Back to wagons!
Today’s example is another fan-favorite model, of which it seems surprisingly hard to find a great example. The E39 continued and expanded the 5-series wagon’s popularity by bringing bigger wheels, more power and updated looks to the mid-range Audi-challenger. Like the first generation, these were only available in rear-wheel drive in the U.S., so matching the all-wheel drive variants available from…well, everyone else, required a very good looking and potent package. BMW pulled that off, with the Sport versions of both the 528i and 540i Tourings thoroughly encapsulating the ethos of the great Euro wagons.
But there was a catch.
If you wanted a manual gearbox, you had to select the lower output 528i model. For all its shouty V8-ness, the 282 horsepower 4.4 liter M62-equipped 540i only came with BMW’s Steptronic if you needed to haul ass and a family. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a few enterprising individuals from combining the manual from the sedan with the more desirable wagon:
Update 5/28/18 – further price reduction from $14,950 to $12,995.
Update 3/23/18 – The asking price of this 540i has dropped from $15,995 in November to $14,950.
By the early 1990s, even though the S38 was an incredible engine there was no denying that it was from another era. BMW’s new lineup of V8s – all-aluminum, quad-cam units were cheaper and easier to build, run and nearly as powerful – especially so in everyday use. As a result, BMW phased the S38 M5 out of production for the North American market. Yet there were still cadres of M-devotees who wanted to fly the 5-series flag here. The result was two special models for Canada and the U.S..
The more rare of the two was the Canadian market M540i. For all intents and purposes, it was a European-specification M5 without the inline-6 – they even moved production of them from Dingolfing to M’s home base of Garching. In total, they built 32 of them – making them one of the least-frequently seen M products out there. It’s no surprise that it’s been quite a while since we last saw one for sale.
The U.S. market got a slightly de-tuned version of the M540i. Known as the 540i M-Sport, unlike the M540i it was available as either a manual or automatic and didn’t carry quite as much M-content as the Canadian car. But you did get M5 looks, M5 suspension and M5 wheels – in this case, the M-system II “Throwing Stars” found on later U.S. production cars opposed to the M-Parallels found on the M540i. They were also not finished at Garching, but alongside normal E34 production. A reported total of 205 were produced for the U.S. market and we last saw one about a year ago.
So when today’s car popped into my recent searches, I was immediately pretty excited as it appeared at first glance to be one of the elusive examples of the M-Sport. And it was certainly priced like one, as asks are usually in M5-territory. But was it love at first sight?
If the minor nomenclature differences between what constitutes a BMW with sport items, a Sport model, and a M-Sport model can be confusing, the ordering of model designation in Audi’s TT lineup is downright infuriating. Technically, I think the correct order for the model is as shown above – Audi TT Coupe 225 quattro ALMS Edition.
And here’s the trick. First you needed to differentiate if you ordered a Coupe or Roadster. In 2002, you could get a front-drive coupe with the 180 horsepower engine, and you could also get the 180 horsepower motor with optional Haldex quattro all-wheel drive. But if you selected a Roadster, you couldn’t get a 180 quattro. Now, if you went for the upgraded 225 horsepower motor, you automatically got quattro – there was no front-drive option. That makes the “quattro” moniker after any 225 model redundant. Even more redundant in this case is the “Coupe” moniker, because if you opted for the ALMS appearance package in the 2002 model year, the hardtop was your only choice. So if you referred to this as a TT ALMS – as many do – the rest would follow – you’ve got by default a 6-speed manual 225 horsepower quattro Coupe. For many, this makes the ALMS one of the most desirable 8N TTs, and the limited run of 1,000 examples in either Misano Red Pearl with Silver Gray Nappa leather or, as show here Avus Silver Pearl with contrasting Brilliant Red Leather tends to command a premium over other examples of the first-gen Golf-based model:
My recent M5 v. Alpina B10 post took a look at two exotic versions of the E34. Of course, BMW offered their own alternative to the M5 late in the production cycle, as the introduction of the M60 V8-powered 540i produced nearly as much usable power as the more expensive M variant. Such was the success of the 540i that BMW initially judged the M5 dead in this market; it was removed from the U.S. in 1993 after slow sales and wouldn’t return until the new millennium.
As a result, the 540i flew the 5-series performance flag for two generations and still is very popular today. Especially in Sport versions, the E34 and E39 540is offered power, refinement and outstanding chassis dynamics in a package that was attainable for more people. So which is the better buy today – the first or second generation?
At the beginning of the 1990s, pretty much everyone was stepping away from twin-cam inline-4s. While they had been the rage in the 80s and “DOHC” was nearly as popular as Miami Vice, buyers demanded more power and refinement. Sure, you could make 200 horsepower from a high-strung four-pot; but making it tractable for daily driving, passing emissions, and reliable? That was another ball-game. As a result, most major manufacturers went to larger displacement 6- or 8-cylinder motors in their small performance cars.
Everyone, that is, except for Porsche.
Porsche dialed in the 944S2 a bit more with updated 928-inspired looks and a new ‘VarioCam’ adjustable valve timing on the 3-liter inline-4. Now with 237 horsepower and an impressive 225 lb.ft of torque, it roamed the sports car elite field like a small dinosaur. Porsche added another speed to the mix, but since this was a relatively expensive 4-banger coupe based on a twenty year old design, they didn’t sell particularly well. A total of 2,234 Coupes were imported between 1992 and 1995; the last year was the worst seller, with a scant 259 making the journey. This particular last-year example may just be the best one left in the country:
With the news that in a short twenty-three years Britain plans on no longer having internal combustion engines for sale, I was struck with the idea of a theme week. We haven’t done one in a while, but what about looking at some of the cars that are available in England that won’t be welcome there soon, but would be right at home in my driveway? Sure, they’ll mostly be right hand drive, but I’ve done it before and for the price of some of these cars I’d be happy to offer them sanctuary when they’re no longer register-able in Great Britain.
With that in mind, I’ll start with what is likely top of my list – the Audi S2 Avant. I know, I know – most enthusiasts pine over the much more legendary, quicker and more rare RS2. But there are a few reasons for me to like the S2 even more. When I lived in England, there was a Cyclamen example that parked near my flat. I ran by it often, and even had a few daydreams as training miles passed under foot that I’d be rowing through the gears. So, it is with a bit of nostalgia that I view them every time. Next, I like the look more. The gaping guppy look of the RS2 became signature for the RS models moving forward, but the S2 is very handsome in a classic Audi way without being as shouty. But most of all, it’s the price. While RS2s are still treading in the $40-$100,000 range for decent examples, a very nice S2 Avant can be had for only a fraction of that amount:
On its way out of production, Audi graced the ageing B7 with one last parting piece of performance. The RS4 Cabriolet was announced in late 2007 as a 2008-only model and ripped the top of of Ingolstadt’s signature small super sedan. Like the rest of the A4 Cabriolet production, it was soft-top only, 2-door only configuration, and like the RS4, it was 6-speed manual only. Under the hood lay the same BNS 4.2 32 valve V8; Audi dropped the 5 valve technology for the RS4 application, but gained quite a bit of horsepower in the process. Though the engine shared basic construction with the normal S4 V8, it had a unique crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons, cylinder heads and valvetrain, oil and cooling system, intake and exhaust system, and engine management system. Audi also introduced their Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI) system. The result was 420 high-revving horsepower and enough noise to make Pavarotti jealous.
Although the RS4 Cabriolet shared the revised T3 Torsen setup, Dynamic Ride Control and huge 14″ front brakes as the sedan, Audi’s focus for the model was exclusivity rather than sport. The model was fully loaded with only one option – color – and came to market at a substantial $15,000 premium over the 4-door. Only 300 were sold with a sticker price of about $84,500:
Seriously, what’s the deal? Almost immediately after completing expensive 6-speed manual swaps, both S6 and S8s come up for sale. Today’s example, having covered about 9,000 miles since its swap, might be one of the most traveled examples with a manual swap that I’ve seen. Are the results not what people were expecting? That the manual was combined with the S4’s similar V8 in a package that many enthusiasts love would tend to be an indication that the output of this equation should be quite good. Yet, it’s frankly not all that uncommon to run across a manual swapped C5 or D2 that, after several thousand dollars worth of work and programming, is now up for sale. There’s even one near me for under $4,000 – complete!
So what do you think the deal is?
The New Beetle isn’t a car which often featured on these pages. In fact, I can only find three times since we’ve started this site that they’ve come up. Considering that we’ve written up about 1,200 M3s in that same time period, I guess our stance on the Golf-based image car is pretty clear. However, the bones of the New Beetle aren’t really all that bad; based on the Mk.4 chassis, there are plenty of parts available and they’re cheap to buy. They offer a pretty practical hatchback package with some additional style. And, in turbocharged 1.8T form, they even offered a sporty ride.
Introduced in 2002, the Turbo S turned that package up a notch with help from the GTI. Underneath, the AWP-code 1.8T was rated at 180 horsepower at 11.6 lbs of boost, and had matching 173 lb.ft of torque. The transversely-mounted power was channeled through the same 6-speed manual you’d find in VW’s hot hatch and no automatic was available. Volkswagen outfit these cars with standard stability control and loaded them up with Monsoon sound, sunroof, active aerodynamics, leather, aluminum trim, power accessories and keyless entry. They also got special white and black gauges inside and a more pronounced twin-tip exhaust, along with fog lights integrated into new bumper covers. To help manage the speed, Volkswagen’s 1BE lower and stiffer suspension package was fit, along with BBS-made “Delta X” 17″ wheels with 225-45-17 tires. The package was pricey, at nearly $24,000 in 2002 – a not unsubstantial amount, considering that money would get you into the much nicer chassis of the Passat in wagon form at the same time. Unlike the pastel-toned entry colors of the New Beetle, the Turbo S was only available in Black, Silver, Platinum or Red with a total of 5,000 produced. Volkswagen hoped that these sporty changes would re-character the model which had primarily appealed in only one sexual demographic. Did it work?
The S4 Avant is no stranger to these pages, offering enthusiasts a “have-your-cake-and-throw-it-squarely-at-that-M3-owner’s-face-too” package which combined functionality and sport in a very discrete wrapper. Well, for the most part they were discrete; most were ordered in shades of gray because a fair amount of people ponying up new were conservative with everything but the money they were paying for this small executive wagon. Lightly optioned, an S4 Avant was north of $50,000 in 2004, a price today that would having you knocking on the A7 and S6’s base price. That sticker shock masks that the B6 and B7 represented a huge price increase over the B5 generation; out the door, the cost on average about 20% – 30% more only 3 years later – but then, they offered a full 90 horsepower advantage over the twin-turbocharged V6 with that awesome 4.2 V8, which of course could still be combined with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Subtle though the exterior colors may be, the performance on tap was anything but.
But some enterprising individuals chose the vivid colors which had become the signature of the model in B5 form. Nogaro Blue Pearl Effect was, of course, the go-to for all things fast Audi since it was originally called RS Blue on the original super Avant RS2. But a nearly equal amount were requested in Imola Yellow, a staggering, retina-burning banana-toned shade that seems initially out of character with a family wagon, yet raises the cool-bus level to 11. Though Nogaro was replaced in the B7 chassis refresh with Sprint Blue Pearl Effect, Imola carried over for the end of the V8s.
Today, I have one of each – so which is your style?