Manual Swapping an Old BMW 7 Series Seems Easier Than You’d Think
E38 BMW 740s can be had for dirt cheap now. Is it time to live out some Transporter fantasies?
The 1990s 7 Series is the quintessential BMW. Long wheelbase, clean, classy styling, none of that Bangle-era bizarreness that ruined the model soon after. These cars were dope. Classier and sharper to drive than a comparable Mercedes, this generation of 7 brought the heat to the S-Class, with a nicer interior and more upscale image than the model before it. And it looked amazing as a hero car in The Transporter.
The 7 Series is a surprisingly sharp car to drive for something its size; steering and handling are from BMW’s golden era, and the smooth V8 (740i) or V12 (750i) has more than enough power to move the vehicle’s substantial curb weight around with authority.
There’s just one thing missing though — that little long doodad in the middle of your car, that lets you change gears when you want to. Yep, a manual transmission. All U.S.-spec 7-series of this E38 era are automatic. That’s not all bad, the transmission is generally pretty good, but it’s not the same as moving a lever around and working a clutch pedal, letting that big engine roar.
Well back in the 2000s, someone did figure out how to swap in a manual, and for a while there, it seems like everyone was manual swapping E38s and rowing their own gears like Jason Statham in his getaway car. As if you needed an excuse to revisit this:
The E38 BMW is very similar to the E39 (1994-2004) 5 Series. Same engines, similar transmissions, and you can likely see where I’m going with this.
A manual transmission from a BMW 540i apparently fits right into a BMW 740i without too much effort. A bit of wiring needs to be done, such as making sure the ECU doesn’t get confused by the now-missing automatic transmission. If it’s a 740il, a custom driveshaft will need to be created, but make one is not all that hard either. The process fairly straightforward, judging by the dozens of forum threads that have existed, and the surprisingly large population of manual-swapped 740s that seems to exist.
I feel like I can already imagine you, readers, in the comments: “But I want a V12 manual!” Yeah, I want one too.
According to BMW Fanatics, the manual transmission that mates to the 540/740 won’t mate up to the 750. Even if it did, the transmission can’t handle the torque. Some have said a manual transmission from an 850ci would possibly work, but those vehicles are extremely rare. Are you really going to chop up a manual 8 Series coupe to make a dime-a-dozen 7 Series a bit cooler? I think not.
A manual swapped E32 750i does exist, but the builder admits that a lot of parts are custom; not like the plug-n-play swaps of the manual E38 740i.
Koala Motorsport created a manual V12 E38 750il as well, but it looks like its project involved a lot of custom work. Still, super cool.
BMW 740s can be had for dirt cheap now. Maybe a manual-swapped 740il could be a fun summer build.