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:
“Youngtimers” have been popular in the automotive news segment over the past few months, as a greater appreciation for cars just turning “vintage” has set the market ablaze. Within that category, automotive collaborations between manufacturers in the 80s and 90s produced some of the most memorable and, consequently, the most sought creations today. There was the Yamaha-powered Taurus SHO, the Mercury Marine-powered Corvette ZR-1, the Porsche-built Mercedes-Benz 500E and Audi RS2, Lamborghini had a hand in the BMW M1, and of course there was the Cosworth-built….everything, from Escorts to 190Es to Audi RS4s and RS6s. But one of the hottest cars from the period was, undoubtedly, the Lotus-built, Corvette-gearboxed Opel Omega/Vaxhaull Carlton twins.
Lotus was majority-owned by General Motors in the early 1990s, which led in part to the “Handling by Lotus” Isuzu Imark and Impulse models. Lotus, in turn, got an engine for their small Elan from the Japanese manufacturer which worked in partnership with GM. But their best work was certainly their last joint venture before GM sold them off to Bugatti in 1993. For the Omega/Carlton, Lotus took the production 3.0 inline-6 and punched it out to 3.6 liters, while fiddling with the 24V head from the Carlton GSi. Then, they hooked it up to a 6-speed manual ZF borrowed from the General’s parts bin. Also borrowed was a limited-slip rear end from GM’s Australian division, Holden. Then, they slapped not one, but two turbochargers on it. Brakes were Group C units employed from AP Racing. The result? A crushing 370 plus horsepower and over 400 lb.ft of torque from the C36GET produced the fastest sedan in the world:
As BMW turned firmly towards sports car racing and aimed its cross hairs directly at Stuttgart, it was the Big Coupe – the E9 – that would first carry their fledgling Motorsports division to the victory circle in large-scale international racing. While the 2002 had been champion in support series – Dieter Quester in ’68 and ’69 Division 3, for example, the E9 moved BMW up to directly challenge the fastest sports cars in the world. Victory laurels in some of the most significant races followed: The European Touring Car Championship (’73, ’75, ’76, ’77, ’78 and finally ’79 – some years out of E9 production!) and class victories at Le Mans, Spa and Daytona. These racing efforts had coincided with the growth of some of BMW’s most significant tuning partners; Schnitzer Motorsports and, of course, Alpina.
At the launch of the E9, Alpina would still be a long way from becoming the factory partner and full-fledged manufacturer we recognize today. However, prior to their first official model launch, like AMG the company was active in producing aftermarket parts – especially, motors – for the BMW range. Early Alpina-modified cars are hard to come by, and often lack the full documentation of the later VIN-specific models. However, once in a while a very original and significant one pops up such as today’s late production E9 apparently with all its ducks in a row. Originally a 2.5CS, this car underwent thorough modifications in the 1970s including installation of one of their hottest motors:
Do not adjust your screen. This is not a test. Yes, a BMW X1 is appearing on these pages. But, please stick with me because I’ll explain why.
When the X1 arrived, I – probably like you – considered it a bit of an affront to the brand. Following in the footsteps of the mission-drift but popular X5 and X3 models, the X1 made a fair amount of sense from a marketing standpoint. For about the same money as a loaded Subaru Outback, you could get an (arguably) better looking and performing BMW, after all. So the X1 opened BMW up to a whole new market as the least expensive option in their catalog.
I’ll admit, when they arrived I even went and drove one with my wife. We were considering replacing her…yup, Subaru Outback, and since the Outback’s build quality had proven so abysmal it was hard to get on board with throwing $30,000 at one. But for about two grand more, you could get into a basic X1 xDrive28i, and it really was a nicer car in just about every way.
We didn’t go down that route, as it turned out, for better or worse. And four years on, I’m not sure that the first generation X1 aged all that well. It received an update in the 2012 model year which made it slightly more slick-looking, but the proportions are still fairly awkward. So why is it here? Because it was also one of the best BMWs you could buy.
Underneath the rather upright body was the chassis borrowed more or less straight from the E91 Sport Wagon. But the E84 X1 had a few trumps over the 328i. Like the E91, you had two engine choices. “28i” models got the N20 turbo four rated at a pretty amazing 241 horsepower with 258 lb.ft of torque, or you could get what you see here. In the “35i” there was a N55 turbocharged inline-6 with 300 horsepower and 300 lb.ft of torque at the same time that engine choice wasn’t an option for the wagon fans. So if you wanted a fast BMW wagon, here it is:
The beautiful M3 Convertible I looked at yesterday was a reminder that I often skimp on drop-tops entirely. On top of that, I’ve been ignoring one of the most popular options in the classic German car market – the E30.
Introduced midway through E30 production, the Convertible you see here was the first factory BMW convertible since the 1950s. It showed in the execution; BMW’s slick top folded neatly away under a hard cover, in stark contrast to Volkswagen’s Cabriolet which looked like it was sporting a neck support pillow in back. Little trunk space was lost in the execution, meaning you had a fully functional 4-seat convertible replete with storage for the weekend. Base price was nearly $29,000 in 1987, but that included leather sport seats, electric windows, anti-lock brakes, cruise control and an on-board computer. For the U.S. market, there was only one engine option, too – the M20 2.5 liter inline-6, meaning no “E” model and plenty of spin on the tach, along with 168 horsepower. This helped make up for some additional weight from the top mechanism and structural strengthening, resulting in around 3,000 lbs of curb weight. But while the E30 was the benchmark as a driver’s car, many more of these were used in a relaxed manner; top-down luxury cruisers to enjoy the sun:
One of the things I love about the W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is that it came in every shape and size. What I mean by that is that you could buy a sedan, estate, coupe and cabriolet. This is unique because it is the only generation that can boast such a fact. The prior W123 lacked a cabriolet and every generation after lacked the coupe and cabriolet. You might be saying that the CLK-Class is basically the E-Class coupe, but I don’t see it that way because the CLK was a mash-up of a parts both mechanically and cosmetically from the C-Class made to look like an E-Class, not a true E-Class coupe. Even when they literally changed the named to E-Class Coupe in the recent generations, it is still riding on a C-Class chassis. That leads me right into today’s car, a 1994 E320 Coupe up for sale in Connecticut, that has that classic facelift W124 look and checks all the right boxes if you are looking for a sleek and livable daily driver. The best part about it? It looks to be fully sorted and won’t take much to drive home with.
Whenever I see a Europa Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen pop up for sale, I always take time to really check it out. Personally, if you gave me the choice to buy and live with any G-Wagen out there, from military-spec W460s all the way up to W463 G65 AMGs, I’d probably pick a Europa truck. I think they are the perfect compromise between the spartan offerings and the outrageous luxury you can get from a G-Wagen. You get a G that still can be daily driven in total comfort with modern safety but without the crazy options that ultimately you fear of breaking and then driving you nuts. This 1998 G320 up for sale in New Jersey just might be the perfect G-Wagen but fair warning, something this good won’t come cheap.
Normally most of the Mercedes-Benz W108/W109 cars I look are at the M100-powered 6.3s and for good reason, they are really cool cars and the market on them is as hot as it has even been for them. Luckily for most of us, if you want a W108 or W109 and don’t want to pay a minimum of $35,000 just to have a seat at the table, you have some options. Today, we have one of those options. This 1971 280SE for sale in California is painted in the rare Arabian Grey and believe or not, has nearly 150,000 miles on it.
Just last night, a friend informed me he had “acquired an older BMW”.
“Willingly?”, I asked. He affirmed he had contractually agreed to this life changing experience. “What model?”, I furthered.
Now, supportive friend Carter probably should have nodded in approval. After all, the Z3 is great value for the money. They’re cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and fun to drive. But what actually came out of my mouth was laughter. Not maniacal laughter, mind you, but just the uncontrollable mocking type that you immediately feel a bit bad about. Hoping to redeem the situation a bit, I prodded “Six cylinder…?” Nope. 4. I contained further laughter at this point, but I was grasping for straws. Meekly, I ventured “…..manual….?” hoping for some affirmation. “YES!” he happily retorted, glad to finally confirm a question of mine.
It’s actually a nice car, and it’s in great shape, and he paid almost nothing for it. But from the same period, BMW had some other affordable, fun to drive and even more potent options for enthusiasts. Take, for example, the M3 Sedan. Like the Z3, it was rear drive. Like the Z3, it has a manual, and they share some achitecture. But while the Roadster has a bit of a stigma that results in enthusiasts’ dismissal, the M3/4/5 has developed into a legend in its own right. Damn the fact that it didn’t have the more exotic Euro motor, if you want a cheap and pure driver’s car while still being able to comfortably transport 4 adults, they don’t come much better than this platform:
A few weeks ago I checked a wonderful Signal Red Mercedes-Benz 560SEC. I explained that on some Mercedes, red looks pretty good and suits the car well. Other cars, like sedans, red is a pretty tough sell for me. Encase you haven’t noticed by now, this 1991 300E that I am looking at today is painted in that same Signal Red. It is a very clean W124 that has under 100,000 miles and I really dislike it. Let me tell you why.