When BMW upped its game in the E36 chassis with the introduction of the M3, specialty tuner Alpina answered with the B3 3.0 and later 3.2 in step with BMW. The successor of the slightly less powerful B6 model, the B3 kept many of the same improvements to the E36 chassis – unique stabilizers, springs and shocks, and larger brakes. Inside the B3 received the normal Alpina-style shift knob, steering wheel and seats, and in their typical style Alpina provided unique front and rear spoilers along with their own badging. Of course, the package was rounded out by some of the best looking wheels ever fit to a BMW. While the B3 was down on power to the European M3 3.2, it wasn’t really much slower – again in typical Alpina fashion, the car was tuned to make the most of the power that was available rather than just provide a shockingly high output number. A reported 1,000 of these ultra-exclusive B3s were produced, with about 2/3rds of those being the earlier 3.0 model, and in four different configurations – Coupe, Cabriolet, Touring and Sedan. This is one of the 741 3.0s made of which 339 were sedans, and it poses the interesting question – would you rather have this or the European-spec M3 I just looked at?
I have a soft spot for the Bavaria. It’s not because it’s the best looking BMW from the 1970s, nor the fastest. It’s not the most collectable, either – but as a result, the Bavaria might just be the rarest of the 1970s BMWs. To me, I can appreciate this coming from a background of loving Audis – most of which are quite rare today. The look of the Bavaria is even very similar to the Audi 100, and like the 100 very few examples are left kicking around. Also like the Audi 100, people will always be glad to see it, and I’m sure many have stories involving Bavarias. As with the old Audis, it’ll be a mix of people who smile and immediately start to tell you their wonderful BMW story and the balance of the masses who simply ask “What is that?” But the Bavaria was nonetheless an important move for BMW, taking on the larger executive market with an upscale big-body 4-door and that famous M30 power:
The lineup of offbeat VAG survivors continues today with this second generation Volkswagen Passat, of course badged the “Quantum” for the U.S. market. 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. 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.
The weird part is that this model 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 – something Audi didn’t offer at all in the B2:
As I mentioned in my Audi A4 TDI post, the VAG community loves things that are different; and any Volkswagen Polo that makes it to the U.S. is certainly different since the model was never sold here. The Polo launched in 1975 as a rebadged Audi 50, but managed to outlive the car that it was based upon by some good measure. In 1981, the second generation debuted on the A02 platform – a standalone for the model and its be-trunked twin, the Derby (also not sold here). These super-minis were intended to be cheap and efficient; very basic equipment was met with very basic engines, though there was a GT version and an even cooler supercharged G40 model which we’ve looked at previously.
Today’s example is none of those. This is the basic 2-door wagon model that looks a bit like a delivery van. I had a friend I went to visit in Germany, and he and his girlfriend shuttled me around in a Polo not too dissimilar to this. A Volkswagen fan, I loved being in a model that wasn’t available in the States, but I did get the distinct impression that for many Germans ownership of a Polo was akin to a venereal disease. It was something you had to live with and couldn’t easily get rid of, and you really didn’t want anyone else to know you had it. But because these are different than the run-of-the-mill A2s, are they desirable today?
Update 10/18/19: This super supercharged 540iT sold for $11,100. Deal!
BMW’s continual refusal to bring the most powerful form of its its Touring/Sports Wagon historical lineup has been, as a 5-door enthusiast, pretty frustrating. That’s left Audi in the 2000s and Mercedes-Benz more recently to thoroughly dominate fast 5-doors, with the brief Cadillac interloper. But just because you couldn’t get an M5 Touring over here didn’t mean you couldn’t at least get M performance.
For that, though, you had to turn to fabled California tuner Dinan. No stranger on these pages, Dinan’s well-thought mods and clean execution earned his company a place in the revered showrooms of new BMWs. Cheap? Certainly not. Just the supercharger alone on this particular 540i was $16,000. But you get what you pay for, and the result when Dinan blew on the M62 was a claimed 400 horsepower. So this 540iT has the chops to back up its M5 looks:
Update 11/13/19: This A4 was relisted due to non-payment!
Update 10/18/19: This neat A4 sold for an impressive $16,100.
If you read the title and look at the photo above, something doesn’t seem quite right. Obviously, I’ve made a mistake and this is a S4, right? It looks like an S4. There was no diesel B5 brought to the U.S.. And, the coup de grâce of my mistake was surely that even in Europe there was no 2.0 TDI Audi B5. Well, just like most other small chassis Audi platforms, the B5 has proven remarkably adept at accepting other engines – and this one’s a doozy.
The builder took a BHW 2.0 Pumpe Duse TDI borrowed from a Passat B5.5. In stock form, the BHW wasn’t the most impressive TDI from VAG. Producing 134 horsepower and only linked to an automatic transmission in the U.S., the Passat TDI was rated at only 38 mpg on the highway. I achieved that on a 100 mile trip the other day in my 1.8T, for reference. But, of course, the big news with the TDIs was torque and the BHW had 247 stock at 1,900 rpm. The builder of this car took the BHW bottom end, mated it to a BRM head from a Mk.4, and then slapped on a giant turbo. The result? 250 horsepower – the same as the S4 – with 400 lb.ft of torque claimed in a car that will return 45 mpg. And then they slapped it into a very discrete package; an original (and rare) Brilliant Yellow A4 replete with S4 body kit and interior. The result? Pretty impressive, if you ask me:
It would be easy to assume that the ’92 Carrera Cup USA was a turned up version of the RS America, but actually it shared more DNA with the European market Carrera RS. Porsche intended to continue the trend of its successful 944 Cup and 944 Turbo Cup support series races with a 911 Carrera Cup in the U.S., but after luring 45 buyers and converting 25 to full race spec by Andial funding for the series fell through. Many of the Andial-converted cars were then returned to full road-legal spec and the legend of these lightweight 911s has been circulating ever since.
he RSA was actually the least expensive 911 version in showrooms in the early 90s too, while the Cup was a substantial 20% premium. Why? Well, it was a lot more than just removing a few extra items. While the RS America lopped 70-odd pounds off a standard C2, the Carrera Cup was 200 lbs lighter. The Cup wore bigger 24mm 5-way adjustable front/ 18mm 3-way rear sway bars, stiffer progressive-rate springs that were 50mm front/45mm rear lower than a standard car, aluminum hubs, ball joint upper spring mounts, and Bistein rear shocks. The engine was the M64/03 rather than the RS America’s M64/01, and featured a lightweight flywheel, only one accessory belt, a remapped DME and solid rubber mounts to channel more of the extra power to the ground. The Cups had a lightweight battery and master electrical shutoff, along with a more simple carpet and rear shelf layout. The gearbox was also different, as the Cup for the G50/10 with longer first and second gears, hardened synchros and mounts, and a standard variable locking differential. Brakes? Yep, different too – the Cup wore Turbo calipers with 322mm front vented and cross-drilled rotors. They kept the standard retracting rear spoiler rather than the RS America’s fixed unit, but had no undercoating and thin glass as well. These were racers through-and-through. And today, they’re not cheap:
While Mercedes-Benz is the go-to for protected dignitaries, executives and everyone else who has a potential mark of their back, they’re not alone in offering upgraded armor to their lineup. BMW also entered the game with their “Protection Package”. This turned the 7 into the ‘ultimate surviving machine’ by adding bulletproof glass front, sides and rear along with armor behind the body panels and no sunroof. A claimed 44 were sold here, making this one of the most rare variants of any BMW imported:
Following up on the
hugely popular Fuldamobile, it seems appropriate to talk about the more successful and instantly recognizable Isetta. Like the Fuldamobile, BMW’s quirky bubble car was a licensed production. The original design was the Iso Autoveicoli company’s property in Italy, and its owner – Renzo Rivolta, who would go on to support the production of some beautiful Italian-American V8 GT cars – started production in 1954 after showing the car at the ’53 Turin Automobile Show. Rivolta was happy to license production and did so with VELAM in France, De Carlo in Argentina, and Romi in Brazil. But, of course, the most famous and numerous version was the BMW variant.
Produced first as a 250, then upgraded to 300 (and finally 600, where the stretched chassis would go on to foster BMW’s 700 model), some 160,000-odd Isettas were produced by BMW in their cash-strapped post-War years. But among the most rare variations of production was the Cabriolet model:
Update 10/18/19: This Euro-spec M3 sold for $26,900!
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. Also differentiating the European versions were better floating rotor brakes, better glass headlights, better lower and stiffer suspension, and some neat interior options. Later Euro E36s got even more power and the optional SMG 1 transmission or a 6-speed manual – none of which came here.
But if you fall into “the U.S. version of the E36 M3 is garbage” camp, you don’t have to scream at the internet for ‘forum cred’ anymore as early versions of the Euro cars are now fully legal for import – and they’re surprisingly affordable: