Although my recent experience with a BMW wagon wasn’t the most endearing of my automotive life, I have to admit I still keep an ear to the street every time an interesting one comes up. If nothing else, the promise of what BMW offered in their wagons was compelling – at least, until very recently. That’s because in addition to the 5-doors from the 3- and 5-series appearing on these shores in the E34, E39 and E46 generation, so too came all-wheel drive. “BUT, AUDI!” the internet insists. And right they’d be. Except that as the 2000s drew to a close, so too did the performance versions of Audi’s Avants – and with it went the manual option. So if you wanted to row-your-own, you had to turn to BMW to get what we see here – an all-weather faithful 5-door companion. While the “M” versions of the wagons didn’t come this way, what we did get was what you see here – the option to have the classic inline-6 mated to a manual transmission with near perfect weight distribution. Equip the package with the Sport option, and you got some nice alloy wheels and fantastic seats too. Even 17 years later and with a not insignificant amount of miles accrued, this is a package which stirs the soul:
In the mid-1980s, Volkswagen aimed its market sights upwards and tried to gain more traction in a niche market by offering…well, more traction. Starting in 1986, Volkswagen partnered with Steyr-Damiler-Puch and made a unique alternative to corporate partner Audi’s quattro drivetrain utilizing a viscous center differential. Puch was also responsible for design and manufacturing of the T3 Vanagon Syncro, which used a different viscous coupling system because of the rear-drive platform and nature of the Vanagon. In addition to the transmission of power forwards, the T3 also offered a rear differential lock while both center and front were viscous.
But in 1986, there was a third option. Because the Volkswagen Quantum (née Passat) shared nearly all of its internal architecture with the B2 Audis, fitment of the quattro setup from the Quattro and 4000S/CS quattro was possible – so Volkswagen did it. As there was no Audi B2 Avant, Volkswagen offered the new Quantum quattro – also badged Syncro – in Wagon form, and only in wagon form. This meant that there was no competition crossover between the 4000 quattro and Quantum Syncro in the U.S. market. The Quantum also continued to run smaller 4x100mm hubs versus the Audi, which allowed it to utilize the same “snowflake” Avus wheels borrowed from the GTI. Pricing was on par with period 4000 quattros, though – base price was $15,645, but equip the Quantum similarly to the standard 4000 with power windows, mirrors, locks and sunroof and you’d quickly crest $17,000 – about $4,000 more dear than a standard GL5. Unlike the 4000, Quantum Syncro Wagons came standard only with power steering, brakes, cruise control and air conditioning. You had to opt-in the power package to get the other items.
That made the Quantum Syncro Wagon very much more expensive than, say, a Subaru GL 4WD Wagon or the Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon. But both of those cars were part-time 4WD; in order to get a car with similar build quality and seamless drive of all wheels, you’d need to pony up a staggering $30,000 for the Audi 5000CS quattro Avant. Volkswagen only brought over 2,500 1986s, making them a rare treat to see today. But the condition which this particular 1986 appears in is staggering:
Over the past month I checked out a few W124 Mercedes-Benz Estates and from the looks of it, they are still in pretty high demand judging by their price tags. I can see why as those wagons were and still are some of the best all-encompassing packages you could buy. Some might argue that the W123 Estate was better and I see their points, but the newest one of those is now 33 years-old and lack things like airbags as well as other modern safety features. What is interesting is that the car that replaced the W124 Estate, the W210, kind of flew under the radar when it came to fans of wagons. Whether it be its elongated looks or lack of old school Mercedes feel, people aren’t exactly eager to snatch these things up. It doesn’t mean that they are bad cars or anything, but the passion is just a little lacking compared to the W123 and W124. Today’s car, a 2001 E320 Estate up for bid in Oregon, is painted in the rare Aragonite Blue Metallic and is actually quite nice. Does that mean anyone will be clamoring for it?
Obviously, this post comes to you from someone who likes Volkswagens – and, in particular, 5-door VWs. I’m not sure exactly what the attraction is for me, but the last two Volkswagens I’ve had – both Passat GLS 1.8T Variants – have been faithful and fun-to-drive companions. Despite their relative popularity (VW sold nearly 110,000 wagons in North America – 20% of production overall), they somehow manage to stand apart from the crowd. And for about ten years VW enthusiasts got to choose not only from the Passat’s fairly robust lineup of wagons which featured everything from luxurious automatic V6 all-wheel drivers to thrifty diesels and outrageous W8s, but there was also the slightly smaller Jetta Wagon as well. Like the Passat, several options were available, from a basic 2.0, the turbo 1.8, the TDI and the crazy VR6 model.
Today I’ve got two examples to consider; in this case, both are front-drive 1.8T 5-speed manual GLSs. Despite what should be a very similar basis, these two take on remarkably different character. Pricing is pretty similar but presentation and mileage are quite different. Which is the one to buy? Let’s start with the Jetta:
About a month ago I checked out a 1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 Estate up for sale in California. It was a really clean example in a nice color combination but the asking price of $9,500 gave me a little pause considering the 156,000 miles. I understand that wagons demand a premium and those that want them usually will pony up the cash for the right example. The seller did lower the price by to $8,500 a week later, but still that seemed a little high to me. Today, we have another 1995 E320 Estate from California but this one in checks in with just a little under 60,000 miles and a laundry list of repairs and maintenance. The price? You can probably guess it isn’t going to be cheap.
Last week I checked out the ultimate Mercedes-Benz W124 Estate in the E60 AMG. It was everything and more in a wagon that not only laid down impressive power numbers even for today, but shows its longevity with nearly 250,000 miles on the setup. Of course, this all came with a hefty price tag of nearly $75,000. Today, I have a another W124 Estate up for sale in California that is a little tamer in the power and styling department, but surprisingly isn’t as inexpensive as I thought it might be.
As we saw in last week’s Quantum (née Passat), underneath the Volkswagen was almost all B2 Audi. They had borrowed Audi’s full quattro setup in the Syncro model until 1988. That was the same year that the G60 supercharged engine had debuted in the Golf in Europe, but it wouldn’t be until late 1989 and the new Corrado model’s introduction that the G-Lader would become better known on these shores.
The PG G-Lader devoted to the Rallye, G60 and third generation Passat Syncro wasn’t the most powerful unit VW of the time period at 158 horsepower and 166 lb.ft of torque (the 3G 16V version in the Golf Limited had 50 horsepower more), but the combination of these items seemed awesome at the time to U.S. fans because, of course, in the midst of VAG’s early 90s sales slump they opted not to bring the package here. Like the Corrado, based on Mk.2 underpinnings the Passat’s engine configuration had moved from longitudinal in the B2 to transverse in the third gen, meaning that Audi’s quattro system remained unique to that brand. The Golf’s transverse engine placement precluded use of the Audi longitudinal design, which used output shafts and mechanical differentials. Instead, Volkswagen turned to Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch for development.
Noted for development of four-wheel-drive systems and probably most recognizable for the Pinzgauer military vehicle, Steyr’s solution to the transverse problem was to utilize a viscous coupling similar to the AMC Eagle. However, while the Eagle’s system was all-wheel drive, all the time, Volkswagen’s system would only engage when the front wheels slipped. The Passat added new electronic features to the range topper, too – including anti-lock brakes and an electronic differential lock, and the new shape dropped the drag coefficient to .31.
The best part about the G60 Passat, though? You could get one in wagon form:
Every time I have looked at a pre-merger Mercedes-Benz AMG car it seemed to come to us from AMG Japan. What that means is that car would a leave Germany as a regular Mercedes-Benz until it hit Japan where AMG Japan, LTD. would modify these cars both cosmetically and with performance upgrades. You can always recognize an AMG Japan car by the crazy amount of wood that was added to the car and the AMG Japan plate that riveted in somewhere on the car. Were these”real” AMG cars? Technically, yes. AMG Japan official subsidiary just like AMG North America was. As special as these cars are, I always felt they weren’t as ”true” as the pre-merger cars that were built in Affalterbach. Maybe because I see them come up for sale way more often than cars built in Affalterbach and sometimes they are missing important engine modifications. I don’t know if that means that more were produced or maybe Affalterbach built cars don’t trade publicly as much. Luckily, I ran across one of those Affalterbach built cars for sale and what a car it is.
This is a 1991 E60 AMG Estate. This car started life as your standard W124 300TE until it was sent to AMG not once, but twice, to make it what it is today. This wagon has a M119 6.0 liter V8 and a boatload of other AMG parts to go along with it. The best part about this car? The original VIN was actually X’d out and replaced with an AMG-specific VIN that begins ”AMG124” instead of the standard ”WDB124” that every other W124 begins with. This is quickly shaping up to being my favorite car of the year.
The lineup of unlikely VAG survivors continues today with this second generation Volkswagen Passat, of course badged the “Quantum” for the U.S. market. This model replaced the lovely and popular Dasher model which had been available in several configurations. Briefly, the new B2 continued that and if you’ve ever seen a 1982 Quantum 2-door hatchback in person in the U.S., you might be alone. The model was dropped quickly, though continuing on was the Variant (VW-speak for wagon) model. And because the underpinnings were shared with the B2 Audi, things started to get pretty interesting for the upscale VW. And, confusing.
Volkswagen was happy to tout the Quantum as the sole “German engineered Grand Touring car sold in America that was available as both a sedan and station wagon and came equipped with a 5-cylinder, fuel injected engine, front-wheel drive, power assisted rack and pinion steering, four-wheel independent suspension AND cruise control”. You don’t say, VW? Seriously, I think they could have left a few modifiers off that description and it still would have been true. The weird part is that the upscale Volkswagen actually tread on the toes of its even more upscale competition – the Audi 4000. Though early 4000s had the 5-cylinder available as an option, when it came to the mid-80s Audi saved the inline-5 only for the quattro models and Coupe GT/5000 front drivers. The 4000 grabbed the engine from the GTI, instead. But you could still get a 5-cylinder Quantum, and you could get a wagon version. Heck, you could even get a Syncro version of it, but only as a wagon!
Here’s where things get even more confusing. The 5-cylinder is usually associated with the moniker “GL5” – the upscale sedan with alloy wheels. And indeed the base Quantum Wagon in 1985 came with the 1.8. But in 1986, you could get a base Wagon with the 2.2 liter inline-5, and I believe the wagon was never officially badged the “GL5”. Weird? That’s VW.
For me, the Jetta got a lot more interesting when it came to the fourth generation. That’s mostly because the Mk.4 came in a myriad of variations. Sure, there was no coupe as there had been in the first and second iterations. But I’d gladly trade the odd two-door sedan for what did come to the U.S., as the Golf Variant finally arrived here as the Jetta Wagon. Engine choices were plentiful, as well; the base 2.0 continued on, but there was the torquey and tunable 1.8T, the thrifty 1.9 TDI, and…of course…the 2.8 liter VR6, Volkswagen’s party hat since 1992.
Mild revisions in the late 1990s gave the VR6 174 horsepower and 181 lb.ft of torque. In most Jettas, the VR6 had been paired with the “GLX” package since the prior generation. They were fully loaded with electrical accessories and leather interiors in an attempt to bring the economy sedan closer to near-luxury models. But since the GLX and VR6 came with a serious premium on the Jetta – almost $6,000 over the base price of the 2.0 GLS Wagon – Volkswagen offered a de-contented GLS version of the VR6. I remember a friend purchasing one when new and excitedly showing it to me. There it was – a Jetta which looked pretty much like every other Jetta, but with a VR6 under the hood. It had smaller 16″ wheels, cloth interior, and…like pretty much every other basic Jetta…an automatic.
So, two days after the last cheap and interesting spec Jetta, here we are again. This one is in a very interesting configuration, as well. It’s a GLS wagon – so, cloth interior and no sunroof, but it was selected with the VR6 motor and is mated to a 5-speed manual. Talk about a sleeper!