For many, the E38 represents the zenith of large German executive sedans. It took the best ingredients of the E32 and E34 designs, slimmed them down a touch visually, updated the power plants and equipment, and Voila! Instant classic. It didn’t hurt that the E38 also played a starring role in two pretty popular movies in the period, either – but let’s be honest, you’d have loved it anyway.
As with Audi’s D2, early examples of the E38 were already in production in 1994, but the best of the bunch came towards the end of production. LCI models hit showrooms in 1999, and the refreshed look is what you see here. The long, low package was best expressed with the optional M Parallel wheels, which had carried over from models like the E31 8-Series and E34 M5. It imbued the 7-Series with just enough sport to look purposeful, but not so much as to masquerade as a Porsche. Lightly flared arches cut high in the front fenders were finally filled out, and the refreshed looks worked really well in light colors.
Today’s example is just that – an Alpine White long-wheelbase example. And while some 7s are too used up today, or too far away, or far too expensive if they’re not, this one promised to be the remedy to your problem. With 86,000 miles it’s just getting broken in, and it’s in California. There’s recent maintenance performed, too. But the best part? It’s no reserve:
It seems that with every progressive generation of BMW 5-series, the gap between the outgoing M5 and the top of the line non-M 5 series narrows considerably. While there wasn’t much of a contest between the E28 M5 and E34 535i, by the end of the E34 run the 540i M Sport was – for all intents and purposes – a M5 without the S38. BMW upped the ante to 400 horsepower in the new E39 M5, once again widening the gap to the 540i model. But the successor E60 545i offered 330 horsepower with matching torque in 2003 alongside the outgoing E39 and once again the gap in performance became much smaller. That gap was made almost imperceptible in 2005, when BMW revised the E60 with the increased displacement in the N62 motor.
Now sporting 4.8 liters from the N62B48, the new “550i” now had 360 horsepower and 361 lb.ft of torque – a near match for the S62. What was perhaps more amazing was that the new N62 also nearly matched the torque of the new E60 M5’s S85 V10. But while that screaming V10 produced far more horsepower, the peak torque was reached only at 6,100 revolutions – hardly practical in your daily commute. In comparison, peak twist on the N62 came at a much more realistic 3,400 r.p.m.s, and on the fly these 550is were – and still are – seriously quick sedans. They also introduced the next generation of design language and computer technology into the 5-series. Some love the look while others lambaste the design. While it’s certainly not my favorite 5, at least it’s distinctive and different in a world full of cookie-cutter designs and dare I say I think it may look better today than it did new – perhaps a testament to its avant-garde lines. While the lust-worthy V10 captures the imagination of enthusiasts, day-to-day the 550i is likely as fast 95% of the time and much cheaper to get into and run. Couple that with a host of Dinan upgrades and you’ll easily surprise M owners for half the price of the V10:
Update 5/7/19: This beautiful low-option E92 is on to a new owner!
While there’s no doubt that the E9x M3 was instantly recognizable as the replacement for the outgoing E46 model, there was an inconvenient truth that had snuck into the lineup: weight. Part of what had made the E30 such a curb-hopping maniac was that lack of heft even with all the accoutrements. By the time the E92 launched, the M3 had put on nearly 800 lbs of weight.
To motivate it the extra mass, BMW did effectively what it had done with the S14; it took its top-tier motor in the S85 V10 and removed two cylinders. The result was the S65 V8, and 414 horsepower was on tap for your right foot’s pleasure. That was a monumental leap from the E46; when the E46 launched with 93 horsepower more than the prior generation, I thought there was no way BMW could do it again. But they did, tacking on 81 horsepower to the prior generation’s total without forced induction. BMW topped the E46’s specific output per liter, too, besting 103 in the E9x – in a package which was 40 lbs lighter despite two more cylinders. Impressive, indeed.
Granted, if you were plunking down $60,000-odd worth of your hard earned credit, you’d want amenities like power seats, a nice radio, air conditioning – the normals that made it a better road car to live with day-to-day. But if you were clever in the boxes you ticked, you could still get the essence of what made the M3 the greatest car in its segment without a lot of frills. First would be the Competition Package, which gave you more variability on the suspension and more sideways action from the dynamic stability control. You got bigger wheels and stickier, wider tires to make use of that harder suspension.
Tick the 7-speed M-DCT dual-clutch transmission, and that track-readiness was taken to the next level. Then, you’d want to stop right about there. Of course, few people selected such a targeted, bare-bones performance oriented M3 out of the gate, which makes finding one today difficult:
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG had the nearly impossible task of being the spiritual successor of the legendary 300SL Gullwing. I say ‘nearly impossible’ because if one car could measure up to the 300SL nearly 50 years later, the SLS AMG somehow managed. Jeremy Clarkson raved about SLS AMG calling it “the greatest car in the world” at the time and that ”this is the thinking man’s supercar”. I agree completely. The team at AMG managed to make a beautifully contoured car with Gullwing doors and somehow engineered it to get to 60 mph in the mid-three second range and top out at 200 mph. All of this is possible in a car so comfortable and easy to live with that you could use it as a daily driver. It was the ultimate grand tourer with doors to die for. Granted, if you were the kind of person to buy a SLS you almost certainly had other vehicles in your fleet and that seems to be the case with today’s car. This 2011 painted in the sleek Obsidain Black checks in with just 4,500 miles and looks every bit the part. The even better news, once you swing open those doors, the car only looks better.
Update 11/26/18: Although listed as sold at $7,100 last auction, this car is back again with no reserve and sold for $7,099.
Update 11/15/18: This E34 sold for $7,100.
After selling earlier this year from out Feature Listings, this built and supercharged “540i” is back on eBay with a no reserve auction and some slick new photos. Bidding is currently only at $5,600 with a day and a half to go.
In the early years of the 1990s, the writing was on the wall for the high-strung M88 derivatives. They were excellent motors, no doubt, but power levels were rising to the point where the M5 was no longer top trump. It enjoyed a small power advantage over cars such as the V8 4.2 quattro, true – with 276 horsepower and 295 lb.ft of torque, the Audi had less punch but more pull. But cars like the M119-equipped 500E changed the playing field; 322 horsepower was enough to overcome the S38 in the M5, but the big number was the 354 lb.ft of torque. That was nearly 100 lb.ft more than the S38 and it was more usable, too.
BMW wasn’t to be outdone, launching its own series of V8 for the 1992 model year. in 3.0 and 4.0 form, the modern aluminum motors dubbed the M60 brought new levels of power to the third generation 5. In fact, so potent was the 4.0 version that BMW decided the more expensive M5 was effectively redundant in the marketplace. The M60B40 was rated at 282 horsepower and 295 lb.ft of torque and and good enough to scoot the luxury car from 0-60 in 6.9 seconds even when equipped with a 5-speed automatic.
But there was a 6-speed manual option as well, and of course you could opt for the sport package that would give you better seats, springs and a limited-slip differential. These options turned the two-ton Teuton into an athlete. While this particular E34 started life as a 525i, it’s been given the full 540 treatment and then some, culminating in a Vortech supercharger for some serious punch:
Update 12/30/18: This car is now on Bring a Trailer.
I’ve proclaimed my love before of ultra-high mileage Mercedes-Benz by fawning over a 2003 G500 with 318,000 miles and a 1980 300D with 585,000 miles, but today’s car is something I didn’t expect to see with a ‘3’ as the first digit on the odometer. I shouldn’t be all that surprised since it is a W124 and there is a probably one right now being used as a taxi somewhere in Africa with somewhere over 600,000 miles on it. You think I’m kidding?Â What did surprise me is that this particular W124 with over 350,000 miles is none other than the legendary 500E. This is the highest mileage .036 I’ve run across in as many years as I can remember because since the day this car rolled off the production line inÂ Zuffenhausen, they’ve always been expensive and collectible cars. The nearly $82,000 window sticker in 1993 and the current market prices for these cars have kept them in the hands of loving owners who often have more cars than they have pairs of shoes. This of course keeps miles off these in general because of how special they are and also the fact that some 500E specific parts are rather pricey and not the easiest to source thanks to a lot of little pieces being no longer available. From afar, this DB702 Smoke Silver over Parchment 500E up for sale in Portland, Oregon doesn’t show one-bit of its mega miles and I’m quite impressed with its condition even for being in California for almost its entire life:
In the mid-1980s, Volkswagen aimed its market sights upwards and tried to gain more traction in a niche market by offering…well, more traction. Starting in 1986, Volkswagen partnered with Steyr-Damiler-Puch and made a unique alternative to corporate partner Audiâ€™s quattro drivetrain utilizing a viscous center differential. Puch was also responsible for design and manufacturing of the T3 Vanagon Syncro, which used a different viscous coupling system because of the rear-drive platform and nature of the Vanagon. In addition to the transmission of power forwards, the T3 also offered a rear differential lock while both center and front were viscous.
But in 1986, there was a third option. Because the Volkswagen Quantum (nĂ©e Passat) shared nearly all of its internal architecture with the B2 Audis, fitment of the quattro setup from the Quattro and 4000S/CS quattro was possible â€“ so Volkswagen did it. As there was no Audi B2 Avant, Volkswagen offered the new Quantum quattro â€“ also badged Syncro â€“ in Wagon form, and only in wagon form. This meant that there was no competition crossover between the 4000 quattro and Quantum Syncro in the U.S. market. The Quantum also continued to run smaller 4x100mm hubs versus the Audi, which allowed it to utilize the same â€śsnowflakeâ€ť Avus wheels borrowed from the GTI. Pricing was on par with period 4000 quattros, though â€“ base price was $15,645, but equip the Quantum similarly to the standard 4000 with power windows, mirrors, locks and sunroof and youâ€™d quickly crest $17,000 â€“ about $4,000 more dear than a standard GL5. Unlike the 4000, Quantum Syncro Wagons came standard only with power steering, brakes, cruise control and air conditioning. You had to opt-in the power package to get the other items.
That made the Quantum Syncro Wagon very much more expensive than, say, a Subaru GL 4WD Wagon or the Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon. But both of those cars were part-time 4WD; in order to get a car with similar build quality and seamless drive of all wheels, youâ€™d need to pony up a staggering $30,000 for the Audi 5000CS quattro Avant. Volkswagen only brought over 2,500 1986s, making them a rare treat to see today. But the condition which this particular 1986 appears in is staggering:
I promise that this post wasn’t by design, but rather is completely a coincidence that it follows hot on the heels of the neat supercharged E34 540i 6-speed from yesterday. How do you possibly trump that potent hot rod? Well, starting with a M5 is probably a good bet.
If the E34 was a potent athlete, the E39 comes across as a consummate professional. It was immediately the new benchmark for sports sedans once again, and when BMW finally did make the call to bring a M5 to market they produced what many consider to be the definitive driver’s car in super sedan form. Whatever you had from the period, the M5 was just plain better. With 394 horsepower kicking out of is snorting S62 V8 and mated solely to a 6-speed manual transmission, it was hard to conceive how that package could possibly be improved upon.
That didn’t dissuade Steve Dinan, though. His S2 package fixed a car that wasn’t broken according to Car and Driver. Power was up to a massive 470 yet the car was still naturally aspirated. Bigger, better intake was met with bigger, better exhaust, and the whole package was kept up with bigger, better suspension and slowed down with bigger, better brakes. It was…well, bigger and better. 0-60 was dispatched in a tick over four seconds and it would do a standing quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds. These numbers won’t scare a Dodge Demon, granted, but are still really respectable today.
Of course, if “respectable” isn’t quite enough for you and you really need to surprise that Demon driver…
Just the other day, an old car friend of mine contacted our group of enthusiasts with an interesting challenge. He currently owns a Nissan 370Z, and while he really likes the car he’s got a family and needs something a bit more practical. So he queried the group; what car should he get in the $40,000 range that was special, fast, had 4-doors and a manual transmission?
Several thoughts came to mind, and I’m sure that everyone’s head is already spinning like mine did. While immediately several went to BMW M products like the E39 M5, I had an alternate suggestion which also considered where my friend lives – New Hampshire. ‘What about the Audi S4?’ I suggested. He admitted had hadn’t thought of one, in part because he previously owned a S4 – in his case a B5 – and didn’t love the driving experience.
Well, since the S4 has come a long way since the 1990s in power, technology, size and driving experience. And what has emerged is a very impressive all-arounder which flies under the radar. The supercharged V6 in the B8 gave a healthy 333 horsepower an Russian steppe-flat torque curve with 325 lb.ft available from 3,000 rpms straight through 5,250. This power could be channeled through two increasing rare options to find in electronics-heavy cars – a manual gearbox and a sport differential. Okay, 333 horsepower doesn’t sound outlandish in today’s world. But as with fast Audis of the past, the B8 and 8.5 made efficient use of that power and putting it down on the ground, making them capable of 4.4 second 0-60 sprints and a 13 second quarter-mile. This is a car which punches above its weight class, capable of embarrassing unsuspecting muscle cars.
Yet it retains its luxury-oriented character and go-anywhere all-wheel drive options, along with the practicality of offering 4-doors. And like ‘Q-Ships’ from the past, outside of a few extra exhaust ports and slightly flashier badging, most people would be hard-pressed to differentiate this serious performance package from the normal A4 wrapper. But that doesn’t mean that this car has to be boring, and you could select a few beautiful exterior colors such as this Volcano Red Metallic example: