Update 11/17/19: This beautiful Euro-spec E28 528i that I wrote up over the summer is still for sale. The seller contacted us and let us know it is still available and you can email them directly by clicking HERE. He’s willing to entertain reasonable offers and answer any questions about the car and work performed. GLWS, Gary – we wish we had room in the garage to grab this one!
The E28 will undoubtedly go down in automotive history as one of the most-loved chassis from BMW. Like its even more versatile little brother the E30, the E28 was a huge step forward in performance, driving dynamics and build quality from the E12. Classic looks defined the brand, while multiple different engines allowed a variety of budgets to experience the Teutonic design. And, like the E30, the E28 introduced the world to the first full M branding, raising the bar and defining the luxury sports sedan full-stop.
Some 31 years on from the last E28s rolling out of showrooms, prime examples still are stealing the stage in the classic BMW market. Pristine M5s still lead the charge but even very clean custom E28s can bid to high numbers. Today we have just that – a very clean, Euro-spec ’84 528i with some period modifications in a color combination that really helps it stand out:
The 1-Series sought to return BMW to its more affordable small car roots by shrinking the swollen 3-Series down substantially. What BMW unintentionally did was to create an E46 successor. The E82s are similarly sized, similarly equipped and were similarly priced to the E46. And in its most basic, most sporty form, the early 135i Sport is on paper a close match for the performance of the third generation M3. Okay, there’s no doubt that the 135i isn’t a M3 when you get behind the wheel. But is it a special car? Yes. And does it move? The N54/55 are rated at 300 horsepower – about 10% shy of the S54. But they’ve got 300 lb.ft of torque, almost about 15% more than the M3 had. And because they’re a turbo motor and they were able to tune that torque curve in, it’s about as flat as the Makgadikgadi Pan. That means roll-on performance, and the 135i rewards you any time you want in any gear you’re in. The strange thing is, it really doesn’t drive like it is a turbo motor. There’s no lag, no flat spots, no real woosh. It just feels like a very strong high-compression inline-6. It ALWAYS has power. And though it won’t corner like a E46 M3, it’s not far off in acceleration or driving feel.
So while it’s not quite the visual triumph that is the E46 M3, it’s a very compelling alternative. Better yet, the polarizing looks have meant that these haven’t taken off in value yet compared to full M models. Today, now just over a decade after launch, few come to market looking quite as fresh as this Sedona Red Metallic first-year model:
It’s hard to fit into the regular lineup all of the various neat German vehicles from diverse brands, so admittedly I end up focusing on ones that really spark my interest. That leaves big gaps in coverage, and one such gaffe is certainly the Volkswagen T-series. The first three generations were based upon the Type 2 platform and rear-engine configuration, which left plenty of space for a slab-sided apartment on wheels. But Volkswagen continued the feat with the T4. The engine moved to the front and was water-cooled, transverse and in most applications driving the front wheels. But like the T3, the T4 was also available in syncro configuration with all-wheel drive.
However, while the T3’s viscous coupling sent power forward with twin locking differentials for each axle, the T4’s front-drive transverse layout meant that it needed to employ a system similar to the Golf platform. That meant a viscous coupling to transfer power rearward when slip was detected, with some T4s also having a manually locking rear differential to assist in really sticky situations. While not the go-anywhere mountain goat the T3 could be, it was a neat configuration not offered in the States. Further, you could get a plethora of engine choices at the same time the EuroVan was solely offered with the 2.5 inline-5 gas motor. Case in point is today’s 2.4 liter AAB. While not more powerful than the 2.5 gas motor, the 10 valve inline-5 diesel was a lot less thirsty and offered 77 horsepower and 121 lb.ft of torque at low revs. Here it’s hooked to a manual transmission and already imported to the U.S.:
I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions I’ve ever made. This comes from a man who bought a non-running Audi 200 Avant full of bees in a field in New Hampshire, mind you.
Back in 1998, I bought a non-running, rusty and very tired black over blue 1984 example for $300. I had every intention of “restoring” it to back good condition, but I was 21 and a poor college student and it was 14. But it wasn’t the age (or the mileage, Indiana), it was how it had been treated in that 14 years. After all, my current Passat is 17 years old and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty damn nice. Heck, my M3 is 16 years old and basically looks and drives new. No, age was much harder on the cars of the early 1980s; plastics weren’t as durable as they are now, nor was paint. Metal was more rust prone and the electronics were no where near as reliable even though there were so far fewer in the car. To back my GTi up, you could simply look through the crease in the bodywork between the taillights and the rear floor where there was no longer metal. Every single bushing was gone, and what was left vibrated like an unattended paint shaker at Home Depot set to high. The paint was ruined – the car had clearly been hit at some point, so the passenger door and fender were a different shade of black than the rest of the car, which could more be described as dark gray spread very thinly over light gray primer. One time it started itself, which was a bit scary. Another time, it refused to start because the starter had removed itself from the transmission, but only enough to jam the gear into the flywheel. Then one fateful night one a ride home from a late shift at work, the fuse box lit on fire, consuming the functionality of all electrics save the high beams. I had sunk a few thousand dollars into keeping that car running and improving it over the year and a half I drove it. Ultimately I sold it for parts – for $300.
I won’t over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I don’t wish I had it back – in fact, it may be the only car I owned that I never long to sit in again. Indeed, I even have more connection to a few parts cars that I bought but never drove. But, I will say that it did provide me with some entertaining stories. And when it ran right (there were at least two times), it was really a joy to be behind the wheel. There were glimpses of its former glory; you could get in, start it up and immediately be driving at 11/10ths everywhere you went. 40 m.p.h. has only felt near as exhilarating on my bicycle. And the shape was beautiful in such a strange, boxy way. I certainly wouldn’t mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:
Update 11/17/19: This Quattro sold for $18,600
Though the basis for what made the Quattro legendary; inspired racey styling, boxflares, turbocharging and all-wheel drive with a near-luxury interior seems almost trite, the Quattro really was a revolution in design. Some ten times more dear than an E30 M3, in recent years the Audi has gained a lot more respect in the marketplace. There are those that say you can’t really compare the Quattro to the M3, or even the 911 – though the pricing was quite similar. But isn’t that the point? In period, the other car you could have bought for the same money was a basic 911. And the market spoke: in 1983, Audi sold some 240 Quattros in the U.S.. Porsche, on the other hand, traded 5,707 911SCs between the Coupe, Targa and new Cabriolet models. There was basically no market overlap with the other two major contenders – the 944 Turbo and the M3. Both those cars, and the 911, were finished to a higher level of quality with better components, arguably, but the real difference was the type of owner who bought the Quattro versus the 911. These cars were built to be used and abused, and many were.
With only 664 brought here in total, and just 240 from the first model year, you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding one for sale at any given time – unlike the other three cars mentioned. That’s why it’s worth taking a look at one of the earliest U.S. chassis, even if it does come with a long list of needs. But that strong potential of heavy needs isn’t slowing bids down…
The success of the Motorsport derived versions of each generation of the venerable 3-series mean that it’s both easy and a natural choice to concentrate on them in the used market. But BMW has also offered some pretty special non-M models in the 3-series lineup, and the 2003-2006 330i. Much like the M3, the 330i was available in 2-door coupe and convertible no surprise there – but the 330i was also quite popular as a sedan and the E46 M3 never came in that configuration. If you ticked the ZHP Performance Package box, you paid an additional $3,900 on top of the premium for your top-of-the-line 330i. While that was no small amount of change, what that amount resulted in was actually quite a bargain.
Developed by BMW Individual, you got a plethora of performance details throughout the package. Outside, M-Tech body pieces adorned the car front, sides and rear and blacked out trim replaced the chrome. So too were M-branded special Style 135 18″ wheels, with tires to match the width of bigger brother M3. Lower and stiffer suspension was met with more negative camber, special reinforcement and control arms. The engine was upgraded too, with unique cams and a revised engine map resulting in 10 more horsepower, but the ZHP was more than 10 hp quicker off the line thanks to a shorter final drive and a 6-speed manual borrowed from M. Performance wise, the ZHP split the difference between the 330i and M3 in acceleration and cornering, so it really was a performance package to live up to its name. Inside, too, many special details adorned the ZHP – from small items like lightly revised gauges with special needles to unique shifter, steering wheel, seat fabric and eggcrate dash trim. Just like the S-Line Titanium Package Audis, these more potent 330is have a cultish following who proudly claim they’re not only special, but one of the most special BMWs made:
Earlier this week I just about broke my neck to catch a second glimpse at a car which probably went unnoticed by nearly every other driver out there. It was a new what appeared to be a B8 Passat Variant, and you don’t have to know a lot about Volkswagens to know you haven’t seen one recently – or, probably ever – on these shores since VW dropped the large wagon from its lineup after 2010. Is this an indication they’re coming here? Unlikely, at least according to VW. With the Atlas and Tiguan relatively fresh and still selling like proverbial hotcakes, along with the many iterations of the Golf Sportwagon available, there just is no need. More likely than not, the car I saw was part of a VW testing program which makes sense since I live very close to one of the importation ports.
So that leaves fans of the larger VW wagon to clamor over older examples. So back we go fifteen years to a B5.5 again! This one, like the last, is a silver example from 2004. Also just like the last, it’s a manual and all-wheel drive. But unlike that rare factory 1.8T 4Motion manual, this one is a home brew, mating a 1.9 TDi out of a Jetta, a 6-speed manual from Europe, and a GLX 4Motion chassis into a neat and thrifty all-wheel drive combo that was never offered here:
Update 11/13/19: Despite showing as sold for over $34,000, this RS4 clone was relisted with a $32,500 Buy It Now.
On the other end of the spectrum from Audi’s U.S. spec B5 S4 was the monster which left me, and most fans of the marque, frustrated. That’s because Audi skunkworks quattro GmbH partnered with corporate acquisition Cosworth Engineering to create the legendary RS4. The same 2.7T motor from the S4 suddenly developed not 250 horsepower, but 375. Arches flared. Mouth was firmly agape. Seats were huggier. Wheels were bigger. Suspension was lower. It was wagonier. It was all around a better car in virtually every way.
So it should come as no surprise that its lack of importation didn’t stop enthusiasts from trying their own hand at the mods. And because of the turbocharged nature of the B5 S4, it was a little bit easier to achieve similar results to Audi. So here we have a B5 RS4 ‘Tribute’, but one that not only added the OEM body pieces and turned up the motor. Because under the hood hides not 375 horsepower, but punched-out 3 liter V6 churning 700 horsepower – at the wheels, mind you. Welcome to ‘The White Beast’:
To me it’s always a bit interesting to talk about peoples’ motivations in getting a particular car, especially so when that car is a classic. For example, consider my Audi GT versus a Quattro. These days, if you can find one a mint condition Audi GT will set you back around $6,000 – $8,000 for the very best examples we’ve seen. That amount may get you a wreck of a Quattro, but likely not a particularly drivable one and certainly one you’ll be chasing parts and rust on for a decade at least. In terms of driving experience, the GT is out of the box 90% of the Ur-Quattro experience for 90% plus of the time. Brought to a show, many non-Audi folks could probably not tell them apart. Yet, in terms of value gap, the iconic Quattro far outstrips the classic GT. We see it in other areas, too – for example a 73 911S versus a 77 911S, a E28 535is versus a M5, or even a 325is versus an M3. If you’re smart with your money, choosing the lesser example may not get you the headlines, but stretching your budget to get into a less serviceable iconic car is not likely to bring you more happiness, only more headaches. So while a plain-Jane 1968 BMW 2002 may not get all the price of the Turbo or even the tii models, it’s certainly worthy of consideration:
While cars like the Audi Quattro and BMW M3 may have popularized boxy flares with their racing credentials to back it up, in my eyes no one pulled off the muscle-bound economy look better than the Porsche 944. The addition of several inches of width and wider wheels to the 924 chassis meant an entirely new feel that mingled with supercar lines instead of Volkswagen lineage. Simply put, they were the most sensual looking German car in the 1980s, and that got even better late in the run with some subtle aero additions that enhanced and updated the look. The smooth Turbo bumpers and rear diffuser carried over to the S2 model, along with some lovely “Design 90” wheels that were also highlighting the 964 model. As Porsche moved to a full update of the watercooled transaxle cars with the introduction of the 968, the outgoing 944S2 even adopted the new “bridge” spoiler design from the not yet introduced model.
Turbo looks without the associated power wasn’t an unknown quantity for Porsche, but the 944S2 was no slouch in its own right. Powered by the M44.41 3-liter inline-4 that had been enlarged from the double overhead cam 944S motor, the 208 horsepower wasn’t as much as the 968 would sport but was still awfully close to what the original 944 Turbo had produced in power. Better yes, with instant torque the S2 was, and still is, a very entertaining drive. Hardly cheap, on paper they were not immediately the smart choice for a sports car buyer in 1990 and 1991, as twin-turbocharged monsters from Japan were all the rage and often less expensive than the best part of $50,000 a 944S2 would cost you. With only around 3,600 imported to the U.S., they’re a bit rare to see but offer great Porsche build quality, performance and even practicality in a very attractive package: