BMW 2800

An account of our second 12,000 miles with this delightful car.

(Autocar, 14 January 1971. By David Thomas. UK.)

With its odometer climbing towards the 15,000-mile mark at the start of my term of “ownership“, the BMW was still a most desirable car. Other than some minor abrasions and scratches, the paintwork was in excellent order. The brightware had also survived well, only the boot-lid escutcheon showing signs of corrosion. The plush interior looked good, although much of the stitching on the velvet-cord front seat upholstery had worn away and there were signs of fraying around the headrest fixings.

   Performance was fully up to scratch, but the engine idled somewhat erratically and had a marked tendency to run-on when hot. The gearchange was still excellent, synchromesh being virtually unbeatable and the lever movement exceptionally light and smooth. The box, however, seemed a trifle noisy at low speeds in a high gear, an impression I’d already gained during an earlier drive in this car. Brake squeal was a real problem, being embarrassingly loud at times. Otherwise the brakes behaved well.

   Another niggling fault was noisy wiper action, while wheel-balance also left something to be desired. So, with just over 16,000 miles on the clock, the car was delivered to MLG at Chiswick for servicing and attention to these faults. The bill came to just over £37, including £13 10s. labour charges. Among the items renewed were brake pads (because of the squeal), oil and air filters, the contact breaker assembly and a set of sparking plugs.

   Idling was now silky-smooth, but there was still a trace of running-on. Later cars have electro-magnetic throttle stops which positively cut off the fuel supply, thus completely eliminating this problem. No action had been taken concerning gearbox noise, as MLG did not consider it abnormal.

   Immediately prior to the service, fuel consumption had averaged 20.4mpg. Now, driven in exactly the same fashion, the BMW was returning 25.4mpg. For a large and decidedly brisk saloon, this is outstandingly good.

   When a Grundig WK 4501 four-wave-band radio and matching AC 220 cassette player-cum-recorder were offered for appraisal, the BMW seemed the logical car to use. Atkinson Batteries, Pembridge Villas, W11 quickly and neatly installed this equipment. Unlike the four-cylinder BMWs, the front wing crowns are not integral with the bonnet, aerial installation thus being considerably simpler. Only one speaker was used, this being located in the space provided in the upper part of the instrument binnacle. In general, the performance justified the sizeable price tags (£59 5s 10d for the radio, £48 10s 7d for the player-recorder). My only real criticism was a tendency for the resiliently mounted cassette player to vibrate badly over some road surfaces. On one occasion this resulted in a mass of tangled tape. All my efforts at removal were in vain until the tape was cut.

   Highlight of my spell of “ownership” was a holiday trip to Grado on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The outward journey, through Belgium, Germany and Austria, then through the Felbertauerntunnel into Italy, was made in company with a somewhat tired Mini. The necessarily sedate (for the BMW) pace resulted in truly remarkable fuel economy. Over 380 miles were covered before the first refill, the BMW returning around 28mpg for this stage. Some brisk driving in Italy and on the solo return trip brought the overall average down to 25.9mpg, still an astonishingly good figure for a car of this type.

   Even in this over-crowded corner of England, the BMW is a joy to drive. It performs very well indeed, is particularly comfortable and quiet, handles superbly and has brakes to match its performance. More difficult to define, but just as important, is that rare compactness and agility which so many of its rivals lack. Somehow, its size is never an embarrassment. Even in non-powered form, the steering is light and response quick. First-class visibility enables the car to be placed to a nicety. If ever a saloon deserved the tag “sporting”, the BMW 2800 is it.

   On long Continental trips, it is just as impressive. Straight-line stability on motorways is excellent. Mechanical noise is confined to a satisfying hum from the ultra-smooth power unit. Wind noise, although present, is certainly not excessive. One or two of the staff think it a trifle undergeared for motorway use, but performance figures prove otherwise. Away from the beaten track, the all-independent suspension (self-levelling at the rear) is a match for the worst surfaces. Thanks to the limited slip differential traction is never a problem. On mountain passes, its agility pays handsome dividends. First-class ventilation and heating, plus cloth upholstery, mean maximum comfort whatever the weather.

   In all, over 2,500 miles were covered on the return trip to Grado. No oil was consumed and the only spot of bother was a popped-off screen-washer pipe. On the outward trip, exceptionally heavy rain was encountered on the German autobahnen and also when crossing the Dolomites. On both occasions, the brakes tended to become water-logged. The appreciable delay before the “bit” certainly had to be allowed for. Contrary to my expectations, the brakes thrived in the hot Italian sunshine. There was always a lot of pad dust on the front wheel trim rings, but fade was never a problem. Moreover, there wasn’t a trace of squeal, although it staged a comeback as soon as we returned to cooler climates. Pad wear during this period must have been appreciable, as the reservoir level dropped enough to operate the warning light. I hesitate to condemn the low-level switch as over-sensitive, but not a great deal of ATE blue fluid was necessary to restore the correct level. Incidentally, BMW recommend that the fluid be renewed yearly, a task that was skipped on the test car. A look at the costs table will show that pads had to be renewed at 8,000-mile intervals, which isn’t too good by modern standards. Later cars, it seems, use a different friction material. This is claimed to eliminate squeal and may well have better wearing qualities.

   Back home again, I noticed that the car was squatting appreciably at the rear. This had no detrimental effect on its road behaviour when lightly laden – if anything, handling was even better than usual. Nevertheless, something was obviously amiss. This 20,000-mile service was also overdue and some other items needed attention. Once again, the work was entrusted to MLG. This time, the brake squeal was all but cured. Shims were interposed between the pistons and the pad backing plates, their function being to move the centre of pressure in such a way as to reduce the brake factor. The rear suspension defect was traced to dirt in the Boge struts. Also attended to was a defective reversing lamp (traced to a loose wire0 and a stiff left-hand front window regulator. Including the routine service, the bill came to a modest £12 1s 8d.

   One of the penalties of having a car of this type is that it is in great demand for long trips. Colleagues used it for a variety of reasons, but worthy of mention is Ray Hutton’s journey to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix. He spoke highly of the car, which averaged 23.0mpg for the whole of the trip. Soon afterwards, it was used by Stuart Bladon to cover the Marathon at the Nürburgring. Stuart already shared my enthusiasm for the model, the trip merely confirming his earlier impressions. Despite being cruised at three-figure speeds for considerable periods, it returned an average of 23.2mpg.

   Unfortunately, I was destined to lose the car before having an opportunity of checking performance. Clearly, it was still going extremely well and may easily have bettered the original times. Bodily, there had been no visible deterioration and there were no signs of impending trouble. In fact, with over 23,000 miles on the clock, it felt as good as it ever did.

   Two items mentioned in the previous report (Autocar, 16 April 1970) deserve special mention. One is the long-wearing properties of the Michelin XAS tyres fitted at 8,500 miles. Measurement of tread depth after a further 15,000 miles suggested a useful life of 25,000 miles for the fronts and 30,000 miles for the rears. This is remarkably good, especially in view of the fact that the car had been driven quite hard for much of the time.

   Less palatable is the depreciation involved. Our earlier report suggested an annual figure of £300 (no trade guides were available at the time). It now seems that £650 is a more realistic amount.

   Without a shadow of doubt, the BMW 2800 ranks as one of Europe’s great cars. Although still rare in Britain, the number to be seen on the roads of Europe confirms that there are many who feel this way.