BMW took a big leap at the end of the 1980s and introduced some pretty extreme design language. First was the E31 8-series, a seeming quantum leap from the outgoing 6-series. That chassis pioneered, for better or worse, a tremendous amount of technical and electronic innovation for BMW. The 8s relied on a bevy of computers to control its chassis, electronic suite and engine. Side by side with the more famous Grand Tourer though was a diminutive roadster BMW produced based heavily on the E30 chassis. Instead of a heavy reliance on computer technology, the futuristic (hence Z for the German word for future – Zukunft) plastic bodied Z1 looked like a supercar even if it didn’t go like one. Park one next to a E30 convertible and you’d never know the two are related!
The Z1 was a complete departure for BMW; while they were not strangers to small cabriolets, their previous efforts were in the 1930s with the 315/1 and the 1960s with the 700. BMW went away from the idea of an integral body and frame to a separate chassis with removable, plastic body pieces. The idea was that the owners could replace the panels themselves to “repaint” the car with minimal effort. It was something the Smart car would be notable for – a car that launched a decade following the Z1. To get the paint to adhere to the bodywork, BMW had to partner with AZKO coatings to develop a flexible paint which they termed ‘Varioflex’, while the bodywork had to be attached using a unique elastic joint technique. The doors didn’t open out – the slid down into the supporting chassis structure. The underbody was flat, not only for aerodynamics, but the tray turned into a diffuser towards the back, assisting in sticking the rear to the ground as speeds rose. In front was nothing new – the venerable M20 from the E30 popped up here, too – but in the rear the Z1 was new with a multi-link rear axle of its own. This new design would later be incorporated into the E36. It’s interesting that with the Z3 BMW opted to go the opposite route and incorporate earlier E30 pieces into the rear of the /7 and /8. While performance was relatively leisurely, the Z1 nevertheless garnered praise for its innovation, unique design and great looks. They never made it to U.S. shores and only around 8,000 examples were ever produced, but a few have crossed the Atlantic now that they’re old enough to be more easily imported:
While the US market had to settle for the RS America, a lightened low-option version of the Carrera 2, other markets enjoyed the full-on Carrera RS. The Carrera RS used the tried-and-true method of more power/less weight, combining a higher output version of the 964’s 3.6 liter flax-six with significant weight reduction – coming in 155 kg lighter than a standard Carrera 2 – to provide the sort of no frills performance that 911 enthusiasts had long craved since the original RS. Under the rear hood was the M64/03 rated at 260 horsepower which doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s numbers. But the lightweight RS made good use of all of them, proving itself not only to be a class-leading sports car but also one adept at racing in keeping with the 911’s heritage. Suspension was lowered half an inch and stiffened, while the limited-slip differential from the Turbo was borrowed. Power steering was dropped for a manual rack, and while there were packages to add back in road-going manners, this ultimately was a bare-bones racer at heart.
Some 2,276 964 Carrera RSs were made, with a fair chunk of those heading to the track. There were a limited group of these cars imported to the U.S. for a failed race series and a few more since 911 mania took off, but the bulk of production still lies in Europe, just like this ’92 being offered today from France:
The E31 was BMW’s first real attempt at integrating lots of computer designs and controls into one of their road cars. The clean-sheet design resulted in a 2-door grand tourer that shared some visual similarities with the great M1, but stood apart as a more practical cruiser. Unlike the E24, the windows could fully drop, revealing a graceful pillarless design to match the sweeping greenhouse. The sharp nose amazingly hid an even larger motor than its predecessor; in fact, it was basically two conjoined M30s. That configuration certainly has some drawbacks, but there was no denying that the 850i had serious presence and credentials with the M70 V12 kicking out 300 horsepower.
However, BMW softened the character of what potentially could have been a screamer. Many were outfit with 16? wheels for a better ride and tied to an automatic transmission. This was truly a GT car, and not the supercar slayer that BMW teased with its M8 Concept. Still, there are a few which were hooked to 6-speed manual transmissions prior to the launch of the manual-only 850CSi, and they’re a whole lot cheaper than the M-modded model is trading for today:
Although the letter “M” attached to a BMW has generally represented the pinnacle of performance for the brand, the reality is the term “M-Sport” has not always denoted the same characteristics. Take the E82 135i, for example. The M-Sport package for that car consisted of slightly different 18″ wheels than the standard 18″ wheels and a black headliner. That’s it.
But zoom back in time to the beginnings of the title “M-Sport” and it meant a bit more. If you wanted a fast, executive super saloon in 1995, your options were dwindling. 1995 was the last year of the Audi S6, and one year after both the V8 Quattro and 500E were taken away. 1995 would also be the last year of the iconic M5, and hints were that it might be a long time before we’d see another. Why? Well, the reality was that with the 6 speed 540i the performance gap between the “super” M5 and the “normal” V8 engined 540 was so close it just didn’t make a lot of sense to have the premium model anymore. The S38 was by now a quite old motor and was getting harder to pass increasingly strict emissions standards; indeed, shrinking sales and high price had resulted in the M5 being pulled from the U.S. in 1993.
As a result, BMW offered a hint at what it could do with the V8 in the form of the M540i in Canada and the 540i M-Sport in the U.S. market. The Canadian model was quite close in spec to the European M5, except that in place of the venerable S38 it ran the M60 V8 out of the normal 540i. If that sounds like a letdown, it wasn’t – mated to the Getrag 6-speed transmission it was a great driver, and with the M5 adjustable suspension, brakes and cosmetic details it was 95% plus of the M5 for most drivers. The 540i M-Sport that the U.S. received differed a bit in not having the trick floating rotors of the M540i, but with nearly everything else out of the M bag of tricks these are cool cars, great drivers, and even more rare than the M5:
Just the other day on my ‘Distinctive Drivers’ page – a Facebook group that looks at unusual automotive finds – I stumbled across a ’92 Honda Accord 5-speed. Here was a rather sedate, base model Accord; yet, because of the rarity of seeing such a car, and its recent complete disappearance from the marketplace, there’s an odd desirability for what was otherwise just an average sedan.
The same holds true today. Here’s a Euro-market Audi 80 TDi. The B4 chassis was nearly a stranger to us and is fairly infrequently seen these days; not many were sold here, especially when compared to the B5 A4 which followed. There were only two configurations they came in; all were 90s, and all shared the 2.8 V6 either driving the front or all four wheels. The 80 had been discontinued after ’92 for the U.S. and it didn’t appear as a B4 here, as there was no 90 model in the ’92 season officially.
But in Europe, of course, the B4 included the 80 model, which was the cheapest Audi you could buy – so they sold quite a few. Engines varied quite wildly from the U.S. models; there were 1.6 and 1.8 models which ranged from 70 to 125 horsepower, then 2.0 models running right up to a high-output variant of the 16V we saw in the GTI and GLI. There was the tried and true 5-cylinder we saw in our 80, and then there were a few V6s – the 2.8 seen in the U.S., but also a lower output 2.6 model for better economy. But if you wanted real fuel savings, you opted for one of the two diesels – the 75 horse 1.9TD or the 89 horsepower 1.9TDi:
Here’s another alternative air-cooled Volkswagen from Brazil. We saw the Brasilia recently – Volkswagen do Brasil’s answer to the Golf platform and intended to extend the life of the Beetle platform. Here was their attempt to modernize the Karmann Ghia – the infamous SP2.
‘SP’ referenced São Paulo where the SP and SP2 were produced. The early model had a 1.6 liter flat-4, while the SP2 moved up to a 75 horsepower 1.7 air-cooled flat-4 mounted in the rear. The proportions of the body styling seemed to suggest the opposite though, with the long, low hood and hatchback GT profile looking more like a traditional sports car than any VW had before. Other period designs were borrowed – the Volkswagen 411, the Porsche 924 and Audi’s 100 Coupe S all had similar angles. But it was probably Volkswagen do Brasil’s own Karmann Ghia TC (Typ 145) that looked the most similar.
Only about 11,300 of these ultra-rare, Brazil-only SP2s were produced. They’re about as legendary as air-cooled VWs get in the U.S., so when one pops up for sale it’s worth a look:
Post World War II, the German manufacturing sector and economy attempted to pick itself up – but it was a pretty rocky road. Still, as early as 1950 Western powers were pronouncing the ‘Wirtschaftswunder‘ in the Western side of Germany – a phoenix-like rebirth of the economy overseen by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Despite this, it would be decades until this wealth and prosperity really filtered down to the average worker. As a result most drivers in Germany were relegated to very small and efficient cars, with the Volkswagen Beetle being the most successful. But it was far from alone.
I’ve previously looked at some other alternative air-cooled designs from Germany; both the NSU Prinz and BMW 700 challenged the Beetle’s hegemony in the marketplace while offering more style:
1963 BMW 700 Coupe
Feature Listing: 1965 NSU Spider
However, while sporty-looking economy-based cars began to emerge from major manufacturers, microcars were still reasonably popular in the early 1960s though choices were dying out. The Isetta continued to be produced until 1962 and was quite popular. But one other World War II-era name also strangely entered the marketplace – from the makers of some of the most famed fighter planes in history came a single cylinder, two-stroke wingless “car” – the Messerschmitt KR175, 200 and 201 Roadster:
Continuing on the theme of lightweight, Europe-only specials of a fan-favorite chassis, here’s one I’m willing to bet a fair amount of you aren’t aware of. BMW launched several special variants of the E9x chassis, and we saw some of them – the Lime Rock Park Edition being the most notable – but in total BMW produced a hard-to-fathom 28 special variations of the E9x Ms. As a result, you’re forgiven if you didn’t remember all of them!
CRT stands for “Carbon Racing Technology”, but perhaps ironically it was BMW’s carbon-intensive road cars that led to the model. Spare cuttings from the carbon passenger cells of the i3 and i8 models were recycled and molded into body pieces for this special M3 sedan, while motivation came from the M3 GTS’s upgraded S65B44 V8. Stroked to 4.4 liters and with a lightweight titanium exhaust, the enlarged V8 was rated at over 440 horsepower (20+ over a standard S65B40), while torque was up 30 to 325 lb.ft at a lower 3,750 rpms. BMW produced a total of 68 cars, of which 67 were sold to the public, all in identical Frozen Silver Metallic with Sahkir Orange accented interiors:
Although it certainly added up to more than the sum of its parts, on paper the Porsche 968 was a bit lacking compared to most of its competition. For example, for $2,000 less than the base price of a non-Sport package equipped 968, you could get a twin-turbocharged 300 horsepower Nissan 300ZX packed full of the latest technology. Or the also twin-turbocharged Dodge Stealth/Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 twins. Or the sublime turbocharged Mazda RX-7. And while the Supra Turbo came at a higher price, its performance was also on another level. One thing was clearly missing from the 968 package in order to compete.
Porsche’s Motorsport department, under the leadership of Jurgen Barth, solved this problem in 1993 by offering a turbocharged version of the 968 Clubsport. The 16V head was dropped for a development of the 944 Turbo S head and turbo, but the car retained the 3-liter bottom end. This comprised the M44.60 engine. The result was 305 horsepower and 368 lb.ft of torque. Unlike the 944 Turbos, the 968 Turbo S also got the 6-speed manual (G44.01) and 75% locking differential out of the Clubsport, too. Outside, an homage to the 924 Turbo came in the form of twin NACA ducts on the hood, and the Turbo S gained a huge spoiler in the rear with an adjustable center plane. The Turbo S also nabbed 911 goodies in the form of Turbo brakes and 3-piece Speedline wheels. The Clubsport’s 20mm lowered suspension was dropped even further. For good measure, Porsche Motorsport chopped another 45 lbs off the already lightened Clubsport, too. They featured the lightweight Clubsport interior, no rear seat, and few options. The performance figures were reportedly good enough to best 911 Carrera 3.8 RSRs of the period.
As well as anyone can figure, Porsche only constructed 14 968 Turbo Ss – 11 ’93s (VINS ending 061-071) and 3 ’94s (VINS 001, 061, and 062). Because they’re so rare and were never sold in America, in fact, even some Porsche fans on this side of the pond aren’t aware of their existence. They don’t come up for sale very frequently, but -001 is available right now:
It boggles my mind that the Z8 design is now 24 years old. First penned in 1995 and shown at the Japanese Motorshow in 1997, the Z8 looked outrageous and the recipe sounded perfect with internals were borrowed from the E39 M5. That meant the S62 quad-cam double-VANOS 4.9 liter V8 cranking out 394 horsepower and routed exclusively through a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission driving only the back wheels. Coupled with Henrik Fisker’s sumptuous lines, the Z8 managed to both channel the history of BMW’s landmark 507 and be a cutting-edge design at the same time. It was the halo car that helped to lead BMW into a new Millennium. Sold for sometimes upwards of $160,000 they were instantly collector fodder, but these cars also caught headlines almost immediately due to problems with their aluminum space frames deforming in the shock tower area.
Between collectability, the up-front expense and fear of destroying the chassis, a fair amount of these cars appear today with very low mileage. So why look at this one? Well, it is well below average mileage, but mainly – the color. Only 5,703 Z8s were produced, putting it roughly on level footing with the E24 M6 in terms of scarcity. Worldwide only 325 were selected in Topaz Blue Metallic, and of those this is one of the 131 produced for the 2000 model year and only 30 sent to the U.S., 21 of which had the Crema interior of today’s example: