A check with their service manager and the concessionaires at Brighton showed that this was a unique happening and no similar faults had been reported.

   By the time the 8,000-mile service came up it was decided to take the gearbox out and examine it for the source of the unusual tapping which was no better, though really no worse either. BMW warranties in the UK last six months or 6,000 miles, whichever is the first to be reached, but even after this limit they will consider claims on their circumstances. This is general policy and indicates no special favour to us; the gearbox had blatantly been noisy from scratch, and we could have insisted on earlier rectification.

   A strip down showed that there was a faulty thrust race and some adjustment to the selectors was also carried out. When refitted it was much quieter but stiff and notchy for a couple of thousand miles until it freed off.

   At about this time we decided to try tyres other than the Continental radials on which the car had been supplied. These were the latest 70-series profile and appeared to be well up to the performance capabilities of the car, but they suffered badly from a lack of wet road grip particularly in London. Michelin could not supply 70-series XAS so we accepted normal 185-section which is the size fitted to the BMW 2500.

   Early on in the BMW’s life I had raised the front tyre pressures 2 psi above standard to give quicker steering response and reduce some of the inherent understeer. With the XAS the steering was even better still and the whole problem of wet road adhesion was licked immediately. When the Continentals came off the car at 8,500 miles the front ones were 35 per cent worn and the rears 53 per cent worn. The Michelins showed wear rates of 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively for an equivalent mileage.

   Just as we reached the 12,000-mile mark a strange ticking noise began under the floor at prop-shaft speed. We rushed the car back to MLG who found a bolt in the rubber coupling had sheared in half and worked out to foul the gearbox tailshaft. It was caught in the nick of time before any damage was caused.

   That really amounts to the total mechanical record for the car to date. Initially we had slight trouble with door catches which were soon sorted out with lubricant and attention to the striker plate positions. During performance testing a blackbird took off the track towards the car and we collected it slap in the middle of the pressed alloy radiator grille at about 110 mph. This was replaced at our expense as was the bright metal rubbing strip over the nearside rear wheel arch, which I grazed on a parked van when I misjudged the width in a narrow backstreet.

   For quite some time early on we suffered from a flatspot on sharp right-hand corners and plug fouling in heavy traffic. These two faults were not connected for a long time until MLG stripped the carburettors and found a small piece of fluff in one of the needle valves which had been upsetting the level in that float chamber. After this the carburetion was always absolutely clean at all times.

   At the time when the measurements were taken for this 12,000-mile report a close examination was made throughout the car in detail. The exterior paintwork and bright metal have stood up what has been a very severe winter extremely well indeed. The car only needs a quick wash to come up as shiny as when new and the chrome is free from pock-marks and rust.

   Inside, the upholstery is about ready for a shampoo, the dark grey velvet cord ribs having lost their sheen on the wearing surfaces of the front seats. The carpets, which do not lift out for brushing, should now be unscrewed and given a good beating. Other than this and a knob which has dropped off one of the heater control levers, the car is as perfect as the day it left the factory. We shall now go on to at least 20,000 miles and report again later in the year.

   At the beginning of this article I described my feeling when first taking over the car and mentioned reliving them again. Although I ran the car almost exclusively for the first 8,000 miles, it then passed into more general staff use in order that the mileage would be clocked up faster in readiness for this report. In about eight weeks a further 4,000 miles was recorded and it was after this lapse that I came back to the car to refresh myself of its characteristics.

   It was like that first acquaintance all over again. One marvels at the smoothness of the engine and its wide range of revs with a uniform pull of beefy torque the whole way through. The gearbox is a pure delight to use and the ride and noise level are both excellent. On paper there does not appear too much of a performance difference between the 2500 and 2800, most of the extra power being lost on account of the higher gearing. Anyone thinking that the mere fractions saved on the £440 price difference between the two cars should look more closely at the brochures. Standard on the 2800 are self-levelling rear suspension, limited-slip differential, heated back window and that impressive tool kit. Both models offer outstanding levels of performance, comfort and above all refinement. Every little detail seems to have been planned to work well and give pleasure.