How To OEM+ Restore A BMW 850Ci
The Sad Fate Of One So Innovative

Sometimes, you just pick a car that looks great straight off the showroom floor. However, in the end, you still want your personal touches and that was the goal of the Clarion Builds BMW 850Ci.

When it comes to cars that are used to promote a brand, ‘over the top’ is a phrase that usually comes to mind. However, over at Clarion, an audio company well known in the automotive industry, their builds aren’t crazy wide bodies that have flashy paint, huge wheels, and essentially take everything away from the factory look of the car. They take cars that they feel are works of art from the assembly line and add touches in such a way that the cars look and feel like they were originally in this form. That was especially the case with their latest build: a 1993 BMW 850Ci.


This is a car that hasn’t been as appreciated as it should have from its heyday. The E31 chassis was introduced in 1989 with as the 850i – later rebadged as the 850Ci – and in around mid-1993 to 1994 a V8 version was launched as the 840Ci. It was one of the first traditional grand touring class cars (front engine and rear-drive with an actual trunk or boot) to come with a V12 and a 6-speed manual transmission from the factory, even predating the Ferrari 550 Maranello. The model also introduced the first ever CAN (Controller Area Network) bus total vehicle management system and drive-by-wire throttle, and was the first BMW to utilize a multi-link rear suspension over the trailing arm design used in previous cars. To say that the 850 was a special car would be underselling it.


However, if you look at most that are still around and not crushed or destroyed, you wouldn’t know that. Up until very recently, these cars were the red-headed stepchild of the BMW world. There is some reasoning behind that, though, as when these cars fail in the engine management side, it’s not an easy fix. Instead of a single ECU to control the engine, the 850Ci uses two Motronic 1.7 ECUs (one for each bank) along with two fuel pumps, two distributors, two mass air flow sensors, two crankshaft position sensors, two throttle bodies, and two batteries. So, you can think of the M70B50 engine as two M20B25 inline sixes mated together at the crank with a 60-degree angle. It’s not quite that in actuality, but that’s easiest way to describe why there were two ECUs on the M70B50 at the time it was introduced.


Even this car was nowhere close to pristine when Clarion found it, but the good news was that it did run and was in a good enough condition that it would work for this build. It had only 36,000 miles on the odometer and was well driven by the first owner, but was most likely sold to the second owner as a second car. The evidence of this was the condition of the interior which had all the hallmarks of being parked up for long periods of time. The paint was also worn and fading, there was some minor body damage, the suspension was soft and the dampers worn out, the plastic trim was deteriorating, and oil was seeping out of the engine.


However, it was the best example Clarion could find searching eBay, Craigslist, and a few other sources. The good news, depending on your viewpoint here, is that 850 owners are now starting to realize that the cars they have in their hands is something worth cherishing. More of them are starting to restore and maintain them better than they might have done in the past. This will, no doubt, make 850i/Ci values rise, but the more of these cars that are restored to working order, the better. It’s a car that’s worth the effort considering what it was when it was built.

Restored & Reborn

Given that a full restoration of their car would be undertaken at Coast Motor Werk, Clarion took advantage of the fact that it needed a full paint job. The exterior color comes from the original iteration of the BMW Individual Program, where BMW customers could order custom paint and details provided they were willing to pay. This color is known as Carbon Black, a gloss black with a hint of blue hue. It was even applied with the same two-stage technique that the BMW factory would have done it while working with New Century BMW’s Collision Center.


Many of the OE touches and restoration parts came from NOS (new old stock) that New Century had to search out and find through BMW. This includes the CSi front and rear bumpers, the European version of the 850CSi steering wheel with a smaller and still functioning air bag, 850CSi M shift knob, and the BMW M Parallel 37 series wheels. The car looks like it could have rolled off that original Individual Program assembly line thanks to the use of so many genuine BMW parts.

Cinnamon & Spice

The interior leather, though, is a Ferrari color called Spice that was installed by Peter Engle of Westminster Upholstery. They take brown leather and tint it with a hint of orange for a cinnamon-like color, and it just screams European GT car from the ’80s and ’90s. The A-pillars, visors, and headliner were recovered in black Alcantara while the door panels were covered in black and Spice leather to fit the OE BMW design with a custom French stitching. It creates a clean line that hides the stitch by sewing the back side of the fabrics, folding them over and pressing the seam, then doing a second stitch on the back side of the fabric.


The seats are all original 850Ci versions, which at first weren’t in working order because the wiring had deteriorated and needed replacement. OE-style looms were created and installed in both seats prior to their Spice leather recovering. The HVAC vents were in semi-working order, but also required a full replacement. It wasn’t that the motors weren’t working, but the frames around them were cracked and required NOS items. The only non-BMW replacement came in the form of the cast iron door handle pivots. These will typically break and no longer allow the driver or passenger to open the doors from the inside, so brass version were sourced from an 850 forum member.


The audio, of course, is an example of Clarion’s latest and greatest, the NX807 7-inch digital head unit with Apple CarPlay. Instead of sending out analog signals from the head unit all the way to the speakers, it sends an all-digital signal in which the Z25W 10-inch full digital subwoofer, Z7 full digital speaker, and Z3 full digital tweeters turn into analog signals at their speaker cones.


Another fun feature of the interior and sound system is the subwoofer enclosure. The center of the rear seats featured a pass through so that longer items could still be sat inside the trunk (where a pair of Odyssey batteries also reside), but since Clarion doesn’t plan on using skis or carrying lumber anytime soon, they replaced this with a custom Beach Autosound designed piece that features a speaker grate to allow the sound to travel into the cabin. This and the custom enclosures for the head unit, the adjustable crossover in the cigarette ash tray, and the trip computer enclosure in the glovebox can all be replaced by BMW OE pieces that Clarion still have in case the car ever needs to be returned to full stock.

It’s A Driving Machine

The well worn suspension was upgraded with Eibach Pro-Kit lowering springs installed with Bilstein B8 Performance Plus dampers, while StopTech Axle Pack cross-drilled rotors bring new life to the brakes. These sit behind the 37 series wheels, which measure out to 18×8.5-inch +13 front and 18×9.5-inch +25 rear with 245/35R18 and 285/35R18 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. This combination equates to a smooth but high performance OE ride that will let you have fun and still enjoy the daily drive.


If there was one challenge of the build, it was the fact that this particular 850Ci began life as one of the many automatic cars built for the US. The manual was an option for the USA market car but only 800 of them were ordered and built from the worldwide total of 2,700 units. This meant that the engine management was re-flashed for the 6-speed via re-flashing the chip on both ECUs with an original BMW scan tool. A modern BMW scanner wasn’t going to work and the computer that was going to be used to do the re-flash had to still have Windows 95 installed along with the original BMW re-flash program. Coach Motor Werk was able to source it and get the ECUs to work with the new transmission.


Other changes were also needed for the 6-speed Getrag 560G conversion on top of re-flash. The differential gearing was swapped from the auto’s 2.81:1 open differential to a 3.15:1 with a LSD for better drivability, and the driveshaft was changed to a factory BMW 850 manual version.


The engine remains untouched save for a set of new Bosch spark plugs, K&N filters, and a custom exhaust made by Coach Motor Werk. The latter allows the sedate 850Ci’s V12 to be heard, but not at the expense of being overpowering or obnoxious. The intake is factory, besides the fact that it’s been powder-coated and the BMW logo polished. It was all about being ‘OEM+’, not being ‘OMG+’ as most show builds are.


And that’s the beauty of a Clarion Builds project, besides Clarion being able to predict the next big thing from OEs. Or at least seeming like it. Their NSX was built and debuted just before the announcement of the new NSX, and their 2002 project was also debuted prior to the 2 Series release from BMW. The 850Ci, well, it continues that trend since BMW just recently announced a new 8 Series coupe as a homage to the original E31 chassis.

The question is, what car should Clarion take on next?

Words by Justin Banner
Instagram: jb27tt
Facebook: racerbanner
Twitter: RacerBanner

Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto

Cutting Room Floor


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OEM+ eh?

Something seems familiar here...


Next car should be a Toyota Supra, because Toyota is pretty much are working on a new one




What a beauty! Whoever ends up owning this will be a lucky guy. All of the expensive stuff has been dealt with.

and I vote for Supra being next for Clarion. Maybe even a MkIII?


If Clarion did a MK3 Supra build, that would be awesome but, Speedhunters wouldn't cover it.


Speedhunters wouldn't cover it.

What's your reason behind this, all their previous builds have been featured...


Because they don't ever feature MK3 Supras. They've been to plenty of shows that have great 3rd generation Supras and they'll maybe take one picture. They'll feature all other cars across multiple generations but, for them to cover a Supra it has to be built from 1993 to 2002.


How nice is that interior?! Wow.


Always love the clarion builds! That interior leather though...

I always wonder how much it'd take to restore a car to look like it just rolled off the lot.


I think they should do a Supra. Either mk3 or mk4.


"The E31 chassis was introduced in 1989 with a V8 as the 840i, but in 1990 the 850i – later rebadged as the 850Ci – was launched."
Sorry, this is very inaccurate: the E31 was indeed introduced in Autumn 1989 but as 850i with the V12.
The V8 840ci was only introduced in 1993, in an attempt to boost sales of the model, the "ci" designation then spread to 850i which became 850ci.

Amazing build nonetheless! I need to buy one of those cars asap.


Thomas is absolutely right. 8-series was introduced with the V12 and the V8 became available in 1994 I believe (US model 1994 at least). Still, it is a very well written and engaging article with lots of great info! Love the note about locating a Win 95 PC to flash the ECU's!


Yeah, brainfart on my part looking up the chassis history. I read first and for some reason I equated that to the order in which the engines came in. Too much staring at a screen and probably touch of too little sleep. I'll fix that to make it correct.


What a perfect machine. Tyre sizes checks out haha.
Only thing I'd change are the headlights, looks like it has projectors in there... might be able to swap in small HID projectors (e.g. G37 sedan).


Great story. Very fun to read! Awesome build. Seems like they have a few other cars build through the Something they call Street team. What's the story with that Legend Coupe?


I saw a factory looking yellow one of these just last week and it looked fantastic!


Yes!!! I've been waiting for you guys to shoot this ever since I've heard of the build. Great job!!


Lovely build, wholly worthy of a piece, but good lord can we get just a bit of copyediting here Justin? I'm not expecting Pulitzer material from this site by any means but this is fairly sloppy in the "words" department.


I'll prob get disagreed with but I want this exactly: color/interior/ice etc. But with an ls3 and t56. Sorrynotsorry

That interior!!! Brick/spice whatev has to be the best color.


they are starting to look really good again i cut up an ac schnitzer 850csi with a s70 in a while ago, still wish id kept the engine for my 36


Oh jesus fuck what a stupid thing to do, I hope the s70 was well worth it....


no one wanted these about 5 years ago , i got gave mine as the guy next door was going to weigh it in and get about £40 for it , so took the engine out and scrapped the rest , i was going to use the engine for my hot rod but ended up selling it and putting a 1uz in, the s70 ended up in a e30 i think


One of BMW's most endearing designs. What. A. Beaut. Now I must have one, damnit...


coolest car bmw ever made. why in the name of God did they get rid of the car-phone?? lol


Justin and Larry, how do you two always find such rides? You're both finding cars like you would have microscopic eyes to find the needle in the haystack. Really a beautiful one, honestly both the words and pictures are awesome, not to mention the car. Even though I'm not a fan of BMW, actually I don't care about them, but you manage to pick out the one single only car I ever actually liked from BMW, and that's since I was a kid. You two should specialize in peak production of '80s and '90s. You both really have a nice feeling for it.

Александр Трофименков

What a beautiful car! Unfortunately will never be able to afford one...


Am I the only person that noticed this car looks to be parked in front of Doc Brown's house from Back to the Future?!?!


Yes, this is Doc Brown's place! It is the Gamble House located in Pasadena, CA.


They should take on a Honda S2000 next.


Wow, what a beautiful car! The whole build is truly impressive. With pop up headlights, a V12 engine, and a manual transmission, how could you go wrong?


I have confirmed from google searching that this is in fact Doc Brown's house from back to the future! That deserves a mention in the feature ;)


I seriously want to see them restore an E39 to OEM+ quality even though many of them out on the road are still super nice.

But that entire car has me drooling.

Brennan McKissick

This is, for sure, my favorite Clarion to date. That interior is absolutely beautiful. There used to be a doctor that lived up the street from my family when I was in middle school that would drive one on Fridays. I was always transfixed by that car. You just don't see anything like them at all. A very unique design that seems to always get overlooked. Great work by Clarion on this one.

Brennan McKissick

There's a lot of cars I'd like to see them do. An Audi B5 S4 would be cool, a supercharged E55 AMG would be cool, etc. I'd like to see a touring performance sedan done next.


e55 amg is the wagon right? if so then yes!


Take away all the mods and it s a perfect example of an 8 series.


What "mods" are you taking about? All the parts are BMW, period correct and model correct. This is a "factory" style one-off that is completely faithful to the brand and the concept. The article says that all parts modified, such as the center console to put the audio system in, have twins so those tiny modifications can be easy reversed when needed. I think this car is absolutely gorgeous!


Just saw one today! They're so rare where I'm from. I was pointing and ogling, but nobody else gave a shit lol. Still a neck breaker in 2017 though


lighting always seems to be an overlooked aspect of car building. those old school yellow halogens and incandescent bulbs look just old and busted when bright and sharp leds are on every new car these days.
to me, part of the definition of oem+ is updating older cars to have the latest and greatest that its descendants have


It has Z7 speakers on front and rear?


Next = Honda Shuttle/Civic Wagon


Umm, S-chassis maybe? Oh, wait, I know! RX-7!


Car is impressive but... Did I spotted Doc's Brown´s mansion from Back To The Future?