In this installment of Cancelled Cars, we’ll be looking at the original BMW M8.

Yes, you heard that right. The upcoming 450kW+ super-coupe is not the first M8 built by the German brand – there was an original.

Above: the first-generation BMW 850i back in 1989.

BMW debuted the first-generation 8 Series at the Frankfurt motor show in late 1989. Its iconic wedge-shaped body and luxurious interior set new standards in refinement and comfort. A number of engine choices were available, ranging from a 4.0-litre V8 to the 220kW, 5.0-litre V12 850i.

However, BMW engineers wanted more. They knew the naturally aspirated V12 had room for more power, and the chassis could support it. Thus, the M8 was born, as a secret skunkworks project in the basements of Bavaria.

The plan was to transform the 850i into a true supercar, with performance that would exceed the likes of Ferrari and Porsche.

2019 BMW Test Fest at Thermal Raceway in Thermal, CA USA.
Above: M8 prototype.

First, engineers popped the bonnet. The 5.0-litre M70 in use in the 850i was bored out to a mammoth 6.1 litres, the single overhead camshaft layout was swapped in favour of a double OHC one, and individual throttle bodies were fitted for all 12 cylinders to improve throttle response.

The result of BMW’s modifications was a power output higher than every Ferrari on sale at the time, at 558 metric hp (410kW). 90 per cent of the 500 Newton-metres of torque the engine produced was available from just 2000rpm – a feat that some modern turbocharged engines even struggle to achieve.

Above: M8 prototype.

Purists rejoice, because all that power was sent to the rear wheels, through a Getrag-sourced six-speed manual gearbox. Performance figures are still unknown to this day, but the 0-100km/h sprint would have likely fallen in the high-3 to low-4-second range, with a top speed near the magic 200mph mark.

A development of the M8’s S70 engine, known as the S70/2, later went on to power the mighty McLaren F1, the fastest car in the world between 1998 and 2005 with a recorded speed of 386.4km/h.

Styling wise, the M8 was fitted with a chunky body kit, with different bumpers with enlarged vents, various new air intakes, a fixed B-pillar (for extra body rigidity) and flared wheel arches. In addition, body panels such as the doors, arches and bonnet were constructed from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, while the window frames were made from lighter Plexiglas.

Above: M8 prototype.

Revised headlights were even fitted, with a smaller design that was not only lighter but created space for additional cooling for that huge V12.

Gluing the M8 to the tarmac was a set of 1990s-era Michelin sports tyres, which wrapped around 17-inch carbon-fiber-reinforced wheels. Other changes over the standard 850i would have consisted of stiffer suspension, beefier brakes along with a host of interior upgrades including suede trim, racing bucket seats with harnesses, and oil/air pressure gauges.

Once the prototype was complete, engineers took it to meet with BMW’s top brass to get it green lit. However, a less-than-ideal economy and a likely astronomical starting price would have resulted in poor sales numbers, leading executives to say ‘nein’ to the project.

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The bright red M8 prototype wasn’t shown off at shows and events like some visionary cars – instead, it was parked up, out of view of the public. In fact, the mere existence of the prototype was never confirmed, and remained a myth among enthusiasts for some 20 years until it re-appeared in 2010.

The spirit of the M8 lived on though, with a detuned, 5.6-litre version of its engine later sitting in the front of the 1992 850CSi.

Nearly 30 years later, BMW is set to unveil the 2019 M8. Based on the modern 8 Series coupe, the new M flagship will be powered by a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, producing over 460kW of power and 750Nm of torque. Unlike the original, it will drive all four wheels, now through an eight-speed automatic gearbox only. As mindbogglingly fast as it is almost certain to be, it won’t be as engaging or raw as its predecessor would have been.

Above: the modern M8 in full camoiflage ahead of its debut next month.

In a way, BMW M8 is like the Jaws franchise: the sequel is not as good as the original.

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