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.…
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:
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:
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.…
The main problem with yesterday’s 745i is that, while on its own it’s a neat car, you can grab many other more desirable BMWs from the same period for less money. The perfect case in point is today’s 535iS. Effectively, this was the U.S. version of the M535i – a M5 without the M88/3, for all intents and purposes. BMW sold about 10,000 M535i models making it a quite successful recipe. Equivalently, the iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant.
While M5 prices have gone somewhat crazy, the 535iS remains quite affordable to most enthusiasts. You get superlative handling, great looks, fantastic reliability and build quality at a fraction of the price of the Motorsport version. And when you add a few choice mods, boy do they look the part:
In a star-studded lineup from the 1980s, the BMW E23 certainly seems to be always the bridesmaid. I’d wager that even the E21 is more popular than the first 7-series, and that’s saying something. It doesn’t help that the 7, while bearing a resemblance to the other great Paul Bracq designs from the period, never quite seems to be in the right proportions – especially in U.S. form. But today’s example isn’t a U.S. spec model, it’s the more desirable and much more pleasant to look at European model. On top of that, it’s the turbocharged M102 under the hood, cranking out 252 ///Mvious horsepower and 280 lb.ft of torque to match. That was enough to propel the heavy, automatic 745i to 60 mph in the mid-7 second range and 137 mph flat out – numbers that made its competition envious. It’s got lower mileage, condition is great, and overall it appears to be a very nice example. The rarity and obscurity of the model in some part outweighs the less desirable nature of the large chassis among collectors. Yet this car has failed to sell for not one, not two, but now going on five years.
So what gives? Well, there’s only one reason that a car doesn’t sell, and it’s price. The seller of this car has had it for sale on and off again since 2013. We last looked at it almost exactly one year ago:
1982 BMW 745i Euro-spec
Perpetually, bidding runs out of steam between $5,000 and $6,000. That number seems far short of what the seller is hoping for, but we never learn much about what that amount is. A few weeks ago, the seller tried Bring A Trailer. The result? $5,000 in bids. So here we are again, a bit like Groundhog Day, with a new auction for this very nice example of an early 7:
The takeaway from my recent E36 M3 Double Take was that many sellers were looking for strong money, but if you looked you could still find some deals on the third generation 3-series M. Some searching yielded a 70,000 mile Boston Green ’97 M3/4/5 Sedan. Clean and a desirable model on its own, it still sold for only $10,800. With asks for normal E30 325iS generally higher than that, where does the follow-up model lay?
That model is this E36 325. Launched in 1992 for U.S. shores, the third generation 3-series instantly cemented itself as the new benchmark. In fact, for all of the attention fawned on ‘God’s Chariot’, the reality is that the 3-series didn’t appear on notoriously BMW-leaning Car and Driver until the 1992 model year. Equipped with the M50 DOHC 189 horsepower inline-6, the modern yet still driver-oriented design would go on to become a regular thereafter. They were a sales success too, and like the E30 was for some time, they’re currently being largely ignored in the used market. After all, if you can get a clean M3 for $11,000, why would you buy a 325iS?
Because they’re a damn good car in their own right, and they’re also damn cheap – if you can find a clean one:
We last got to look at a modified E30 through the disappointing realization that finally after years of trying to sell with different dealers, the car listed as an Alpina C2 2.5 was just a very convincing replica. But as noted, the car was clean and wore a lot of really expensive Alpina bits – so while the price tag of $22,800 seemed high for a replica, it was in some ways amazingly justified.
So what happens when the car in question is a real Alpina? We find out when we look at an actual Alpina C2. The asking price in that case was nearly double at $39,500. And when you factor in that the C2 is one of the less desirable E30 Alpinas out there, that’s drawn into sharper contrast.
So here we are again with another Alpina to consider, but it’s not alone. One of our readers spotted a Hartge H26 – an even more rare to see variant of modified 1980s E30. And to kick the rarity up a few notches, both are 4-doors instead of the usual 2-door sedans. So how do they compare in terms of pricing, and are these cars all that they seem?
Recently I found myself looking through some old car literature I had amassed over the years. In particular, I was completely enamored with the brand-new E36 M3 when it launched on U.S. shores. I’m not sure why, but of all the E36 variants that were produced, that first-year M has always stuck out to me as the most desirable in the lineup. And now as these cars are on the verge of being considered “antique” and with the E30 market still silly (and the E46 market rising), these early Coupes seem like a great balance of driving, collector-potential and somewhat reasonable pricing.
I say ‘somewhat’ because sellers have steadily been raising the bar to the point where it almost feels like price fixing. When I looked for ’95s on eBay the other day, I started laughing – there were five listed, and their prices were all within $1,000 of each other – and none were cheap. So with that in mind today I’m looking at twin Alpine White ’95s. They’re almost identically equipped. They’re priced within $2 of each other. That’s not a misprint – only a small coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts divides the asks on these two. But there’s a huge difference in mileage; some 60,000 between these two. So clearly the one with lower mileage is automatically the better bet, right?
Not so fast…
Following up on yesterday’s Audi S8, I’m reminded just how good the 1990s were for large executive sedans when considering this E32. Sure, the W126 S-Class led the way in the mid-80s, with BMW and Audi playing catch-up. But catch-up they did, with the unorthodox V8 quattro and sporty, luxurious E32 7-series. Both models were followed up with improved models, too – the E38 and D2 are as much fan-favorites (if not moreso) than their predecessors. And while I’m not as much of a die-hard fan of the 3-pointed star, universally the W140 is seen as a worthy successor to the legendary flagship at Mercedes-Benz, too. All around, it was hard to go wrong with these super-executives in the 90s.
While I did own a V8 quattro and pine over the innovative Ingolstadter, my formative driving years were spent with an E32 in the household. It was a great car; the Claus Luthe styling was refined and carried the size and weight of the new 7 much better than the E23 did. It was more potent, too, with the punchy 3.5 liter M30 rated at 208 horsepower, while you could go upscale to the new 5.0 V12 750i kicking out 295 horses. Both could be specified in long wheel base, too – something Audi did pull off with the V8 quattro, but not for the U.S. market.
Yet, like the Audis, the large BMWs don’t have quite the following or the market appeal of the Mercedes-Benz. Perhaps it’s because they’re more finicky, or that parts are harder to find. More likely, it was that they didn’t have quite the same ‘old money’ buyers originally and were more disposable than the inheritance-quality Benz models. Certainly it’s the case that in the economically hard times of the late 80s and early 90s, they just didn’t sell as well as the competition.…