It’s a sad fact that BMW never made a road-going ‘M’ version of the original 8 Series coupe. Sure, they teased the public with a skunkworks M-division beauty, but it never made it past the accountants. For most BMW fans this leaves a gaping wide opportunity to reimagine what could have been if an E31 BMW M8 were to exist.
‘But there is a production M8,’ I hear you scream.Well yes, technically you are right. But for the purpose of this article we’re not talking about the slightly bloated (but incredibly powerful) grand tourer. And that’s not a dig at the G15 platform; it’s just a totally different breed of car compared to its ’90s predecessor. We’ve skipped a few generations of BMW since and, in my opinion, it sits in an entirely different sphere to any E31. We’ll save that for a future discussion; let’s enjoy E31s for a second.
BMW’s vision of a hot ‘M8′ followed the oh-so-’90s tuning rulebook of more is more. They absolutely embraced the world of carbon fibre, making just about everything that wasn’t bolted down from it. The pumped-up wide arches, mirrors, wheel covers, intake plenums and ducting were just some items made of the good stuff.
The engine for the M8 concept was based on BMW’s M70 12-cylinder that grew to 6.1-litres, sprouted a couple more cams and individual throttle bodies. Couple this with deleted headlights (to clear the S70/1 V12’s air boxes) and an Alcantara-clad interior and you’ve got something that wouldn’t be out of place in a ‘dream car’ discussion down the pub. Unfortunately only one car was built, although a ‘watered down’ 850CSi was available. If you can call a 375bhp 5.6 V12 coupe watered down, that is.
But that’s enough of the OEM history book. Let’s kick off the shackles of marketing feasibility and brand perception in favour of something much more interesting. What happens when you build your own sporting 8 Series, using nothing but your favourite parts free of anyone looking over your shoulder? Unsurprisingly, a man in Japan has done just that, and he goes by the name of Masahiro Ito.
Starting out with an 850i as a base you’d assume Ito-san would travel down a V12-shaped rabbit hole. After all, that’s what the M8 concept did. But he’s thrown a fantastically Japanese curve ball into the mix, one that takes the shape of an S38B36. If you’re a BMW nerd (like me) you’ll recognize this string of numbers and letters as being the six-cylinder lump BMW crammed into their E34 M5.
This engine was chosen because of Ito-san’s fondness of his old M5, helped by the fact he casually had a spare lying around. “Before buying the E31 I had an E34 M5 that I used for drifting,” Ito-san explains. “I preferred the look and style of an E31, but there was no sporty option available. So I decided I would make my own version instead.”
Considering the replacement engine boasts half the cylinders, it looks right at home in the front of the big coupe. In fact, BMW never offered an E31 with anything smaller than a V8.
With the mixed intentions of street use and drifting, it was obvious that a manual gearbox and locking rear differential would be essential to the build. While a manual 8 Series was available, one thing to factor in is weight. By swapping over to the S38 engine and 6-speed box, Ito-san has saved 100kg over the V12 and auto box it replaced. That’s a whole me (after Christmas) of weight evaporated into thin air without sacrificing too much horsepower in the process.
But the weight saving doesn’t stop here. Harking back to the M8 concept, Ito-san has extensively used carbon fibre throughout, including the roof panel. On the back the 8 Series wears a CSL badge as a cheeky nod to the E46 M3 CSL that spurred the composite roof idea. Maybe this 8 Series has more in common with the straight-six CSL than even the M8 prototype?
Either way, Ito-san’s creation tips the scales at a respectable 1,590kg (3,505lb). That’s mighty impressive when you consider a road-going 850i could be anywhere between 1,855 to 1,975kg (4,090 to 4,354lb) depending on engine and spec. This is all thanks to the engine and drivetrain swap, but also lightweight body panels including both bumpers, bonnet and of course the roof. Those titanium tips aren’t just show; the entire system is made from it, shaving an additional 25kg (55lb). How about the removal of the stock leather arm chairs? That saved a whopping 80kg (176lb)! In their place are a pair of Recaro buckets; a recliner giving the passenger some comfort while a fixed back driver’s seat makes the whole thing feel very Japanese. To complete the diet, Ito-san removed the ABS system and swapped out the stock battery for a lightweight motorsport one.
Ito-san is absolutely talking my language in the way he’s been able to shed masses of weight without making the car look like it’s trying too hard. That’s how you make something ultra cool in my eyes; it’s effortless.
It’s not all form over function, however. Nobody can argue that the pearl white paintwork is anything but a pure expression of Ito-san’s style. Originally Alpineweiß II, which is a rarity in itself, the added pearl accentuates the muscular arch lines that are often lost in dark, understated colours on an 8 Series. Close down Google before you waste too much time searching for that front bumper; it’s handmade and totally bespoke.
I can help you on the wheel and tyre front, though; it uses Enkei RS05RRs in 18×9.5-inch with 265/35R18 tyres all round. 8 Series fans reading this won’t need to worry about asking the embarrassing ‘specs please’ question.
Flicking through Mark’s images of Ito-san ‘s 850i (nicknamed the 836CSL) triggers that familiar desire to create something similar myself. That is until I learn that it’s taken Ito-san a decade of ownership, development and enjoyment to get to this point. It’s the sort of car that carves its own path with love and use and ends up ‘real’ because of the lifestyle and choices of the owner. It is really a reflection of Masahiro Ito.
With this in mind, it leaves just one question left to ask: How would you build your ideal E31 8 Series? Let me know in the comments and we’ll see if we agree.
Photos by Mark Riccioni