By on October 4, 2018

They’re big, expensive, luxurious, and have 12 cylinders sitting under their long hoods. All of them will deplete your checkbook in multiple ways, but you can only take one home with you.

What’s it gonna be?

BMW 850Ci

BMW’s brand new 8 Series stormed onto well-funded driveways for the 1990 model year. The premium coupe offering from the Roundel brand, the 8 Series was without a predecessor. In development since 1981, BMW spent around $1 billion to get the new coupe just right. 8 Series cars were powered by V8 or V12 engines between 4.0- and 5.6-liters in displacement. BMW released the top of the line 850i version first, powered by a 5.0-liter V12 shared with the 7 Series sedan. Featuring drive-by-wire throttle and a six-speed manual, the 850Ci managed 296 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The 8 Series was a middling sort of expensive, asking $83,400.

Jaguar XJS

Certainly the oldest car here, Jaguar’s XJS launched in its original format in 1975. Revisions arrived for the 1982 model year, followed by a major refresh for the model’s final variant in 1992. Revised front and rear fascias, a modernized interior, and new engine choices brought the XJS into the Nineties. On offer were Jaguar’s new 4.0-liter inline-six and V12 engines of 5.3- or 6.0-liters of displacement, depending on the year. 1993 was the debut of the largest V12, paired to a four-speed automatic for the North American market. This gentleman’s express featured 318 horsepower and 336 lb-ft of torque. At the time, the XJS was the cheapest of our trio by a wide margin at $59,750.

Mercedes-Benz 600 SEC 

The brand new W140 series S-Class took the world by storm for the 1992 model year, replacing the frankly epic W126 sedan and coupe. Available from the get-go in North America, what would eventually become known as the S500 and S600 Coupe carried 500 SEC and 600 SEC labels for ’92 and ’93.  All engines for the coupe were of eight or 12 cylinders, the former being the 5.0-liter M119 engine, and the latter the 6.0-liter M120. The V12 was always matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, which restrained 389 horsepower and 347 lb-feet of torque. By far the most advanced and expensive car here, the 600 SEC asked a whopping $132,000.

Three price points and 36 total cylinders. Which one is worth buying?

[Images: Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, BMW]

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65 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: V12 Luxury Coupes to Drain Your Wallet in 1993...”

  • avatar

    The only 90’s money pit coupe I’d consider would be a 92-94 Talon TSi AWD 5-speed for nostalgia purposes only because I had one back in the day.

  • avatar

    Buy the 850i. 12 cylinders AND a manual? Yes.
    Drive the Jag. Yeah, I know. It was outdated and a rolling dinosaur. Still, that thing (at least for me) oozes grace.
    Burn the Benz. Hate to do so, but this gen S-class never did much for me. Where the W126 looks “right,” somehow the W140 seemed a bit off to me.

    Regardless, way beyond my pay grade to buy, maintain and insure!

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      Yep, this. The Bimmer is the only one I’d really want to drive, and the Jag (which I have driven before) is what I’d most want to be seen in.

      I’ll even bet the XJS would be the “cheapest” to maintain in this group and – weirdly – quite possibly the most reliable, the occasional engine fire excepted.

      • 0 avatar

        After working on my XJ6, I do not want another Jag, but amongst this group, I have to agree. The Jag would be the driver since it’s the cheapest. BMW is the buy, and the Mercedes is the burn.

  • avatar

    Road and Track/car and driver, one of those did a compare/review of these three (remember reading it while waiting for the dude to fetch me the new copy of high times). 94 was first year in college, one of my dorm mates HS graduation present was the 850.

    Drive: BMW
    Buy: Mercedes
    Burn: Jag

  • avatar

    Buy: Mercedes – Nobody does big luxury better than Mercedes Benz. Although this isn’t my favorite style, it’s classy and oozes big money.

    Drive: BMW – Would you just look at it. The design still looks great today. Grab one with a stick and enjoy!

    Burn: Jag – It’s will probably catch on fire itself. The sort of James Bond style is neat, but I’d rather have an Aston if going British. Torch.

  • avatar

    The Jag will likely burn itself. The BMW and Merc will both be money pits, but the 850 will at least be marginally more fun to drive.

    Buy: BMW
    Drive: Mercedes
    Burn: Jaguar

  • avatar

    Buy the BMW: it still looks cool.

    Drive the Jag: Nice to drive, would hate to own.

    Burn the Merc: holy doG that thing is hideous and there’s no way I’d want to be associated with the guy behind the wheel in the provided photo.

  • avatar

    It is interesting that the photo of the S500/600 you put in the lead of the story looks much more plain and dowdy looking than the stock/advertising photo in the write-up. On to the choices…

    Buy the BMW – I am not a BMW fan, however, you keep presenting interesting BMWs that stir my soul. Also I’m a sucker for pop-up/hideaway headlights.

    Drive the Jag – That era of car would so many things that would be so quintessentially JAG about it. Even if was only good for a drive or two before it broke down.

    Burn the Merc – Although it is the logical “Buy” choice. Logic often takes a backseat when choosing cars. And I had to burn one of them.

  • avatar

    Buy the BMW
    Drive the Jaaaaaaag
    Burn the Mercedes.
    (I’d rather have a same-year Lincoln Mark VIII than any of these though.)

  • avatar

    My first thought on briefly glancing over the top photo on the main page before clicking through: “Huh, I didn’t know Lexus did a 2-door version of the old LS400.”

    Drive Jag, so you can enjoy it before it self-destructs.
    Buy Bimmer, because my dream car from middle school never gets old.
    Burn Merc, preferably behind a curtain so you don’t have to look at it.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Oh baby!

    Buy: the Jaguar because it is class and elegance. Yes it will work 1 out of 10 attempts, but who cares you have a V12 Jag and….

    Drive: The BMW, just a cool automobile and I believe could be had w/ a MT. This can be used while the Jag is under the watchful yet caring eye of the local Jaguar craftsman.

    Burn: the Benz. Just a fat blob of a car that should be driven only in South Beach festooned in the appropriate Cocaine White.

  • avatar

    I’ve got nothing here. I drove a 5.0 T-Bird back then, and wouldn’t change a thing.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: BMW-The styling and dash layout plus pop up lights. It’s the more reliable from the three.

    Drive: Mercedes-Well made Autobahn cruiser eats up the road.

    Burn: Jaguar-Who wants a dinosaur from the British Leyland era?

    Honorable mention: Lincoln LSC

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Make my 8-series an 850CSi unless I can get a Ferrari 456GT instead.

  • avatar

    Buy: Bimmer. Cool styling, V-12 and a manual? Sold!
    Drive: Jag
    Burn: Benz. It’s ugly.

  • avatar
    John R

    Drive: BMW
    Buy: Mercedes
    Burn: Jag

    I feel like the Merc is the one with the least personal maintenance/repair hell.

  • avatar

    Buy: BMW. These still look great today, surprised to see a few here in recent years.

    Drive: Jag

    Burn: Mercedes. It’s just too ugly for me.

  • avatar

    Long term it would have been cheaper to pile up a $250,000 and set fire to it.

  • avatar

    There is no such thing as ‘cheap V12 luxury’. By default the buyers of such cars are already well-off and have money to burn.

    For me it is:

    Buy: Mercedes. Well-made, comfortable and relaxing.

    Drive: Jaguar. Sporty and old-school in feel.

    Burn: BMW. I am from Munich but I have never been a fan of the marque. A manual transmission does not belong in such a car.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Jag, Jag, Jag. As soon the the V12 explodes, its a simple SBC transplant….been done countless times…kits available.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, I must base this on looks as much as anything else. What’s the point of owning a big expensive V-12 coupe if you can’t stand how it looks? I say “unfortunately” because…

    Burn the BMW Probe GT

    Drive the sexy Jaguar, baby

    Buy the Mercedes-Benz in any color besides silver

    If only I didn’t hear FORD PROBE being screamed at me every time I see the BMW. Its the one I’d rather have if it only had a different front clip (the rest of the car wouldn’t remind me as much of the Probe if the front didn’t resemble it so clearly).

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what it looks like, couldn’t place it, was going to say the nissan 240sx or whatever it was from the same time

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, or the first gen Saturn SC, or other similarly-styled late ’80s/early ’90s coupe.

        I’m sure the BMW is the best driver of this trio, but I would be too tempted to get a NOS set of “PROBE SE” stickers for each side, just to troll myself for owning and/or driving it.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    As cool as V-12s are, and that is VERY cool, there isn’t one that’s even close to repairable. All three of these will drain your bank account as fast as they drain their fuel tanks.
    As much as it’s been overstated, all three of these cars are perfect candidates for the ubiquitous LS engine swap. In the case of the Jag, it even has a GM transmission already installed.
    On second thought, maybe a Hellcat crate motor for the Benz, in honor of the late Daimler/Chrysler.

  • avatar

    Ok since we all agree there is no cheap v12 here goes

    Buy the Jag – in green of course, what could go wrong with a first year redesign form Jag, maybe some of the Ford magic made it in there. It is the cheapest by far and I will need the extra money to keep it on the road
    *** If Corey is being nice he will let me buy 2 which is less then the benz so if he says you have 132,000 bucks what do you buy from these three***
    Drive the benz- MB puts their soul into the S class so I am hoping the early 90’s cheap out phase did not touch the s class like it did the e class.

    Burn the BMW- to flashy for me and in to much of a BMW hater to spend Corey’s hard earned money on it. This is the preppy boys car in 93 if they or their folks have big time cash, with the Jag and MB you could blend in better, not so with the BMW.

  • avatar

    My favorite Russian youtuber bought an extremely worn out W140 S600 with the V12 for 100k rubles and became the darling of the Russian video-blogosphere by proceeding to tear into the thing and repair it as best as he could, working out of a snowed-in small dingy garage with hand tools, in a small mining town near Murmansk:

    The guy does full engine tear downs, rebuilds transmissions, etc.

    He then moved on to reviving an ’04 A8L, and the current project is a W221 S550. I’d love to show this footage to some German engineers from Stuttgart, for the absolute shock factor.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Buy: The Merc. which I like and would trust the most out of these three (and likely get burned anyway). Also, like others have said, any color but silver, please.

    Drive: The Jag. Might as well have a little fun before it grenades itself.

    Burn: The BMW. I have never understood the love for these things. I think they’re ugly as all get out.

  • avatar

    My wallet hurts just looking at these. The E31 still looks amazing though.

    Buy Benz
    Drive BMW
    Burn the Jag (easy choice there)

  • avatar

    I’d buy and drive the BMW. However, I best have a large sum of funds around to pay for the petrol and frequent breakdowns. I still think wedge shaped autos are simply gorgeous – think Lotus Esprit Series 1.

  • avatar

    What a collection of money pits. I remember reading the Road & Track Used Car Review back in the day noting that the V-12 used two Bosch Motronic ECUs, two fuel systems and two distributors, and the two drive-by-wire throttle servos went for $750 apiece. Ouch. Still, i think it’s the most handsome of the three.

    Buy: The SEC

    Drive: The 8-Series

    Burn: The Jaaaaaaaaaaaag

  • avatar

    Buy them all, rules be damned and…


  • avatar

    This is a tough one!

    Aside from having a Correct and excellent transmission, the E31 8-series is honestly more show than go. The engine is two 70’s-tech sixes ducttaped together; it barely squeaks by the smaller and simpler M60 V8 in performance. Its stock tuning potential stops at ~400hp. Many of the E31 mechanicals are shared with the E32 7- and E34 5-series, in particular the heavy and sloppy recirculating-ball steering, and it drives like a 7-series coupe (that’s not a bad thing, but…), not the Ferrari-fighter it looks like. Still, it’s a V12 BMW from BMW’s Golden Era, still has a lot of Go (and Stop and Turn, the 850CSi especially), and has one of the best-looking exteriors ever made. With some reservation I give it a Buy, partly so I can keep looking at it, partly because better engines can be swapped in, and partly because it’s the easiest to maintain of the three.*

    Benz’ M120 V12 is a far cry from the BMW M70. It’s far more modern, makes 35% more power out of 20% more displacement, and its tuning potential has gone to 800hp Pagani Zondas and is still going. I’ve not driven one but the W140 is often described as a motorcade car. Do we gearheads only get our jollies from raw lightweight go-karts? Or would operating a tank be just as grin-inducing? Again with some reservation, and despite its slushbox, I choose to Drive the velvet tank.

    If the Jag hasn’t caught fire already when the Prince of Darkness electrics decide to step up their game to all-out Lord of the Inferno, give them a hand and – yet again with reluctance; I understand these ride and drive quite nicely and have great interiors – Burn it.

    *Bias admitted: I’m a BMW mechanic.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Watch this Jaguar commercial, and I am pretty sure that you too will get the urge to drive the Jag. If the link disappears just google the commercials name, it is on Youtube.

    ‘British Villains’ Jaguar commercial.

  • avatar

    Naturally I’m biased, since I have a 1994 Jaguar XJS V12 convertible so:
    Drive the Jaguar, since it is so nice to drive.

    Burn the BMW: electrical nightmare defined,

    Buy the Benz. Boring, but probably solid and resellable, even if completely unaffordable to fix.

    Guess that just leaves the Jaguar to keep, I’m certainly happy with mine! In the summer I treat it as a daily driver, and so far is basically a drive and forget sort of car. Only has 160,000km on it, so barely broken in. It gets parked for the winter to keep it out of the salt and snow.

    With the 6.0 Jaguar got rid of a number of the GM parts that plagued the earlier 5.3 and changed to either Nippondenso or Ford parts, the 6.0 is the best of the V12’s I think. Previously the guaranteed failure was the GM HEI ignition module.

    I had a 1992 V12 sedan and (as expected) every GM part failed on the car: steering pump, AC, ignition, and transmission (TH400). Never had a Lucas part fail, so I laugh at the guys who want to put in a SBC. Why put in the exact same GM parts that are already known failure points?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Your list of known failure items is a love story. TH400? Stupid cheap and available everywhere along with the HEI ignition AC and power steering pump. I applaud your use of the Jag, but most Jag owners or owners of any other V12 would be delighted if they failure points and parts list is what they had to deal with. If that were the case we would have a lot more V12s on the road today!

      Having owned a Plus 8, I will take a pass on tempting the fate of Lucas ever again.

      • 0 avatar

        The Jaguar TH400 is a unique case to the V12 bolt pattern, so not cheap and available everywhere. The internals are GM, but it still means a trans rebuild. They seem to last about 100,000 miles behind a V12.

  • avatar

    A small correction Corey, All the production Jaguar 6.0’s had the 4 speed auto (a GM 4L80E in a unique case with the V12 bolt pattern) for worldwide spec.

    I make the production distinction because there was a small run of Jaguar Sport XJR-S V12’s that were also 6.0, but a different engine to the regular 6.0 and unique Zytec engine management. These cars used the old TH400 3 speed trans, not the 4 speed.

  • avatar

    S600 was the favorite car of Russian Mafia. Driving “Шестисотый Мерседес” meant something, often menace. Crossing paths with “Шестисотый Мерседес” might be fatal. So if you saw “Шестисотый Мерседес” approaching you in your rear view mirror you would better pull over to let it pass to stay out of trouble or in other words от греха подальше.

    So I would drive Mercedes, own Jaguar and burn BMW.

  • avatar

    LSX swap into all of them

  • avatar

    I always liked the 8 series and you can get in a manual= buy

    My folks had a 1995 W140 S320 they bought used around 1998. It was a good car in I-6 form, it would have been better with the V8 or V12. The last MB built to a standard, not a price. Drive the Mercedes, because the BMW would be a better driver. Not a huge fan of the styling of the MB in coupe form though.

    Burn the Jag. I don’t have much love for these cars, but if the right one showed up…

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