1998 Audi Cabriolet

Looking for a performance car? This isn’t it. It’s also about as far from a classic Audi as you could get in the U.S. market; there was no turbo, no inline-5, no manual and no quattro drivetrain. But the B4 Audi Cabriolet was ironically the last 1980s holdover for the company, and it survived until somewhat amazingly 1998 here, with the basic chassis construction from 1985. To the end, it remained a competent and handsome convertible, a conservative alternative to the more expensive Mercedes-Benz drop-tops and the flashier BMWs. The Cabriolet really only came in one configuration here, with the 2.8 liter V6 linked to the 4-speed automatic driving the front wheels. On the fly, this was a fine setup and certainly potent enough to rustle your hair, though it was far from lighting it on fire. Pricing at the end of the run was surprisingly high at $34,600 base price. Added to that were the packages many came with for the 1998 model year; Premium Package added a power roof, burled walnut wood trim; Kodiac leather seat upholstery, remote locking and alarm. Ironically for the convertible, the “All Weather Package” added heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, and heated door locks. Also optional for the end of the run were the Votex Competition 16″ 6-spoke alloy wheels and even high backed sport seats; both (especially the latter) are very rare. Today the market ignores these last B4s, and often they can be had for a song:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 Audi Cabriolet on eBay

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1997 Audi Cabriolet

The Audi Cabriolet might be the least popular modern Audi made in the used market. Considering the number of unpopular, or at least notoriously unreliable (correctly or incorrectly) Audis out there, that’s saying something. For one, I think it’s unjust, but I think it’s understandable. First off, the B4 Cabriolet only came to the U.S. with one engine configuration; the venerable 2.8 V6. That’s not much of a surprise, though, since nearly every Audi sold between 1993 and 1997 had that motor. But there was no all-wheel drive option, unlike the two models that replaced it (The B6 cabriolet and the TT cabriolet) – nor was there a manual option, which at very least was available in the sportier TT. On top of that, the B4 chassis was quite old by 1995, and Audi decided to retire it. Though refreshed in 1992, it was ostensibly the same chassis that had been introduced in late 1986 in Europe with the B3. Despite that, and the introduction of the new B5 A4 model in 1996, Audi had the B4 Cabriolet soldier on until 1998 in the U.S. market. As such, it’s often discounted as a soft, unreliable and old package when there were newer, flashier – and importantly for some, faster options such as the BMW M3 convertible. Yet, every time I see an Audi Cabriolet, I can’t help but stare a bit. Just like the Audi 90CS quattro Sport I wrote up a few weeks ago, it’s a lovely design; handsome and striking, yet understated and special looking. That was especially true of the late run Cabriolets with the optional 16″ Speedline-made “Competition” wheels. Add the optional and additional cost Pearlescent White Metallic and select the Wine Red interior, and this is a rare – and classy – package on a budget:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Audi Cabriolet on eBay

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1991 Audi 80 quattro RS2-spec

In the realm of German cars, Audi seems to be the unappreciated marque when you go back a few generations. But even then, amongst the leper colony of Audi products that no one wants, the Audi 80 quattro is close to King. I say close to King, because truth be told I think there are even less appreciated products from this time – the front drive Audi 100, for example. But go to 1991, and within Audi all enthusiasts are generally interested in is the 200 20V quattro, the Coupe quattro, and occasionally someone will mention the V8 quattro 5-speed. The 80 quattro, though, was one of the smartest options if you wanted a robust, small all-wheel drive sedan. True, the switch from B2 to B3 gained a fair amount of weight and not much more power from the NG 2.3 liter inline-5. It felt, if anything, a bit slower off the line than the 4000 quattro had been – a car not noted for it’s straight line dominance. But its unpopularity ironically made it quite popular as a tuning platform; after all, it does share some DNA with the much loved RS2. In this case, the builder of this car has thoroughly upgraded this B3 to new levels of power and performance:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Audi 80 quattro on Classic-Audi.co.uk

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1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Competition

When I think of cars that moved along the art of the automobile, a few come to mind. The original Mini. The Citroën DS. The Audi Ur Quattro. And this car, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. A road going race car for the street, the 300SL was the brainchild of importer Max Hoffman, to bring the power of the W194 300SL to the street. Beautiful as it was, the car did have its compromises, most notably the high door sills, necessitated by the shape of the space frame underneath. Only 1,400 Gullwings were built over the course of four years. There was even a more special, alloy bodied version of the Gullwing, known as the Competition. Only 29 of these harder edged 300SLs were built and they don’t come up for sale. When they do, rest assured a princely sum of money will exchange hands. This 300SL for sale in California doesn’t have the alloy body, but documentation shows that it was originally built with the Competition engine, Competition suspension, wider Rudge knock-off wheels and Competition tires.

Year: 1956
Model: 300SL
Engine: 3.0 liter inline six
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Mileage: 450 mi
Price: $1,495,000

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Competition on Hemmings Motor News

One of a handful of “In-House/Factory-Prepared” competition 300SLs built. Assembled and tested repeatedly by the Mercedes Benz Factory in the December of 1955 and then shipped new by truck to Switzerland, February 13th, 1956. The only document released publicly by the Mercedes Factory on this 300SL is the finally assembly record or “data card.” It identifies in addition to many other specific details that this particular example was built with: -Competition “NSL” Engine -Competition Suspension -Competition Wider SLR type Rudge Racing Wheels -Competition Racing Tires. The engine uses dual-point ignition, revised ignition and cam timing and a different fuel-injection metering unit and internal governor which allows the engine to produce 250bhp rather than the standard 215bhp of the regular production 300SL. Lighter weight is acheived thoughout the car as with the use of an alloy starter motor rather than steel. Visually in addition to the obviosly wider SLR wheels is the use of an 8,000rpm tachometer and corresponding 270kph odometer.

What happened after being completed and leaving the Mercedes Benz Factory is one of the greatest mysteries we have ever encountered. The car was built for endurance racing as confirmed by the Mercedes Factory on multiple occasions going back to the early 1970s but without identifying individual drivers and specific races. Nothing is known at this time about where this 300SL raced and by whom until it surfaced four years later in an old race shop in Rome, Italy. It remained stored there as last raced until the mid-1960s when an up and coming Italian/American actor named Anthony Russel discovered her by chance and purchased her. He did not know anything other than it was an old race car and he felt it fit his image and would help his acting career to be seen in such a car. Russel had professional still photos taken circa 1964/65 by the famed Renaldo Tridici Studio in the beautiful Borghese Gardens of Rome, one of these photos still exists to this day accompanies the car upon its sale. Russel never raced the car but did have problems finding replacement tires as they were were wider competition versions whic were not easy to come by in Italy. The car also required high-octane, premium fuel which was still not easy to obtain in much of Italy at the time.

In the late 1960s Russel returend to the States and moved along with his 300SL to Beverly Hills, California where he took up acting again. He did not have the success he had hoped for and this Mercedes was sold to the aspiring collector, Ron Kellogg in 1969. Kellogg was the first to correspond with the Mercedes Factory about the car and was told it was an endurance racer but without specific reference to drivers or particular events. Kellogg believed it to be a Mille Miglia veteran but could never find supporting documentation. He sold the car to then 300SL International Group President, Mitch Leland in 1971. Leland not long after began a decade plus long restoration of the car with Scott Grundfor. It did not start out as a restoration according to Leland but a simple service and oil change at Scott’s. The car however remained there on and off again over the next eleven years undergoing what was at the point the most comprehensive restoration ever undertaken on such a vehicle. The engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes were all rebuild by legendary 300SL Racer, Don Ricardo and now known to be the last examples that he completed as a matched set.

Upon completion of the work, a very well know poster was made of this 300SL and it was sold for many years commercially through Mercedes Benz’s Franchised dealers. In the mid-1980s to commemorate the centenary celebration of Mercedes Benz, Pop Artist Andy Warhol was commissioned to do a series on the 300SL Gullwing. His work was based on Leland’s original poster which Mercedes provided to Warhol rather than having to provide him with an actual vehicle to have to work with. Print copies of several different versions of Warhol’s work can be obtained easily today with copies almost always available on Ebay. Not long after the restoration was completed, Scott approached Leland with an offer he could not refuse and the car was shipped to Tokyo, Japan were it joined the very private and secretive HATA Collection. After more than twenty years in storage and nearly forgotten to the world, we acquired this incredible machine. Have no doubt, this is without exception one of the most important non-alloy bodied, full-competion 300SL Gullwings in existence.

Last year, an alloy bodied Gullwing sold at Gooding & Company for a record price of $4.62 million, including auction fees. If this was an alloy bodied SL, you would be looking at a $2 to $3 million car here, at least. Your garden variety Gullwings are pulling anywhere between $700,000 to $1,000,000 these days, so I would say the asking price here is just about realistic, given the history and that you are getting some exclusive features to set this car apart from the rest of the Gullwings out there.

-Paul