While the name “Evolution” become synonymous with Mitsubishi’s WRX-fighting Lancer for the X-Box generation, the term had much greater meaning for racing fans in the 1980s and 1990s. That was the period where homologation really took off; in order to be eligible to race, the FIA stipulated a certain amount of vehicles generally matching the race version of a car would have to be produced. This resulted in some great race-inspired production cars, and in order to best each other on the race track manufacturers would be forced to modify those cars. In order to have the modifications legal to race, the maker would have to introduce those significant changes to the road-going model, too. Those changed models would be termed “Evolution” to differentiate their model changes. As a result, enthusiasts ended up with ‘Evo’ versions of the Ford RS200, the V8 quattro, the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 and, of course, the M3.
The M3 Evolution I was first introduced in 1987 with only a slightly revised motor. The Evolution II followed in 1988, and signaled the first real changes in the lineup. Major alterations to the aerodynamics, bodywork, chassis, and engine netted more power, more downforce and less weight for the FIA-regulated 500 units sold to market. Iconic even within the impressive normal M3 production, these fan-favorites generate feverish bids when they come to market.
But there is an even more desirable variant: The Sport Evolution. BMW Motorsport GmbH maxed out its E30 development in an all-out attempt to dominate the world’s racetracks. A new 2.5 liter S14 cranked out nearly 240 horsepower, while the same ‘add lightness’ recipe was prescribed; lightweight glass and body panels were met with adjustable front and rear spoilers. Signature 7.5″ wide BBS wheels were now darker Nogaro Silver and 10mm closer to the body thanks to lower suspension, while special Recaro seats kept you firmly planted inside from the g-force they were capable of generating.…
Perhaps one reason that the S6 Avant didn’t really take of on U.S. shores was because of the shoes it had to fill. Enthusiasts had enjoyed the B5 S4 in Avant form for a few years, and consequently as a popular model when the B6 launched it was almost sure to make a return, almost certain to have more power, and almost certain to be available in a manual. Those premonitions came true, and so if you were willing to wait two years between the B5 and B6 S4 Avant production you were rewarded with the 4.2 liter V8 mated to a manual and even more sporty feel. For lovers of fast Audi wagons, the S4 was the answer to the things that the S6 wasn’t.
But as time has gone on, the “OMG it’s got a V8 and a manual!!!” shine of the B6 has waned slightly as long-term problems have reared their heads with the powertrain. Like the Allroad and S6, those problems are probably overstated by the “‘Exaggernet’, but they nonetheless exist. So while the B5 to B6 represented a huge jump in power, there are quite a few fans of the older generation still. That grunt deficit is easily overcome with the twin-turbocharged V6, as well, thanks to clever tuning potential. Like the B6, you could of course have the B5 with a manual. And, in some wild colors:
Boy, it’s been a bit too long since we looked at a Volkswagen Van. In fact it’s been over a year since I last looked at a Vanagon. For shame! Because while I often lament the lack of good 1980s Volkswagens to consider for these pages, there are predictably two models you can find at any time. One is the Cabriolet.
Okay, admit it. While you tell your Corvette-owning friends that the Cabriolet was a travesty you’d never be seen in, they’re actually kind of neat and certainly have their place. After all, what other cheap manual German convertible can you buy….a Boxster?
The other model that’s ubiquitous with 80s search parameters is the T3. They occupy an interesting subculture within the German automobile ownership community. And once in a while, one pops up that I really take notice of:
Back to wagons!
One of the more
captivating baffling options in the used performance wagon market must surely be the C5 Audi. Despite the reputation for 100% metaphysical certitude that they’ll fail – probably catastrophically, they’re fan favorites. Often as a retort to internet commentaries that they’re not reliable, actual owners will chime in, demanding respect and steadfastly assuring the audience that the Allroad’s reputation is undeserved.
‘It’s been 100% reliable!’ they’ll insist.
Of course, the recipe to actually make it reliable involves major reworking of the engine and suspension. And, sometimes the electronics, too. On top of that, it turns out that various people’s definition of ‘reliable’ varies greatly – especially for Audi owners. Basically, to be deemed ‘unreliable’, an Audi must first assassinate a major public figure, then make a Star Wars reboot featuring only Jar-Jar Binks, then kneel during the National Anthem (easy to do, as most have failed suspension on at least one corner), and finally when you turn the key the engine does the action sequence out of a Michael Bay Transformer movie. If, and only if, those conditions are met will fanatics finally fail to reply to the assertion that the Allroad just isn’t a reliable car.
But, it’s cool. And so you probably want one, even though you know it’ll bankrupt you. So the smart way to buy an Allroad is to not buy an Allroad:
I wish that I had better news for you. I’d love to say that I’d found some hidden gem no one else had discovered, and that it could be yours for a song. Today is not that day. Instead, what we unfortunately have is another case of mistaken identity. To add a bit of insult to injury, it would seem that it’s quite intentional.
Back in May of 2017, I looked at two E32 BMWs. Both were modified, non-original examples. One was a 5-speed 735i sporting some Racing Dynamics bits, and the other was a clean and low-mileage 750iL that had undergone a full cosmetic Alpina B12 5.0 makeover.
Outstanding E32 Face Off: 1988 BMW 735i and 750iL
Kudos to the then seller, it was accurately represented. It looked great but needed to be cleaned up a bit, but despite low mileage and all the original Alpina goodies, it sold for pretty budget price – just a bit over $5,000.
Well, it’s back. It’s cleaner, better photographed and there are also some clever changes and omissions in the current advertisement that have apparently sold bidders on a bill of goods that I’m pretty confident the car can’t write:
While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.
But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?
Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.
However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!
Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….
Back to wagons!
Today’s example is another fan-favorite model, of which it seems surprisingly hard to find a great example. The E39 continued and expanded the 5-series wagon’s popularity by bringing bigger wheels, more power and updated looks to the mid-range Audi-challenger. Like the first generation, these were only available in rear-wheel drive in the U.S., so matching the all-wheel drive variants available from…well, everyone else, required a very good looking and potent package. BMW pulled that off, with the Sport versions of both the 528i and 540i Tourings thoroughly encapsulating the ethos of the great Euro wagons.
But there was a catch.
If you wanted a manual gearbox, you had to select the lower output 528i model. For all its shouty V8-ness, the 282 horsepower 4.4 liter M62-equipped 540i only came with BMW’s Steptronic if you needed to haul ass and a family. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a few enterprising individuals from combining the manual from the sedan with the more desirable wagon:
Weather. It’s today’s weather that makes me instantly think back to my V8 quattro. Here in New England this morning I emerged from my weather-proof cocoon hidden carefully under several layers of blankets to reveal the foot-plus of powdery snow, blowing fiercely with a sustained 35 mph wind, and a temperature hovering around 9. Maybe for you folks in Minnesota that’s a nice Spring day, but I think it’s just brutal. Yet when it occurs, I instantly think back to the car I had that made me relish those conditions. It was my ’93 V8 quattro, without hesitation.
When the mercury dipped below freezing and the roads were covered in snow, that car was simply a monster. Audis certainly have a reputation for being good in the snow, it’s true. But here’s a hint – I’ve owned a lot and driven even more, and they’re not all great in the white stuff (ducks). They’re also very tire-dependent, perhaps moreso than other cars. Because with all-seasons on an Audi, you’ll have no problem going fast in deep snow, but you’ll have quite a few problems turning and more problems stopping.
But I had snow tires on my V8. Tiny little A4 steel wheels overshadowed by the widened flares with tires that look fit for…well, an basic B5 A4 rather than a large executive. When that white stuff fell – look out. It was unstoppable, but not in the bad way I just mentioned. And unlike the terminal understeer some of my other Audis suffered from (I’m looking at you, 200!), all you had to do in the V8 if the nose wasn’t heading where you wanted to was to give it a boot-full of throttle. A tremendous roar would emerge as the 4-cam all-aluminum V8 sprung to life, the multi-plate center differential channeled power towards the back, and the Torsen rear diff limited the slip of the unladen tire.…
The last Golf I took a look at was a high-spec GLS TDi model from the end of the run. A popular niche vehicle, the turbo diesel Golf is a hot commodity and even with over 170,000 miles bids were quick to crest $4,000, finally ending with a $4,350 sale. Yet it’s far from the most desirable, or indeed the most valuable, model within a robust lineup of favorites.
There’s the all-wheel drive 3.2 liter VR6 R32, often with asks that rival multiple generations of M3s:
2004 Volkswagen Golf R32
There’s the 20th Anniversary Edition GTI, a turbocharged terror with great looks:
2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition with 9,800 Miles
There’s the Edition 337 – a limited collector-friendly model that kicked off a new generation of turbocharged Golf performance:
Feature Listing: 2002 Volkswagen GTI 337 Edition
And though it carried a ‘Jetta’ badge, we finally got the “Golf Variant” wagon, replete with your choice of 1.8T, 2.0, TDi or even a gutsy 2.8 liter VR6 hooked to a manual:
2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 Wagon
So the Mk.4 range really has a devoted following and plenty of love to spread around to make you a bit unique. Today’s car, though, is none of those collector favorites. What we have here is a Flash Red first-year Golf. No TDi, no VR6, not even a GLS. No, this is a standard Golf. Except it’s not a standard Golf, because it’s an automatic. But before you click away, this one’s odometer hasn’t yet turned 23,000 miles….
Continuing on the wagon theme, today we’re going to take a look at something in a similar vein – but oh, so very different. This 1994 BMW E34 Touring is in many ways the antithesis of yesterday’s S6 clone; it’s an original European model, it’s very bare bones, and it’s a diesel.
The story behind BMW’s foray into diesel power in the U.S. was pretty interesting. BMW had developed the M21 2.4 liter turbocharged inline-6 diesel in the 1970s with fuel prices rising; it finally launched in the early 1980s with the E28 524td. But you probably best know that motor for its appearance in mid-80s American iron; an attempt by Ford to improve the fuel economy of its large executive Lincoln Continental. The marriage didn’t work; although the M21 was a good motor (especially when compared to GM’s diesel!), gas prices were falling and the economy was recovering by the time it finally came to market. But since BMW went through the effort to get the M21 legal for U.S. shores, they brought the 524td over here, too. It was a slow seller in the E28 lineup; equipped only with an automatic, BMW dealers shifted 3,635 of the diesels.
No surprise, then, that when the E34 launched, the diesel didn’t come back with it. Though the U.S. market didn’t see the M21 in the lineup though it soldiered on. The M21 was replaced in 1991 by a new version, the M51. Now displacing 2.5 liters and with an intercooler in “s” version, the 525tds upped the power from the 114 seen in the 524td to 141 and it had 192 lb.ft of torque at only 2,200 rpms. This motor carried BMW’s diesels through the 1990s, and was available in everything from the 3-series to the 7-series.
So it’s a bit of a treat to see the M51 in North America.…