Rather unceremoniously, 2020 marks the death of an automotive icon. The very last Volkswagen Beetle rolled from the third generation production line in Puebla, Mexico in July and while you can log in to VW’s website and still see the model listed, existing stock is all that’s left. The two most recent Beetles never really achieved the notoriety of the original, but nonetheless they offered a welcome break from the standard three-box design and were decidedly anti-SUV. You don’t have to like them, but you can respect that they were different.
In the case of the third-generation Beetle, I think they were actually pretty good looking, too. Spacious, economical, and good-to-drive thanks to a shared Golf MQB platform, several special models graced dealerships in an attempt to sway buyers. Here’s one – the ‘Dune’. More a fashion statement than an actual Baja Bug, the Dune added .2″ of ground clearance and a half an inch of plastic moldings all around. Faux skid plates, special decals, a huge spoiler and polished door sills rounded out the exterior trim additions. Power came from the familiar 1.8T shared with the Passat, Golf and Jetta models (among others worldwide), and gave you 170 horsepower channeled only through a 6-speed automatic:
Although Volkswagen started its small 5-door wagon production in the Mk.3 era, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that they finally decided to bring their second generation Golf Variant in the form of the Jetta Wagon. It was part of an unprecedented wave of early 2000s wagon popularity which gave enthusiasts a lot of very nice options. Parked alongside the Passat Variant in dealerships, just like the B5 they were offered with a dizzying array of configurations. There were GLS and GLX trim specs, along with four different engine configurations. Base GLSs got the 2.0 inline-4 rated at 115 horsepower. Stepping up to turbocharged your experience with the familiar 1.8T, here rated at 170 horsepower just like the Passat – although they’re not the same motor code, as obviously the mounting is transverse. Optional was also the ALH 1.9 liter TDi which could return an honest 50 mpg and be mated to a manual (both not really options in the Passat diesel) and for a touch more sport you could kick up to the GLX model, which gave you the 12 valve 2.8 liter VR6 rated at 174 horsepower and 181 lb.ft of torque.
So there were a lot of options in the Mk.4 Variant’s trick bag, but they’re somewhat hard to find in clean, original condition. Today I came across a 1.8T model that just like Monday’s 300TE is a a rather boring color combination, but one that’s exciting to see in this condition today:
One of the reasons that I felt the B4 Passat I just looked at wasn’t a great deal was that there are just a lot of other great models you can get for less. Case in point, today’s 2004 B5.5 1.8T 4Motion Variant 5-speed. Sure, you loose the great growl of the VR6 – but what you gain far outstrips that auditory shortcoming.
Produced only for the 2004-2005 model year, Volkswagen linked the 4Motion all-wheel drive borrowed from Audi to the AWM 1.8T. Rated at 170 horsepower, it was down a few ponies on the 30V V6 GLX 4Motion that preceded it. But while the GLX focused on luxury and was only offered with the Tiptronic transmission (unless you stepped up to the W8), you could opt for the 5-speed manual with the 1.8T. It was something few people did; a scant 2,333 manuals were sold in North America, with just 657 of those being wagons. 516 made it to the United States, and this is one of 16 Stonehenge Gray over Anthracite leatherette 2004s originally sold:
You could be forgiven for thinking that the VAG 1.8 liter turbocharged motor was the go-to motor for the company in the late 90s and early 00s. It appeared nearly everywhere in the U.S.; the Golf, Jetta, GTI, GLI, Passat, Beetle, Audi A4 and Audi TT all received the forced-induction unit. And that was just in the U.S.; go to Europe, and you’d find many more models (the A6 and Sharan) and even other companies (VAG’s Skoda and SEAT) with the venerable motor. They were used in race series like Formula Palmer as well. You’d also be forgiven for thinking they were all the same – however, a pause for thought would tell you they couldn’t be. First off, there were the drive train configurations; the Golf-based variants have their engines mounted transversely, while the Audi A4-based cars have them longitudinally. Then there is the output that was available from the factory; the 1.8T started with 150 horsepower in the early 1990s and ended with 240 horsepower in the highest output TT Sport. The natural assumption would be to think they had just turned up the boost, but in fact there were a host of changes to the higher horsepower motors to help sustain the increased pressure.
There are, in fact, no less than 13 distinct versions of the 1.8T from that generation. All shared the same basic structure; cast iron block, 20 valve head with a single turbocharger; but details including injection, crank, computers and engine management and breather systems vary in between each of the models. The Audi TT was the only one to offer various engine outputs here; available in either 180 horsepower or 225 horsepower versions, the later of which was pared with a 6-speed manual and Haldex viscous-coupling all-wheel drive. Though heavy, they were nonetheless sprightly thanks to the turbocharged mill. I’ve said for some time now that I think these will eventually be more collectable as they were an important part of the development of the company, yet few remain in good shape. Were I going to get one, I’d opt for one of the 2002 special edition coupes; the ALMS edition, launched to celebrate the American Le Mans Series victory by Audi’s R8 race car. Available in two colors, Misano Red with extended Silver Nappa leather or Avus Silver Pearl with Brilliant Red Nappa leather, they were mostly an appearance package but also received special 18″ ‘Celebration’ alloys and were limited to 500 examples each:
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?
That a clean first generation TT still looks new some 15 years later is rather miraculous. Perhaps it points to a change in car designs; less revolution, more evolution. Consider for a moment that the TT concept (which went into production largely unchanged) toured the car show circuit in 1995 – only 6 years after the move to the 964 model by Porsche. Of course, it’s easy to see why Audi would only evolve the design of the TT. It was a hit off the bat, as pretty much everyone liked the snappy performance, the unique looks, the economic practicality of a 2+2 hatchback, the available all-wheel drive. So park a 2004 TT next to a 2014 TT, and though the design moved into a new decade, it didn’t change direction.
Because the TT has been ubiquitous over the past nearly twenty years in the marketplace, it’s often taken for granted that you can get one pretty much any time you want. News flash: you can get an air-cooled 911 of any variant, an E30 M3, a Bugatti EB110 – whatever – anytime you want, too. The difference? You and I can afford the TT.
For the last few years, Volkswagen has perpetually teased us with the hottest Clubsport and Clubsport S version of the GTI, promising they “may” come to the United States but never following through. While this is no doubt disappointing to the twelve people who actually would have bought them and the 1.8 million who claim on the internet they would if given the option, it follows a long tradition in German motoring of leaving the best of the breed in the homeland. When it came to the GTI, not only did we have to wait several years before we got the original hot Golf, but indeed it was a bit watered down and heavier when it did arrive. The same continued in the next two generations; more weight, less power. Both in the second and third generations we also lost out on supercharging, all-wheel drive and special body kits available in the European market.
Once again in 2001, a neat Golf was launched that – of course – wasn’t coming to the United States. But of all of the special editions that weren’t sold here, perhaps this one made the most sense to be excluded. It was called the 25th Anniversary Edition and you didn’t need to be good at math to realize that there was no GTI sold here 25 years before 2001. Since the “18 year Anniversary Edition” didn’t make much sense from a marketing perspective even in spite of Volkswagen’s continual spotty judgement in that regard, it was no surprise that it wasn’t offered. That was too bad, as it had a lowered suspension, better brakes, a bit more power, fantastic Recaro seats and the best looking BBS wheels fit to any Volkswagen, ever. Volkswagen enthusiasts in America drool inwardly and shouted openly, so in 2002 Volkswagen finally did bring the special edition here. Again, since “19th Anniversary” didn’t make any sense, we instead got the “337” Edition. This was, for all intents and purposes, an exact copy of the 25th Anniversary model, but instead the 337 referenced the internal project code for the original GTI. But they were quite limited, with only 1,250 sold in the U.S. and 250 sold in Canada. So, you probably missed out on your chance to own one, right? Well, wrong, because in 2003 Volkswagen re-released the 337 edition. Conveniently, there was now a round number that they could actually commemorate the GTI’s longevity with as it had been 20 years since the A1 GTI rolled out of Westmoreland. Again, it was a greatest hits edition; the 337 upgraded 12.3 inch vented brakes with go-faster red calipers carried over, as did the upgraded suspension. Though they sported different fabric, inside was the same Recaro interior with deep bolsters. The golf ball shift knob also returned, though it now was mated to a new 6-speed transmission (MQ350) which in turn were connected to R32 Aristo wheels in place of the BBS RCs. Deeper front and rear valances matched the previous two models, and the 20th AE got blacked headlights more similar to the 25th AE. The AWP 1.8T turbo’s boost was cranked up a bit, delivering 180 horsepower through the front wheels and tied to an electronic differential. A final homage to the original model were subtle rabbits adorning the rear and vintage inspired GTi badging. But the biggest change was that the 20th AE was available in three colors unlike the silver-only prior cars; Black Magic Pearl, Imola Yellow and Jazz Blue :
Update 2/17/19: It what’s probably no surprise to most, this A4 remains available with only a $500 price decrease to $9,300 now
A few of us sat baffled several months ago as we watched auction results come in. The model in question was the E46 330i – in particular, the “ZHP” performance package. The ZHP was basically halfway between the regular Sport package and the M3, utilizing unique body bits and wheels, a slightly hotter motor, and the transmission borrowed from its bigger brother. Your only option for a 4-door performance 3-series in this generation, not many bought the over-$40,000 price tag. What’s interesting is that while these cars were sold alongside the M3 for far less money when new, today they can actually command a premium over the real-deal M.
Case in point – a 33,000 mile Coupe traded for $26,000 earlier this year, and it wasn’t alone. It’s been labeled the “ZHP tax”. There are reasons why a proper ZHP brings M3 money, mind you – they’re cheaper to run and they’re quite a bit more rare than the M, especially in good shape. And BMW wasn’t alone offering them.
Audi, too, had a “Diet S4”. Dubbed the Ultrasport Package, for $3,000 it included RS-inspired “Celebration” 18″ wheels with summer tires, the lowered 1BE suspension that was part of the normal Sport package, a unique quattro GmbH/Votex body kit, and a nicely wrapped leather steering wheel and shift knob. It also limited your interior option to black, and a fair chunk of them appear in Light Silver Metallic – also a popular choice on the S4. Unlike the 330i, the USP A4’s engine choices weren’t upgraded, but you did at least have two – the AWM 1.8T rated at 170 horsepower, or the AVK 3.0 30V V6 good for 220 horsepower. Both were available with choice of 6-speed manual (*5-speed for the FWD models) or automatic, and the basic 1.8T model was about $10,000 less than the 330i. While there was no convertible/coupe USP to compare to the 330i, Audi maintained its trump card on sporty wagons. Just like the ZHP, today the USP A4s command a strong premium in the used market, especially as Avants:
Update 9/26/18: This A4 Avant sold for $6,986.
Even though for my the B5 chassis A4 was the beginning of the dilution of the Audi brand, I admit I have always had a soft spot for nice examples. And the first A4 had plenty of things to celebrate. First off, it effectively saved and resurrected the brand in the U.S. from near extinction; consider for a moment Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars in 1995, the same year that the A4 was introduced as a 1996. By 1997, Audi sold 16,333 of just the A4 quattro model alone. As a success, that subsequently meant that there were a plethora of options to be had in the new chassis as production opened up. Soon we had the 1.8T turbo model joining the V6, the V6 was soon revised to have 30 valves, there was a light refresh in ’98 as well and another in ’01, the Avant joined the lineup for ’98, and of course we got a new S4 in 2000.
Considering that for some time there had only been one way per a year to get the small chassis in quattro form, this relatively dizzying array of chassis configurations meant that there are still quite a few nice ones out there to be had. But unlike other cars that have skyrocketing asking prices, a very clean B5 quattro can still be had for a song:
Although I’ve espoused my love of wagons and their do-everything nature, the reality is that I live in the suburbs and there are certainly some times (read: pretty often, actually) that I could use a pickup truck. But, if I’m completely honest, I’ve previously owned a big Chevrolet 2500HD pickup and I’m still not convinced that I’m a pickup kind of guy. Worse still, have you priced a pickup out lately? HOLY MACKEREL. A base Silverado starts at almost $30,000 and if you want things like…seats, and/or wheels, you’ll quickly need more than $40,000. When I see $40,000 asks on a pickup which a) I know will be rusting in 5 years no matter what I do and b) because it’s a GM, will almost certainly break, I get pretty annoyed. Worse still, the “Heartbeat of America” isn’t built in America. I know. I live right by the port where they all come in on a boat. Beside the steady stream of Fiats, Volkswagens, Porsches and Alfa Romeos, there’s a long line of Chevrolet and GMC pickups being driven into the United States for the first time.
So how about a pickup that’s a bit more my speed? Built in America with tons of European flare by utilizing recycled Audi/Volkswagen products, there’s always the Smyth Pickup: