The Godfather of Evolution’s philosophically seismic treaties focussed on the biological entities that first crawled from the primordial soup some three-and-a-half billion years ago. But the basic principles outlined in The Origin of Species apply neatly to the strides made in the most recent phase of an industrial revolution which, all signs suggest, is still in its infancy. And, to track the history of the 7 Series is to observe the last four decades of car evolution with your eyes fixed firmly on the vanguard. From the start, it has laid technological milestones in its wake. The inaugural 7 Series model, the 3.2 litre, turbo 6-cylinder E23, featured several innovations - ABS brakes, system fault driver alerts, complex climate control systems, anti-lock brakes, airbags – that would go on to become standard automotive equipment. And, so seduced were consumers by its svelte appearance, superior handling and technical wizardry, the Dingolfing plant could barely keep up with production. Around 280,000 would be built over its nine-year reign.
The taller, longer, highly majestic E32-generation 7 series upped the ante when it came to options, with customers offered two wheelbase versions and a 3.0-litre or 4.0-litre V8 engine, or a 5.0-litre V12. It also beefed up the range’s technological credentials with traction control and electronic stability. A third iteration came out in the mid-90s, and brought with it diesel options and satellite navigation - the first European car to offer it – and quickly became the best selling 7 series to date. Meanwhile a car chase scene in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, in which James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) drives one from the back seat using a hand-held device, cemented its place in cultural folklore.
The first 7 Series model of the new millennium saw another huge evolutionary leap. Styled by the legendary Adrian van Hooydonk, aided by vast improvements in body panel curving technology, it made a bold-but-beautiful progression from the linear designs conceived by the likes of Paul Bracq and Wilhelm Hofmeister, and thus bears far more resemblance to brand new BMW sedans of today than what came before it. Pioneering gadgetry included iDrive, active anti-roll bars, 6-speed automatic transmission, a Smart Key and night vision, while the 760i model was the world's first production V12 engine to use direct fuel injection.