Here’s another alternative air-cooled Volkswagen from Brazil. We saw the Brasilia recently – Volkswagen do Brasil’s answer to the Golf platform and intended to extend the life of the Beetle platform. Here was their attempt to modernize the Karmann Ghia – the infamous SP2.
‘SP’ referenced São Paulo where the SP and SP2 were produced. The early model had a 1.6 liter flat-4, while the SP2 moved up to a 75 horsepower 1.7 air-cooled flat-4 mounted in the rear. The proportions of the body styling seemed to suggest the opposite though, with the long, low hood and hatchback GT profile looking more like a traditional sports car than any VW had before. Other period designs were borrowed – the Volkswagen 411, the Porsche 924 and Audi’s 100 Coupe S all had similar angles. But it was probably Volkswagen do Brasil’s own Karmann Ghia TC (Typ 145) that looked the most similar.
Only about 11,300 of these ultra-rare, Brazil-only SP2s were produced. They’re about as legendary as air-cooled VWs get in the U.S., so when one pops up for sale it’s worth a look:
Let’s head back to some rarities we never received in the U.S.. Now, the V8 quattro did come here, as did (briefly) a manual version. However, U.S. manuals were not only few in number, they were solely 5-speed and hooked only to the lower-output PT 3.6 from the late ’89-90s and a few ’91s. By the time the revised ABH 4.2 launched, Audi had dumped the manual option for North America; if you wanted to row your own in a fast quattro, your option was the S4.
In Europe, though, the S4 could also be mated to a 4.2 V8. And instead of 5-speeds, those cars got the 6-speed manual gearbox. That combination would go on to be the highlight reel of the S6, S6 Plus and early S8s, too. But a few select V8 quattros with the 276 horsepower 4.2 got that 6-cog manual, and our reader John spotted a very clean example:
Post World War II, the German manufacturing sector and economy attempted to pick itself up – but it was a pretty rocky road. Still, as early as 1950 Western powers were pronouncing the ‘Wirtschaftswunder‘ in the Western side of Germany – a phoenix-like rebirth of the economy overseen by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Despite this, it would be decades until this wealth and prosperity really filtered down to the average worker. As a result most drivers in Germany were relegated to very small and efficient cars, with the Volkswagen Beetle being the most successful. But it was far from alone.
I’ve previously looked at some other alternative air-cooled designs from Germany; both the NSU Prinz and BMW 700 challenged the Beetle’s hegemony in the marketplace while offering more style:
1963 BMW 700 Coupe
Feature Listing: 1965 NSU Spider
However, while sporty-looking economy-based cars began to emerge from major manufacturers, microcars were still reasonably popular in the early 1960s though choices were dying out. The Isetta continued to be produced until 1962 and was quite popular. But one other World War II-era name also strangely entered the marketplace – from the makers of some of the most famed fighter planes in history came a single cylinder, two-stroke wingless “car” – the Messerschmitt KR175, 200 and 201 Roadster:
That M3-powered 325xi Touring was pretty impressive, no? But it’s not without competition in the market today. That’s because at the same time BMW was leaving the most powerful 3-series out of the Touring market, Audi was offering U.S. customers the 250 horsepower twin-turbocharged all-wheel drive 6-speed S4 Avant finally! The blown 30V V6 was capable of hustling the small wagon from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds while your groceries remained firmly embedded in the hatch trim.
Of course, as impressive as the U.S. bound S4 Avant was, it was still over 75 horsepower down on the brand-new E46 M3. That wouldn’t do for Ingolstadt, who employed Cosworth Technologies to revisit the V6. The result was quattro GmbH’s RS4 Avant, and power increased to 375 while the B5 sprouted flared arches, slits in the nose and deep valances. Unfortunately for U.S. customers, the B5 RS4 was a no-go for importation, leaving some to
wonder what might have been build their own:.
One of the most interesting modern Mercedes-Benz models ever to hit to the United States, at least in my opinion, is the CLK63 AMG Black Series. I never quite understood why the W209, a model that is as pedestrian as it gets, was blessed with Black Series treatment along with the R171 SLK55, R230 SL65, C204 C63 and of course, the SLS. America got all of those models except the SLK55, which again, is surprising seeing that only 349 CLK63 AMG Black Series were ever imported. We didn’t get cheated on these cars as they look much different that the regular CLK63 with massive fender flares, a DTM-style steering wheel and side bolsters on the seats large enough to make the new Honda Civic Type-R jealous. Throw in 500 horsepower, a limited-slip differential, bigger brakes, adjustable suspension and a different exhaust, and you have a car that the market believes will stay expensive for a very long time. This example with a little over 17,000 miles for sale in California, is no different.
If I’m honest, neither the outrageous Passat W8 nor the overpriced A4 Avant from Sunday really thrilled in the same way as the 2.7T-swapped B6 Ultrasport build did. Granted, you could just about buy both the Audi and the Passat for the same price as that build, but if you’re going to take on a complicated older fast wagon, there must be some sort of reward for all the risk, right?
Well, not to be outdone, here’s a stellar BMW option. The standard 325xi Touring, while available with a 5-speed manual, isn’t nearly as exotic sounding or performing as the duo from the other day. The M54 2.5 liter inline-6 was about 100 horsepower down on the Passat W8 and they weighed pretty close to the same. BMW also chose to not equip any of the xi models with the M-Sport suspension, either. While the 3-series was substantially cheaper than either the A4 2.0T S-Line Titanium package or the Passat W8 4Motion, out of the box it also didn’t feel as special.
Of course, if you rip it apart and rebuild it with a S54 borrowed from a M3 and a 6-speed from a X3, the story changes a bit…
Continuing on my quest to bring you odd color combinations, I present a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 500SL painted in Impala Brown Metallic with a dark brown top. I’m trying to imagine someone who would walk onto a Mercedes dealer lot in 1991, find the row of R129s, look at all the colors that were offered and say, ”Yes. The brown one. Here is $90,000”. I understand not trying not to stick out or not wanting something flashy, but you shouldn’t be buying a very expensive convertible in the first place if you wanted to blend in with the earth. Yet, someone out there wanted a SL in this color and now they still remain in the garages of retirees to take out for a drive on a nice day. This example up for sale outside of Philadelphia seems to be exactly that. Owned by the same person for the past 18 years but now ready for a new home. Thing is, you aren’t getting a deal on the drab color. At least not this one.
Fortunately for its seller but unfortunate if you actually were interested in it, the 2.7T-swapped Audi B6 A4 Ultrasport Avant ‘Unicorn Killer’ I wrote up a few weeks ago sold just before I went to press. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other interesting options out there, and I found two in direct competition (at least, ostensibly) with one another on my local Craigslist.
Here, we have two all-wheel drive wagons from VAG. Both are complicated. Both are reasonably quick. Both have mindbogglingly long names. Both have 6-speed manuals, both originally had MSRPs north of $40,000 and both, predictably, are quite rare to find. But while the mileage on the two is different, their asking prices are within a hundred dollars. So which would you take?
There isn’t a whole lot more to be said about the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16v. We’ve featured them here from time to time and the general consensus is that is a real winner in terms of actual driving experience vs. the price you pay. The prices have sure shot up over the past decade on them, but there aren’t a lot of cars from this era that are worth a damn that didn’t. I think every one realized that the these cars are from an era that is never coming back and thus, making them collectible. I’m sure everyone regrets not buying one of these went they were $7,500 thinking they’d stay around this price for a while and they’d get one when they made a little more money or when the kids were grown, but at least it isn’t like the Porsche 964 where an average car with over 100,000 miles is now $50,000.
Today’s car, a 1986 up for sale in California, is an interesting example. Is isn’t a garage queen, having just over 100,000 miles, but looking at the condition, you’d swear it had around half that. Naturally, you’d expect a giant price tag trying to catch lightning in a bottle from someone who falls in love with it on a whim, but believe it or not, it really isn’t all that bad compared to the current market for them.
Do you ever wonder ‘What if VW had decided to make the Golf platform develop from the Beetle rather than the Audi 50?‘
Me either. But it’s an interesting thought exercise, and what’s interesting is that we actually have an example of what could have been. That’s because Volkswagen do Brasil did produce a hatchback successor to the Beetle, and here it is – the Brasilia. The Brazilian branch of VW utilized a Karmann Ghia floor, a 1600 cc Beetle motor and borrowed the styling from the Type 4s to create a small 3- and 5-door hatchback.
It was reasonably successful, too – Volkswagen do Brasil reportedly sold somewhere north of 1,000,000 of them over a ten year production cycle from 1973-1982. They were sold primarily in Central and South America, never making it past the Rio Grande officially, but kits of the Brasilia were also sent to Africa. The Brasilia remains the only mass-produced air-cooled rival to the Beetle, amazingly. Today, an absolutely pristine example is up on eBay: