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. The result was that the BGH equipped 4.2 liter V8 Phaeton could run with the A8 in a straight line – just. To outdo the Audi, then, Volkswagen had to up the luxury quotient in the Phaeton, and they did. Inside of these cars is a simply amazing place to be, with double-laminated glass, hectares of wood and enough leather to make a Village People audience envious. There were heated, cooled and massaging seats, navigation systems, 420 watt stereos and disappearing cabin vents. Shut the door and they’re quiet – eerily, disturbingly quiet, in a “Uh-oh, what broke?” kind of way if you’re used to the People’s Car. Remove the VW badge from the steering wheel, and you could easily be fooled into thinking you were in a Rolls Royce from the period.

But not everyone was convinced, and as a result they sold slowly in the United States. Volkswagen offered boutique colors and wheels to help set the Phaeton apart from the rest of the VW run, but it was only really in Germany that the appeal of the understated Wundercar ever sold in number. Only a few thousand were brought into the United States, this 2004 being one of the claimed 1,433 to make it the first year:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton on eBay

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2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS 1.8T Variant

The Volkswagen Passat isn’t a particularly exciting car to drive. It’s also not particularly exciting to look at. While most people would categorize those as negative attributes for vehicle ownership, there’s a third thing that the Passat isn’t particularly exciting at which I’d wager most would consider a very good thing.

It’s not an exciting car to own.

“But isn’t that a bad thing?!?! you’re thinking to yourself? Sure, when I go out into the garage and see the M3 sitting there, my pulse rate quickens. Scratch that, I don’t even have to go into the garage – endorphins flow at the mere thought of it. And turning the key? All sorts of goodness happens. I’ll spare you the details, but sufficed to say it’s an exciting car to own, look at and drive. The Passat is not a M3.

But it is a vehicle thoroughly devoid of drama, and to me, that’s what makes the Passat a not exciting car to own. Take the contemporary Audi Allroad from the same period for example. The Passat mimics the look and the function of the A6 in nearly every way. It’s not even much slower on a continuum. But Less exciting to own? For sure, and when you’re talking breaking and repairs, that’s a very good thing.

Because let’s be honest for a second; these cars that we love, that we fawn over, that we pontificate about – they’re pieces of metal with a lot of plastic and complicated electrical and pneumatic systems. And they’re not getting any younger. Take my 2002 Passat as a case study; it’s on the verge of being 17 years old and has now covered over 140,000 miles. Yet it’s caused no sleepless nights, no emptying of wallets, not even left me stranded once. It’s just been completely reliable transportation in all weather, with my family, all our goods and a ridiculous amount of various cargo. I’ve had full-sized sofas on the roof, entire Ikea kitchens inside. It’s been a garden gnome full of trees, flowers and vegetables to plant. It’s transported rocks, gravel, dirt, bicycles, strollers, and everything in between. It’s cool on the hottest day, warm on the coldest, the starts everytime and all the electrics work still. Is it without flaw? No, along the way items have broken. But my point is that it offers 99% of the experience of it’s more expensive brethren with 90% less drama. And don’t think my singular experience is unique, because I’ve had two, and the last one – which I sold now 6 years ago with over 200,000 miles on the clock, did the same thing – and still is, with it’s new owner. I saw it just the other day, and it’s a tick under 240,000 without major issue too. And when I look around, what’s the most common older German vehicle I see cruising around me? B5.5 Passats, pretty much everywhere in RI, MA and CT. They’re all still running strong despite the newest now being 12 years old.

And I’d argue that while most will dismiss the lack of ownership drama as not reason enough to be interested, the B5.5 Passat is also a pretty good looking car. Beyond that, it’s also reasonably fun to drive in GLS 1.8T manual form – kind of a bigger GTI in many ways. But as I said, they’re getting older, so if you really like the idea of jumping on the bandwagon a bit after everyone else has, finding a clean example is key – and this 2004 sure looks clean:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS 1.8T Variant on eBay

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1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6

After its unceremonious and unexplained exit from the U.S. market with the introduction of the third generation Golf in 1993, the GTI came roaring back in a big way for the 1995 model year. Sure, it was bigger, bulkier and well…roundier, but it came with a bunch more gusto thanks to the addition of the VR6 motor as seen in the Corrado and Passat models. The single-overhead cam, twelve valve head lacked the race-bred feel of the Mk.II 16V, the new motor more than made up for it with the addition of two more cylinders. Good for 172 horsepower and 173 lb.ft of torque, it swept the hot hatch from 0-60 in 7.1 seconds and produced a 15.5 second quarter mile at over 90 mph. But much like the original, the GTI was more than the sum of its numbers, with drivers enjoying the great 6-cylinder soundtrack which accompanied the waves of usable torque.

Of course, like all VWs from the period, it was expensive. Really quite expensive. A base GTI VR6 rolled out the door in 1995 at $18,875, and with a few options it wasn’t difficult to breech $20 grand. Yet that was still only a little more than half the money it would take you to grab a same-year M3, which offered only a bit more motivation and cornering prowess. Catch the pesky BMW driver off-guard, and they’d be unlikely to easily out-drag you. So you could either look at this model as a really expensive Golf or a really cheap BMW. That was what the legendary GTI had always been about, and this was a resounding return to form and continuation of the brilliance that was the GTI 16V, even if they felt (and, looked) completely different:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay

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Tuner Tuesday Double Take: 2002 and 2003 BMW M5 Dinan S2s

There are a few select automotive tuners who can take an impressive package and refine it into an even better entity. That group includes legends such as AMG, Alpina and Ruf – all of which are staples of this segment.

Yet they are far from alone. Given the task of improving on what is generally considered to be one of the greatest sedans ever made is no small feat, but if there was one group up to it, it was Steve Dinan’s eponymous company in California.

While just about anyone can take a turbocharged engine and crank up the boost, slap a few stickers on it and call it done, the E39 M5 didn’t come with forced induction. On top of that, it was a motor which wasn’t exactly underdeveloped before it went into production. Nor were the brakes, suspension, or any other aspect of the third gen M5. But Dinan thought they could improve upon them, and with a tremendous amount of work, did.

Dinan went to town on the S62 from start to end. Out came the factory air boxes, air meters and velocity stacks, replaced by Dinan units of larger diameter and better flow qualities, along with larger throttle bodies bored out by the company. This necessitated reprogramming of the computer controls for the engine to match the new flow characteristics. To help the exhaust side of the motor, unique tubular headers were fit to a free-flowing, lightweight exhaust system. While this sounds a bit like old-school engineering, it was successful; the result was an additional 76 horsepower and 51 lb.ft of torque – basically, this was like adding a 1980 Rabbit’s worth of power to an already powerful car.

Dinan coupled the engine mods with a shorter final drive and higher rev-limiter to reach fantastic speeds. The S2 was capable of 0-60 runs around 4 seconds flat and, in unrestricted mode, geared out around 190 mph in 6th. These are still very impressive numbers today, some fifteen years after its introduction! Of course, special forged wheels from the company were added along with their signature suspension. The price was steep, at $36,000 in modifications alone – a further 50% premium on your premium sedan.

Today, you can pick up one of these super-saloons for less than what the price of the modifications cost originally making them one heck of a performance bargain, and I have two to consider for today’s Tuner Tuesday:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2002 BMW M5 Dinan S2 on eBay

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1977 BMW 630CSi

Recently I looked at the one-year only BMW 630CSi. With only 17,000 miles on the odometer and in period correct Reseda Green with slightly updated BBS Mahle wheels, it looked like a great example. Unfortunately, it had three strikes against it; the photography and presentation wasn’t outstanding for the mileage, it was an automatic and the asking price was a steep $20,000.

1977 BMW 630CSi with 17,000 Miles

630s are infrequently seen in today’s market, so it was with some surprise that another 1977 popped up for sale in such short order. This time in Rubinrot Metallic and wearing again updated BBS Mahle wheels with a more aggressive fitment, this E24 is a no reserve auction and, importantly, a 5-speed manual. Is this the one to get?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1977 BMW 630CSi on eBay

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1991 Volkswagen GTI 16V

The 1991-1992 GTI followed the same basic recipe as the 1987 model we saw this past week, but everything was turned up a few notches. Starting in the mid 1990 model year, all US bound A2s received the “big bumper” treatment; new smooth aerodynamic covers front and rear. To help to differentiate it a bit, the GTI’s blackened arches were widened. Filling those arches were new 15″ wheels from BBS. The multi-piece RMs were lightweight and the perfect fit for the design, echoing other contemporary class-leading sports cars such as the M3. Volkswagen color-coded the mirrors and rear spoiler to match the car, as well. VW also gave the GTI a fresh face with more illumination; quad round lights filled the grill, and foglights illuminated the lower bumper. Prominent GTI 16V badges still encircled the car.

Power was up to match the heightened looks. Now with 2.0 liters of twin-cam fun, the GTI produced 134 horsepower at 5,800 RPMs and 133 lb. ft of torque at 4,400 RPMs. Coupled to the close-ratio 5-speed manual, that was good enough to drop 0-60 times below 8 seconds. That may not sound like much today, but at the time it was another league of performance compared to the typical economy car. Holding you in place were the same heavily-bolstered Recaros that special editions like the ‘Helios’ 1989 Jetta GLI Wolfsburg had enjoyed.

It was a recipe for success, but these cars were also relatively expensive in period, and fell into the global recession time frame which affected sales of nearly all European marques drastically. The general consensus is that around 5,000 of the last of these GTIs were imported, putting their rarity on the level of the M3. But because they weren’t M3s, there are far less around today to enjoy and few turn up in stock configuration for a myriad of reasons. It’s always a bit of a joy to see one arrive in the feed, though, and this LY3D Tornado Red example sure looks great:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Volkswagen GTI 16V on eBay

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1988 BMW M3

It’s only been a little over a week since I last looked at an E30 M3. A 297,000 mile example with extensive rebuild work, it brushed up against $40,000 in bidding in the no reserve auction.

Clearly, M3 mania hasn’t died down all that much.

Sellers have taken note; at any given time, there are a plethora of E30 M3s available on the market. Today’s search yielded no less than eight examples on eBay; average asking price? About $64,000. But that’s nothing compared to the nine that Enthusiast Auto Group have, including no less than five Sport Evolutions. If you have to ask….

But not many sellers are laying it out on the line. If the market really is plum crazy for these cars, why are more people not rolling the dice and taking market value? For example, if a nearly 300,000 mile example hits the best part of $40,000, what would a much lower mile example bring?

We’re about to find out.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW M3 on eBay

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1977 BMW 630CSi with 17,000 Miles

A decade on from the takeover of Hans Glas GmbH, BMW put the Dingolfing production line and engineers to work on their new big coupe. This allowed them to build the design in-house, instead of subcontracting construction of the 2-door as they had with the E9 to Karmann. The E24 was released in 1976, and compared to the Glas V8 they had borrowed for their premium product in the late 1960s it was thoroughly modern. Paul Bracq penned the lines as he did for all BMWs of the period, and but while there was a strong family resemblance between the 3- ,5- ,6- and 7-series cars, the E24 was where the long, low lines and sweeping greenhouse worked the best.

While initially the car was introduced to the world with many of the items from the E9 carried over, the U.S. got a special one-off for its introduction year. The 630CSi was brought in 1977 with a D-Jetronic fuel injected version of the M30B30 which itself had also seen duty in the E9. With slightly lower compression and emissions equipment fitted, it produced 176 horsepower and was shared with the contemporary 530i until 1978. But in late 1977, BMW yanked the 630 from the U.S., replacing it with the more powerful 633CSi.

While BMW’s sales between 1970 and 1977 had doubled (14,574 total vehicles to 28,766), the number of early 6s that made the journey was still relatively small. Couple that with thermal reactor failure that was a demise of many of the early U.S.-bound 3.0s, and of course the big nemesis of the 70s BMW – rust – and finding a lovely example of the early E24 here in the U.S. is quite difficult:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1977 BMW 630CSi on eBay

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1990 BMW M3 with 297,000 Miles

I believe this is the perfect counterpoint to yesterday’s 968 Coupe. The recipe is much the same, though the result is even more legendary. But what I find so interesting in considering these two cars is not how similar they are, but indeed their opposites. Unlike the 968, this M3 was driven with aplomb, eclipsing nearly 300,000 miles so far. It’s not a particularly special color combination; Diamantschwarz Metallic (181) over Black leather is pretty standard though admittedly it looks very nice. It wasn’t unusually specified, as it carries the normal assortment of M3 options; air conditioning, sunroof, cruise control and electric windows. While yesterday’s 968 was basically factory fresh, obviously with the amount of miles on this chassis, to look anything like the photos it’s had to go under the knife and from the inside out this M3 has been thoroughly rebuilt. But the real tell will be what the hammer falls for in two days. While the immediate reaction of many to yesterday’s 968 was that it was heavily overvalued in asking price, I’m curious to see what the reaction to the bidding on this M3 – already at $28,200 at time of writing – is:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 BMW M3 on eBay

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2001 BMW M3 with 10,000 Miles

EDIT 8/10/2017 – IT’S BACK! Now with a $58,900 asking price, according to Hunting Ridge Motor’s site. With prices on the rise when the right combinations appear on these E46s, it will be interesting to see when and what amount it finally sells for.

EDIT 7/25/2014: with a few well placed seeds and some research, it appears that this car is the same one as the 10,000 mile M3 I wrote up in May here. That makes the asking price and modifications all the more puzzling. Thanks for the interest and sorry that I didn’t catch it the first time around!

What is the price for perfection? What would you be willing to pay for a brand new example of the car you love? There are certainly a lot of people who love the E46 M3 including me. I really think it was a high point of design for BMW; those sweeping arches, the delicate lines in the hood, the hunched, angry stance – it’s perfect, and best of all, it’s relatively affordable still. But many have already begun to fall into disrepair, and of course when you’re buying an older car you’re subject to what comes to market and managing repairs, restoration and asking price. But what if the car was effectively brand new? Chances are everyone would say “Sign me up!”, especially if that car was in one of the most sought after color combinations. They would, that is, until they saw the price tag:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW M3 on eBay

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