BMW 6 Series Essential History
BMW 6 Series: The First Generation
Developed as a direct replacement for the popular and effortlessly stylish BMW E9 coupe that ran from 1968 through 1975, and essentially offered as a coupe variant of the contemporary BMW 5 Series, the first-generation BMW 6 Series hit the factory floor in early 1976, carrying the E24 chassis code/generation tag, a suite of inline-sixes, and a handsome shark-nosed profile from Paul Bracq. The U.S. got its first crack at the new 6 Series in 1977, available as the 630CSi with a 3.0-liter inline-six packing 176 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque.
Just a few months later in September of that same year, the 633CSi replaced the 630CSi, powered by an updated version of the same M30 six-cylinder family from the prior car, now punched out to 3.2-liters. The power rating with the new engine briefly rose to 181 hp, but soon dropped back down to 174 hp. Gradually, the 633CSi evolved to be closer in line with the hotter and better-equipped European variants. The standard four-speed manual transmission grew to a five-speed in 1980, and the U.S. market car received a facelift for 1982 along with the 6 Series offered in other markets.
The 633CSi lasted until 1985, when the 635CSi arrived with an updated 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder, now rated at 182 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. The 635CSi received a shot in the arm for 1988, with the 3.4-liter revamped for a healthier 208 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. The 635CSi lasted until 1989, when the angular coupe was discontinued globally, replaced in spirit by the then-new BMW 8 Series. Though the two coupes share a common configuration, BMW positioned the 8 Series higher in the market than the 6 Series.
BMW 6 Series: A Second Generation, 15 Years in the Making
After the 8 Series left production in 1999, BMW was left with a large grand touring coupe-sized hole in its lineup. Instead of continuing the 8 Series nameplate, it resurrected the long-dead 6 Series nameplate for a second-generation, now known as the E63/E64 6 Series. As this internal naming code implies, the new 6 Series rode on a modified version of the then-new E60 5 Series platform, incorporating some of the 5 Series’ engines and transmissions.
In the U.S., the new Sixer launched for the 2004 model year with a single engine offered. The 645Ci carried a variant of the 4.4-liter N62 V-8, putting out 325 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, routed to the rear wheels through one of three transmissions, if you can believe it: the six-speed manual transmission was standard, with automatic transmissions being either a traditional six-speed automatic or BMW’s controversial six-speed automated manual SMG transmission. Like fresh air? For the first time, the 6 Series could be had in soft-top form.
In 2006, the 645Ci transformed into the 650i, upping the N62’s displacement from 4.4-liters to 4.8-liters, and pushing power up to 360 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, retaining the three transmission options. Performance was mostly impressive for a big car, cracking the 0-60 mph run in just under 5.0-seconds and cresting a top speed of 151 mph. Like the 645Ci, the 650i could be had with a folding canvas roof if your pocketbook and regional climate allowed it.
BMW 6 Series: The Third Generation Arrives
Unlike the first-gen 6 Series, BMW launched a new generation immediately following the E63/E64’s obsolescence. The new two-door launched in 2011 first with the convertible and shortly thereafter by the regular coupe, each in either 640i or 650i form. The 640i sported the first inline-six since the original E24 generation, now augmented by a single turbo. The N66B30 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six spun out a stout 315 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque through a regular ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic.
In keeping with the precedent set by the prior E63/E64 generation, the more potent 650i added a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8. Depending on year, the upgraded V-8 put out an impressive 402-444 hp and 443-479 lb-ft of torque through either the aforementioned ZF eight-speed or a six-speed manual transmission. Zero to 60 mph took around 4.5 seconds for the later, more potent 650i, which topped out at a limited 155 mph.
In 2012, the 6 Series family grew—literally—with the introduction of the four-door 6 Series Gran Coupe. Based heavily on the equivalent F10-generation 5 Series, the 6 Series Gran Coupe offered an identical mix of engines, transmissions, and trim-levels as the corresponding coupes and drop-tops.
Initially popular, sales of the third-gen 6 Series dipped toward 2017 and 2018, driven partially by BMW’s promise of the forthcoming G15 8 Series that arrived for the 2019 model year. Just like the E24 in the 1980s, the demise of the 6 Series was again heralded by the arrival of the bigger, more expensive 8 Series.
BMW 6 Series: The Mighty M6
What, you thought we’d leave out the most impressive member of the 6 Series family? Not a chance.
While the rest of the world blasted up on-ramps and crushed forested back roads in the mighty M635CSi with its BMW M1-spourced M88 inline-six since 1984, the U.S. and Japan looked on jealously with our mere 633CSi. Eventually, BMW gifted us our very own version of the M635CSi in 1987, albeit with a new name and new engine to satisfy stringent U.S. emissions regulations. The new M6 carried the same federalized S38 3.5-liter inline-six as the contemporary M5, pushing out 256 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed manual transmission. In keeping with BMW’s M formula, the suspension, brakes, wheels, and appearance were upgraded and unique to the M6. Even without the hotter Euro-spec engine, the E24 was a powerhouse; 0-60-mph took 6.8 seconds, and top speed was right around 150 mph.
Just like the first-gen M6, the second-gen E63/E64 M6 essentially repackaged the M5’s drivetrain into coupe or convertible form. In this case, this meant a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-10 capable of 500 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, pushing the relatively heavy M6 from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and a 190 mph top speed—if you opt for the optional M-Driver’s package. Like the M5, transmission choices came down to either the seven-speed automated manual SMG transmission, or the six-speed manual transmission. Of course, BMW threw a whole crate of go-fast stuff at the second-gen M6, including adaptive suspension, big brakes, uprated tires, and reworked driver assistance.
We bet you can guess what happened with the third-gen M6. That’s right—more repackaged M5 goodness. The F10 M5’s twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 snuck into the third-gen M6, boosted to 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque through either a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission or the rarely-optioned six-speed manual transmission. A later Competition Package turned the M6’s wick up to 591 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, the M6 was available in three configurations: coupe, convertible, or four-door Gran Coupe. In its most powerful configuration, the third-gen M6 was capable of a 0-60-mph run of around 3.8 seconds, and a top speed of 190 mph. In the handling department, more of the same upgrades were levied, including massive brakes, adaptive suspension, sticky tires, and reprogrammed traction and stability control systems.
BMW 6 Series Highlights
Surprisingly, despite holding office as one of the more powerful and capable cars in BMW’s lineup, the 6 Series is always a bit controversial to BMW enthusiasts. Since the get-go, the 6 Series was always considered a bit too heavy and thick around the edges to be considered a true driver’s car, even in M6 form. During the E24 generation, handling was somewhat unpredictable, with a hefty curb weight contributing to unwanted body characteristics and understeer.
However, the older E24s are tremendous long-distance cruisers, and are hands-down one of the most aesthetically stunning of all 1970s and 1980s BMWs, especially in M6 guise. For this, an E24 is a great general-purpose classic to have in the stable, provided you use it as a transcontinental bruiser as described above.
Later 6 Series are not so charismatic. While the E63/E64 and later F15 6 Series played the role of elegant cruise-control missile well, time has not been so kind to either its styling or its dynamics. In our opinion, the 6 Series makes great lease-and-release fodder, but has little merit as an enthusiast’s choice beyond those seeking straight-line speed and the BMW badge up front.
Of course, the same cannot be said for the two modern iterations of the M6. Both time and the market will be very kind to the E60 and E63/E64 M5/M6 siblings, if for nothing else, then for the incredible free-breathing 5.0-liter V-10. The later third-gen M6 and M6 Gran Coupe less so, but the twin-turbo V-8 in those models is no slouch, and has proven to respond ravenously to tuning and upgrades. Be warned, however; both the second- and third-gen M6s aren’t so much canyon-carvers as they are technologic tours de force with cheek-stretching acceleration and lofty top speeds.
BMW 6 Series Buying Tips
No matter the year, generation, engine, or transmission, we cannot stress the importance of a pre-purchase inspection from a dealer or marque specialist prior to purchasing any 6 Series. The youngest examples of the first-gen 6 Series are over 30 years old, so even the most well-kept cars will carry dried rubber and shrunken seals that are likely in need of replacement. Pick a rotten E24, and the cost of getting it back to showroom condition might shred your checkbook beyond recognition. For the E24, our advice is to find a well-maintained car in driver condition and enjoy as such without pretense or prejudice.
The same cannot be said for the second- and third-gen 6 Series. As nice as they were when brand new and under warranty, unless you can find one with ultra-low miles and the wrappers still on the seats, we say pass on these as a weekend car unless it’s the hot M6 or perhaps a clean 650i convertible. Even then, know what you’re getting into; both the second- and third-gen M6s are stunningly quick cars, but they’ll drain your bank account just as speedily if you aren’t prepared. Even regular maintenance will nickel-and-dime you to death, never mind major service incidents.
If you must have a 650i convertible, know you’re not buying a sports car. Enjoy the 650i drop top for its ample torque, but don’t expect many thrills beyond fairly rapid acceleration and an open air experience.
BMW 6 Series Stories on Automobile
We’ve been fortunate enough to drive every U.S.-bound iteration of the BMW 6 Series since its original introduction, so check out a few of our favorites below.
BMW 6 Series Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1977 (U.S. )
- Original price: $23,600
- Final price: $123,295 (2018 BMW M6 Convertible)
- A high-speed, high-tech long-distance cruiser
- Pick the old E24 6 Series for style, not substance
- A BMW M6 of any age is bombastic
BMW 6 Series FAQ
You have questions about the BMW 6 Series. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked BMW 6 Series queries:
Is the BMW 6 Series discontinued?
Yes, the 6 Series was replaced by the current BMW 8 Series for the 2019 model year.
Is a BMW 6 Series a good car?
Unless you’re after one of the many M6 variants, probably not. They were good when new, but many of them have languished on buy-here-pay-here lots with piles of deferred maintenance and high miles. You’d be better off saving for a new 4 Series.
Why did BMW stop making the 6 Series?
Just like the original E24-generation 6 Series, the third-gen 6 Series was replaced by the new BMW 8 Series.
When did the BMW 6 Series come out?
The U.S. got our first taste of the E24 6 Series in 1977.
2018 BMW M6 Competition Specifications
|PRICE||$120,000 (base, new)|
|ENGINE||4.4L twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/600 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,500-6,000 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine RWD coupe|
|L x W x H||193.0 x 74.8 x 54.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||190 mph|