That’s what the “Z” in the roadster/coupe lineup of BMW stands for, and it’s hard not to look at the 1990 BMW Z1 and not see a futuristic Roadster. Based upon, and sold alongside, the E30 BMW, the underpinnings weren’t revolutionary, but the shape sure was. Highlighted by its resin body with guillotine doors, roughly 8,000 of these unique visions of the future were produced by BMW. So thorough was the exterior change, little connection of the E30 base can immediately be seen. Never officially imported to the United States, there are nonetheless several cruising around (by cruising around, I mean mostly being offered for sale for outrageous prices). Today’s signature Urgrün (Original Green) Z1 has only 10,500 miles since new, so is this one equally unaffordable?
A fair chunk of the collector world shrugs their shoulders when an Audi rolls by. There are some exceptions, obviously; the Quattro and Sport Quattro have gained notoriety, and of course because it was touched by Stuttgart, the RS2 still has some serious street cred.
Pull up in this RS4, though, and most would have a tough time telling it apart from the 1.8T with vape clouds billowing from the windows. Their dismissal would be unfortunate, because the B5 RS4 is a serious machine. Quattro GmbH turned to corporate partner Cosworth Engineering to modify the 2.7 liter V6 twin-turbo, and the result was pretty astonishing for 2000: 375 horsepower in a manual wagon! Audi’s skunkwork quattro GmbH then gave the car a fitting set of modifications, from a unique interior with Recaro seats to wider track and flares – and, of course, the gaping guppy lower grills. Produced in low numbers, it’s even more rare to see in the United States since none were imported here originally.
Yet a few individuals have gone through the effort of Federalizing their RS4, and when they come up for sale it’s cause for a celebration!
About a month ago I checked out a really nice and really gold 1984 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC. That was a European-spec car with all the nice upgrades over the North American-spec’d cars at the time but as you might have guessed, carried a hefty price tag at $35,000. Today, we have another C126 that wasn’t originally destined for American in a 1990 560SEC. This car comes to California from Japan in a non-factory paint color and some other interesting touches. The price? Probably not as high as you might guess.
I was in Stuttgart in 1998 when what I thought was someone’s version of a good joke rolled by me. It was a dark green Mk.2 Golf; not particularly abnormal since they were still mostly less than a decade old and Germans notoriously care for their cars better than most other nations. However, it was about a half-foot taller than it should have been, equipped with some cool looking Speedline wheels, brush guards and a spare tire mounted to the rear. Germans have an odd sense of humor, so it seemed to fit that this was one mullet short of a Hasselhoff Fan Club. I had no idea that I was looking at a factory model; remember, this was in the infancy of the internet and as an American, knowledge of every single European model of the Mk.2 was hard to come by. But the “Country” graphic scrolled down the side gave me a clue, and after some research I found out that this was more than just a one-off.
Though the idea sounds simple enough since parent company Audi had an all-wheel drive system that was ever so popular, mounting that longitudinal transmission and drivetrain into the transverse engine Golf was impossible. Instead, Volkswagen contracted Steyr-Daimler-Puch to design a viscous coupling setup for the Golf with a new independent suspended rear. Like the contemporary Quantum (Passat) and Vanagon setups, it was dubbed “Syncro”, though outside of all-wheels being driven the three systems shared almost nothing.
The result was a few fan-favorite models. Performance types love the Quattro-inspired Golf Rallye, Golf G60 Syncro and Golf Limited models. But undoubtedly the most recognizable Golf to wear the Syncro badge was the jacked-up Golf Country. Utilizing an already heavily modified Golf Syncro, Daimler-Steyr-Puch installed some 438 unique pieces to create the light offroading Golf way before the Outback was conquered by Subaru. Since new, they’ve always commanded a premium and have been the object of lust for American Volkswagen fans who like to do things just a bit different. Now legal for import, they’re popping up time to time:
Audi’s interesting sales plan of S-cars in the early 2000s was, for U.S. fans, both good and disappointing at the same time. Mega models like the RS4 continued to be withheld from this side of the Atlantic just as the S2, RS2 and S6 Plus had been. The new generation of V8 powered S cars had yet to arrive, too; movies teased us of the slithering, nitrous oxide-boosted battering ram S8, and though the C5 chassis now sported the V8 in 2000, we had yet to see the S6.
But there were bright points. The B5 S4 was available as a sedan or Avant here, for the first time, in 2001 the flagship S8 arrived and after a wait until 2002, the S6 arrived in Avant form. And, only in Avant form, and only in automatic. You could complain about that for sure, but then the introduction at long last of an RS model – the twin-turbocharged RS6 – assuaged the loss of the regular S6 sedan for nearly everyone.
Once in a while, though, a S6 sedan pops up on this side of the Atlantic:
I count myself lucky that my formative BMW experience was in an E24. Around 1990, my father finally gave up riding motorcycles and decided it would be more fun to have company on his trip. He traded his RT1100 for a much older BMW, but this one had doors. The shape was outrageous to me; coming from a family that had almost exclusively owned Toyota products to that point, the low and long 633CSi he purchased had so much more presence and so much less plastic. The interior was lined with rich carpet and supple leather, and it just oozed class and style. It just felt special.
A few years later, he picked up a second E24. It was a 1985 635CSi, and the character of the two cars was remarkably different. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was in part thanks to the mid-82 swap to E28 underpinnings. Dynamically, the ’85 was a much better driver, and while the revised M30 only had 1 more horsepower, it felt gutsier and revved more freely. It was Arctic Blue Metallic with Pearl Beige leather, and it was just a beautiful car. It only had one real downside – it was an automatic, and after a few years my dad decided he’d have a lot more fun in a M5.
