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. What was interesting was that BMW sold most of them equipped with the ZF 3HP22 automatic, sapping some of the fuel economy the car was intended to produce and even more performance.

Despite being the most popular model when new, the Eta is generally considered to be the least desirable model for enthusiasts and many have died in junkyards. But once in a while a nice one pops up and is worth a look:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1982 BMW 528e on eBay

Continue reading

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. Many of the perfunctory reasons behind the “safety” aspect of H.R.2628 – they didn’t have DOT-mandated safety headlights, the bumpers didn’t meet U.S. regulations, they weren’t emissions compliant – have since been eliminated, but the law remains. Even if the car is effectively identical to what’s sold here – and many of today’s Euro cars are – while it’s possible to petition for an exemption for certain models, it’s neither easy, nor is it cheap. And that means that since 1988, fans of the hottest models have an agonizing 25-year long countdown until it’s “easy” to import a car they want. And even then, it’s not really very easy, so most U.S. based fans even if they claim they’re interested are just too lazy to actually go through with it.

So that leaves it to a few official importers to go through the not unsubstantial task of locating a car, shipping it overseas, paying heavy duties, and filing all of the paperwork associated with importation. And you can, despite what many claim, legally import car newer than 25 years old to the U.S.. It’ll just cost you:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Audi RS4 Avant on eBay

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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. Finding any reasonably clean 4000 quattro is a cause for celebration among B2 Audi enthusiasts, and this one sure looks great:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 Audi 4000S quattro on eBay

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading