Continuing in my theme of the ultimate Audi garage, this post is going to seem a little strange. That’s because if I was going to pick an Audi sedan to collect, the second generation S4 would be pretty low on the priority list. In fact, I’m not sure it would make the top five. Without a doubt the D2 S8, the B7 RS4, the C4 S4/6, the D11 V8 quattro 5-speed, and the 4000CS quattro would all make it higher on the list.
It’s not that the B5 S4 isn’t compelling, with the twin-turbocharged V6 cranking 250 horsepower through a 6-speed manual. Barring the RS4 listed above, a box-stock B5 S4 will outperform everything else on that list in virtually every test. It’s just that the B5 S4 is a lot more desirable when presented as an Avant. So why is this sedan here? A few reasons. First, it’s Nogaro Blue Pearl Effect, and that should get a pass every time. Beyond that, it’s pretty clean, it’s got the unusual but pretty light Silver leather interior, it’s all stock, and it’s a manual. But as an added bonus, it’s also no reserve:
Perhaps one reason that the S6 Avant didn’t really take of on U.S. shores was because of the shoes it had to fill. Enthusiasts had enjoyed the B5 S4 in Avant form for a few years, and consequently as a popular model when the B6 launched it was almost sure to make a return, almost certain to have more power, and almost certain to be available in a manual. Those premonitions came true, and so if you were willing to wait two years between the B5 and B6 S4 Avant production you were rewarded with the 4.2 liter V8 mated to a manual and even more sporty feel. For lovers of fast Audi wagons, the S4 was the answer to the things that the S6 wasn’t.
But as time has gone on, the “OMG it’s got a V8 and a manual!!!” shine of the B6 has waned slightly as long-term problems have reared their heads with the powertrain. Like the Allroad and S6, those problems are probably overstated by the “‘Exaggernet’, but they nonetheless exist. So while the B5 to B6 represented a huge jump in power, there are quite a few fans of the older generation still. That grunt deficit is easily overcome with the twin-turbocharged V6, as well, thanks to clever tuning potential. Like the B6, you could of course have the B5 with a manual. And, in some wild colors:
The takeaway from yesterday’s twin Baltic Blue 944S2s was that, while the model is generally a good bet for collectors, neither of the examples was a stellar buy. But they’re not alone; even though I’ll continue to argue that they’re undervalued relative to what they are, the reality is that many come to market with price tags that are just too high. Even though sellers’ ‘whataboutme’ attitude towards the model is arguably justified, the asking prices usually aren’t.
Yet today we’re looking at another 944. And not a top tier one at that – generally speaking, this particular model is the least appealing of the end of the run. It’s the last-year 8-valve motor, so you can imagine that if the 944S2 was overshadowed by the Turbo, this model was positively left in the dark. You got early 944 appearances with the slightly punched-out 2.7 liter inline-4. That gave you a bump to 162 horsepower, up from 158 in the high-compression 2.5 from the previous year. That didn’t sound like much, but with revised gear ratios and a healthy bump in torque, these ’89s are claimed to be the quickest of the 8V normally aspirated run. But without a “S”, “S2”, or “Turbo” script adorning its rear, and with the 924S gone to greener second-hand dealers, the regular old 944 assumed the position at the very bottom of the totem pole in the Porsche lineup.
So why buy it?
Simple. Price. It’s very easy to forget just how darn expensive Porsches were in the late 80s – even the 4-cylinder ones. That was why the 924S was so appealing. Sure, it wasn’t the glitziest Porsche out there. But it was also the only one you could buy new in the $20,000 range. By 1989? If you wanted a Turbo, you’d pay the best part of $45,000 delivered. The S2 wasn’t much better, ringing in at registers as $42,000. So it’s there that you can start to see the appeal of the base model, which had most of the look of the higher-spec models but could be yours for $33,000. Today? It’s the same deal:
My recent coverage of the 5-series BMWs seems timely. Just last week, I looked at a 1982 BMW 528e. Since it’s been so short a time, I won’t reiterate the major highlights of the model again – click HERE if you’d like to read those details. So why look at what many consider the least excited E28 so quickly again?
Well, in part it’s because of what occurred this past weekend. If you weren’t paying attention, a stellar 1988 BMW 535i came up on Bring a Trailer. It was probably the most impressive older 5-series I’ve seen in a long time. So it was expected to bring pretty big numbers when the auction closed, and like looking through the picture gallery, it didn’t fail to disappoint. The final bid was $50,000 – unfathomable to this point for most of the E28 lineup.
Admittedly, the example I have today isn’t as nice. But it shares many things in common. First, it’s not a top-flight model, though again the Eta motor isn’t what many would prefer. So what does it have going for it?
It’s easy when considering BMW’s venerable E28 lineup to skip over most of the production and focus in on two models – the M5 and the M535i/535is. In fact, without intention to do so I think that’s what we’ve done over the past few years. They were the sports sedans that established the benchmark by which all others are judged, notoriously long-lived and arguably still very good value in the used classic BMW market.
Despite that, in the 1980s it was not the M30-equipped E28 that was the most popular. The 533 and 535 models combined for a total of about 34,000 sales in the U.S.. Add in the M5 and you’ve just crested 35,000. In comparison, it was the relatively uninspired 528e that was the sales force for the 5 over the model run. Between 1982 and 1988, BMW dealers sold more than double the amount of 3.2- and 3.4-equipped 5s with the 528e. Just shy of 80,000 of the lowest-spec model made it here, all equipped with what BMW hoped would be the most efficient inline-6 they could produced. The 2.7 liter M20 was de-tuned and strangled to produced just 121 horsepower and a diesel-inspired rev-range. This was achieved by making the stroke longer and installing smaller valves.
Coupled with catalytic converters, the result was a car which met CARB requirements but failed to really excite. 0-60 was a lackadaisical 11.2 seconds. The later ‘Super Eta’ engine added a few more horses but only came at the very end of the run. Yet BMW didn’t want this to be a drag racer; they wanted to make an efficient driver. As a result, the Eta-equipped models had good usable torque down low yet still returned over 20 m.p.g. on the highway. It cost about $30,000 for a modestly equipped model. What was interesting was that BMW sold most of them equipped with the ZF 3HP22 automatic, sapping some of the fuel economy the car was intended to produce and even more performance.
Despite being the most popular model when new, the Eta is generally considered to be the least desirable model for enthusiasts and many have died in junkyards. But once in a while a nice one pops up and is worth a look:
While the C6 RS6 Avant and B7 RS4 Avant have been nice to dream about, the reality is that both are pretty unlikely in the near future to be making the trip ‘across the pond’ anytime soon. So let’s consider something which both could, and might.
The B5 RS4 was a legend right when it launched, but for some reason it seems overlooked in the marketplace today. Not as exotic as the RS2, nor as fast as the newer crew of turbocharged Audis, the B5 generation somehow feels lost. It doesn’t help that it was insanely popular to mimic the model’s gaping grills and signature widened flares here, nor that the RS4 engine upgrades are fairly common among enthusiasts. But when you see a real RS4, it’s easy to see why this car was so highly regarded at the time.
First, it’s a very sharp looking car. Nogaro Blue was the defining color for fast Audis in this period, but boy does Imola Yellow stand out. The stance, wheels, flares and bumper covers along with more pronounced exhaust all pull together to make the RS4 feel much more special than a normal S4 Avant. And with 375 horsepower on tap from the Cosworth-developed version of the 2.7 liter twin-turbo V6, it’s not exactly like the B5 RS4 was pokey. In fact, the power-to-weight and performance is nearly identical to the later B7 RS4.
Circuit Paul Armagnac probably isn’t a name which is familiar with you. It’s not even a particularly famous race track, if I’m honest. But the city where that track is located will be suddenly make sense in the context of this post – Nogaro, France. It was the name of that small city in Southwestern France that was made famous when it replaced the moniker “RS Blue” in Audi’s go-faster lineup. The result was a color synonymous with speed, though few fans of the shade know the origination of the name. Blue was, of course, the racing color of France, so in a departure from the typical country-color orientation, Audi popped the obscure name onto its purpley-blue missiles starting with the B5.
That the tone had previously been assigned only to Audi’s skunkwork quattro GmbH (recently renamed Audi Sport) S6 Plus and RS2 was an indication of the sporting potential of the new S4. Power came from not one, but two KKK turbochargers feeding a 250 horsepower 2.7 liter V6. That power was delivered via a 6-speed manual transmission through all four wheels utilizing a center Torsen differential and rear electronic locking unit. Though the new S4 was neither the first fast Audi nor the first to wear the “S4” badge, it was a departure in that it was the company’s first attempt to really take on the M3 head-to-head. It was comfortable, quiet, and quick in all conditions, and while it may not have been a huge threat to BMWs on the track, in the real world the S4 was arguably a superior car:
It’s funny how priorities change. A decade ago, I would not have given a second look to a 528e. Growing up with a E28 M5 in the garage created both an appreciation for the E28 and the dichotomous dismissal of lower range vehicles. Sure, the M5-look 535is was cool, and alongside the M5 we even had a very nice ’85 535i that was a pretty good driver. But below that? No, I seldom gave the 533i, 528e or even 524td a second look on the road. Today, though? Even if it’s not a performance car by most standards, a survivor 528e is certainly worth a second look:
In a post I wrote for The Truth About Cars this past week, I covered a few E30 models that offer affordable and interesting visual and performance alternatives to the E30 M3. One of those models was the Baur TC2, the model which gave BMW a soft-top before BMW made its own in 1985. Of course, the E30 wasn’t Baur’s first foray into convertible 3-series models, though, as they had started with the E21 model. Baur only produced a little less than half the amount of E21s – 4,595 according to Petrolicious – as they did E30 models at over 11,000, but as importation of early 1980s cars was easier, it seems more common to see the E21 Baur than the E30 Baur. Though fitted as standard with no performance upgrades, this unique 1982 example remedies that with a turbocharged M20:
$65,000 for an E36? “Bullsh*t!“, most of you are probably saying. That money should be reserved for true classics or brand new models. Heck, you can get a perfect condition, lightly used M4 for $65,000 even in a cool color. But anyone can walk down to a dealer and get a brand new car. You’re an enthusiast, which means you enjoy the purgatory of older car ownership. Few of your non-automobile related friends understand why you like old, smelly, slow, uncomfortable, often in need of repair hunks of metal and plastic. “It’s just a car”, they say. But it’s not just a car to you – it’s an identity, a feeling, a Joie de vivre those who don’t know will never have. It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand, because you understand. So you take that $65,000 that you could have spent on a brand new, ultra-flash and ultra-fast M4 but you don’t spend it on an ultra-obscure two decade-old E36, because they’re not worth that much – obviously. No, you instead spend it on a sure thing, a car that isn’t a flash in the pan, a recession-proof investment-grade BMW like….an E30?