I give Audi a lot of credit for bringing the R8 to market. It took a fair amount of gall for a company best known for mid-range all-wheel drive luxury sedans to up and produce a supercar-beating mid-engine road car capable of being used year-round and every day. It’s a feat nearly without precedent. Of course, I said “nearly”.
That’s because BMW pulled off a similar trick the best part of thirty years before Audi did it. And arguably the development of what would become BMW’s fledgling Motorsports division was even more impressive than what Ingolstadt pulled off. The M1 burst onto the scene at a time of economic austerity, global oil crises and came from a company who not only didn’t have a history of producing such cars, but didn’t have connections to others who did (unlike Audi’s corporate Lamborghini partnership).
Speaking of Lamborghini, because of BMW’s lack of expertise in supercar design it was the Sant’Agata firm that was employed to produce the M1. But because of Lamborghini’s lack of expertise at being…well, a company capable of producing something on a schedule, BMW engineers had to first liberate the early molds from Italy and then find someone who could produce the car. Ultimately, it was a combination of ItalDesign in Turin, Marchesi metal working in Modena to build the frames and Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart that stuck the M1 together. Though it doesn’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, and indeed the M1 was a relative sales flop, it has nonetheless grown to cult status as one of the most user-friendly supercars of the late 1970s:
When enthusiasts think of custom coachwork and Germany, one name usually springs to mind: Karmann. Most identifiable for their combination with Ghia’s designs for Volkswagen, Karmann produced not only their eponymous creation Karmann-Ghia in both Type 14 and Type 34 configuration, but also the Beetle convertible. Volkswagen’s association didn’t end there, though, as the first Rabbit Cabriolets, both versions of the original Scirocco and the later Corrado were all built by the firm. So, too, were some of the first Porsche 356, 911 and 912 models, along with the 914. BMW, too, turned to the firm for ‘Big Coupe’ production, from the 2000CS to the E24 6-series. But when it came time to take the top off of their small cars, BMW looked elsewhere.
From Osnabrück BMW headed into the heart of the enemy’s home to Stuttgart, where Karosserie Baur was located. Baur was the company that BMW turned to when plans with Lamborghini to produce the supercar M1 fell through. Baur would later be the home that the infamous Group B Sport Quattro and Porsche 959 were produced in. In short, Baur was responsible for some of the most significant designs in German motoring and has plenty of expertise in factory-quality experience. It should come as no surprise, then, that they were the company that BMW selected to produce the first 3-series convertibles.
Taking the roof off the car seems simple enough; just grab a saw and go, ‘How hard could it be?’ Well, not so fast, as structural rigidity rears its ugly head. Beyond that, in the 1970s government nannies were indicating that the idea of a topless car was going to be outlawed, leading many manufacturers – including all of the major U.S. brands – to abandon the idea. Baur’s solution to the problem was to create a roll hoop ‘Targa’ model, which as we know from Porsche models offered multiple roof positions while simultaneously solving the issue of structural rigidity and occupant safety. But Baur wasn’t able to utilize the ‘Targa’ nameplate, as Porsche owned the copywrite of the title. Baur instead called the new partially topless 3-series the Top Cabriolet, shortened to TC. BMW offered these as a full-factory option and maintained the warranty, as these cars were expensive in period – a 323i like this one hit the market at the equivalent of $18,000 in 1980 (about $53,500 today) and selecting the Baur TC1 option added some $6,000 (about $17,000 today) to the price.
In a post I wrote for The Truth About Cars this past week, I covered a few E30 models that offer affordable and interesting visual and performance alternatives to the E30 M3. One of those models was the Baur TC2, the model which gave BMW a soft-top before BMW made its own in 1985. Of course, the E30 wasn’t Baur’s first foray into convertible 3-series models, though, as they had started with the E21 model. Baur only produced a little less than half the amount of E21s – 4,595 according to Petrolicious – as they did E30 models at over 11,000, but as importation of early 1980s cars was easier, it seems more common to see the E21 Baur than the E30 Baur. Though fitted as standard with no performance upgrades, this unique 1982 example remedies that with a turbocharged M20:
We’ve reached a point where the BMW E36 has probably dipped about as low as it will go in terms of value, with exception of some mint M3s on the upward tick and the exclusive M3 Lightweight. Most of us are familiar with all the different models of this range, including some of those which did not make it to US shores, like the Touring. This 318i Baur TC4, however, is a different proposition altogether. The relationship between BMW and Baur goes back a ways. Baur is a coachbuilder based in Stuttgart, Germany that has been collaborating on BMW convertibles since the 1930s. Their targa variants of the E21 and E30 3 series helped them gain notoriety, but they didn’t stop there. When the E36 3 series debuted in the early 1990s, Baur decided to try something different.
What you see here is a rarity amongst modern day automobiles, the four-door cabriolet. From the side profile, you’d be hard pressed to figure out this was a convertible of some sort, with fixed door frames and a canvas roof which would fold discreetly behind the rear seats. This 318i Baur TC4 is claimed to be the first on US shores. While it wouldn’t be an easy claim to verify, it is probably valid, as a little over 300 of these unique open-roofed sedans were made.
Calling Baur a tuner isn’t really very fair, but since we don’t have a separate category for semi-aftermarket carriage works, it will fit in. Baur worked in conjunction with a few manufacturers – most notably BMW, though a few Audi fans will remember that they were responsible for construction of the Sport Quattros too and they assisted in the assembly of the Porsche 959 as well. Much like Porsche originally started as, they were linked to the factory efforts due to their high level of unique production capability. That manifested itself in limited run models that required special construction – such as the Sport Quattro and 959 – but what most enthusiasts will remember are the multiple 3-series Cabriolet models produced through Baur. These were offered through dealers as an expensive option and to this day remain a very unique expression of Munich motoring:
There was a period in the mid 1970s where it appeared that safety nannies like Ralph Nader were going to bring about the death of the convertible. Consider, for a moment, that in 1965 Americans bought nearly 500,000 4-seat convertibles – but by the late 1970s, Detriot had completely abandoned what had been a very successful market. Today, it’s German firms that are the leaders in convertibles sold in the U.S. – no surprise, really, when you consider the number that are available. From the Eos and Beetle to BMW’s 3,6 and Z series, along with plenty of Mercedes-Benz models and Audi’s TT, A3, A5 and R8, there’s no shortage currently of options with air above. Go back to the early 1980s, though, and there were really only two. You could pay a lot of money for a Volkswagen Rabbit Cabriolet, or you could pay a ridiculous amount of money for a Porsche 911 Cabriolet. In response, many aftermarket tuners offered to take the top off just about everything from the S-Class Mercedes to the Porsche 928. Baur was one such firm, offering a drop-top version of the 3-series before BMW did. Rare to find, there’s one that’s popped up for sale today:
Karosserie Baur has a history of making drop top versions of our favorite BMW models. This Stuttgart firm went into insolvency in 1998, but before this occurred, they had one last shot at making a memorable BMW cabriolet. This 316i TC4 you see here was the result. Four-door cabriolets are almost extinct in the modern world and this one was a different take on the theme, given it had four fully framed doors and a targa-esque roof setup that folded all towards the rear decklid. This Baur TC4 for sale in central Portugal won’t set the world on fire with it’s 1.6 liter four cylinder engine, but you and your four closest friends can have some fun this summer with four-door, drop top motoring.
The BMW 2002 Baur is a rare car indeed, but more common are the Baur-built E21 versions of the Targa vision, though they’re also rare and unusual. In all, about 5,000 of these Baur conversions were produced – not necessarily the most rare car that we’ve seen by any measure. But when you toss into the equation the somewhat rare already 323i with a 5-speed manual box, you’ve got a quite rare ride indeed:
The E21 is a funny little beast, but some nice examples have cropped up over the last year or two. Today’s is about as odd as they come, with the interesting and non-US 2.0l 6-cylinder topped by the rag/convertible combo assembled by Baur and factory “is” upgrades. With just 56k miles, the seller is looking for the upper echelons of E21 money. Top-down motoring in an orange little speedster with the unique sounds of a small inline-6 sounds like a good time to me.
Model: 320/6is Baur
Engine: 2.0 liter inline-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 56,000 mi
Price: $13,500 Buy-It-Now
Beautiful Henna Red #052, Euro 320/6 E21 Baur #4040 of 4595 total built, 3 series BMW in IS trim. Imported to California in late 1984, this wonderful time capsule only has 56,846 miles. Same owner since 1985. Stack of early import and service records. Serviced a Local Sacramento CA independent icon, Lubos BMW (916) 451-5826, for over the last 2 decades. Extremely rare car in the US.
Basic condition on this car is as you would expect from a car with such low miles. Very low original wear on original fabric IS optional Recaro seats. excellent Dash, glass, seals, etc. Brand new Michelin tires on flawless BBS 14″ rims. New front brake rotors just replaced a seized set from long term storage. Car is and always has been registered in CA and passes smog testing everytime. The rare, unavailable to the US 2.0L 6cyl runs fantastic with great torque and power. Equally rare 5 speed shifts in and out of all gears and reverse with ease. Car drives superb with no age related wind noise, rattles, smells or freeway wander. Cruises on the freeway confidently and very high speeds, achieved by the very tall 5th gear.
Paint and finish are above average and the car still retains much of it’s original finish. Front hood, period correct aftermarket front bumper and rear trunk have all been repainted however. No signs of accident, and if so, too minor to detect. 2 areas on the rear trunk have some pealing and are detailed in pictures attached. Prior owner remembers that they were created by the upholster when the rear window plastic was replaced. Painted areas are very old, and overall condition would rate a 7 out of 10. All door jams, trunk and engine compartments, seams, body panels, etc., look to be original, flawless and laser straight.
Baur top is in excellent original condition. Does not leak. surprisingly quite and calm when down/off. With windows up, it is as quite as a sunroof with no bothersome wind noise! Truly genius design and was advertised as such by Baur. Very unique rare car, that is a blast to drive and sure to appreciate. Almost couldn’t contain not adding some lowering/racing springs and set of vintage Alpina wheels myself!
Quite an odd little duck, but it’s rare and cool. Maybe not where my $13.5k is going, but when something this unique finds its next owner you can bet they’re going to enjoy it.
Karossiere Baur has a long history of partnering with BMW. Most noted for their open roofed conversions, they had a hand in crafting some unique cars, ranging from performance icons such as the BMW M1 and Porsche 959 to oddball machines such as the BMW E36 3 series sedan with a folding canvas roof. One of their most sleek designs was based on the Neue Klasse, or New Class series in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This four seat, open top 1600 is one of but a few hundred that still survive worldwide and strikes a clean, elegant pose in comparison to the somewhat cumbersome profile of the Baur cabriolet with an integrated roll hoop.
Original 1970 BMW 1600-2 Cabriolet AKA Vollcabriolet/Baur Cabrio with Certificate from BMW. 1 of only 1692 ever built from 1968-1971 (only about 250 left Worldwide). 1.6 Liter/1573 cc Engine, (4 Cylinder, 63KW/85HP SOHC)
This car is part of a Private BMW Collection. Fresh Service and New Tires. The Convertible was restored in Germany many years ago and is still in excellent condition. The Restauration is documented and all documents and paperwork come with the car. Clear Florida Title in hand. I have included over 120 pictures in the following link. All pictures where taken on April 5th, 2012.
The librarian in me loves the fact that this 1600-2 comes with a certificate from the BMW Archives. It is nice to see a rare beast such as this Baur convertible treated to such a nice presentation. The asking price of $45,000 is strong money for most 2002 models, let alone a 1600, but like a well kept 2002 Touring tii or a Turbo, this 1600-2 Baur is no ordinary BMW. This car’s Agave green paintwork is an almost spot on reminder of the hue on my father’s 1967 Volkswagen Beetle he owned when I was growing up. This isn’t the fastest or flashiest BMW out there for sale, but it sure represents a time when engineering and good design ruled the day.