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:
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:
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?
Though the E3 had offered a sizeable sedan, the replacement E23 really stretched BMW’s platforms. The new 7-seres was 6 inches longer overall, most of which fell in a longer wheelbase versus the E3. It was also wider by a few inches and lower, too. Paul Bracq again provided the styling and it was nothing surprising; it carried the torch of many of the design elements of the 3-, 5- and 6-series cars, and that certainly wasn’t a bad thing. But what BMW hoped would help to set it apart from the competition was technology and performance, along with a high-level of material quality in the cabin. Options included Buffalo leather, an on-board computer system, anti-lock brakes, heated and reclining power seats front and rear, and even an airbag late in the run; standard fare today, but way ahead of the curve in the late 1970s and early 1980s. BMW matched this technology with a thoroughly modern driver-oriented cockpit which made the W116 Mercedes-Benz competition feel immediately antiquated.
E23s are hard to come by today but generally affordable, certainly in the context of current 80s BMW pricing. And though only a 733i, this one has some uniqueness to help it stand apart, too: