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The Petrolhead Corner

Nicknamed Goldfish, BMW Once Built A V16 Powered 7-Series Supersaloon

What's cooler than a luxury V8 or V12 Supersaloon? A luxury V16 Supersaloon of course!

| By Robin Nooy | 3 min read |

Today the Petrolhead Corner features a car that I have been wanting to write about for quite a while now, as it is equal parts stunning and bonkers. Built in the late 1980s, this barge-like BMW is a true one-off with a prototype engine in the front. But not just any engine, as it is a 6.6-litre V16. Yes, you’ve read that correctly; Vee-Sixteen. And you thought it would have been installed in some hotshot supercar, but no, BMW dropped it into its 7-Series luxury saloon car.

The sad news about this story is the fact this car, or rather the engine, has never made it into production. BMW was afraid of a displacement and cylinder-count arms race with other manufacturers and backed out of the project before it was greenlit to be put on the road. Nevertheless, this surviving BMW 750iL “Goldfisch” is one amazing machine, not in the last place for its rather unconventional side-inlets. Not the prettiest styling element on the car, but an absolute necessity. But how did BMW get to this point?

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Back in the 1980s, Mercedes-Benz pretty much reigned supreme in the field of luxury saloon cars, with the W126, otherwise designated as the S-class. Other noteworthy competitors in this tightly contested segment were the Jaguar XJ series and the Audi 200 (or 5000 in the US). BMW’s offering was the 7-Series, which entered production in 1977 with the E23 generation and was updated into the E32 generation in 1986. This originally came with a straight-six, something BMW is very well known for, but also a V12 powerplant. Coincidentally, this made the 7-Series the first V12 production passenger car since the Second World War.

But what about that V16 engine, then? In the late 1980s, BMW had something to prove and decided the way to do that was by building a series of high-output small cylinder displacement engines. One such engine was a three-cylinder unit, but the most interesting one without any doubt was the 6.6-litre V16 engine that was shoe-horned into the front of this big brown wonder.

It sounds a bit odd to use “small cylinder displacement” and “6,6-litre V16” in the same sentence, but things start to make sense when breaking it down. With 6,651ccs spread evenly between sixteen cylinders, each one measures just 415,68cc. That still sounds like a lot, but compared to let’s say a rather common 2-litre four-cylinder engine, meaning 500cc per cylinder, it paints the picture. This engine produced a little over 400bhp which was huge back then. Remember, poster cars like the Porsche 959 or the Lamborghini Countach made little more than that, at 444bhp and 449bhp respectively.

Even though the cylinders themselves weren’t exactly monstrous in size, putting sixteen together in a V-shaped block does need a bit of space. That’s the primary reason BMW chose to install it in its biggest car in production at the time, the 7-Seriers, And just for good measure, it was a long-wheelbase version. But even in that big luxury saloon car, it takes up so much space there was little room for much-needed cooling.

And thus, in search of a fitting solution, the cooling for the engine was moved to the back. That also explains the slats in the rear, but even more so the fibreglass air intakes in the side of the car. These feed air into the radiators mounted in the boot (or trunk in the US). In addition to that, an air-extraction system was built into the back as well, to keep things nice and cool.

BMW eventually decided against putting this V16 engine in production, and as such it remains part of the brand’s archives. Nevertheless, it’s a glorious machine and with the wacky side intakes and slatted rear end, it’s perhaps even cooler. Those styling cues, which are very much a necessity for the prototype engine, would have never made it in a showroom-ready 7-Series.

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Editorial Note: The images portrayed in this article are sourced from and unless stated otherwise.

2 responses

  1. Very cool car. Is this one off in the BMW museum? Or if not who owns it?

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