What is the price of obscurity?
Here we have a 2001 Audi S3. While the S3 has been a recent addition to the Audi lineup to bolster affordable performance options and compete against Merc’s CLA and BMW’s 2-series, the model has a long history which dates back to the nomenclature change for Audi. The first A3 was launched alongside the then-new A4, and while the visual similarities were strong, the two models shared little. That’s because the A3 was based heavily on the Mk.4 Golf platform with transverse mounted engines. Just like the original Audi 50, though, the A3’s arrival predated the Mk.4 Golf by a year.
As I’ve already covered in previous articles, while the U.S. had to wait until the 2004 launch of the Golf R32 to get all-wheel drive performance, Europe had enjoyed Golfs with four wheels driven since 1986. So it was a relative cinch to stick the Haldex-based all-wheel drive system into the A3 chassis where, like the TT, it would be called “quattro”. And just like the TT, a high performance variant of the 1.8T would be included and become the S3 in 1999.
Again, some of the styling cues were shared with the big-brother S4, including 17″ Avus wheels and deeper, smooth bumper covers. The S3 was the first model to utilize the ‘door blades’ that would become signature S bits soon after. Performance was about what you’d expect from a near twin of the TT – meaning, virtually identical. But what you did get was slightly more subtle styling and slightly more practicality, with a bit more storage space and a roomier cabin. Despite the relatively negligible gains, because the 8L S3 never came here, they’re a bit of a hot commodity when they do arrive. How hot?
Walk into a Volkswagen dealership in the early 2000s, and it was clear that the brand had taken the people’s car upmarket. The Mk.4 Golf/Jetta looked decidedly more modern than the Mk.3 holdovers from 1998. The 2001 introduction of the B5.5 Passat splashed chrome, leather and wood all over the mid-range sedans and wagons and offered exotic-sounding performance from the wild optional W8. But it was this car that really signaled VW was operating on a different plane; not only did they bring over the D1 platform Phaeton, but with it they brought the monstrous 6.0 W12.
While to many the Phaeton looked like a reskin of the D3 Audi A8 and indeed the two did share some componentry, the D1 platform was actually shared with VAG’s other subsidiary Bentley. Both the Continental GT and later Flying Spur shared the infrastructure, meaning the Phaeton enjoyed extreme levels of refinement, ride quality and fit/finish that weren’t typically associated with “the people’s car”. While all the luxury added up to north of 5,000 lbs without passengers and it lacked the twin turbochargers the Bentley boys got, the Phaeton W12 was still the fastest car in the VW showroom in 2004. With 420 horsepower driving all four wheels, the Phaeton was capable of effortless and nearly silent 5.5 second 0-60 runs and could break 200 mph unrestricted.
While it sounds great, there were two drawbacks. One was that to nearly everyone your Phaeton looked just like my Passat. And while a loaded W8 4 Motion Variant Passat was really, really expensive, you and your significant other could drive out of your local dealer with not one, but TWO fully loaded Passats for the price of just one W12 Phaeton. It’s no surprise that the U.S. market wasn’t ready for a $90,000 Volkswagen, and a scant 482 were sold here before the model was yanked. But today, that means you can get these market-busting models for pennies on the dollar:
BMW took a big leap at the end of the 1980s and introduced some pretty extreme design language. First was the E31 8-series, a seeming quantum leap from the outgoing 6-series. That chassis pioneered, for better or worse, a tremendous amount of technical and electronic innovation for BMW. The 8s relied on a bevy of computers to control its chassis, electronic suite and engine. Side by side with the more famous Grand Tourer though was a diminutive roadster BMW produced based heavily on the E30 chassis. Instead of a heavy reliance on computer technology, the futuristic (hence Z for the German word for future – Zukunft) plastic bodied Z1 looked like a supercar even if it didn’t go like one. Park one next to a E30 convertible and you’d never know the two are related!
The Z1 was a complete departure for BMW; while they were not strangers to small cabriolets, their previous efforts were in the 1930s with the 315/1 and the 1960s with the 700. BMW went away from the idea of an integral body and frame to a separate chassis with removable, plastic body pieces. The idea was that the owners could replace the panels themselves to “repaint” the car with minimal effort. It was something the Smart car would be notable for – a car that launched a decade following the Z1. To get the paint to adhere to the bodywork, BMW had to partner with AZKO coatings to develop a flexible paint which they termed ‘Varioflex’, while the bodywork had to be attached using a unique elastic joint technique. The doors didn’t open out – the slid down into the supporting chassis structure. The underbody was flat, not only for aerodynamics, but the tray turned into a diffuser towards the back, assisting in sticking the rear to the ground as speeds rose. In front was nothing new – the venerable M20 from the E30 popped up here, too – but in the rear the Z1 was new with a multi-link rear axle of its own. This new design would later be incorporated into the E36. It’s interesting that with the Z3 BMW opted to go the opposite route and incorporate earlier E30 pieces into the rear of the /7 and /8. While performance was relatively leisurely, the Z1 nevertheless garnered praise for its innovation, unique design and great looks. They never made it to U.S. shores and only around 8,000 examples were ever produced, but a few have crossed the Atlantic now that they’re old enough to be more easily imported:
While the US market had to settle for the RS America, a lightened low-option version of the Carrera 2, other markets enjoyed the full-on Carrera RS. The Carrera RS used the tried-and-true method of more power/less weight, combining a higher output version of the 964’s 3.6 liter flax-six with significant weight reduction – coming in 155 kg lighter than a standard Carrera 2 – to provide the sort of no frills performance that 911 enthusiasts had long craved since the original RS. Under the rear hood was the M64/03 rated at 260 horsepower which doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s numbers. But the lightweight RS made good use of all of them, proving itself not only to be a class-leading sports car but also one adept at racing in keeping with the 911’s heritage. Suspension was lowered half an inch and stiffened, while the limited-slip differential from the Turbo was borrowed. Power steering was dropped for a manual rack, and while there were packages to add back in road-going manners, this ultimately was a bare-bones racer at heart.
Some 2,276 964 Carrera RSs were made, with a fair chunk of those heading to the track. There were a limited group of these cars imported to the U.S. for a failed race series and a few more since 911 mania took off, but the bulk of production still lies in Europe, just like this ’92 being offered today from France:
Looking for a performance car? This isn’t it. It’s also about as far from a classic Audi as you could get in the U.S. market; there was no turbo, no inline-5, no manual and no quattro drivetrain. But the B4 Audi Cabriolet was ironically the last 1980s holdover for the company, and it survived until somewhat amazingly 1998 here, with the basic chassis construction from 1985. To the end, it remained a competent and handsome convertible, a conservative alternative to the more expensive Mercedes-Benz drop-tops and the flashier BMWs. The Cabriolet really only came in one configuration here, with the 2.8 liter V6 linked to the 4-speed automatic driving the front wheels. On the fly, this was a fine setup and certainly potent enough to rustle your hair, though it was far from lighting it on fire. Pricing at the end of the run was surprisingly high at $34,600 base price. Added to that were the packages many came with for the 1998 model year; Premium Package added a power roof, burled walnut wood trim; Kodiac leather seat upholstery, remote locking and alarm. To make it more palatable to most of the country, the “All Weather Package” added heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, and heated door locks. Also optional for the end of the run were the Votex Speedline Competition 16″ 6-spoke alloy wheels and even high backed sport seats; both (especially the latter) are very rare. Of course, the Cabriolet is rare full stop, with only 5,439 sold here between 1994 and 1998, or roughly 1,000 per a model year. This ’95 is one of 1,087 and might be one of the best left:
Update 5/10/19: Bummed that you missed out on this totally tubular GTI? PSYCH! Not to worry, it’s back up for sale in Orlando with a $29,995 Buy It Now. Nostalgia doesn’t come cheap, after all…
Recently, in my 1989 GTI post, I referenced the Radwood show in California. A celebration of all things 80s (being liberal to accept items both older and newer, too!), Radwood has become the newest and hottest show to consider. Why? Well, to head to Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or Greenwich Concours, you’ll need a car of significant stature. But you can roll up to Radwood in a 4000 quattro you literally just pulled out of a field (seriously, someone did), and you’ll find fans to celebrate both the model and your insistence that it’s a cool car worthy of being saved. Because, ultimately, it was!
But the GTI I presented was a headscratcher because it was so expensive and subtle that most would probably walk right by. Sure, it had little details that were neat, but not THAT neat or THAT particularly 80s. But today’s GTI takes 80s To The Extreme, killin’ your brain like a poisonous mushroom as you ponder if anything less than the best is a felony:
Audi brought the S4 Avant to the United States for the first time in 2001. It joined the sedan lineup and offered a follow-up to the large chassis S6 Avant from 1995. This was actually the second S4 Avant, as Europeans had enjoyed the C4-based creation in the early 90s. Audi’s renaming convention therefore created a successor to the B4-based S2 Avant. Instead of the traditional inline-5 motivation, though, Audi had developed a new 2.7 liter version of its V6. With a K03 turbocharger strapped to each side, the APB produced 250 horsepower at 5800 rpms and 258 lb.ft of torque at only 1850 revs. Like all the B5s, Audi’s new generation of ‘quattro’ used a T2 Torsen center differential and relied upon an electronic rear differential utilizing the ABS sensors. The B5 chassis used the same technology on the front differential as well and was capable of independently braking each front wheel to try to sort the car out through its dynamic stability program.
But the real fun was that it was available as an Avant and with a 6-speed manual. Just over 1,500 were claimed imported between 2001 and 2002’s model years, with about 600 of those being Tiptronic equipped. LY9B Brilliant Black was the second most popular color ordered behind Light Silver Metallic, and this particular Avant is one of 183 Brilliant Black (out of 850 total) manuals brought in for the 2001 model year:
For some time, the 964 design was relegated to the “least favorite” column for many in the 911 world. Regarded as little more than a bridge between the classic 911 design of the 3.2 Carrera and the sophisticated modern beauty of the 993, appreciation for the clean lines and steadfast simplicity of the 964 has grown. It hasn’t hurt that the cars around it have rocketed up in value, either. So today let’s take a look at a prime example; a ROW 1991 911 Carrera 2 in Paint-to-Sample in Murano Green.
Unlike earlier cars, changes between the ROW 964s and North American cars were relatively minor (minus the special production cars, like the Carrera RS). Power from the 3.6 air-cooled flat-6 was effectively the same as its North American counterpart. The bumperettes were missing on ROW cars, and of course for Euro plates the center rear bumper section was slightly different. Without the 5 mph mandate, ROW cars didn’t have the heavier crash bars behind their bumpers either, nor do they have the collision bars in the doors. As you’d expect, the headlights and tailights are different, and Euro cars had sidelights that were missing on NA cars. Those headlights were adjustable in cockpit via an adjuster next to the key. Foglights were standard on ROW cars and they also had no third brakelight. ROW cars had larger fuel tanks, lower suspension, and a few other minor tweaks. Reading all of that would probably lead you to believe the ROW cars were lighter, and they are – somewhere around 50 lbs or so.
But here it’s not the missing 5-year-old’s weight you’re excited for – it’s just got to be the color:
In its second full year for production, Porsche’s entry-level 924 model sped out of the gate – at least, in terms of sales. Some 11,638 traded in 1978, the model’s single most successful year by quite a margin. In fact, if you find an early non-Turbo 924, odds are it’ll be a ’78 since about 30% were when new. Obviously, the appeal of a (relatively) inexpensive Porsche worked; consider that even in the heyday 80s, Porsche never sold more than 2,700 928s a year here – often quite less – and the 924 comprised about 70% of the firms sales in the 1970s. This is the model that kept the lights on, Mr. Turbo Carrera.
Of course, by itself that doesn’t make an early 924 excited, nor is it solely a compelling reason to buy one. But there were some neat options for the early 924, not least of which was the Turbo. There were also a plethora of limited edition models, from the most famous Martini World Championship model to the Sebring ’79 edition, the ’78 Limited Edition, the M471 S models and the Weissach Commemorative Edition to consider. And that’s if you choose to ignore the much better later 924S model, too!
This car is none of those models. Yet, I think it’s still worth a look, so let’s see why:
I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice“.
In fact, it’s fairly common for lightning to strike the same place twice. Check out tall buildings, for example. Still, humans like to think that the odds of a rare event happening twice in a short amount of time are statistically very low. And, if I’m honest, I’m not immune to that belief. That brings us today’s Volkswagen. If this 1989 GTI 16V looks familiar, you’d be forgiven for thinking I just covered it. I, too, thought it was the same car I looked at back in February.
1989 Volkswagen GTI 16V
After all, what is the statistical probability of coming across another perfect condition, LY3D Tornado Red 1989 GTI 16V after seeing one just two months ago? Apparently it is quite good. Because while they look similar and both in impossibly good condition, February’s VIN was 1VWDC0179KV009402 while today’s is 1VWDC0176KV016260. The last one sold at $8,322 – frankly, quite a deal for what that car was. Today you’ve got a second chance if you missed out – but you’ll need to bring more money to the table…