For some time, there was a giant gulf in between European-spec cars and U.S. spec cars. Granted, part of that divide still exists today if the large assortment of cars that do not make it to these shores, but at least enthusiasts can rejoice that at last – for the most part – performance versions that are available in Germany are very close to the same that we receive here. One of the last notable cars to exhibit the large divide was the E36 M3; while Europeans enjoyed over 280 horsepower from the individual throttle body S50B30 in 1992, the later released U.S. spec M3 carried an entirely different motor with some 40 horsepower less. Though the S50B30US is certainly a great motor by itself, the knowledge that the “better” version existed across the pond somehow took a bit of legitimacy away from it for a lot of fans of the marque. Also differentiating the European versions were better floating rotor brakes, better glass headlights, better lower and stiffer suspension; you get the point. We could bang on all day about how the US-spec model was pretty much as quick as the Euro cars, is a lot cheaper to run, and is…well, you know, already here. But when a Euro car pops up for sale, I still take time to take notice, and it’s hard not to notice this Dakar Yellow ’93:
Neither the E24 M6 nor the E28 M5 need an introduction on these pages. Legendary even when new, they both captured the imagination of generations of German car enthusiasts and established the benchmarks for sedan and GT performance in period. Both went through a relatively long downturn in value, as well. And today, as each has moved firmly into classic status and the market ///Madness continues, each has increased in value considerably over where they stood a few years ago.
But with so many shared components, which is the one to get? While a lot of that boils down to personal preference, more so than ever it’s also dependent on your budget. We’ve seen asking prices for nice examples of each chassis hovering between $50,000 and $80,000 depending on mileage and condition, and with a hot market there’s no letup of good ones to choose from. Today’s example is not the most pristine or low mileage on the market by any means, but it does balance that out with some desirable mods:
I had a dream that one day I’ll own a Porsche. Well, to be fair, I have dreams that I’ll own a lot of cars. But a Porsche is definitely on the short list of “top 1,000 potential cars”, anyway. It probably won’t come as any surprise that I’d like to own something not quite like what everyone else owns. And that brings me to today’s car.
The 997 Turbo was introduced in 2006 and, once again, redefined and raised the benchmark for performance in its category. With the best part of 475 horsepower on tap, it produced nearly 10% more power out of the box than the X50 package had only the prior generation. Porsche being Porsche, that was not enough; in 2009, the car was redesigned and the lighter engine was now up to 493 horsepower. And in 2010, Porsche kicked it up another notch with the introduction of the Turbo S.
The Turbo S had all of Porsche’s cutting-edge technology. Carbon-ceramic brakes, the PDK transmission, torque vectoring; if you could name it, it was on the Turbo S. These cars had 520 plus horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque; pound for pound, these cars were quicker than the supercar Carrera GT had been just a few years earlier. Today, pricing has come down as they’re not the biggest and brightest star anymore, but they still seem pretty special – and this one is just plain gorgeous to me:
Like yesterday’s GTI, the similarly Giugiaro-styled Audi Coupe GT added a touch of upscale Italian design to relatively pedestrian underpinnings. However, there was more of the rally-bred all-wheel drive Quattro DNA in the Coupe GT than its corporate cousin. Nearly everything apart from the door handles in the B2 was overbuilt; massive driveshafts, bigger brakes and heavier duty suspension, and a robust engine meant that in any form these entry level Audis have stood the test of time pretty well. While in Europe there were several different variants of the Coupe in 4 or 5 cylinder and with all-wheel drive, in the U.S. we only got one at any time. Starting with a 2.1 inline-5, the front-drive only GTs worked their way up to the last of the run 2.3 NG motored cars. With 4-wheel disc brakes, special exterior and interior treatments, a unique digital dashboard and 130 horsepower, these lighter “Special Build” GTs were a performance match for U.S. spec Quattros, and are almost as rare. This black example sports some modifications but looks quite clean overall:
While not the fastest or the prettiest car Volkswagen ever made, the GTI represents the ethos of VW’s 1980s philosophy of cheap, fun-to-drive, and eminently practical cars for consumers. As they did when new, the first generation GTI also represented a car which gave much faster cars a run for their money. True, the 90 horsepower under the hood won’t scare a supercar. But what this car lacks in straight-line performance it more than makes up for in value.
You see, over the past few years we’ve watched the fan-favorites and driver’s cars from the 1980s increasingly price themselves out of the range of most enthusiasts. The esoterics are also forged in unobtanium today, and while there was a period where you could snap up cheap 80s products in Europe and import them, they’re going away, too. Sure, the M3 and 911 led the charge, but today a clean 190E 2.3-16 or Quattro will set you back some serious bucks. And then when you do get one, you need to worry about collector insurance, expensive and hard-to-source parts, and whether you bought in a bubble.
The solution is still the giant-killer GTI. Find a clean one, and you’ll have a car that can be driven at 10/10ths still today and generate plenty of smiles, yet is relatively cheap to buy and very cheap to run. You’ll get thumbs up just like the 911 driver will. Maybe even more, honestly, because when was the last time you saw an A1 cruising around?
I give Audi a lot of credit for bringing the R8 to market. It took a fair amount of gall for a company best known for mid-range all-wheel drive luxury sedans to up and produce a supercar-beating mid-engine road car capable of being used year-round and every day. It’s a feat nearly without precedent. Of course, I said “nearly”.
That’s because BMW pulled off a similar trick the best part of thirty years before Audi did it. And arguably the development of what would become BMW’s fledgling Motorsports division was even more impressive than what Ingolstadt pulled off. The M1 burst onto the scene at a time of economic austerity, global oil crises and came from a company who not only didn’t have a history of producing such cars, but didn’t have connections to others who did (unlike Audi’s corporate Lamborghini partnership).
Speaking of Lamborghini, because of BMW’s lack of expertise in supercar design it was the Sant’Agata firm that was employed to produce the M1. But because of Lamborghini’s lack of expertise at being…well, a company capable of producing something on a schedule, BMW engineers had to first liberate the early molds from Italy and then find someone who could produce the car. Ultimately, it was a combination of ItalDesign in Turin, Marchesi metal working in Modena to build the frames and Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart that stuck the M1 together. Though it doesn’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, and indeed the M1 was a relative sales flop, it has nonetheless grown to cult status as one of the most user-friendly supercars of the late 1970s:
While the step up to the Mk.3 added a fair amount of size – and accompanying weight – to the Volkswagen Golf, the GTI emerged with the much more potent VR6 engine borrowed from the Passat and Corrado. While admittedly the power and the exhaust note was very appealing, and in hindsight the third generation Golf looks positively tiny compared to cars today, I have always lamented the loss of the what I consider the best GTI – the 1990-1992 16V model.
But, what if that model had continued? Well, it did – just not in the U.S.. What we have here is a 1994 GTI 16V from Europe. Replete with Recaro interior, blacked-out rub strips and fender flares, beefy wheels, and dual-chamber headlights with foglights. But the best part is under the hood, where the 9A lived on as the ABF. With Digifant engine management power was up to 148 at 6,000 RPMs, while torque remained at 133 lb.ft but again higher in the range. One of these gems has turned up for sale on Ebay:
Why would anyone even contemplate paying nearly $80,000 for a 26 year old, complicated and turbocharged Audi wagon? Because of the badge that adorns the front – the magical ‘Renn’ added to the S2 badge, along with the legendary name Porsche scripted below. That meant that this relatively unassuming Audi 80 quattro Avant had been produced in Zuffenhausen on the 959 production line rather than Ingolstadt or Neckarsulm and had added a healthy dose of even more “Sport” to the small chassis. Ostensibly, though the Sport Quattro was the first RS vehicle, the RS2 was the first to wear the badge which has become synonymous with Audi’s speed department. For many Audi aficionados, though the RS vehicles have become much faster and more luxurious, just like the with W124 500E and the E30 M3 Audi has never made a car better in its overall execution than the original. Not that it was slow by any means; Porsche’s massaging of the ADU inline-5 resulted in 311 horsepower – even more than the Sport Quattro had from essentially a very similar motor.
So despite being much heavier than the Sport had been, the RS2 wasn’t much slower; sub-5 seconds to 60 and a top speed north of 160 mph. Along the way, it was capable of bullying everything outside of a supercar; yet this car also established the move from Audi’s 2-door halo vehicle to a long line of fast five doors. Porsche also upgraded the brakes and wheels with Brembo units and 17″ ‘Cup 1’ wheels creating a signature look, and tacked on 911 mirrors for good measure. So, too, was the color signature; original called RS Blue rather than the color name it’s often mistaken for – the later Nogaro – bright blue is still the go-to shade for Audi’s fastest and was just announced on the launch of the new RS6 Avant. Even within its fast contemporaries, this car was legendary, and the upgrades to the motors and wheels spawned an entire generation of enthusiasts to turn up their inline-5s stateside. Now that these cars are legal for importation, a steady stream have been coming up for sale:
This Scirocco we looked at back in August is back on the block wearing teardrop 16V wheels and sporting a substantial price drop to $11,500 (from $17,900).
Though the shape of the new Scirocco was modern for the time, underneath the specification changed little from the outgoing model. It was still a Mk.1 underneath, with a 1.7 liter, 74 horsepower inline-4 providing adequate motivation to the 2,000 lb. coupe. Where the original Giugiaro design had held lovely nuance, the Karmann-penned follow-up borrowed heavily from the Asso di Picche design (ironically, also from Giugiaro) meaning it was all angles, everywhere. But it pulled it off reasonably well, and the second generation was quite popular, selling about a quarter million units in total. There were rolling changes throughout the years as more power, bigger spoilers and wheels, and even a more traditional second wiper appeared. But in terms of purity, the simple design shows through well despite the clunky U.S. spec bumpers on the early models like this 1982:
We’re pretty used to the formula here: take a limited edition or special production 911, slap a neat color on it, and watch the price rise. Even brand new cars – ones that you can roll down to the dealership and order up yourself – are demanding a strong premium in the used marketplace. Insanity? A ‘bubble’? Bad economics? It doesn’t matter what the cause is, it’s the way life is for the foreseeable future.
But there’s a really compelling alternative, I think – for about the same money as most of the modern Porsche range, you can jump into near supercar-level performance and exotic looks with the Audi R8. The ‘regular’ V10 cranked out 540 horsepower, and hooked to the S-Tronic 7-speed gearbox is good for 3.5 second blasts to 60. And that speed is linked to all-four wheels with a gorgeous body and interior full of the most modern electronics. Sure, this isn’t a ‘Plus’ model, but there are a few reasons to like this one, and it should be pretty obvious.