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 in 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 say ‘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 320i like this one hit the market at the equivalent of $14,000 in 1979 (about $50,000 today) and selecting the Baur TC1 option added some $6,000 (about $21,000 today) to the price. Just for reference, that’ll buy you TWO brand new 230is today.
Every once in a while, something sneaks under the radar and offers a great opportunity to grab a quality classic for a relative bargain. Perhaps posting this blows up that chance somewhat, but odds are with only a few days left, Sars-CoV-2, and the recent stock market crash, you’re not in a position to drop everything and buy an extra car on a whim – but hey, who knows? And this one is a doozy.
What we have here is a rather inconspicuous 1995 M5. That means it’s a Euro car automatically, and yep, it’s a 3.8 liter S38 coupled to a six-speed manual. And, just like the last one, it’s my favorite Daytona Violet! But this one is a sedan and it doesn’t look like the best example out there, so what’s the draw? It’s a no reserve auction.
The arrival of the second-generation Scirocco in 1982 was, to be honest, not much of a revelation. It’s not as though I don’t appreciate the design, though how it came about is somewhat suspect. Volkswagen canned Giugiaro as the replacement designer for the exceptionally beautiful and unique first-generation car, moving in-house to Karmann for the second go at the Golf-based sport coupe. The result looked rather suspiciously like Giugiaro’s Italdesign Asso di Fiori from 1979 and Asso di Quadri from 1976, though – the car that became the Isuzu Impulse. Two years later, and Viola! the Scirocco II debuts from Karmann with a near-identical shape. On top of that, the mechanicals continued to be based upon the first generation Golf.
It wasn’t until 1986 that VW coupe fans finally got to rejoice as the addition of the PL 1.8 liter dual-cam inline-4 finally joined the lineup. Now with 123 high-revving horsepower, the Scirocco went a bit more like the wind it was named after. The wide-ratio, economy-minded gearbox of yore was gone too, replaced by a close-ratio gearbox. Like the GTI and GLI, 14″ ‘Teardrop’ wheels and a new bodykit heightened the boy-racer appearance, and the 16V models got all matchy-matchy before the Golf and Jetta, too, with body-colored painted bumpers.
Today they’re hard to find in good condition at all. But this Flash Silver Metallic example threatens to break your Radwood savings account wide open with its near-showroom appearance:
‘E36 M3s are garbage‘
You know you’ve seen the internet comments, probably more than once. Odds are, people saying that don’t own or haven’t owned a M3 at all, and more than likely even if they do, they haven’t owned an E36. But there was some weight behind the claim that in some regards the US-market E36 M3 was the least M3ish of all of the generations, and generally speaking they’ve remained the cheapest. That is, all except for one.
The Lightweight was a 1995 homologation special model with aluminum doors, a sport suspension, a shorter rear axle ratio, and an adjustable aerodynamic package. Deleted was the air conditioning, sunroof, and radio as well as some sound deadening, and rumor has it that the S50s were hand-picked for each of the 126 produced. These have been steadily climbing in price, and last year I was pretty shocked to see the asking price of one I looked at crack $100,000. But I don’t think anyone was ready for the results of the ex-Paul Walker group of five in January. If you weren’t paying attention, two hit $220,000, then $242,000, then $258,000. But the gem was the super low-mileage example that hammered for an absolutely astonishing $358,000 after premium. Mouth firmly agape yet?
So it’s no surprise that some of the lesser examples have come out of the woodwork, and this might be the lesser of the lesser. It’s a tired, slightly rusty, blown motor example – but it’s all there, and ready to be restored. What’s the ask?
Down the road from me is a gentleman who daily drives a Porsche 914. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of the boxy flying pancake. In the right configuration they look pretty cool, but my eyes always gravitate towards the more classic grand touring look of the replacement 924. However, I certainly can understand the appeal of a cheap and simple classic Porsche. For some time about a decade and a half ago I had this dream that some day when I was a little better off I’d pick up an early 911 – because, of course, a decade and a half ago no one wanted them and they were still relatively cheap. Since having a classic car is by no means a necessity, for us with less well-endowed bank accounts and no trust funds, ownership of such cars remains a dream. In that light, the 914 makes more sense since compared to the rear-engine counterparts it’s still relatively cheap – though find a good one and it’ll be a pretty penny.
But dipping in to the classic car market doesn’t have to break the bank, and there are still a few neat older German cars that would be great weekend warriors. Certainly, one of the most unsung heroes and yet one of the more visually captivating is the Opel GT. The slinky 2-door had the looks of its parent company sibling Corvette, but motivation by the normal Opel inline-4 drivetrain meant it was much more affordable. These days they’re rarely seen but always a treat:
Do you know how many times I’ve heard “It was just too nice to part out” when referring to an older Audi? Heck, I’ve personally had three that I’ve said that very sentence for, and at least one more I should have said that about. One time I bought a 4000S front wheel drive 5-speed simply because I wanted a door. No, I’m not joking. The entire car was in mint shape – Sapphire with Marine Blue velour, and because I was 18 and had fully subscribed to the idea that the only good Audis were all-wheel drive Audis, I paid $300 to rip what was otherwise one of the nicest 4000S models I had seen to that point in my life apart. Most of it went to the junkyard, in fact. It’s something that near 40 year old me is mad at 18 year old me about, still.
Fast forward 25 years into the future, and since then I keep hearing the phrase in relation to all sorts of obscure, slightly crusty and forgotten examples of the brand. So when this 4000 5+5 popped up for sale it was worth a look. These are highly prized for their donor doors (see what I did there?) which are utilized in Sport Quattro conversions. Does this one have to die?
The M Coupe has moved from cult legend into one of the most desirable M products produced. Late production S54 equipped models have recently topped $90,000 at auction. Add in a rare color and great condition, and they’re all the more desirable. While not quite a 1:1, the M Coupe is like the Porsche 964 and has gone from being ugly duckling to the market darling, and the S54 models are the RS America of the lineup.
For most of us, that means if you want a ‘Clownshoe’ you’ll need to look towards early production when they were equipped with the venerable S52. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as lower running costs and higher production numbers mean much lower asking prices. Take this 2000 in Dakar Yellow, for example. First off, only 2,180 S52 M Coupes were sold here. Of them, 52 were Dakar Yellow II – so you know this one is special. But even more telling is the number when you consider slicktop models, of which this is one. Just 342 were delivered sans sunroof, and only 14 of those were Dakar. Just ten shared the black Nappa leather seen here. So this one is a very low production number car with interesting options and, in this case, fairly low mileage. What does that mean for the price?
I still remember the moment as the wave of envy set over me. A struggling college student, I had tried hard to balance my love of cars with the multiple part-time jobs I fit in between classes. Ultimately, cars probably came before some things they should have, but still fell staunchly behind the realities of life. Rent. Tutition. Books. Utilites. FOOD. These necessities multiplied themselves together over the years, grasping at my meager weekly paycheck more rapidly than I could deposit it in the bank. Trips to the pump were always metered; weeks went by holding breath at every turn of the key, praying for a safe completion of circuit. And when you own a ’84 Volkswagen that sat in a driveway not running for decade rotting away before you resurrected it, often your dreams of a trouble-free commute are unrealized.
As a result of my shoestring budget, I often turned to a friend to help with mechanical work that my GTI often needed. He’d stop by my house after work and wrench for a bit, or I’d drive it by his place for a replacement part or ten. He also had a A1 – a sweet special edition Cabriolet from ’85 which he had spent years tricking out. But on one of these repair stops, he introduced me to his new toy.
It was 1998 and he had picked up a ’90 Corrado G60. He had picked it up cheap, too, as they often broke even when pretty new. Two things struck me about this car. Though it was only 6 years newer than my GTI, it might as well have been a spaceship. The two shared nothing in common outside of the badge. My pyrite-in-the-rough GTI was rusty and not so trusty. Horrible build quality meant things regularly broke, or fell off, or rusted off; often, the trifecta struck. It was a square slowly-deteriorating block of iron oxide in a rounded-off world. In comparison, the Corrado looked well-built, felt modern, was comfortable, had air conditioning and electronic items that…well, functioned, and even had paint all in one color. But the other thing that struck me was just how tired and old that Corrado already felt in 1998. I rarely buy cars that are newer than 10 years old, but this Corrado felt a lot more than that already. Perhaps that was because the VR6 model had so quickly replaced it. Or perhaps it was because I was still excited for new cars to launch in 1998. Looking back, though, my initial impressions of the Corrado G60 still hold true. But am I still jealous that I didn’t have one?
The first A3 was launched alongside the then-new A4, and while the visual similarities were strong, the two models shared little. That’s because the A3 was based heavily on the Mk.4 Golf platform with transverse mounted engines. Just like the original Audi 50, though, the A3’s arrival predated the Mk.4 Golf by a year. While the U.S. had to wait until the 2004 launch of the Golf R32 to get all-wheel drive performance, Europe had enjoyed Golfs with four wheels driven since 1986. So it was a relative cinch to stick the Haldex-based all-wheel drive system into the A3 chassis where, like the TT, it would be called “quattro”. And just like the TT, a high performance variant of the 1.8T would be included and become the S3 in 1999. Some of the styling cues were shared with the big-brother S4, including 17″ Avus wheels and deeper, smooth bumper covers. The S3 was the first model to utilize the ‘door blades’ that would become signature S bits soon after. Performance was about what you’d expect from a near twin of the TT – meaning, virtually identical. But what you did get was slightly more subtle styling and slightly more practicality, with a bit more storage space and a roomier cabin.
Euro cars always hold a special appreciation for me, especially from the 1970s and 1980s. First off, they were much better looking, generally with slimmer bumpers and larger, more clear class lights. There were colors and interiors that we didn’t get in the U.S. as well, helping to set yourself apart. Sometimes there were low-spec engines not imported, but usually the output of the motors that were similar to U.S. cars was higher, giving more performance to enthusiasts. Sometimes that gulf was huge; while usually around 10% higher, a great example is the Quattro which was a full 25% more powerful in Europe than the U.S. restricted version. But as we got towards the late ’80s, the gap inbetween both the looks and performance of the Euro models versus the U.S. models closed steadily. True, in some cases we still didn’t get the full-fat versions of cars like the M3 until the E46 chassis. But for most models, there was a negligible difference. When it came to the BMW E31, in fact, there were almost no differences between the U.S. models and European models; styling was exactly the same, as were the wheels, most of the colors and interiors, and the basic suspension and engine. So, it’s just not nearly as exciting to see a European-spec newer model like this ’91 850i pop up for sale, though it is a bit odd: