While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.
But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?
Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.
However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!
Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….
In my usual searches I had an interesting dichotomous reaction to one number: $16,500.
The first I came across was a 1988 BMW M3 with a no reserve auction bid up to $16,500. “Wow! That’s actually pretty reasonable! I thought. Next, I saw a 1994 BMW 325i with a ‘Buy It Now’ of the exact same $16,500. “What the hell is the seller thinking?!? How absolutely ridiculous!” I scoffed.
Yet, neither car was as it originally seemed once the descriptions were opened, and suddenly a comparison was in order…
I know what you’re thinking.
“Great“, you’re saying, “Carter wants to look at another shitty swapped Volkswagen. Pass. When will he get over this?”
Admittedly, I have looked at quite a few hot hatches recently. There was the A1 GTI with an ABA 2.0 swap; subtle, and clean, but certainly not original and that hurt the value. Several notches up from that was the repeatedly for sale 1977 Rabbit with the 2.8 24V VR6 swap – neat and generally clean, but again a bridge too far for many. Then there was the ultra-clean and fully custom 3.2 swapped Golf; cool, but clearly not a daily driver candidate. So, here we go again – another swapped Golf. But, this one has a bit of a twist…is it worth a roll of the dice?
Way before “i” stood for everything ‘intelligent’ from your phone to your (no joke) pet, adding the 9th letter of the alphabet to your German car meant something equally as forward thinking in the 1970s and 1980s – injection. Unless, of course, you were talking about ‘e’ in a few cases, where the German word for injection – Einspritzung – came into play (I’m looking at you, Mercedes-Benz. And, occasionally BMW, for no apparent reason).
But I digress.
Adding fuel injection to your motor in the 1970s was pretty close to rocket science, since in the 1960s only the most exotic and high performance cars available had it. So when Volkswagen dropped a fuel injected 1.6 liter inline-4 pumping out an astonishing for the period 110 horsepower in 1975, it’s no wonder it was a revolution. Consider, for a moment, that the 1975 Corvette – with its gargantuan, gas-guzzling 5.7 liter V8 – managed to produce only 165 horsepower. Today’s base Corvette produces about 455 horsepower, meaning that the same relation would make today’s GTI a 300 horsepower hot hatch. Which, ironically in R form, it pretty much is! Still, it was the formula of the original that made this the hottest commodity on the market. It would be eight long years until the GTI debuted in the U.S. market. When it did, it had been turned down slightly and injection was no longer solely the domain of the GTI. Still, it was a potent and popular package, with attractive Guigiaro-penned looks and plenty of practicality. Some 34 years on from launch, the looks still capture the imagination of many who owned (or longed to own) one of these transformative hatches:
Did the high-mileage R32 from earlier get you wondering what you might do with the drivetrain? A little over three years ago, we took a look at a special early Rabbit. Dressed in Miami Blue and looking subtly upgraded with Corrado steel wheels and a lower ride height, what the exterior didn’t give away was that lurking under the hood was a 2.8 liter 24V VR6 motor popped in. The swap looked well executed and generally clean outside of some loose wiring, and the builder hadn’t gone over the top with a crazy interior – instead, relying on the original items for a true sleeper status. With a few minor changes like a better executed intake, engine cover and some odds and ends, the car has reappeared with generally the same introduction – but that’s okay with us, because the look is spot on! It’s also a no reserve auction, so we’ll get to see where an honest yet seriously quick Rabbit gets you these days.
Frequently I see Volkswagen swaps. Infrequently do I think they’re well carried out. There are a myriad of reasons why this might be the case, but often it seems that the details, the aesthetics, or the excuses are too questionable. However, once in a while one pops up that really is pretty well pulled off.
Now, to be clear, I always have a love/hate relationship with swapped cars. On the one hand, I love the creativity, the devotion to the brand, the attention to detail – the individuality that shines through. It’s a general love of cars that can be expressed in so many different directions that makes the hobby refreshing. If we all had tan Camrii, what would be the point? But the hate also shines through, as in this case we lost one of the acknowledged VW greats; a late model 2.0 16V GTI. Was this swap executed well enough to excuse such an exacting high cost?
Put down your pitchforks and extinguish your torches, that’s not needed today for this Frankenstein creation. What is needed is a little bit of perspective and thought beyond what you initially see – a bagged car with a wild color wrap and bolt on fender flairs. Normally these things would be off-putting to most enthusiasts, but are the bones of this build sound? Let’s take a look at this W202 AMG for sale in California.
Typically the legendary S38B35 is an engine that gets swapped into other BMWs, now out of them, but today we’re playing opposite day with this No-Effs-Given E28 M5. A little while back it received a turbocharged M30 transplant which is a pretty common setup for E28s – just usually done on more pedestrian models than the extremely rare M. A unique aspect to this auction is that the S38 comes with it, so you have the opportunity to ride the turbo monster as long as you please while retaining the prospect of putting the numbers-matching engine back in eventually. Even so, any hopes of originality are long gone after they spray coated the floor rooting out some rust, replaced the wheel and shift knob with anachronistic wooden parts, and spray painted the homebrew center console to accommodate auxiliary gauges. The one thing that I actually do think is original, contrary to the seller’s claim, is the black interior. With all seats, door cards, and interior trim in black, and miles instead of km, I think this may well be one of the 31 US M5s with black interiors (more than 2 the seller thinks they made, but still an extreme rarity).
This M5 has been hacked and sprayed to the point that it will forever be valued more like an E28 rather than the second-rarest M car. It looks pretty darn good from the outside, albeit modified with later wheels and yellow lenses, and the S38 alone could recoup a serious chunk of the purchase price. It’s already into 5-digits with a long time left on the auction and looks like this basket case M5 with its heart in a box will still pull decent money.
The 318is usually receives praise for being the entertaining baby of the E30 family, underpowered but a handling master. This Wee30 has received the popular S52 swap from an E36 M3 automatic, thankfully mated here to 5-speed from a 328i. The modifications don’t stop there as the seller went OEM+++ with items like E36 M3 front control arms, E30 M3 rear suspension and brakes, and a tight Z3 steering rack. The list continues with great non-OEM upgrades like Ground Control coilovers and a custom intake on the cold side with new headers and a straight pipe on the hot. The slicktop body is straight despite a rear-end collision in its history, and the whole thing received a decently-done fresh coat of Brilliantrot two years ago.
With a reserve auction and Buy It Now of $10,500, this extremely well-done E30 will likely go for less than $10k.
As the supply dwindles, I’ve been spending time looking at various clean, mostly original E30s. Today, however, we have a 1991 325i that has received the business under the hood, namely an S52 swap from an E36 M3 plus an Active Autowerk supercharger. That heady combination puts out 357 horsepower at the wheels and 411bhp at the crank, plenty to make this 2800-pound coupe punch well above its weight class. The mechanical build is too plentiful and thorough to fully recount here, but it has Raceland coilovers, Stoptech brakes, and just about all the bushings, mounts, and miscellaneous performance parts you can stuff under an E30 to help handle 250% of its original power. The interior looks ready to rumble too with black suede Recaros and NRG wheel and some other subtle racy bits, but this car is about go, not show. The exterior has a little clear coat peel and dents but the deeper front lip and M3-esque Zender spoiler should distract any passerby. It all adds up to a package that looks pretty standard-modded-E30 good but will smoke just about any non-exotic on the road.