While traditionally Audi held the reigns in the U.S. fast wagon scene and there’s news that could resume with the return of the RS6, more recently it’s been rival BMW who has offered enthusiasts a dose of quick 5-doors. Like Audi, BMW had two flavors of wagons in the 2000s; the 5-series Sports Wagon was dropped for the U.S. after 2010, but did breifly offer a turbocharged inline-6 that could be mated to a 6-speed manual. The 3-series Sports Wagon still soldiers on in the market today and you can find a few at dealers, but the bad news is that it, too, has been removed from its ever shrinking fan base. On top of that, BMW never offered the top-tier motors with the 3, and more recently even gave up on the signature manual option. These are dark days, my manual-loving friends.
Luckily for us, though, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from saying ‘why not?’ and combining the best attributes of BMW’s sportier Coupes with their versatile wagon:
Update 9/13/19: This 535iS sold for $7,000.
There’s always a bit of confusion about “M” branded models from the 1980s, since there was a difference in nomenclature between the E24 and E28. While the M6 and M5 co-existed in the United States market, they did not in Europe. This left the M635CSi to be the equivalent of the M6. I talked about this recently in a M635CSi post:
1985 BMW M635CSi
But the same was not true of the M535i. This model was sold as a more affordable alternative to the M5; most of the look of the Motorsports model but without the bigger bills associated with the more exotic double overhead cam 24 valve M88/3. Instead, you got a 3.4 liter M30 under the hood just like the rest of the .35 models. The recipe was a success, selling around 10,000 examples in several different markets – but never in the U.S..
Instead, the U.S. market received the 535iS model. The iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. But as with the M535i, there was no S38 under the hood – rather a stock M30 3.4. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant. One of the nice aspects of the 535iS was that if you enjoyed colors other than black you were able to order the lesser model in any shade you wanted, unlike the M5. Today’s 535iS is still in a dark tone, but here it’s 181 Diamantschwarz Metallic accented by a Euro bumper swap…but that’s just the start:
Update 9/5/19: This 1602 Touring sold for $18,300.
If you’ve missed the most recent bandwagon, it’s been firmly hitched to the back of the E30 Touring. Recently these cars passed the magical “25 Year” importation ban and have begun flooding the market. The reason is simple; they haven’t previously been available here, the E30 market is red hot, and they’re relatively dirt cheap in Europe. But if you really want to show up those bandwagon-jumping E30 hispters at the local show, why not look towards the original Touring – the Michelotti-designed, E10-based ‘E6’ 1600, 1800 or 2000 Touring models. Shortened by about 6 inches and with additional glass, the Touring had modern conveniences like split-folding rear seats and was available only for a short run between 1971 and 1974. It ran the full production line in engines minus the turbo; the most valuable examples are clean tii versions or the ultra-rare Alpina variants, but even a nice clean basic example of any shows just what a neat design it was:
I recently looked at a Laguna Green Metallic 850i 6-speed and talked a bit about just why they’re so special. It’s definitely a car you don’t see every day:
1991 BMW 850i
Out of the 4,194 5.0 V12 M70-equipped, only 847 came to the United States between 1990 and 1994 (as the re-badged 850Ci) with a 6-speed manual transmission. While that’s not quite as rare and desirable as the 850CSi, nevertheless the manual E31s are pretty special bits of kit and very hard to come across. But today we get to look at another, and it’s again a cool 90s color:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: on eBay
For years we’ve banged on about the E34 M5, a conundrum of the M lineup. It’s got all the right DNA to be a classic, yet like the similar 944 Turbo has generally languished in value compared to similar products. That may sound like a broken record on these pages, but it’s a tune which is both catchy and sweet-sounding for BMW fans because it means they’re getting more car for their money. They’ve got plenty of the right ingredients – the last of the individual throttle body S38 motors producing 315 horsepower, Motorsport details throughout, a great subtle look which still is commanding of respect, supreme road manners and limited numbers – only 1,678 were imported. It’s the right recipe for a future classic. This chassis is still generally overlooked compared to the E28 and E39 models, but those that have spent some time behind the wheel of these well engineered, hand-built Q-Ships proclaim they’re one of the best BMW products made. Recent market activity in since 2016 has started to remix the tune, though, and E34s have been on the rise. Hagerty currently places top value on 1991 M5s at over $70,000 – steep sounding given what many traded for over the last few years, but perhaps more in line with their legendary build quality and performance especially when considering their siblings. So let’s see what a top value M5 looks like today:
In an article I penned for The Truth About Cars back in 2016, I covered some of the development of the Wedge Era and how those spectacular show car designs channeled their design language down to more pedestrian models. One of the stars of that article were the cutting-edge looks from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign – the firm, and man, responsible for some of your favorites such as the basic shape for the Audi Quattro. But while the Quattro launched its brand into the luxury realm and redefined the 80s, the undisputed German star of the wedgey wonders was the BMW M1.
Like the Quattro, the M1 redefined and refined BMW’s core mission, helping to launch the Motorsport division along with the 3.0 CSL and 2002 Turbo. While Giugiaro had also had his hand in the M1’s design, the genesis of the shape lay in the much earlier Paul Bracq designed Turbo concept. Bracq, in turn, had undoubtedly been influenced by the late 1960s creations of both Giorgetto Giugiaro (at Ghia and ItalDesign) and Marcello Gandini (Bertone), as well as the efforts and splash rival Mercedes-Benz had made in 1969 with the C111 concept and record setter.
But while Daimler was hesitant to enter serial production with such a departure from their tried and true sedan designs, the M1 proved to be just the spark BMW was looking for to ignite the fire in driving enthusiast’s minds. It was, at the time, the Ultimate Driving Machine:
From the top-tier of the BMW performance catalog in 1985, we’re shifting gears to what was just about the slowest BMW you could procure in the 1980s. The E28 of course had a base model – here it was the 528e with the M20B27 good for just over 120 horsepower. But European countries and Japan got an even pokier version, the 518 and 518i. The 518i had the fuel-injected M10B18 looking a bit like a lost puppy cowering under the long hood, rated at 103 horsepower. It was capable of gently motivating the E28 to 60 in 12.6 seconds and had a top speed of 109 mph. Hardly thrilling, right? However, it wasn’t intended for speed – it was intended for economy. The 218 horsepower M535i you’d like to be reading about consumed 9 liters of fuel at 120 kph over 100km, while the 518i sipped one less. Not impressed? Around town, that same M535i churned through 15 liters for 100 km. The 518i? 9.9. Even though gas was relatively cheap in the 1980s, that still adds up when you’re sitting in traffic.
But today if you’re looking at a classic BMW E28, you’re not thinking of fuel economy. What are you thinking of? Condition, condition, condition:
The M635CSi somehow gets lost among the other greats of the period from BMW. Perhaps, for U.S. fans, it’s the nomenclature that’s confusing. After all, there was a M1, an M3, and a M5, but when it came to the M version of the E24, BMW stuck with the moniker M635CSi in all markets but the United States and Japan. Confounding that decision was the launch of the E28 M535i. Like the M635CSi, it had additional body pieces, special interior trim and wheels from M-Technic. But while the M535i had a fairly normal M30 under the hood, the E24 received the full-fat M88/3 that was shared with the M5. Like the European M5 production started in 1984, well before they were available to U.S. customers. But while the M5 only sold in very sparse numbers over its short production cycle (about 775 sold in Europe between 1984 and 1987), the M635i was a relative hit, with just over 3,900 selling overall – far more than made it the U.S. market. Additionally, the European models were a slightly more pure form of the design; smaller bumpers, less weight, and about 30 more horsepower on tap without catalyst.
Back in February, I looked at a group of M6s with asking prices all over the map. True, some M6s have sold for big numbers and there’s one looking like it may hit $100,000 this week. But they’ve all been pristine original U.S. examples with very low mileage. Today we have a moderate mileage, lightly modified European M635CSi in an offbeat color (for the M6), so how does the price sit?
Having not really checked in on E30 M3 pricing lately, I decided to take a gander this week. The situation has not improved. Pristine examples are still asking north of $80,000. If you want one on a budget that’s no reserve, there’s a rusty example with little documentation and 200,000 miles with a wrecked interior for…$20,000 so far. That’s pretty insane for a car that needs a full mechanical and cosmetic restoration, because that money gets you into a pristine E36 or E46 and you’re knocking on the door of the E92s, too.
So I’m taking a different path today. Let’s say you want a collector-grade car but don’t want something old. Well, as I’ve mentioned previously there are a lot of special edition M3s out there. One that quietly slipped through in 2017 was the 30 Jahre Edition of the M3 Sedan. Built on a Competition Package base, the 30 Jahre added Macao Blue Metallic over full Merino leather in Black/Fjord Blue from BMW Individual. The exterior trim was treated to BMW’s high gloss Shadowline treatment and there were plenty of special badges to go around both inside and out. For the 150 out of 500 produced sent to the U.S. market, these cars came equipped with the Driver Assistance Plus Package and LED lights. With the boost turned up on the S55 and hooked to the dual clutch, the 444 horsepower was good for 3.8 second sprints to 60. Check that box for the DCT, and you were $86,150 lighter in the wallet – about the same ask as that E30 I posted earlier. So what does one of these limited models set you back today?
Update 7/08/19 – After raising and lowering the price several times, this very unique “645i Turbo” is back on the market in 2019 for $19,900 today.
I really love how these cars sometimes send you down the rabbit hole. What attracted me initially to this E24 was that it was a European-spec car and it had a pretty high asking price at nearly $23,000. Alone that wouldn’t be enough to warrant a post, especially given that from the first photo I glanced at, it doesn’t look spectacular.
But there’s a lot more than meets the eye when considering this car, and it has a lot more to do with the personality behind it than the current condition.
The name Albert Mardikian probably doesn’t mean much to you. Mr. Mardikian is a partner and the Chief Technology Officer behind ReGreen Organics, a company which deals with a lot of shit, for lack of a better term. I’m not being flippant. They’re an organic solid waste management company.
And it is in this capacity that Mr. Mardikian’s philosophy is particularly interesting when considering this car. He proclaims that he has a “passion for bettering our world”, yet his past would seem to have little to do with environmental improvement. That’s because in a past life Mr. Mardikian was also the proprietor of Trend Imports. Ring a bell? If not, perhaps a perusing of the Tom Cruise movie Rain Man would help you out. Mr. Cruise’s character’s subplot – an importer of exotic cars held up by the EPA – is based upon Mr. Mardikian. Because if you were in L.A. in the early 1980s and you wanted a gray market car, Trend Imports was where you went. And just like the main character in the movie, Mardikian got in quite a bit of trouble for the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls Royce and other models he imported by skirting EPA emissions laws.
Though his troubles with emissions laws dated back to 1981, Mardikian continued to be the turn-to source for ultra-exotics in the early days of importation. He also built custom convertible versions of some of the most famous 80s icons – Mercedes-Benz 500SECs, Lamborghini Countachs, Ferrari 512BBis, Porsche 930s. How about those replica Daytonas for Miami Vice? Mardikian. And he made more more neat creation – he married the turbocharged M102/6 from the European version of the BMW E23 745i with the slinky shape of the E24, creating his own “745CSi Turbo”: