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:
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:
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:
I still remember hearing the news that Alpina was going to be tuning a Z8 around 2002. “Awesome”, I thought, “this thing is going to eat Porsches for breakfast!” Imagine my shock when I found out it was going to be an automatic; I was confused and felt lost. Then, I found out they yanked the 4.9 S62 M5 powerplant out in exchange for something less powerful. It was as if Alpina had broken into my mind and destroyed my dreams – I didn’t get it. Then I saw one, and I thought “Wow, they actually made it look a little bit better”. Yes, externally it was only wheels, but somehow those wheels and Alpina badges were still magical and understated but hinted there was more to this car than just less horsepower and more money. Fast forward a few years and the Alpina Roadster V8s are commanding more money than the original Z8 they were based upon. What had I missed?
Well, I missed that Alpina hadn’t just slapped some wheels onto a Z8; Alpina had completely reworked the E52 to be their own car. Yes, the tuned M62B48 V8 borrowed from the B10 had a few less horsepower than the S62, but critically it had more torque, and that torque was available lower in the rev range. Alpina had also softened the suspension, which apparently improved ride quality despite the massive 20″ wheels. Indeed, by softening the character of the Z8 slightly, Alpina had made the V8 Roadster a more enjoyable and more relaxing car. One thing they didn’t change was that bite-the-back-of-your-hand good looks. Today’s example looks stunning in black, a nice change from the very popular silver that most seemed to be painted. Oh, and it’s got 7 miles. SEVEN. If that doesn’t blow your mind, the price will.
Update 11/8/19: This neat ZCP M3 sold for $20,800.
Among potential future classics, few shine quite as bright as the E46 M3. As a car that’s (currently) affordable and still fairly new, the E46 M3 offers performance levels few sports cars reach. It’s also one of the last BMWs mere mortals can work on, the last offering of the S54 motor before the M division switched to twin-turbocharged inline-6s and V8s. To some, the E46 was a mass-produced marketing tool; but to me, the E46 M3 corrected many of the perceived faults of the E36 M3. Of course, the motor was a large part, but outside the M3 was now really set off by flares, quad exhausts, bulges, gaping intakes and vents that really made it look as special as it was. Denied the CSL, for U.S. customers the most special of the breed were the late run ZCP “Competition Package” cars like today’s Interlagos Blue example.
The ZCP Competition Package added quite a few special details to an already special car for the end of the run. Cross-drilled front brakes were enlarged and lighter thanks to a two-piece design and hid behind spun-cast BBS RC wheels. Those wheels measured 19″ x 8″ in front and 9.5″ out back and not only managed to look more menacing, but were lighter than the Style 67 18″ standard wheels despite being larger. Turning those wheels was a quicker steering rack spun by an Alcantara wheel and containing a special “M” track-mode with revised software for the stability control. The ZCP package also had the aforementioned Interlagos Blue Metallic (A30) as its signature color and specific code ZCP milled aluminum effect interior trim. Reportedly, Interlagos could not even be ordered through BMW Individual – if you liked the color, you had to get the Competition Package. While the same S54B32 as standard production lay under the hood, the 333 horsepower screamer wasn’t exactly a bad thing. 2,410 ZCPs were sold in the U.S., with 843 of them being Interlagos – making for not only a great driver, but an instant collector:
It’s a bit amazing to consider that two of the most significant halo cars in German motoring history – both homologation models intended to lead their respective marques into the next decade – so closely paralleled each other, yet were so very different. It’s but a 35 minute train ride between Munich and Ingolstadt, and in the late 1970s both BMW and Audi wanted a range-topping model to grab attention. But their approaches were radically different. BMW designed a bespoke mid-engine, tube-frame supercar around a basic engine design it already had. Audi, on the other had, took a basic car design it already had and added a revolutionary drivetrain.
Both were styled by Giugiaro. Both had to be built out-of-house; Baur had a hand in each. Both had legendary engineers – Walter Treser and Roland Gumpert for Audi, Jochen Neerpasch at BMW. Both raced, though the series they were intended for were ultimately cancelled. Both launched a brand name – BMW’s M division, and Audi’s quattro (and later quattro GmbH). And today, both are both legends and highly sought by collectors. So today we have an interesting showdown; two prime examples have come to market and are nearly the exact same price. Of course, for that to occur the Audi entrant is the ‘ultimate’ evolution of the Quattro, the Sport model. So let’s put aside the ridiculous $700,000 plus asking prices of each of these cars for a moment, and consider – all things being equal (which they nearly are!), which one would you choose? Let’s start with the M1:
If I’m honest, most newer cars bore me. I’m much more excited to see a clean ’85 GTI than I am to see a modern M anything, frankly. I don’t live in the most expensive or opulent area in the world, yet within a shockingly short drive from me there are several new M3s, M4s, M5s and the like being daily driven. It’s not unusual for a Ferrari or Lamborghini to roar by my house. Porsches are downright commonplace. Please understand, this is not intended to elevate my status as a braggart. But when I was a child you just didn’t see these things, and I grew up very close to where I live now. I still remember the excitement of egging my father on as he chased a Ferrari 308 down the highway just so that I could get a closer look. My son doesn’t even turn his head when the multiple 488s cruise by.
I’m not just spouting off a baseless ‘back in my day’ statement as I shake my fist towards the clouds. I was a bit older than my son is now when the E28 M5 launched. 1,340 were shipped to the United States. The same was roughly true of the replacement E34; 1,678 shipped here. Then the markets went wild; 9,992 E39s, 9,491 E60s and 8,088 F10s. While they’ve steadily been losing ground to the growing field of competition and fast SUVs, the fact is they’re far more common than their ancestors. So how do you stand apart from the crowd? Well, BMW’s Individual options are certain to assist:
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: