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:
That’s what the “Z” in the roadster/coupe lineup of BMW stands for, and it’s hard not to look at the 1990 BMW Z1 and not see a futuristic Roadster. Based upon, and sold alongside, the E30 BMW, the underpinnings weren’t revolutionary, but the shape sure was. Highlighted by its resin body with guillotine doors, roughly 8,000 of these unique visions of the future were produced by BMW. So thorough was the exterior change, little connection of the E30 base can immediately be seen. Never officially imported to the United States, there are nonetheless several cruising around (by cruising around, I mean mostly being offered for sale for outrageous prices). Today’s signature Urgrün (Original Green) Z1 has only 10,500 miles since new, so is this one equally unaffordable?
It’s easy to lament the U.S. bound 320i. Powered by a fuel injection M10, it managed to kick out only around 100 horsepower in the early 1980s and felt like a disappointed follow-up to the fantastic 2002tii, which was lighter and sported 130 horses. While the smart-looking Bracq-designed E21 ticked the right 3-boxes and scaled his vision down well, the U.S. bound models got the unfortunate impact bumpers that made them look heavy and unappealing. It was like a cute kid wearing orthodontic headgear; you were pleased to meet them, but couldn’t help but feel bad for the way they ended up looking. Sure, there was a sport version of the 320i towards the end of the run, and it looked better because…well, it had BBS wheels and everything looks better with BBS wheels, but aside from that the U.S. 320i was the relatively forgettable holdover until the E30 redeemed the small sporting sedan range here.
But in Europe?
We last got to look at a modified E30 through the disappointing realization that finally after years of trying to sell with different dealers, the car listed as an Alpina C2 2.5 was just a very convincing replica. But as noted, the car was clean and wore a lot of really expensive Alpina bits – so while the price tag of $22,800 seemed high for a replica, it was in some ways amazingly justified.
So what happens when the car in question is a real Alpina? We find out when we look at an actual Alpina C2. The asking price in that case was nearly double at $39,500. And when you factor in that the C2 is one of the less desirable E30 Alpinas out there, that’s drawn into sharper contrast.
So here we are again with another Alpina to consider, but it’s not alone. One of our readers spotted a Hartge H26 – an even more rare to see variant of modified 1980s E30. And to kick the rarity up a few notches, both are 4-doors instead of the usual 2-door sedans. So how do they compare in terms of pricing, and are these cars all that they seem?
Back in February, I took a look at very hot item in the marketplace – a clean, European-spec BMW E30 modified by Alpina.
Or, at least that was what was claimed.
Further research pointed out some problems. I found it to be a car I looked at two years ago in 2015, then listed as a 1986 C2 2.5. The VIN was transposed incorrectly, but the stranger item was that the year was wrong. Stranger still was that a tremendous amount of the car didn’t seem to work. Yet it was a lot of Alpina for the money even as an automatic, as it was relatively clean and priced well below other similar E30 Alpina asks.
Well, here we are some ten months later and it’s popped up in a new listing with a new seller. We’ve seen that before, so no big surprise there. As I started to look through the listing, though, I was struck by just how lazy it was. Okay, there were new photos, but none of them were detailed. The VIN is filled in with “1”s. Then I got to the text, which is a near-carbon copy of the last listing. I say near for two reasons – one, the current listing cut and paste the prior listing….twice. So, halfway through the details, you start all over again!
But perhaps that was done to distract you from the one detail which was added to this listing. Cleverly stuck in after the copying of the prior listing, just before all the fees you’ll need to pay, was a second change and the line which finally answers the questions about this car:
Note this is an Alpina clone with correct Alpina numbered engine.
That’s a pretty frustrating statement to bury in the end of the listing. The ad listing has, for the last several years, maintained how rare this car is and they’re just now getting around to admitting it’s not a real example? That’d be understandable if the owner just figured this out, yet they’ve continued to list the car as a legitimate example outside of that one line stuck in there. Despite this it still looks like a nice example and appears to wear a lot of expensive Alpina items, but this is certainly a case of caveat emptor.
It’s easy when considering BMW’s venerable E28 lineup to skip over most of the production and focus in on two models – the M5 and the M535i/535is. In fact, without intention to do so I think that’s what we’ve done over the past few years. They were the sports sedans that established the benchmark by which all others are judged, notoriously long-lived and arguably still very good value in the used classic BMW market.
Despite that, in the 1980s it was not the M30-equipped E28 that was the most popular. The 533 and 535 models combined for a total of about 34,000 sales in the U.S.. Add in the M5 and you’ve just crested 35,000. In comparison, it was the relatively uninspired 528e that was the sales force for the 5 over the model run. Between 1982 and 1988, BMW dealers sold more than double the amount of 3.2- and 3.4-equipped 5s with the 528e. Just shy of 80,000 of the lowest-spec model made it here, all equipped with what BMW hoped would be the most efficient inline-6 they could produced. The 2.7 liter M20 was de-tuned and strangled to produced just 121 horsepower and a diesel-inspired rev-range. This was achieved by making the stroke longer and installing smaller valves.
Coupled with catalytic converters, the result was a car which met CARB requirements but failed to really excite. 0-60 was a lackadaisical 11.2 seconds. The later ‘Super Eta’ engine added a few more horses but only came at the very end of the run. Yet BMW didn’t want this to be a drag racer; they wanted to make an efficient driver. As a result, the Eta-equipped models had good usable torque down low yet still returned over 20 m.p.g. on the highway. It cost about $30,000 for a modestly equipped model. What was interesting was that BMW sold most of them equipped with the ZF 3HP22 automatic, sapping some of the fuel economy the car was intended to produce and even more performance.
Despite being the most popular model when new, the Eta is generally considered to be the least desirable model for enthusiasts and many have died in junkyards. But once in a while a nice one pops up and is worth a look:
Update 6/1/18 – the BMW 700LS has dropped a further $2,000 in ask to $19,500.
Update 2/6/18 – Unsurprisingly, the 700LS remains available on reserve auction (it is $21,900 on their site)
Normally, our dual posts have two comparable cars to consider. But while typically that manifests itself in one model, one price point or one performance group, today it’s something very different.
Although both of today’s cars come from one marque – BMW – there is literally and figuratively a huge chasm of development between them. There’s also a vast gulf between performance, desirability and price. Yet each reflected the time point in which it was made; the austere 1960s, emerging from the fog of war into a bustling economy when average Germans could for the first time contemplate automobile ownership, and the exotic 1980s, with its new computer designs and technology rapidly forcing car designs forward. For the company, each car represented the future in many ways even if the results and their impact was so vastly different.
Alpina mania continues unabated on these pages. And why not? Rather than hastily assembled montages of aftermarket accessories or tasteless timepieces of a bygone era, Alpinas were artfully crafted bits of perfection. They were intended to be, and often were, as good as a BMW could get. The market has recognized this in their value, which when correctly presented far outstrips that of a normal – or even special – model from Munich. But that’s led to a variety of half-baked, poorly presented or just plain questionable examples that pop up on a regular basis. Is today’s ultra-rare C1 2.3/1 a case of the former, or the latter?
When enthusiasts think of custom coachwork and Germany, one name usually springs to mind: Karmann. Most identifiable for their combination with Ghia’s designs for Volkswagen, Karmann produced not only their eponymous creation Karmann-Ghia in both Type 14 and Type 34 configuration, but also the Beetle convertible. Volkswagen’s association didn’t end there, though, as the first Rabbit Cabriolets, both versions of the original Scirocco and the later Corrado were all built by the firm. So, too, were some of the first Porsche 356, 911 and 912 models, along with the 914. BMW, too, turned to the firm for ‘Big Coupe’ production, from the 2000CS to the E24 6-series. But when it came time to take the top off of their small cars, BMW looked elsewhere.
From Osnabrück BMW headed into the heart of the enemy’s home to Stuttgart, where Karosserie Baur was located. Baur was the company that BMW turned to when plans with Lamborghini to produce the supercar M1 fell through. Baur would later be the home that the infamous Group B Sport Quattro and Porsche 959 were produced in. In short, Baur was responsible for some of the most significant designs in German motoring and has plenty of expertise in factory-quality experience. It should come as no surprise, then, that they were the company that BMW selected to produce the first 3-series convertibles.
Taking the roof off the car seems simple enough; just grab a saw and go, ‘How hard could it be?’ Well, not so fast, as structural rigidity rears its ugly head. Beyond that, in the 1970s government nannies were indicating that the idea of a topless car was going to be outlawed, leading many manufacturers – including all of the major U.S. brands – to abandon the idea. Baur’s solution to the problem was to create a roll hoop ‘Targa’ model, which as we know from Porsche models offered multiple roof positions while simultaneously solving the issue of structural rigidity and occupant safety. But Baur wasn’t able to utilize the ‘Targa’ nameplate, as Porsche owned the copywrite of the title. Baur instead called the new partially topless 3-series the Top Cabriolet, shortened to TC. BMW offered these as a full-factory option and maintained the warranty, as these cars were expensive in period – a 323i like this one hit the market at the equivalent of $18,000 in 1980 (about $53,500 today) and selecting the Baur TC1 option added some $6,000 (about $17,000 today) to the price.
It’s funny how priorities change. A decade ago, I would not have given a second look to a 528e. Growing up with a E28 M5 in the garage created both an appreciation for the E28 and the dichotomous dismissal of lower range vehicles. Sure, the M5-look 535is was cool, and alongside the M5 we even had a very nice ’85 535i that was a pretty good driver. But below that? No, I seldom gave the 533i, 528e or even 524td a second look on the road. Today, though? Even if it’s not a performance car by most standards, a survivor 528e is certainly worth a second look: