2002 BMW M3

2002 BMW M3

My dad’s E46 M3 was by far and away the best car he ever owned (though I guess that’s not saying much, since he mostly owned Fords). It was a convertible and, as a result, the chassis was somewhat compromised – the dash would shake at the slightest provocation from a pothole. Still, it was a great car, mostly because it was such a perfect all-rounder. It was fast, handled like a precision instrument and looked sufficiently aggressive without being too shouty. It was also very practical. If you took it down to the shops to pick up a pint of milk, and resisted the temptation to mash the throttle, it could be a very docile car to drive. But if you did open it up, the sound of that 3.2 liter straight six was pretty incredible. There’s nothing else I’ve heard that’s quite like it. It wasn’t a growl. It was a rasp, a sinister, menacing one. I hope that one day I’ll own one too.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2002 BMW M3 on eBay

1990 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL

1990 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL

Buying a high mileage car can be a bit scary, even if it’s a Mercedes with a reputation for longevity. Odometer readings can have a profound psychological effect on our perception of a car’s health (and worth), making people leery of high mileage cars. But in truth, at a certain stage in a car’s life, maintenance history and upkeep become far more important than any number on the dash. This is particularly true of the W126. A low mileage car that has been sitting is liable to cause you more problems than a high mileage one that has been driven and cared for by a meticulous owner. The upshot is that if you shop around and choose wisely, you can score a bargain on a high mileage car. This 300SEL, for example, has 286k miles on the odometer and a cheap price tag attached. Offered for sale by a knowledgeable and friendly Benzworld contributor, it offers a budget friendly entry point into W126 ownership backed up by plenty of maintenance history.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL on Benzworld

1990 Mercedes-Benz 300CE

1990 Mercedes-Benz 300CE

The 300CE  joined the W124 lineup in 1987. These cars offered the same levels of reliability, passenger comfort and safety as the sedan, but with a shorter body, two doors and no B-pillar. This gave the coupe a much a rakish, sporting look. But there can be no mistaking its provenance: the coupe retains the elegant, taut and brawny good looks of its sedan sibling, and both are unmistakably the work of famed Mercedes stylist Bruno Sacco. Powered initially by the 3.0 liter version of the M103 SOHC engine, in 1990 the CE’s motor was swapped out for the M104 DOHC unit, which increased power output to 217 hp (the engine was revised again in 1993, bumping displacement to 3.2 liters, but power output remained the same).

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Mercedes-Benz 300CE on eBay

1985 Mercedes-Benz 280E

1985 Mercedes-Benz 280E

The W123 is a classic car you can use on a daily basis. Produced between 1976 and 1985, these mid-sized executive sedans set industry leading standards for safety, passenger comfort and reliability during that time. In fact, the W123 was so rugged that Mercedes took it rallying, scoring a surprise win in the notoriously grueling, 30,000 mile, transcontinental London-Sydney Marathon. The W123’s iconic silhouette remains a common sight on today’s roads – no wonder, since they last forever – and when you see one, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a classic Mercedes. From 1981 onwards you could only buy the W123 as a diesel in America. These cars would get you where you wanted to go, but not very quickly. Which makes this final year, European import gasoline powered car a tempting option.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 280E on eBay

1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 manual

1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 manual

I’m a purist at heart. I like older cars that have survived into the present while remaining practically bone stock and unmodified. But I also realize that there are many different ways to love and appreciate cars, and the stance scene – with its lowered ride heights, deep dish rims and negative camber –  is just another of them. So even though I don’t quite understand it, or find it all that appealing, I respect the craft, and the obsession that goes into creating these cars. This modified 190E caught my eye on the Benzworld classified forum. It’s riding low, but not too low, and while the wheels really don’t quite fit, they are at least very handsome. And with an “Avantgarde” interior taken from a European spec car, the inside on this one’s a bit of a treat too.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 on Benzworld

1992 BMW 316i Touring

1992 BMW 316i Touring

The US-market never received the touring (wagon) version of the E30 3-series. But these cars are now old enough to import under the 25 year rule, which means you can find a steady trickle of these popping up on eBay for sale over here, and various accounts of enthusiasts’ attempts to bring them over. And no wonder: the E30 estate is a handsome and utilitarian looking car, practical and quite stylish.

The E30 was offered in Europe with a wider range of engines than we received here, so there a variety of different longroof options to choose from.  There were two four cylinder models (a 1.6 liter and a 1.8 liter), two six cylinder models (a 2.0 liter and 2.5 liter, with the latter also being available in “iX,” all wheel drive spec), and a 2.4 liter naturally aspirated diesel inline six. This particular car is a 316i, the entry level model. While the car is currently located in Germany, it’s being advertised on US eBay to tempt American E30 fans with a taste for forbidden fruit.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 BMW 316i Touring on eBay

1984 BMW 745i

1984 BMW 745i

The 745i was the high performance version of the E23 7-series. Produced between 1979-1986, these autobahn stormers were never officially offered in the US. But committed, well-resourced buyers were able to bring them over via the gray market, which is presumably how this one ended up here. Powered by a turbocharged version of the 3.2 or (later) the 3.4 liter M30 inline six – at a time when BMW’s competitors were using V8s and V12s – these cars came from the factory with a 3-speed automatic gearbox. But this particular example has received a 5-speed manual swap, along with a whole host of other goodies. I don’t normally post heavily modified cars, but this one seemed too interesting to ignore.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1984 BMW 745i on eBay

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300TE 4Matic

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300TE 4Matic

The W124 platform E-class is an unstoppable tank. So you’d think that the addition of an all-wheel drive option would make an excellent car even better. Not so fast. The “4Matic” AWD system offered on the W124 was complex. Using numerous electronic sensors to control the locking central and rear differentials, the automatic system was capable of splitting torque between the front and back axles as required: 100% to the back, 35/65 front/rear, or 50/50 front/rear. When performing properly, this made the W124 a very competent car in inclement weather. However, the complexity of the system meant that if and when it broke, repair costs could quickly become astronomical. For that reason, W124 enthusiasts tend to pass over the 4Matic, regarding it as a rare example of Mercedes’s over-engineering becoming a liability.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300TE 4Matic on eBay

2001 BMW 740iL

2001 BMW 740iL


The E38 7-series is a firm favorite around these parts, a throwback to the pre-Bangle era in BMW styling’s department, before things got all fussy and bloated. With its angular lines and restrained, good looks, the E38 is a bit like a bouncer in a bespoke suit: brawny but sophisticated looking. Given that many of them were pressed into service as executive transportation, it’s not surprising they mostly appear in subdued colors like black, silver or gray. But every now and again a more adventurously colored car pops up, like this low-mileage example for sale in California.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW 740iL on eBay

2005 Audi A4 1.8T quattro Ultrasport

2005 Audi A4 1.8T quattro Ultrasport

A couple of years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a B6 A4 for use as a daily driver. That’s pretty remarkable since I’m not a huge Audi fan (though I do love the D2 S8). I admire these cars for their restrained, modernist styling, which has stood the test of time pretty well. The problem was, I only wanted one particular trim level, the Ultrasport, and I couldn’t find one in my price range that I was happy with. The Ultrasport (“USP”) package was available as an $2,950 option on A4s produced between 2004 and 2005. It added Audi’s 1BE sport suspension, 18″ “Celebration” RS4-style rims and a bodykit that included revised front and rear lower valences, door blades aluminum trim, a special perforated leather steering wheel and a subtle decklid spoiler. The USP package made the plain A4 look a bit more like an S4, and for me that was the major attraction. But ultimately, I decided to go in a different direction. I bought my E34 BMW instead, and in nearly 30k miles of driving I have had nothing go wrong with it. I’m not sure I could say the same, had I bought the A4. Still, these cars continue to grab my attention. I think a well-chosen example could make a stylish commuter for those prepared to put up with the servicing costs associated with Audis of this era.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2005 Audi A4 1.8T Ultrasport on LA Craigslist

1992 BMW M5 Euro 3.8

1992 BMW M5 Euro 3.8

It really does feel as though the market is finally waking up to the E34 M5, as values on nicer examples continue to climb. Bring a Trailer recently sold a U.S. spec ’93 with only 14,000 miles for what seems like a staggering $68,000! As they should have, considering the package. The E34 is a surprisingly great driver’s car, even in non-M guise. But in full blown M5 spec, it’s sublime, a throwback to an era of hand-built sport sedans that offer a satisfying analog driving experience. To make it, BMW sent the regular E34 chassis from the production line at Dingolfing over the geniuses at M GmbH in Garching, who dropped in the screaming, six cylinder S38 motor with six individual throttle bodies. In US-spec form, the 3.6 liter motor put out just over 300 hp, although a larger, 3.8 liter unit became available in Europe from 1991 onwards, which increased power output to 335 hp. The 3.8 never reached US shores by official channels, though these cars are now old enough to be imported without the need for expensive modification

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 BMW M5 3.8 on eBay

1999 BMW M3 Convertible

1999 BMW M3 Convertible

The E36 M3 is frequently regarded as the awkward middle child between the classic E30 and the accomplished, grown-up E46. As a result, it doesn’t usually command the kind of values attached to its older and younger siblings. But I think that one day, mint examples of these cars – which are increasingly thin on the ground – will be sought after as classics. The E36’s “dolphin” bodyshape marks an important transition point in BMW’s design history, as the angular lines of the 80s would begin to give way to the rounder, softer shapes of the late 90s and early 00s. The trademark four round headlights are still there, but now set back behind glass panels, and the dual kidneys are now more gently integrated into the front nose, all for the sake of aerodynamic efficiency. The M3, available during this period as a coupe, sedan and convertible, was externally distinguishable from the standard model range only by more aggressive front and rear valances, revised side skirts, and rounder side mirrors. But under the hood was a spritely and free-revving 3.2 liter inline six powerplant. Infamously down on power in comparison with the Euro market S50, the S52 motor in the US-spec car was nonetheless good for about 240 hp and, when combined with the lithe chassis and sharp manual transmission, made for a lively and fun car to drive. The E36 M3 may not have been an out-and-out track monster like its predecessor, but it was fast (for its time), practical and easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1999 BMW M3 on San Francisco Craigslist

1992 Mercedes-Benz 300E

1992 Mercedes-Benz 300E

Someone on the Facebook page recently said I tend to post cars in boring colors like black, silver or gray. They are not wrong. It’s hard to find the models I like in anything else. There are some great exceptions, of course. BMW has some really neat colors available through its Individual program (my favorite is Velvet Blue). But there’s no getting around it; most of my favorite 80s and 90s German cars left the factory with conservative paint jobs. That’s likely no accident. Staid colors are generally well suited to the lines of the cars, especially since the design language of the period was itself quite conservative. Still, I feel under an obligation to find you all some more interesting colors. And this is my opening gambit: a 300E in Crystal Green (256). The W124 can be had for very little money these days, and used as a cheap runaround until it clocks at least half a million miles. Yet it still offers the luxury, solidity and build quality that earned Mercedes its reputation for making some of the best cars in the world.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 Mercedes-Benz 300E

1994 BMW 740i

1994 BMW 740i

The E32 7-series is a rare sight on today’s roads. And that’s a shame. These big-body behemoths from Bavaria exemplify a design language that’s now firmly in BMW’s past: menacing yet restrained, large but well proportioned, mixing brawny lines with classic cues like round headlights, angular kidneys and the Hoffmeister kink. On Friday, Carter wrote up a 735i. It was, he admitted, a bit sad, with oversized wheels and a tired look. While the 5-speed manual transmission made it tempting, I’m not sure it was enough to redeem the car, especially given the asking price. A neat alternative would be a clean, late model, bone stock V8 740i, if you can find one. The 4.0 liter M60 engine is relatively stout (apart from the Nikasil problem, which by now is unlikely to be an issue) and, putting out about 282 hp, sufficient to propel the car quite nicely to cruising speeds. While it may not give you the bragging rights associated with the V12 in the 750, it’s generally less of a headache to maintain.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1994 BMW 740i on eBay

Double Take: Mercedes-Benz 300SE

Double Take: Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I planned to leave the W126 300SE alone for a while since I’ve posted quite a number of these over the last few months. But I couldn’t resist when I noticed not one, but two really nice examples pop up on eBay this week. While these short wheelbase, six cylinder cars are often overlooked in favor of the 420 and 560 SEL, they offer all the class and sophistication of the larger models with somewhat lower running costs, making the 300 a nice entry point for W126 ownership. They certainly don’t have the power of the V8. But on the plus side, the M103 motor is famously stout and will run forever without needing too much work. The only real weak spot is the headgasket, which tends to need replacing every 150k miles or so. I’ve test-driven a few of these recently myself, and I was pleasantly surprised by the driving experience. The 3.0 liter engine provided more shove on the backroads than I was expecting, certainly enough to get the car moving, even if it won’t win any drag races. And out on the highway it cruised effortlessly, which is what these cars are all about.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay