1968 BMW 1800

BMW’s long road to recovery in the postwar era was interesting to say the least. Before the war, BMW had a moderately successful series of luxury and sports cars with its 326, 327 and 328 lineup. However, the market for those cars in Germany didn’t exist in the early 1950s and the technology was quite dated, so BMW found itself reliant upon an Italian-designed and licensed bubble car — the Isetta — to sustain early sales. Of course, with their motorcycle expertise, the air-cooled twins that found their way into Isettas were reliable (though not sprightly) units.

Though economical, a family sedan the Isetta did not make, so starting in 1957 BMW stretched the two seats into four and created the 600. With just shy of 600cc from an enlarged rear-mounted engine borrowed from a R67 motorcycle and a four-speed manual gearbox driving a new semi-independent trailing arm rear end, the 600 was a serious step forward for the company. The improvements were masked behind a familiar face (which still served as the primary door, as with the Isetta) and the 600 was not a sales success, with just shy of 35,000 produced. Intended to compete with the Beetle, it offered little respite from Volkswagen’s steamrolling sales success.

1959 BMW 600

To remedy this, BMW continued to develop the 600 chassis into the larger and more conventional 700 model. Launched in 1959 as BMW skirted attempts by Daimler-Benz to purchase the Munich-based firm, the 700 heralded BMW’s first true postwar sedan. Yet in spite of the conventional sedan proportions, the 700 retained the motorcycle-based air-cooled flat-twin in the back, driving the rear wheels. Back when BMW’s naming conventions matched their engine sizes, the eponymous sedan’s power was upgraded to nearly 700cc and 30 horsepower — 50 percent more than the 600. Styling came from Italian Giovanni Michelotti, who would go on to pen the next generation of BMW sedans.

1959 BMW 700 LS (courtesy of Hemmings)

The 700 was available in three configurations — the conventional sedan, a sporty-rooflined coupe, and a convertible, each sporting era-correct tail fins. True to the company’s history, BMW even raced the 700 in rally, circuit and hill-climb events. The 700 would go on to be a relative sales boom for the company, bridging the gap between the borrowed Isetta models and the company’s first postwar conventional sedan: the water-cooled, front-engine Neue Klasse you probably remember best in the form of the legendary 2002.

1962 BMW 1500

The Neue Klasse launched with quite a splash in 1961 at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung in Frankfurt, and signaled a new direction for the company. Badged the 1500 due to its 1499cc M10 water-cooled inline-4, the 1500 was later joined by larger displacement models, some with fuel injection; the 1800 in 1963 and the 2000 in 1966. In 1964, the 1500 was replaced by the enlarged 1600. The M10 was punched out to 1573cc and now produced 4 more horsepower for a total of 84. While the 1600 wasn’t the first Neue Klasse, it was the first commercially successful model; between the beginning of 1966 and the end of 1968, BMW produced nearly 70,000 units of this model alone. But if you spent a bit more, you could get its larger-engined sibling:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1968 BMW 1800 on eBay

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1972 BMW Bavaria

The Bavaria was BMW’s bold attempt to redefine its market presence in a large way…or, perhaps more correctly, to redefine it’s large-car market presence in some way. What predated this design was the BMW 501 and 502 – the ‘Baroque Angels’ – which looked more like they were out of a black-and-white film than ready for the Jet Age by the time of the end of their production in the early 1960s. BMW took a break to get its Neue Klasse feet under it, then in the late 1960s introduced its new six-cylinder-powered 2500 and 2800 sedans. Moving into the 1970s, the M30s engine was punched out to 3.0 liters and the model was offered here as the Bavaria.

A handsome design in its own right, like the E12 and early E24s it suffered some teething pains before the the replacement models really caught fire in the early 1980s. Finding a clean Bavaria today is indeed quite a treat!

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1972 BMW Bavaria on eBay

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Swede Week: 2008 SAAB 9-7X Aero

So the GM-takeover of SAAB is to be completely lamented? Not so fast. A few really cool vehicles came about as a result of SAAB’s combined efforts with other automakers; the 9000 is probably the best example, but the Viggen, the ‘SAABaru’ 9-2X, and 9-5 Aero are also popular alternatives to the normal German performance rides out there. Today, though, I want to take a look at what many consider the low point of SAAB’s GM connection and try to unearth a diamond in the rough – because there was one.

The ‘Trollblazer’ was just that; a SAABafied version of GM’s GMT360 Trailblazer. It was really just a light reskin of the vehicle and was even assembled in Ohio. That doesn’t sound too exciting, as indeed the Trailblazer was not the shining star of GM’s catalog nor its best example of vehicle dynamics. But late in the run, GM upped the game with the ‘SS’ version of the ‘Blazer, which added a 400 horsepower Corvette-sourced LS2, giant wheels, and suspension and body tweeks that somehow made the mundane grocery-getter instantly cool. And for good measure, just over 600 were changed into SAAB 9-7X ‘Aero’ models:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2008 SAAB 9-7X Aero on eBay

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Swede Week: 1971 SAAB Sonnet III

Continuing on the Swede Week theme, here’s an instantly recognizable treat that is unfortunately seldom seen today. Like Volvo’s P1800, SAAB’s Sonnet lineup attempted to add some sport to the company’s brochures with exotic Italian looks and an odd combination of DNA. Although the above Sonnet’s lines are familiar to most Euro-centric automotive enthusiasts, this was actually the third version of the car, which had emerged from a ultra-low-production roadster into a similar and striking Coupe design in the late 1960s. 1970s saw a full exterior redesign but it remained very much a unique look, with a long, low hood punctuated by a Kammback tail. Power had developed in the second series cars from the original two-stroke inline-three to a Ford-developed V4 borrowed from the European-market Taunus. The result was 65 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like a lot – and wasn’t. 0-60 was an uninspired 13-second affair, but hey – just look at it! Who cares how fast you were going, most would mistake this for some oddball Maserati or Alfa Romeo were it not for the badges.

These cars are quite rare – far less were produced than the E30 M3, for example – and as a result hold reasonably strong value today. This ’71 sure looks nice!

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1971 SAAB Sonnet III on eBay

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2014 BMW i8

We’ve been accused of preferring older car designs to new ones. Rightly so, a majority of the cars that we feature are at least 10 years old, with a fair chunk now being over 20 years old. Are we out of touch with the market? Well, certainly that could be said – however, I think if you poll the authors here (and, a majority of our fans), most people just don’t get as excited about a car that you can pop down to the dealership and buy versus one that’s been well traveled, taken care of, and is hard to find in good shape. It’s the same reason why Antiques Roadshow is so popular; anyone can go buy the popular toy of the day and leave it in its original packing – but find a toy from the 1950s or 1960s in its original package and the pricing will probably surprise you. Heck, even my Transformers from when I was a kid are now quite valuable in good shape.

So we’re only interested in old cars? Well, not so fast – there have been several very exciting and pioneering designs over the past few years that helped in transforming the automotive landscape. The Porsche 918 Spyder, for example, redefined supercars along with the LaFerrari and McLaren P1. They’ve looked at hybrid technology not as the death of performance, but as an opportunity to better exploit it. However, all three of these designs are ultra-limited, ultra-exclusive and ultra-expensive cars, leaving mere mortals without hedge funds to dream of owing them only in passing flights of fancy. However, BMW has taken a very different route with its hybrid technology, offering two platforms that are both brilliant and innovative in their own ways. The admittedly less exciting, more practical application is the i3; a small electric city car. The reaction from enthusiasts to the i3 was less than, well…enthusiastic. However, I suggest that BMW’s departure into functional, efficient designs was at least innovative and admirable – this is technology that won’t kill cars, but will in fact allow them to thrive and continue for generations to come. Perhaps, then, the more exciting application of BMW’s efficient design “i” branding will sway you – the lightweight, sporty i8:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2014 BMW i8 on eBay

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1966 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about air-cooled models on these pages, and that’s a huge gap in Volkswagen’s history. It’s also not so long ago that VW continued to crank out brand new Beetles alongside their water-cooled replacements. The proliferation paved the way not only for the water-cooled replacement models I tend to favor, but some pretty awesome air-cooled examples, too.

Of those my favorite certainly must be the Type 34. I dissected Volkswagen’s first attempt to move upscale in an article on The Truth About Cars back in 2008:

Volkswagen’s Other Karmann Ghia: the Type 34

Basically, like the Phaeton, the Type 34 was a sales failure. It was too expensive – costing about 50% more than a normal Type 14 Ghia. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a very good looking failure. While the underpinnings were shared with its less exotic 1500 cousins, the upscale Karmann Ghia was aimed squarely at making peasants feel like landed gentry and certainly looked the part. Sweeping character lines ran the length of the car, giving it its signature “razor” nickname. Added to the upscale look in terms of desirability today is rarity. Never imported to the United States, the Type 34 only achieved about 42,500 units – less than 10% of the total number of the more popular and familiar Type 14 Karmann Ghia. But we’re lucky to find one today in Mississippi, of all places:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1966 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34 on eBay

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1988 Porsche 944S

Recently I took at look at the underrated 944S2. Well, the even more underrated example in the 944 lineup must be the short-lived 1987-8 944S. Porsche introduction of the “Super” 944 was perhaps obscured by other developments in the lineup, including the Turbo, Silver Anniversary model, and revisions to the base model in ’87. The new M44/40 double overhead cam motor upped power output substantially to nearly 190, but outside of the subtle “S” badge on the rear and the embossed “16 Ventlier” on the side trim, there were no signs of the performance gains under the hood. There was a substantial change, however, to the base price, which cut the middle ground between the ~$32,000 944 and ~$40,000 Turbo at around $37,000. I always felt like Porsche’s pricing versus power gains on these models seemed a little too convenient; you got the impression that they could do more with the model, but didn’t want to tread on the 911’s toes. Apparently, so did buyers at the time. The 944S failed to sell as well as the normal 944 or the Turbo, with about 8,800 imported over the short two year production cycle before it was replaced by the even more potent and better looking S2. Few appear today at all, but a Guards Red example popped up on eBay this week:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 Porsche 944S on eBay

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1991 Audi 200 quattro Avant

1991 was a great year for Audi and Volkswagen enthusiasts in America, robust with performance options all around. Fans of normally aspirated motors had multiple double-cam choices; the 16V twins from Volkswagen with the GTI/GLIs, each with heavily bolstered Recaros and awesome BBS wheels. Going slightly less boy racer and more upscale yielded the equally impressive 20V inline-5 duo from Audi, with the Coupe Quattro and 90 20V quattro. They weren’t as quick off the line, but they were certainly well built, solid performing luxury vehicles. Of course, the big daddy of normal aspiration in the lineup was the V8 quattro. Still at 3.6 liters and 240 horsepower for 1991, it was also available with a manual transmission and was in the midst of a winning streak in the DTM series, usurping power from the E30 M3 and 190E 2.5-16 in monumental style.

If forced induction was more your choice for speed, there were plenty of options there, as well. 1991 featured a slightly revised Corrado, now also with BBS wheels and the 1.8 liter G-lader supercharged motor. Audi offered you a luxury cruiser still in the 200 Turbo, as well. But the big news was finally the release of the 20V Turbo motor into the lineup. Long featured in the Sport Quattro, then RR Quattro in Europe and later S2, in America Audi brought the 3B turbocharged inline-5 package in the 200. As an added bonus, it was available in both sedan form and the innovative Avant wagon. Producing 217 horsepower and a bit more torque, the Audi was capable of 0-60 runs in the mid-6 second range if you were quick with your shifts. But this wasn’t a bracket racer – the 200 was a luxury car through and through, with a well-appointed cabin full of the things you’d expect – Zebrano wood trim, electric powered and heated leather seats front and rear, and a high-quality Bose stereo. Unusual for a luxury car of the time, but underscoring the German’s feelings towards driving, were the number of driver-oriented items. The dash was full of gauges, and unlike the V8 and 200 Turbo, the 20V was manual-only. Next to the shift lever was the manual rear differential lock, though as with all the second generation quattro drivetrains, the electronic lock disengaged at 15 m.p.h. automatically. The center differential was a Torsen unit capable of varying power as well. And the brakes were unconventional floating-rotor designs, intended to help haul the heavy 200 down from triple-digit Autobahn speed with ease. Unlike the normal 200, the fenders on the 20V were flared slightly to accommodate BBS forged wheels, 15×7.5″ all around and shared with the V8 quattro. It sounded like a recipe for success, and was a well regarded car when new even if the unconventional manual/turbo-5 setup lacked some grunt compared to the V8s of the day.

Yet this was still the fallout period of both the recession of the 1990s and Audi’s fall from grace in the U.S. market, so the 200 was a slow seller. On top of that, the C3 was at the very end of its life cycle, replaced mid-1991 with the C4 chassis. As a result, very few of the 200 20V quattros were built; Audi claims 4,767 sedans and a scant 1,616 Avants were produced with the 3B motor. Of those, only about 900 sedans made it to America. But the number you care about? Well, this 1991 200 20V quattro Avant is one of the 149 originally imported here.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Audi 200 quattro Avant on Autotrader

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1997 Alpina B6 2.8 Touring

While some other aftermarket tuners such as Ruf and Renntech offer turned up versions of the already potent cars, Alpina operates slightly differently – filling in the voids of models not offered by the manufacturer. There are plenty of examples of this, and if often seems to be misunderstood; Jeremy Clarkson’s review of the Alpina Roadster is probably the most notable case. A slower, softer, automatic version of the hardcore roadster certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense at first glance. But what Alpina does is give enthusiasts the opportunity to enjoy the performance that BMW offered in a slightly different package that sometimes outperforms the original platform car. One of the notable missing gaps in the BMW lineup in the mid 90s was a faster version of the E36 Touring; building off the earlier B6 – effectively, Alpina’s 4-door M3 challenger built between 1992 and 1993 with a bespoke engine and typical Alpina upgrades, the company later launched the Japanese-only market B6 2.8 Touring. Produced between 1996 and 1998, only 136 of these small wagons were produced, again utilizing the 240 horsepower bespoke Alpina motor, special wheels and interiors, Alpina’s own body kit, exhaust and suspension. They were available in 3 colors only; red, green, and silver:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Alpina B6 2.8 Touring on eBay

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1979 BMW 320i Baur TC1

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.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1979 BMW 320i Baur TC1 on eBay

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