The U.S. version of the E36 chassis Motorsport offering has steadily begun to emerge from its “also ran” position in the category of favored M products. It has languished in value since the introduction of its replacement, the wildly popular and more aggressive E46 M3. Long derided for being a bit too cost-conscience of BMW, the reality is that the car that came to the U.S. might have been a bit better.
Yes, I just said that.
It is true that the North American M3 made due with a less powerful and certainly much less exotic motor. The U.S. S50, based upon the 325i’s M50, displaced the same 3 liters as the European S50B30, but the two differed in nearly all other aspects. Only items like the oil filter are shared between the models; in Euro guise, the engine sang with individual throttle bodies. The engine also sported the trick continuously variable VANOS system to optimize performance. After finally being convinced to bring the second generation M3 to North America, the news came down that the western-bound motor would be less exotic; static VANOS, lower compression, and no individual throttle bodies.
Frustrated though enthusiasts may have been to not be getting the “true” model, many were just happy it was coming here at all. But the amazing thing was what the USA motor offered. At 240 horsepower, it was indeed 46 down on the European cousin. Yet other numbers told a different story; torque was nearly the same between the two, as was weight, and the real advantage of the Euro motor was only quite high in the rev range. That meant acceleration in the real world was effectively identical between Euro and USA models. Sure, you lost a bit of top speed – but where in the U.S. were you hitting 155, anyway?…
To go up against the established Alpha executive from Germany – the S-Class Mercedes-Benz – BMW’s engineers had to think outside of the box. It wasn’t simply good enough to mimic the go-to large luxury sedan. They’d have to outperform it, to be better than Stuttgart’s best. That was a tall order for the Munich firm, since its last truly large sedans were the 501/2 series cars; the Baroque Angels of the early 1950s. Though they launched at roughly the same time as BMW’s microcar craze, they were really holdovers from another era. The same wouldn’t work in the late 1970s, but primed with the success of their 5- and 6-series models, BMW was ready to face the challenge.
Though the E3 had offered a sizeable sedan, the new E23 really stretched BMW’s platforms. The new 7-seres was 6 inches longer overall, most of which fell in a longer wheelbase versus the E3. It was also wider by a few inches and lower, too. Paul Bracq again provided the styling and it was nothing surprising; it carried the torch of many of the design elements of the 3-, 5- and 6-series cars, and that certainly wasn’t a bad thing. But what BMW hoped would help to set it apart from the competition was technology and performance, along with a high-level of material quality in the cabin. Options included Buffalo leather, an on-board computer system, anti-lock brakes, heated and reclining power seats front and rear, and even an airbag late in the run; standard fare today, but way ahead of the curve in the late 1970s and early 1980s. BMW matched this technology with a thoroughly modern driver-oriented cockpit which made the W116 Mercedes-Benz competition feel immediately antiquated.
Where the E23 really established itself, though, was in keeping with the “driving machine” motto of the company.…
The term “Q-ship” is an antiquated phrase dating from the WWII era. Originally used to refer to merchant ships carrying concealed weaponry, among car enthusiasts it’s been repurposed to describe fast, brawny, and exotic sedans that hide their performance beneath conservatively styled exteriors. German manufacturers excel at producing these kinds of cars, and while the E28 M5 might have been the OG “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the 500E may be the more interesting. The product of a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, and based on the confidence-inspiring W124 chassis, it got a 5.0 liter V8 motor making 326 hp, beefier brakes taken from the R129 SL, upgraded suspension, a wider track and Recaro bucket seats. The saga of assembly of these beasts was a heroic undertaking; Porsche had the capacity on its dormant 959 production line, so a deal was struck where bare chassis were loaded at Daimler-Benz in Unterturkheim and shipped across town to Porsche in Zuffenhausen. There, the revised and widened fenders were mated with the R129 500SL 16-inch wheels and brakes. Porsche also installed the all-aluminum V8. Mercedes-Benz then repatriated the partially complete cars to paint them, but Porsche completed finally assembly. Around 10,000 were completed in this back-and-forth manner.
Sold between 1991 and 1994/5, the 500E could make the 0-60 MPH dash in under 6 seconds and topped out at a limited 155 MPH. Those were very respectable numbers for the time, especially given the size of the car. From the outside, the 500E was virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary W124, the flared fenders and slightly lower stance being the only tell-tale signs.
Engine: 5.0 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 66,300 mi
1993 Mercedes-Benz 500E, 66,629 Original Miles, 4 Owners From New, Perfect Running Condition
This 1993 500E is fantastic example of one of the most important Mercedes Benz models produced and represents an era of collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Porsche cars that will never be seen again.
Like earlier’s Audi TT, BMW’s first successful foray into the roadster market came in the 1990s with the Z3. The Z3’s styling was less aggressive and more organic than the original “Future Roadster” – the Z1 – had been, but initially motivation wasn’t much better. However, when BMW decided to stuff the E36 chassis full of the higher-power M-product motors, they instantly created a hit. Rear drive only with a singing inline-6 and attached to a manual transmission, they were affordable sports cars that offered a very high fun quotient even if they were not the most refined product, style or substance-wise.
At the same time that the M Roadster and M Coupe debuted in North America, planning was already underway for the Z3’s replacement. The new E85 Roadster and E86 Coupe debuted as a fresh face to replace the 90s-era Z3 in the early 2000s, but almost immediately the styling was considered controversial. There were hard edges, curves and cuts integrated into the exterior, and the traditional driver-oriented dashboard was gone, replaced by a more modern flat-cockpit layout. Much like the original Z1, it didn’t look like anything else on the market at the time, and reception was mixed.
Dynamically, though, it was hard to argue that the Z4 wasn’t a vast improvement in refinement over the Z3. The rear suspension was updated with a new multi-link setup which handled power (and bumps) significantly better than the outgoing E36 chassis with E30 bits. A stiffer structure meant more overall composure. And though the interior remained plastic-heavy, the new generation of dashboards looked much more upscale and modern than the dated 90s pieces. Yet the biggest change lay at the end of the run, as it had with the Z3, as starting in 2006 BMW installed the legendary S54B32. Providing 330 horsepower to the rear wheels and trick M-differential via a 6-speed manual, the limited production M Roadster and M Coupe also corrected one of the perceived flaws of the normal Z4 lineup by retaining a hydraulic steering setup.…
While Porsche’s upstart 356 and the breathtaking Mercedes-Benz 300SL were Germany’s first real post-War sports cars, they weren’t the only attempt to capitalize on the economic recovery. But far from being just a recovery, West Germany’s “Wirtschaftswunder” – economic miracle – aided by the Marshall Plan and a focus on strengthening the border states of the ‘Iron Curtain’ meant that capitalism manifested itself in new ways. Cashing in on a re-emerging middle class with newfound wealth and prosperity, companies like BMW and Volkswagen launched new sportier versions of their small, economical sedans. The 700 Coupe and Karmann Ghia, launched in 1959 and 1955 respectively, might not have had the power of Porsche or the Gullwing, but still brought sport and style to a much larger market. Both designs utilized existing technology to create a rear-drive, rear-engine two-seater that still was budget friendly.
However, they weren’t alone in the market. Auto Union’s main production lines in Chemnitz lay firmly in Soviet control, so it was the DKW brand which shouldered the responsibility of rebuilding the company. That would bear the 1000SP in the late 1950s – a lovely, but not particularly sporty, personal coupe and convertible. Prior to its merger with the Volkswagen Group in 1969, though, NSU – a firm more known for its pre-War motorcycles – had ventured into small sports cars. The result was the legendary Prinz and TT models; small, efficient, fun to drive rear-engine sedans. NSU branched out in 1964 and offered the world’s first rotary-powered limited production convertible in an attempt to ascertain if the technology was applicable to normal production. With technically a mid-rear design, it was a revolutionary alternative to the BMW 700:
Circuit Paul Armagnac probably isn’t a name which is familiar with you. It’s not even a particularly famous race track, if I’m honest. But the city where that track is located will be suddenly make sense in the context of this post – Nogaro, France. It was the name of that small city in Southwestern France that was made famous when it replaced the moniker “RS Blue” in Audi’s go-faster lineup. The result was a color synonymous with speed, though few fans of the shade know the origination of the name. Blue was, of course, the racing color of France, so in a departure from the typical country-color orientation, Audi popped the obscure name onto its purpley-blue missiles starting with the B5.
That the tone had previously been assigned only to Audi’s skunkwork quattro GmbH (recently renamed Audi Sport) S6 Plus and RS2 was an indication of the sporting potential of the new S4. Power came from not one, but two KKK turbochargers feeding a 250 horsepower 2.7 liter V6. That power was delivered via a 6-speed manual transmission through all four wheels utilizing a center Torsen differential and rear electronic locking unit. Though the new S4 was neither the first fast Audi nor the first to wear the “S4” badge, it was a departure in that it was the company’s first attempt to really take on the M3 head-to-head. It was comfortable, quiet, and quick in all conditions, and while it may not have been a huge threat to BMWs on the track, in the real world the S4 was arguably a superior car:
“It’s more than just a car, it’s a glimpse into the future”. That’s what Jeremy Clarkson said about the W221 S-Class when he first drove one back in 2006. He wasn’t lying. The S-Class has always been the peek into what’s to come for regular consumer cars 10 years later. Options like Brake Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and a list of other things were standard in the S-Class in 2007 are now part of the marketing campaign touting such features for companies like Subaru. Now if you wanted all these futuristic tech in your car and wanted it paired to a twin-turbo V12 just because…well, why not, you look no further than the S600.
That’s what the engineers at Mercedes-Benz went on the W220, apparently. They were not content with already have a very potent sedan in the supercharged S55 AMG (which featured the same supercharged M113 as yesterday’s E55 by the end of the run, but kicked up to 493 horsepower) or the ultra-luxurious S600 that had a 5.5 liter twin-turbocharged V12 that made the same horsepower as the S55 but even a bit more torque.
So, they combined them in 2005.
The result was the S65 AMG, which with the punched out M275-AMG 6.0 liter twin-turbocharged V12 produced a simply outlandish 604 horsepower and 738 lb.ft of torque. That was enough to propel this 5,000 pound sedan from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. And while that sounds really quick (and IS really quick), that was not where the S65 excelled at accelerating. It was really on the fly that the numbers started to tumble as the speedometer rose; a quarter mile was dispatched in 12 seconds. No fancy launch program, no trick dual-clutch gearbox, not even really enough tire to transfer that power to the road despite the massive 275-35-19 treads in the rear. This was just pure, unadulterated Victorian-era power. The real number that stands out isn’t the top speed, because like all other sensible German sedans from the time period it was maxed at 155 m.p.h., but how quickly it got there: 21 seconds – 2.3 seconds ahead of a Ferrari 575. If you’re counting, that was about the same amount of time it took an early 1980s Volkswagen diesel to hit 60. And you were able to achieve this speed in what was effectively a modern Swiss chalet, comfortable, quiet and full of all the modern technical features you’d expect from the automotive equivalent of a Brookstone catalogue. But it was expensive, topping $180,000 before the few options you could select – yet today, these physics-defying super executives can be purchased by mere mortals:
The W124 500E/E500 was a tough act to follow, but Mercedes-Benz stepped up to the plate well with the new AMG collaboration W210 E55 AMG. The M113 power plant generated an impressive 350 horsepower and 391 lb.ft of torque – more than had graced that legendary W124. In its own way, the E55 AMG became a legend, too – subtle looks offering a velvet wrapper on one hefty hammer. So when it came to replacing it again in the new W211, AMG was forced to turn the dial up a few more notches. It was forced because the market had moved on, and the W210’s power output was no longer competitive in the early 2000s. So forced it was, as in forced induction. The M113 now featured an IHI supercharger, and power increased dramatically. This was no small step for man, this was a giant leap for Mercedes kind. The W211 E55’s power output leaped to 469 hp and it now 520 lb.ft of torque. Of course, it needed those numbers because the competition from Audi in the 450 horsepower twin-turbocharged RS6 and the outgoing benchmark BMW M5’s 400 horsepower S62 V8. Going nuclear on the power level meant AMG needed to upgrade the rest of the hardware, as well. Airmatic adjustable suspension with sport tuning gave the hefty E55 poise in the bends, while 14.2″, 8 piston calipers hidden behind huge split 5-spoke AMG wheels with 245 and 265 section tires kept grip and speed in check. The results were palpable: in a 2003 Car and Driver comparison against its nearest rivals, the new E55 AMG simply outpaced everything in a straight line. 0-60 was dispatched in just 4.3 seconds. 100 came only 5 and a half seconds later. The quarter mile was done in 12.5 seconds. Forget sedans, those were numbers that challenged the Corvette Z06 at the same time, and close to a decade and a half later are still very impressive:
Have you been living under a rock? Then here’s a news story – Porsche 911s are pretty hot in the marketplace right now. Consider yourself updated! For the rest of us, this is pretty old news. And by pretty old, I mean they’ve always been very expensive. Take this 1992 Porsche America Roadster, for example. In 1992, you’d have to plunk down $88,000 just for the base price. Most owners left dealers the best part of further $10,000 lighter. That translates to $151,000 or more today, and if you pop over to your Porsche configuration tool it won’t take you long to realize that amount buys you a lot of convertible Porsche today; you’re only about $20,000 away from the base price on the Turbo. Yet underneath the bulging exterior of the America Roadster was a standard horizontally-opposed 3.6 liter with no forced induction producing 247 horsepower. If you’re counting, that’s a little less than half what the new Turbo offers you.
So what did the America Roadster offer, then? Well, you got the look of a Turbo and limitless sky. You also got the brakes, suspension and wheels from the Turbo to help fill out those wide arches. But to really differentiate the model, Porsche decided to release only 250 of them to the public. That makes them about four times more rare than the already quite-infrequently seen Speedster model, and therefore pretty desirable in the collectable 964 spectrum today. Exclusivity of any special model 911 certainly makes them quite special and helps to separate collector examples from those who just pop down to the dealers to buy an off-the-shelf 911 Turbo: