I recently said goodbye to one of the cars in my fleet, a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 240D, that I maintained and cared for since 2016. It was a charming and very satisfyingly car that I’m glad I got to experience, but a prime example it was not. While it was finished in the lovely shade of Labrador Blue with a navy MB-Tex interior, it did have nearly 300,000 miles on the odometer. That meant various dings on every panel, rust scabs in all the wrong places, some suspiciously different-colored body panels, and a non-working air conditioning system. If all that was working, it would be a car to keep nearly forever and enjoy, but it just required too much effort considering the list. If I could buy a perfect example, sure, but at what cost? It still only had 68 horsepower when new and was right on the limit of being dangerously slow while trying to merge on the highways and climb long hills. Well, today we do have a nearly perfect example. But it comes at a very steep cost, as you might have guessed.
Back in 2020 I took a look at an oddball – the 1990 Bertone Freeclimber – which was on this page solely because of the power plant. In that case, it was BMW’s relatively unloved M21 turbodiesel inline-six. That engine also found its way into the weirdly cool Vixen motor home and a Lincoln Continental, and when unloved there, the BMW 524td there. But in Europe, you had the option to install it on your E30, as well! Only in this case, it didn’t have the turbocharger. Dubbed the 324d, it was available from 1984 to 1990 and…you guessed it….relatively unpopular. Perhaps that’s because it was the least powerful E30 option, and it was only offered as a sedan. 0-60 times made the underpowered 320i seem sprightly; it took the 324d over 16 seconds to hit 60. BMW finally added a turbocharged 324td model for the end of production, but they still weren’t sold in big numbers. One of the late naturally aspirated examples has turned up for sale in California, though:
For a while, if you were a diesel and wagon fan, you had some options; Volkswagen graced us with a manual TDi Jetta and Golf five-door, Mercedes-Benz floated the E-Class over here, and last but not least was BMW. The F31 launched in 2012, replacing the E91 we just looked at:
2011 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon 6-Speed
It was larger in pretty much every way, but also took on a more aggressive stance. It looked lower and meaner than the E91, especially when outfitted with M equipment. Gone were the manual and six-cylinder options, but you did get the option of selecting even more trim lines and a diesel, to boot. That’s exactly what we have here; a well-optioned 2017 328d xDrive, representing the end of F31 production. As the G21 hasn’t yet arrived and there’s currently no wagon available from BMW, nor are there plans to bring the diesel over yet, this really represents a unique opportunity:
The story behind BMW’s foray into diesel power in the U.S. was pretty interesting. BMW had developed the M21 2.4 liter turbocharged inline-6 diesel in the 1970s with fuel prices rising; it finally launched in the early 1980s with the E28 524td. But you probably best know that motor for its appearance in mid-80s American iron; an attempt by Ford to improve the fuel economy of its large executive Lincoln Continental. The marriage didn’t work; although the M21 was a good motor (especially when compared to GM’s diesel!), gas prices were falling and the economy was recovering by the time it finally came to market. But since BMW went through the effort to get the M21 legal for U.S. shores, they brought the 524td over here, too. It was a slow seller in the E28 lineup; equipped only with an automatic, BMW dealers shifted 3,635 of the diesels.
No surprise, then, that when the E34 launched, the diesel didn’t come back with it. Though the U.S. market didn’t see the M21 in the lineup though it soldiered on. The M21 was replaced in 1991 by a new version, the M51. Now displacing 2.5 liters and with an intercooler in “s” version, the 525tds upped the power from the 114 seen in the 524td to 141 and it had 192 lb.ft of torque at only 2,200 rpms. This motor carried BMW’s diesels through the 1990s, and was available in everything from the 3-series to the 7-series.
So it’s a bit of a treat to see the M51 in North America. It’s more of a treat to see it in a Touring, and in great shape, and hooked up to a manual transmission. And, it has manual sport seats as well. Yes, the want is strong in this one!
Wait, the recent strings of Opels weren’t enough? Nope! Strap in! Back in August I took a look at an ‘Opel’ Monterey, which was really just a lightly rebadged Isuzu.
1993 Opel Monterey RS 4×4 Turbodiesel
Well, if you squint, this Bertone looks somewhat similar, but then all of the boxy off-roaders kinda do. That’s not where the link is, though. The Freeclimber was marketed under the Bertone, but as with previous Bertones – just as the X1/9 – it was really just a rebrand of an existing vehicle they had helped design. In this case, underneath the Freeclimber was a Daihatsu Rocky, and yeah, there’s definitely no link to Germany there. But things did get interesting under the hood…
Since the 1990s, the proliferation of each premium marque’s “special” brands has become dizzying, and for enthusiasts it seems as though they’ve continuously diluted the performance options in favor of profits. From S-Line to AMG to perhaps the biggest offender, BMW’s M division, companies are badge slapping-happy when it comes to sticking a bigger set of wheels, some special trim and maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra ponies. And on the surface, this 335d would seem to fit that description perfectly. After all, how could you possibly compare the diesel to that sonorous M3’s S65 V8 that cranks out over 400 horsepower and 300 lb.ft of torque with a 8,400 RPM redline? Pull up to a redlight next to one in this 335d, and the snickering owner would undoubtedly be laughing at the ‘M-Sport’ option package you ticked off. Because you’d think there would be absolutely no way that diesel would produce equal power to the M3.
You’d be right. The M57 under the hood of the 335d doesn’t produce as much horsepower as the M3, at least not in stock form. But torque? It produces more. A lot more.
Starting at a leisurely 2,000 rpms, the twin turbochargers augmenting the inline-6 spool up to a mountain of power. In stock form, the 335d cranked out 428 lb.ft of torque. In fact, it’s so much torque that gets used on a regular basis that the first person I met who had one had already consumed a transfer case on his xDrive model, and he’s not alone. Being a turbocharged model, it was also quite easy and possible to turn up the wick, and yet this classy 4-door can still return 35 mpg. Try that in a M3:
Take a look around the collector car market and you’ll see 1970s to 1990s SUVs are very hot right now. Either bone stock or $300,000 restomods, people want them. The typical suspects are always the most in demand like Land Cruisers, Broncos, and Defenders, but now it seems like people are digging up G-Wagens from across the globe to dump off on Americans flush with cash. Even better, they are using cheap labor and materials from countries in Europe that are economically challenged then selling them under the guise of “restored,” which is a term that has lost all meaning whatsoever given how often it is used under false pretense. Case in point, today’s 1984 Mercedes-Benz 240GD in Poland.
As I get older and my head gains an alarming amount of grey hairs, my patience and desire for “projects” is growing thin. I have no problem working on cars, but my time seems to be sucked up by other things that aren’t getting covered in diesel fuel when changing a pre-filter. This is leads me away from saying things like “Oh, this car on Craigslist only needs $2,900 in parts and 10 hours of labor. I can swing that”. Instead, I’m finding myself just clicking the back button and not even considering cars that aren’t nearly turn-key.
Thankfully there are a handful of older cars out there that are still turn-key and need very little. This 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300CD up for sale in Oregon might just be one of those. It certainly looks like a time capsule both inside and out, as well as the most important area, under the hood. I wish this one wasn’t 3,000 miles away.
Of course, if you’re a fan of German cars (and even some who are not), the Volkswagen Westfalia pop-top campers are legendary in their own right. But esoteric fans no there was not just one version of the iconic ‘Camper Van’. Indeed, Volkswagen offered two iterations of do-anything #vanlife in the 70s,80s and even 80s. The Vanagon is probably the best known, but based upon VW’s larger LT platform were also 8 versions of campers with unique features and a bit more space than the traditional VW van.
Top of the range between 1978 and 1989 was this model – the LT Westfalia Sven Hedin. Hedin was a notable Swedish explorer of central Asia, so the eponymous camper was adventure ready. These high-top vans featured similar accoutrements to the T2 and T3 models, with a cooker, fridge, versatile seating and a fixed sleeping area along with copious storage. Where the LT stood apart was incorporation of a bathroom, replete with hot water shower. You could have these Sven Hedins with either PVC or carpeted flooring as seen here, and with either a 2.0 inline-4 gas motor or the lump seen in this model – the D24 2.4 liter inline-6 diesel rated at 75 horsepower.
Update 12/3/19: This Caravelle syncro sold for $11,600
It’s hard to fit into the regular lineup all of the various neat German vehicles from diverse brands, so admittedly I end up focusing on ones that really spark my interest. That leaves big gaps in coverage, and one such gaffe is certainly the Volkswagen T-series. The first three generations were based upon the Type 2 platform and rear-engine configuration, which left plenty of space for a slab-sided apartment on wheels. But Volkswagen continued the feat with the T4. The engine moved to the front and was water-cooled, transverse and in most applications driving the front wheels. But like the T3, the T4 was also available in syncro configuration with all-wheel drive.
However, while the T3’s viscous coupling sent power forward with twin locking differentials for each axle, the T4’s front-drive transverse layout meant that it needed to employ a system similar to the Golf platform. That meant a viscous coupling to transfer power rearward when slip was detected, with some T4s also having a manually locking rear differential to assist in really sticky situations. While not the go-anywhere mountain goat the T3 could be, it was a neat configuration not offered in the States. Further, you could get a plethora of engine choices at the same time the EuroVan was solely offered with the 2.5 inline-5 gas motor. Case in point is today’s 2.4 liter AAB. While not more powerful than the 2.5 gas motor, the 10 valve inline-5 diesel was a lot less thirsty and offered 77 horsepower and 121 lb.ft of torque at low revs. Here it’s hooked to a manual transmission and already imported to the U.S.: