At the beginning of the 1990s, pretty much everyone was stepping away from twin-cam inline-4s. While they had been the rage in the 80s and “DOHC” was nearly as popular as Miami Vice, buyers demanded more power and refinement. Sure, you could make 200 horsepower from a high-strung four-pot; but making it tractable for daily driving, passing emissions, and reliable? That was another ball-game. As a result, most major manufacturers went to larger displacement 6- or 8-cylinder motors in their small performance cars.
Everyone, that is, except for Porsche.
Porsche dialed in the 944S2 a bit more with updated 928-inspired looks and a new ‘VarioCam’ adjustable valve timing on the 3-liter inline-4. Now with 237 horsepower and an impressive 225 lb.ft of torque, it roamed the sports car elite field like a small dinosaur. Porsche added another speed to the mix, but since this was a relatively expensive 4-banger coupe based on a twenty year old design, they didn’t sell particularly well. A total of 2,234 Coupes were imported between 1992 and 1995; the last year was the worst seller, with a scant 259 making the journey. This particular last-year example may just be the best one left in the country:
With the news that in a short twenty-three years Britain plans on no longer having internal combustion engines for sale, I was struck with the idea of a theme week. We haven’t done one in a while, but what about looking at some of the cars that are available in England that won’t be welcome there soon, but would be right at home in my driveway? Sure, they’ll mostly be right hand drive, but I’ve done it before and for the price of some of these cars I’d be happy to offer them sanctuary when they’re no longer register-able in Great Britain.
With that in mind, I’ll start with what is likely top of my list – the Audi S2 Avant. I know, I know – most enthusiasts pine over the much more legendary, quicker and more rare RS2. But there are a few reasons for me to like the S2 even more. When I lived in England, there was a Cyclamen example that parked near my flat. I ran by it often, and even had a few daydreams as training miles passed under foot that I’d be rowing through the gears. So, it is with a bit of nostalgia that I view them every time. Next, I like the look more. The gaping guppy look of the RS2 became signature for the RS models moving forward, but the S2 is very handsome in a classic Audi way without being as shouty. But most of all, it’s the price. While RS2s are still treading in the $40-$100,000 range for decent examples, a very nice S2 Avant can be had for only a fraction of that amount:
On its way out of production, Audi graced the ageing B7 with one last parting piece of performance. The RS4 Cabriolet was announced in late 2007 as a 2008-only model and ripped the top of of Ingolstadt’s signature small super sedan. Like the rest of the A4 Cabriolet production, it was soft-top only, 2-door only configuration, and like the RS4, it was 6-speed manual only. Under the hood lay the same BNS 4.2 32 valve V8; Audi dropped the 5 valve technology for the RS4 application, but gained quite a bit of horsepower in the process. Though the engine shared basic construction with the normal S4 V8, it had a unique crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons, cylinder heads and valvetrain, oil and cooling system, intake and exhaust system, and engine management system. Audi also introduced their Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI) system. The result was 420 high-revving horsepower and enough noise to make Pavarotti jealous.
Although the RS4 Cabriolet shared the revised T3 Torsen setup, Dynamic Ride Control and huge 14″ front brakes as the sedan, Audi’s focus for the model was exclusivity rather than sport. The model was fully loaded with only one option – color – and came to market at a substantial $15,000 premium over the 4-door. Only 300 were sold with a sticker price of about $84,500:
Seriously, what’s the deal? Almost immediately after completing expensive 6-speed manual swaps, both S6 and S8s come up for sale. Today’s example, having covered about 9,000 miles since its swap, might be one of the most traveled examples with a manual swap that I’ve seen. Are the results not what people were expecting? That the manual was combined with the S4’s similar V8 in a package that many enthusiasts love would tend to be an indication that the output of this equation should be quite good. Yet, it’s frankly not all that uncommon to run across a manual swapped C5 or D2 that, after several thousand dollars worth of work and programming, is now up for sale. There’s even one near me for under $4,000 – complete!
So what do you think the deal is?
The New Beetle isn’t a car which often featured on these pages. In fact, I can only find three times since we’ve started this site that they’ve come up. Considering that we’ve written up about 1,200 M3s in that same time period, I guess our stance on the Golf-based image car is pretty clear. However, the bones of the New Beetle aren’t really all that bad; based on the Mk.4 chassis, there are plenty of parts available and they’re cheap to buy. They offer a pretty practical hatchback package with some additional style. And, in turbocharged 1.8T form, they even offered a sporty ride.
Introduced in 2002, the Turbo S turned that package up a notch with help from the GTI. Underneath, the AWP-code 1.8T was rated at 180 horsepower at 11.6 lbs of boost, and had matching 173 lb.ft of torque. The transversely-mounted power was channeled through the same 6-speed manual you’d find in VW’s hot hatch and no automatic was available. Volkswagen outfit these cars with standard stability control and loaded them up with Monsoon sound, sunroof, active aerodynamics, leather, aluminum trim, power accessories and keyless entry. They also got special white and black gauges inside and a more pronounced twin-tip exhaust, along with fog lights integrated into new bumper covers. To help manage the speed, Volkswagen’s 1BE lower and stiffer suspension package was fit, along with BBS-made “Delta X” 17″ wheels with 225-45-17 tires. The package was pricey, at nearly $24,000 in 2002 – a not unsubstantial amount, considering that money would get you into the much nicer chassis of the Passat in wagon form at the same time. Unlike the pastel-toned entry colors of the New Beetle, the Turbo S was only available in Black, Silver, Platinum or Red with a total of 5,000 produced. Volkswagen hoped that these sporty changes would re-character the model which had primarily appealed in only one sexual demographic. Did it work?
The S4 Avant is no stranger to these pages, offering enthusiasts a “have-your-cake-and-throw-it-squarely-at-that-M3-owner’s-face-too” package which combined functionality and sport in a very discrete wrapper. Well, for the most part they were discrete; most were ordered in shades of gray because a fair amount of people ponying up new were conservative with everything but the money they were paying for this small executive wagon. Lightly optioned, an S4 Avant was north of $50,000 in 2004, a price today that would having you knocking on the A7 and S6’s base price. That sticker shock masks that the B6 and B7 represented a huge price increase over the B5 generation; out the door, the cost on average about 20% – 30% more only 3 years later – but then, they offered a full 90 horsepower advantage over the twin-turbocharged V6 with that awesome 4.2 V8, which of course could still be combined with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Subtle though the exterior colors may be, the performance on tap was anything but.
But some enterprising individuals chose the vivid colors which had become the signature of the model in B5 form. Nogaro Blue Pearl Effect was, of course, the go-to for all things fast Audi since it was originally called RS Blue on the original super Avant RS2. But a nearly equal amount were requested in Imola Yellow, a staggering, retina-burning banana-toned shade that seems initially out of character with a family wagon, yet raises the cool-bus level to 11. Though Nogaro was replaced in the B7 chassis refresh with Sprint Blue Pearl Effect, Imola carried over for the end of the V8s.
Today, I have one of each – so which is your style?
(Editor’s Correction: Though I originally listed this car as a M-Sport, it’s really a 135is with the Sport package. However, the equipment package on this car was renamed for the 2009 model year to M-Sport. This car does feature the upgrade 740 M-Sport suspension.)
It’s hard to judge the performance value of the BMW 135i M-Sport 6-speed as anything other than very tempting in today’s market. Get beyond the styling for a second and look at what this car comes with; stock, the twin-turbocharged N54 inline-6 pumps out an impressive 302 horsepower and matching torque, giving you E46 M3-strata performance. Equipped with the M-Sport package, you got shadow line trim, a black headliner, sport seats, M steering wheel and shifter, M door sills, and the M-sport M264 5-spoke wheels unique to this model. While performance wasn’t turned up, the 1M was no slouch, capable of sub 5-second 0-60 times. Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful product that BMW produced in period, but in gussied-up M-Sport form it is certainly more purposeful than the standard 128i your boss’s secretary ran out to get the moment it was off-lease.
But the real beauty of the 135i M-Sport is the price. Some dip into the mid-teens or occasionally below, but even a pristine one like today’s example hits the market below $25,000. A generation newer than the E46 M3, it offers plenty of sport, reasonable practicality, more affordable repairs and one could argue that it’s a bit of a sleeper compared to the S-motored cars:
A few weeks ago, I took a look at a trio of Porsche 968 6-speeds. One was a rare 1995 model; only 259 were sold from that model year. As is often the case with 968 Coupe 6-speeds, the asking prices of two of the three were quite high and they still linger on the market, unsurprisingly. Well, today we have another double take of ’95 specific 6-speeds – how do they measure up to the last three we looked at?
The Porsche 968 Coupe 6-speed is a fairly infrequently seen package, but one that is generally considered to be the “ultimate development” of the water-cooled transaxle 4-cylinder models. Only about half of the cars that were imported to the U.S. were Coupes (4,242 sent to North America, 2,234 of which were Coupes), and when equipped with the 6-speed manual the number dwindles to just 1,811. That puts production of these models on par with the E28 M5 in terms of rarity, and the group of enthusiasts who enjoy them are about as avid if not moreso. However, they also often overvalue their cars in the marketplace, making them expensive options relative to the performance on tap.
Today I have a group of no less than three 968 Coupe 6-speeds for sale – a rare Christmas treat to see. Which is the winner of the group?
Generally, when an engine and transmission swap is undertaken it’s something that wasn’t offered from the factory. S52 in an E30, V8 in a 944, VR6 in a Mk.2; you’re making a performance version of a car that wasn’t offered from the factory. But then there are other swaps that, frankly, leave me scratching my head, and this one is certainly high on the list. It’s not that the result wasn’t neat – the finished product looks like a clean A6 Avant, but the lowered stance and big wheels hint at some serious changes under the skin. So let’s take a peek at what’s been done: