Special Cars, Special Places

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It’s easy to dismiss the M6 Convertible as a car for well-heeled dilettantes, but it’s surprising me with its sporting capabilities on these truly challenging roads. It acquitted itself well, too, on the smooth, fast freeway we drove to get here—returning close to 27 mpg along the way—as well as on the tighter, bumpier backroads that make up Cohen’s 8-Fest route. Unlike a lot of contemporary BMWs, the F12/F13 chassis delivers a lot of road feel through both the seat and the steering wheel, and it responds perfectly and precisely to its driver’s inputs.

That’s especially important when we head inland again from the black sand beach near Cape Mendocino. The road—State Route 211, to be precise—is so eroded and rutted that we’re constantly altering our line to avoid denting a wheel or catching the undercarriage on a piece of bulging pavement when the suspension compresses under braking. It’s fantastic fun in this M6, which seems to relish the challenge as much as we do.

Having exited the beach ahead of Cohen and his 860 for photo purposes, we’ve now left him behind altogether. It’s not exactly a fair fight: Where Cohen’s naturally aspirated 5,944cc M70 V12 delivers 435 crankshaft hp at 5,250 rpm, the M6’s 4,395cc twin-turbocharged S63B44TU V8 engine with direct injection is pumping out 560 hp at 6,000 rpm. The torque advantage is slightly smaller, but it’s spread out over a wider rev range: Steve’s car has 480.5 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm where we’ve got 500 lb-ft from 1,500 to 5,750 rpm.

Augmenting that power advantage is ZF’s superb M-DCT seven-speed transmission, which lets us keep the V8 in its sweet spot with the greatest of ease. Cohen’s playing with a manual six-speed Getrag, but it’s no match for M-DCT where pure speed is concerned. M-DCT not only shifts faster, it also works with the differential to manage torque on downshifts, reducing the likelihood that the car will slew sideways braking into a turn.

A rolling showcase for complexity

That’s one of the benefits wrought by the twenty years of electronic R&D we’ve got in our favor, which add up to a huge advantage in engine efficiency, braking, traction control and suspension. Both of the cars we’ve got here today are flagship-status cars for BMW, and they share an emphasis on state-of-the-art electronics and comfort features separated by two decades of development.

In his excellent marque history, The Story of BMW, Tony Lewin writes that BMW poured “its entire technical expertise” into making the 8 Series “a rolling showcase for everything advanced, complex or clever.” Shown for the first time at Frankfurt in 1989, the 8 Series featured active rear axle kinematics with passive rear steering (which BMW would resurrect on the F01 7 Series), electronic damper control, ASC+T traction control, Servotronic, the first six-speed manual transmission ever used on an automobile, auto-sealing windows on the frameless doors, front seats with integrated belts (also found on our M6) and much, much more.

Also from Issue 116

  • MKO's E9-meets-E39 CS M5
  • 2013 F34 3 Series GT first drive
  • 2012 E84 X1 xDrive 28i road test
  • Interview: Sales chief Ian Robertson
  • Buyer’s Guide: 5 Under $5k
  • ESS Tuning's E60 545i
  • Matt Russell's turbo E30 325i
  • Legends of the Autobahn ’12, with M8!
  • Amelia Island auctions: 3.0 CSL & 327 cabrio
  • How-To: 2002 grille installation
  • Paddock Pass: Z4 at Sebring
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