While that would certainly be hard to argue, I wonder if he would have been so motivated if today’s E24 Feature had been his original purchase. There were several distinct advantages to the European model, not the least of which was of course the lack of the DOT bumpers. But one thing that always really bothered me about the U.S. E24 was the front corner lights. They stuck out a strange amount while the European units smoothly followed the fenders. But that was minor niggles, really. The big news was under the hood, where the M30 was allowed to breathe a bit more freely. The result was while the U.S. B34 produced 182 horsepower, the same motor in Europe ran higher compression and hit 215 according to BMW, plus they were a bit lighter as well. This particular 635CSi puts all of those things together in a beautiful color combination and has been fully reconditioned as well:
Update 6/7/18: The seller has increased the price again to $8,944 but with a no reserve $5,944 opening bid auction.
Update 5/23/18: The price of this Euro 944 has dropped from the original $9,440 ask to $6,944.
An interesting counterpoint to yesterday’s GTI is today’s early 944. They were produced at the same time; the waning days of the normal A1 production, while Porsche was at the same time accelerating production of its watercooled transaxle lineup to meet the demands of the heady 80s. There are other similarities as well; the shape is iconic, they have an oversized (for their class) 4-cylinder and a manual transmission. Both are no-frills, relatively speaking; few electronic or power gadgets adorn the interiors here. And both are heralded as driver’s car, with intimate connection to the road and experience through each corner.
But while the A1 GTI is pretty much universally lauded as a legend, the 944 remains firmly an “also ran” for enthusiasts – even within the water-cooled arena. Perhaps that’s because there were much more potent versions of the 944 out there. Beyond the mid-’85 refresh, 1986 saw the introduction for U.S. fans of the new Turbo model, 1987 saw the 16V version launch and a larger 2.7 8V – and, of course, then there were the 944S2, Turbo S and 968 models. Early 944s, then, are about as unloved as the Volkswagen Dasher.
If you’re an enthusiast, though, that means great return on your investment. And like the GTI, it’s not just entry price that is relatively low on these 944s; compared to the 928 and 911, repairs are far less expensive and the glut of examples (nearly 57,000) brought to the U.S. means used parts – or even entire parts cars – are quite easy to find. So while all of them are worth at least consideration, every once in a while a really neat example pops up that is worth a longer look:
Update 4/14/18: After not selling last year for $7,300, this beautiful E12 is back up for $9,000 Buy It Now this Spring. Will Amazonitgrün Metallic be not only the sign of warmer temps, but also more money?
This probably seems strange at first, but to me this 1977 BMW 525 is the perfect counterpoint to yesterday’s Jetta. Like the Jetta, this Euro-specification 525 is on the low-end of the totem pole in the production scale of even the early E12 5-series. Granted, the introduction of the M30 into the E12 did up the power over the early E10 4-cylinder models; however, in 1977 this M30B25 produced 145 non-fuel injected horsepower – only 15 more than the 520i. The early 5s didn’t have much in terms of luxuries that we’ve come to associate with the benchmark sedan, either – they were fairly basic. But just like yesterday’s Jetta, this 525 located in Bulgaria is worth a long look because of the beautiful condition, which is enough to draw you back to a more simple time:
BMW’s second generation M5 followed the same recipe as the outgoing E28; manual transmission, rear-drive, howling inline-6 under the hood. But the E34 was far from a copy of the car that was really credited with being the first super sedan. BMW upped with power first with the 3.6 liter version of the S38; though the increase in displacement was a scant 82 ccs, the result was impressive. BMW Motorsport GmbH fit a new cam, a higher compression head, and a new engine management system to yield 311 horsepower at a rev-busting 6,900 rpms. They weren’t done.
In 1992 M upped the capacity again, this time to just 5 cc shy of 3.8 liters. Even higher compression, a further revision in electronic management, and a few other odds and ends now netted 340 horsepower and 300 lb.ft of torque. Again, they weren’t done. Perhaps tired of Audi cornering the go-fast-5-door market with their 200 20V Avant, in 1992 BMW launched the M5 Touring. Production began in March 1992 and ran through 1995. All E34 M5 Tourings were left-hand drive 3.8 models, and a total of 891 were produced.
BMW opted not to bring the enlarged motor or the M Touring model to the United States, as the 540i took over the top rungs of North American production. As a result, this car has been the subject of many M enthusiast fantasies until today, when you can finally buy and drive them here!
Last week’s M5 was a bit of a roll of the dice. While it was claimed to be low mileage and all original, it had undergone some modification and wasn’t in the best condition. Little was disclosed about the running condition of the motor. Worse, there was an undisclosed gaff in the history – it appeared that the odometer had been replaced at some point, and it certainly looked like the car might have more than the mileage claimed when you looked around it.
Here, we have the opposite. While that M5 was all go and less show, the E28 M535i is the appearance package incarnate; all the M-Tech bits are really just for looks here. Still, it’s a very appealing model. This M535i appears to be well documented, fully serviced, and in great shape. I’m also glad to see that it’s a shade other than black. The Arktisblau Metallic paint shines well, mileage is lower, the original and unique TRX wheels are sporting newer Michelins, the M-Tech body kit is all in place, and the interior condition is very good. What’s not to like?