1990 BMW 735i

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.…

1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 16V

Much like the S4 I posted over the weekend, the Jetta GLI 16V is a car which on paper I should like very much. After all, I’m a huge fan of the same-generation GTI 16V, and the Jetta was little more than a trunk added to that formula. Underneath, there were almost no changes between the two. You got the same high-strung 9A 2.0 16V with Motronic fuel injection pushing 134 horses through that open-diff front end. Your only choice was a 5-speed manual, of course, and it was a close-ratio one – enjoy those highway speeds! Brakes were updated to 10.1″ and dual tailpipes emerged from the new ‘big bumper’ A2 refresh. Central locking and a cassette player were standard, while you could opt for many power options including windows, mirror, anti-lock brakes, trip computer, cruise control and of course a sunroof. The GLI also carried over BBS wheels from the pre’90 1.8 models, in this case the 15″x 6.5″ ‘RA’.

These items should have conspired to produce a deeply desirable product for me. And yet, somehow I never really took to the Jetta though many did. I suppose it’s the same as the 4000 quattro/Coupe GT fan bases. Rarely do they seem to cross over, yet there’s a mutual respect between them. I like the Jetta, and in the absence of the GTI it would probably be a great favorite of mine. It was aimed at being a more refined alternative to the racier hot hatch. But ultimately it falls second fiddle to the GTI, which always seems (and, arguably is) just that little bit more neat.

For enthusiasts, though, that means potential value. As GTI 16V prices climb steeply with no real relent in sight and few good examples hitting the market, you can get a bit of a value if you don’t mind the junk in the trunk:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 16V on eBay

Corvette Connection: 2001 Audi S4

The B5 S4. On paper, it’s a car that I should like a lot. Coming from the modest 4000 quattro, Audi produced what should have been a monster on paper; a 2.7 liter twin-turbocharged V6 rated at over twice the power of the old inline-5s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. 6-spoke “Avus” wheels carried on the late 90s design in 17″ form, with deeper but still subdued body additions and more grills hinting at the better performance of this A4-based creation. Twin polished exhaust tips, Xenon headlights, deeply bolstered sport seats and plenty of technology also came along from the ride, too.

But for me the B5 S4 sedan was never super exciting. Perhaps that was because it was instantly popular. What I remember annoying me more, though, was that it really seemed like Audi could have produced stronger performance. After all, it generated only a few more horsepower than the last favorite – at launch, the already out-of-production E36 M3 was the match for the performance of the S4 due to its lighter weight. And that was in turned-down U.S. spec! More sharply notable was the launch at the same time of the S8, and the S4 was some 90 horsepower down on that model. Yet get behind the wheel of one, and suddenly it wasn’t a lack of grunt you were noticing. It was how well the package pulled together. It rode well, it had a glut of usable torque thanks to the small twin turbos’ ability to spin up so quickly, and the fit and finish inside was leagues better than the E36 was. And while you could stick snow snows on an E36 and make it through winter just fine, as a year-round commuter car the S4 made a lot more sense while simultaneously being a much better sleeper.…

1982 BMW 528e

It’s easy when considering BMW’s venerable E28 lineup to skip over most of the production and focus in on two models – the M5 and the M535i/535is. In fact, without intention to do so I think that’s what we’ve done over the past few years. They were the sports sedans that established the benchmark by which all others are judged, notoriously long-lived and arguably still very good value in the used classic BMW market.

Despite that, in the 1980s it was not the M30-equipped E28 that was the most popular. The 533 and 535 models combined for a total of about 34,000 sales in the U.S.. Add in the M5 and you’ve just crested 35,000. In comparison, it was the relatively uninspired 528e that was the sales force for the 5 over the model run. Between 1982 and 1988, BMW dealers sold more than double the amount of 3.2- and 3.4-equipped 5s with the 528e. Just shy of 80,000 of the lowest-spec model made it here, all equipped with what BMW hoped would be the most efficient inline-6 they could produced. The 2.7 liter M20 was de-tuned and strangled to produced just 121 horsepower and a diesel-inspired rev-range. This was achieved by making the stroke longer and installing smaller valves.

Coupled with catalytic converters, the result was a car which met CARB requirements but failed to really excite. 0-60 was a lackadaisical 11.2 seconds. The later ‘Super Eta’ engine added a few more horses but only came at the very end of the run. Yet BMW didn’t want this to be a drag racer; they wanted to make an efficient driver. As a result, the Eta-equipped models had good usable torque down low yet still returned over 20 m.p.g. on the highway. It cost about $30,000 for a modestly equipped model.…

Federally Fixed: 2001 Audi RS4 Avant

From time to time, we look at European-market cars. Considering the number that were brought here through ‘Grey Market’ channels, we actually get to sample the more original versions of these cars on a semi-regular basis. But that pool of Euro candidates dries up once you crest the 1986 model year. And for that, you can thank the ‘Fed’ and their kill-joy laws, right? Well, sort of. But left to their own devices, they likely would have never done anything. So why did the government get all antsy in the mid-80s to put an end to importation of what amounted to a pittance of cars? For that, you can thank Mercedes-Benz.

It turns out that Mercedes-Benz was more than anyone annoyed by the second-hand importation of its more powerful and prettier European-specification cars. To a lesser extent, BMW was also losing market share, and the two importers – who, it should be noted, paid a fair amount of money to the government in importation duties and taxes on the sale of their cars – claimed they had lost in the vicinity of 50% of their sales to the alternate European crowd. Now, in a true ‘Free Enterprise’ market, one would have looked upon these complaints and said “Well, Mercedes and BMW, produce better cars at a lower cost for your consumers and you’ll solve the problem!” But, of course, the United States is not a free enterprise market, and there are lots of regulations and rules which have been in put in place in part by high-paid lobbyists for certain industries. Mercedes-Benz and BMW had these lobbyists on their side, and the importers did not. As a result, in 1988, the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act was passed. Also called the Imported Vehicle Safety Act of 1988, it’s what you know better as the ’25 Year Rule’, which basically excludes you from individually importing any car on your own unless it’s really old.…

1986 BMW M635CSi

The M635CSi somehow gets lost among the other greats of the period from BMW. Perhaps, for U.S. fans, it’s the nomenclature that’s confusing. After all, there was a M1, an M3, and a M5, but when it came to the M version of the E24, BMW stuck with the moniker M635CSi in all markets but the United States and Japan. Confounding that decision was the launch of the E28 M535i. Like the M635CSi, it had additional body pieces, special interior trim and wheels from M-Technic. But while the M535i had a fairly normal M30 under the hood, the E24 received the full-fat M88/3 that was shared with the M5. Like the European M5 production started in 1984, well before they were available to U.S. customers. But while the M5 only sold in very sparse numbers over its short production cycle (about 775 sold in Europe between 1984 and 1987), the M635i was a relative hit, with just over 3,900 selling overall – far more than made it the U.S. market. Additionally, the European models were a slightly more pure form of the design; smaller bumpers, less weight, and about 30 more horsepower on tap without catalyst.

These European spec models were offered with some color combinations and interiors that never came to the U.S. market. A great example of the combination of these factors is today’s 1986 right hand drive model in the striking “Akaziengrün” – Acacia Green Metallic:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 BMW M635CSi on Classic Driver

Unicorn Patrol: 2006 Audi S4 Avant

I’ve previously made fun to the term “Unicorn” as it relates to selling…well, pretty much any of the cars we feature on these pages. Truth told, as special as you think your car is, it’s really just one of probably a fairly large number of cars just like it out in the wild. Yet that doesn’t stop the P.T. Barnum’s of the used-car market from touting how unusual it is to see their particular circus attraction. In fact, many times it seems to be considered the main selling point:

Salesman: Now that you’ve selected all your other options, I’m going to tell you about one final “dealer special” option we can offer you – but it’s only for select, and discerning customers!
Rich Plebian: Uh, okay, what is it?
S: It’s the not offered to public “Unicorn” option
RP: “Unicorn”? Like, horned mythological beast?
S: Yes, exactly. The Unicorn Package is option code 785.
RP: Okay, what does it get me?
S: You get to tell everyone how unique your mass-produced car is.
RP: Wait, it gives me special powers?
S: No, you just get to say that your car is more special than the other cars that are exactly like it.
RP: Well, people have always told me how special I am, so sign me up!

So here we are again. In the sales pitch for this 2006 Audi S4 Avant, “Unicorns are real” appears. The question is – is this really something you never see, and is it the horned mythological beast you’ve been looking for?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2006 Audi S4 Avant on eBay

Back Again: 1985 Audi 4000S quattro

Edit: After selling last year on Bring A Trailer for $5,050 after we featured it in April, the current owner of the 1985 Audi 4000S quattro with some nice modifications has decided it’s too nice for a winter beater. It’s back up on eBay with a $5,000 opening bid and reserve auction format with few changes since we saw it last year, but it’s still one of the better ones out there for sale.

If you like yesterday’s Audi 4000S quattro, finding a later example is likely to be more fruitful for you. About of the roughly 16,500 4000 quattros imported into the United States, roughly three quarters of them – about 12,000 – were the updated 1985-1987 model years. Changes to the package were mostly visual. Outside refreshed bumper covers with integrated turn signals and reflectors smoothed out the look far before BMW caught on to the idea in the 3-series. Aerodynamic headlights replaced the sealed-beam quad-headlight arrangement and a sloped grill eased the transition. In the rear the trunklid dove down to the trim line and held an entirely revised set of lights. Rocker panel covers made the 4000 appear a bit lower than the ’84 model had, though the ride height was unchanged. And a rolling change to flush fitting covers on the Ronal R8 wheels subtly changed the look to more aerodynamic. Inside, electric rear windows replaced the manual roll-up variety, and new door cards with pulls now matched the revamped dashboard. The gauges also changed, as did the locking differential panel. But mechanically under it all, few changes were seen to the workhorse. While numerically speaking you’re more likely to find a later car than the ’84 only style, if one car we cover better epitomizes the axiom “ridden hard and put away wet”, I’m not sure what it could be.…

Double Take Period-Correct-Off: 1978 and 1979 BMW 528is

While pristine, all-original examples of classic and collector cars certainly have a cadre of devotees, there’s a slightly smaller and equally evangelical group of “period correct” piece lovers. From aftermarket wheels, body bits, seats and gauges right through to stickers, even if the car isn’t the most desirable model it can be brought up to snuff with some appropriate modifications. Today’s duo of E12s are good examples. Both start as 528i models; by themselves, certainly not the prettiest or most desirable BMW even within the period of the late 1970s. But both have gone through some modifications which make them desirable, though they take very different paths. Which one would you like?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1978 BMW 528i on eBay

2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

The Phaeton is a very perplexing car. It was established as a plan to produce a no-expense spared, world-beating luxury car – and, in many ways at the time, it was world beating. It offered similar luxury and performance to the established German standards – Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class and BMW’s 7-series, but also challenged stable-mate Audi’s A8. Yet it was available on a more Volkswagen budget – at least, in theory. That’s because if you walked into a Volkswagen dealer in the mid 2000s and wanted a basically optioned model, you’d be out about $75,000. For reference, that’s about three times what my expensive-for-the-category Passat cost in 2002. And the big problem with that was how the Phaeton looked, because a bulk of the population wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart.

But that wasn’t the point about the Phaeton. Nor was it that you could get the lighter, aluminum version of what appeared to be the same car from more upscale Audi that would arguably attract much more attention for not much more money. And it was this exact confusion that befuddled the market; why would you ever pay $75,000 for a Volkswagen? The trick came in realizing what you were getting, which actually shared little architecture with the Audi corporate partner. Park a Phaeton next to an A8 and you’d swear they were just about the same car with light badging changes, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

Although the model shared components with the D3 A8, it also shared much more architecture with other side of VAG’s portfolio – the Bentley Flying Spur and Continental. This meant a steel chassis rather than the aluminum space frame, and that meant more weight – a lot more weight. To mitigate this, Volkswagen upped the power slightly over the A8’s V8 to 335 and dropped its axle ratio to 3.65:1.…