Truth told the E91 isn’t a particularly rare car. There are plenty up for sale every day of the week, and of those that you can find for sale today, the all-wheel drive 328i xDrive isn’t particularly rare, either. But what is not seen very often is the combination of those two factors plus a stick in the center console which can be articulated in 7 different positions. That’s right, we have a unicorn manual! Such is the frequency with which these are referred to by the mythological term, you’d be forgiven for thinking that BMW dealers had a special option box that you could select for your unicorn badge.
Salesman: Now that you’ve selected all your other options, I’m going to tell you about one final “dealer special” option we can offer you – but it’s only for select, and discerning customers!
Rich Plebian: Uh, okay, what is it?
S: It’s the not offered to public “Unicorn” option
RP: “Unicorn”? Like, horned mythological beast?
S: Yes, exactly. The Unicorn Package is option code 785.
RP: Okay, what does it get me?
S: You get to tell everyone how unique your mass produced car is.
RP: Wait, it gives me special powers?
S: No, you just get to say that your car is more special than the other cars that are exactly like it.
RP: Well, people have always told me how special I am, so sign me up!
Thus, when it comes time to sell your unicorn package car, you too can tell everyone that this was the only one that’s like it! Except for the other ones that are like it. But don’t mind them. Let’s look at this one!
BMW’s naming convention went all wonky (even wonkier, perhaps?) after 2010, as they moved away from the previous ‘iX’ moniker to the new ‘xDrive’ nameplate. To make normal models seem equally special, or perhaps to keep German badge makers employed, they then introduced a new model option – ‘sDrive’. While you might at first think this stands for ‘sport’, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ‘sDrive’ is like Audi’s ‘FrontTrak’ – a fancy name for a two-wheel drive model. Does that automatically mean rear-drive? No. You can, for example, get a brand new 2020 BMW X1 sDrive, which means front-wheel drive, but ostensibly the name is associated with the rear-drive-only Z4 roadster, as we see here.
The revised E89 Z4 launched in 2009, and gone were two things – the M variant, and the coupe, which was replaced by a folding hardtop design. Europe got a plethora of engine choices, but in America we got two, essentially shared with the E8x series – the sDrive3.0i and the sDrive3.5i. As with the E8x and E9x series, the “3.5” wasn’t actually a 3.5, but the twin-turbocharged N54 under the hood. Unlike both of those other models, though, the N54 was not replaced with the N55 single-turbo motor after 2010. Instead, the N54 soldiered on. Also unlike the E8x and e9x models, while there was a ‘is’ model launched that turned up the twist to 1M levels of power, in the Z4 that engine choice could only be had with a seven-speed DCT gearbox. That means that this car was the most potent form of the E89 you could get at the time with a manual transmission:
A few weeks ago I looked at a 1995 Volvo 850 T5-R wagon, one of the all-time great designs launched by the company:
1995 Volvo 850 T5-R Wagon
The Porsche-modified engine managed to channel an impressive 243 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. The downsides? Well, not only was that particular example expensive, it was front-drive only and equipped with an automatic transaxle. Of course, move forward a generation and there was an even more potent possibility if you like fast five-doors; the V70R. The V70R had 300 horsepower driving all-four wheels through a transversely mounted turbo five, along with heavily bolstered sport seats, Brembo brakes, and an Öhlins adjustable suspension. And yeah, you could get a six-speed manual. A vast majority of these cars were used quite heavily as intended, but still are appealing to consider in the used market:
There were a lot of haters when the E60 series debuted, and it remains a polarizing design today. While the prior three revisions of the 5-Series had been evolutionary, there was little to identify connections to the previous generation beginning in 2004. But the M5 didn’t just break with tradition with the exterior styling.
Leaps in horsepower had been impressive, but not outrageous in the prior three generations. From the Euro-specification 286 horsepower M88/3 in the E28 came 315 horsepower in the 3.6 E34, then 340 in the last 3.8s. The world seemed shocked when the E39 announced a 394 horsepower V8 under the hood, but in all reality it was essentially as much of a jump from the E28 to the last E34. But the E60. That was a jump. Replacing the 4.9 liter V8 in the E39 was now a 5.0-liter S85 V10, and it was made to scream. It sported a forged crankshaft, lightweight pistons and valves, 10 individual throttle bodies, hollow cams, 12:1 compression, semi-dry sump lubrication, and double VANOS variable valve timing. The result? 500 horsepower and a shrieking exhaust note that is simply unforgettable.
Are these cars collector worthy? They certainly have a strong following and there is no denying that condition being equal, they are currently the the one of the cheapest M5s you can buy. And the one to get, it would seem, would be a 6-speed manual:
I can walk down to any dealership just like anyone else, and provided I have a pulse, probably walk out with financing for most mid-range cars regardless of whether or not I could actually afford them. Indeed, easy credit has led to the proliferation of many of our favorite brands and cars to the point where most don’t feel all that special anymore. A $2,500 1990 Jetta, for example, is much more rare to see today in that condition – or, at all, truthfully – compared to a new M car.
So all modern cars aren’t really all that exciting? That’s far from the truth, too, as there are many special examples that float by our feed. So while the F10 M5 isn’t a model often featured, it’s probably our loss for not doing so. It’s also easy to forget that even though it feels pretty new, the F10 has been out of production for almost 4 years and the earliest examples are now nearly 12 years old. Plus, as most M5s do, the entry price point on the antiquated models has dropped considerably compared to their original MSRP, while their performance is still contemporaneous to today’s cars.
The S63B44T0 found under the hood of this particular example was good for 550 plus horsepower; not much more than the model it replaced with that wicked V10. But torque? That’s another matter. While the S85 cranked out an impressive 380 lb.ft at 6,100 rpms, the two turbos tacked onto the S63 V8 produced 500 lb.ft of torque with a curve as flat as the Salt Lake from 1,500 rpms through over 5,000. That massive power could be channeled through a manual gearbox, to boot!
But it’s really the color combination of Amazonitsilber Metallic (X07) from BMW Individual that has us looking at today’s example:
The success of the Motorsport derived versions of each generation of the venerable 3-series mean that it’s both easy and a natural choice to concentrate on them in the used market. But BMW has also offered some pretty special non-M models in the 3-series lineup, and that’s especially true of the 2003-2006 330i. Much like the M3, the 330i was available in 2-door coupe and convertible; no surprise there – but the 330i was also quite popular as a sedan and the E46 M3 never came in that configuration. If you ticked the ZHP Performance Package box, you paid an additional $3,900 on top of the premium for your top-of-the-line 330i. While that was no small amount of change, what that amount resulted in was actually quite a bargain.
Developed by BMW Individual, you got a plethora of performance details throughout the package. Outside, M-Tech body pieces adorned the car front, sides and rear and blacked out trim replaced the chrome. So too were M-branded special Style 135 18″ wheels, with tires to match the width of bigger brother M3. Lower and stiffer suspension was met with more negative camber, special reinforcement, and revised control arms. The engine was upgraded too, with unique cams and a revised engine map resulting in 10 more horsepower, but the ZHP was more than 10 hp quicker off the line thanks to a shorter final drive and a 6-speed manual borrowed from M. Performance wise, the ZHP split the difference between the 330i and M3 in acceleration and cornering, so it really was a performance package to live up to its name. Inside, too, many special details adorned the ZHP – from small items like lightly revised gauges with special needles to unique shifter, steering wheel, seat fabric and eggcrate dash trim. Just like the S-Line Titanium Package Audis, these more potent 330is have a cultish following who proudly claim they;re not only special, but one of the most special BMWs made:
The first generation X5 definitely will not go down as the best-looking BMW ever produced, but I’d argue that it’s also not the worst looking of the high-riding ‘activity’ vehicles out there. And in some respects, they make a lot of sense. Pull up next to a modern full-sized trunk in an E30 or similar vintage ‘mid-sized’ car, and you’re looking directly at running boards. The X5 offered 5-series driving style with a commanding road position, and while it wasn’t really an off-roader let’s be honest – very few of the millions of SUVs you see out there ever see more than a gravel road.
What the E53 did offer, though, was a cross-over to the Sport package available in the E39. Because of that, you could opt for the 3.0-liter M54 hooked to a five-speed manual, and unlike the E39, you could opt to get those two hooked to all-wheel drive. They’re hard to find, but one popped up with some neat mods and in a neat color combination. Is it worth consideration?
Nomenclature has been something Audi fans have struggled with, but to be fair the naming scheme from Ingolstadt hasn’t always been particularly straightforward. For example, though ubiquitous as the Coupe GT, there was actually a trim and performance difference between B2 front-drive Coupes and Coupe GTs. Similarly, though U.S. fans often fair to recognize it, the B3 Coupe Quattro was actually the second generation with the name; Europeans enjoyed the option of having a non-turbocharged, non-flared version of the B2 platform which few but the most dedicated U.S. Audi Coupe fans are aware of. Then there’s the name – properly, a capitalized Quattro refers to the aforementioned legend – the model that launched the branding of Audi’s all-wheel drive system. Every subsequent model that followed properly has a lowercase “q” if it sported the optional all-wheel drive. That even goes for models that were only offered in all-wheel drive, such as the V8 quattro. That is, except for the Coupe Quattro, which Audi insisted should also be capitalized. So confusing is the naming scheme that fans have taken to using “Ur” to refer to the Quattro (though proper capitalization would take care of the problem) for not only the original model, but the C4 S4/S6 and I’ve even been seeing it used for TTs, A4s and a few others. It also means that every time one comes up for sale and someone slaps ‘Ur’ in front of it, someone else has to ask what ‘Ur’ means.
But the B3 and B4 Coupe wasn’t just offered in all-wheel drive; there were a long line of optional engines in the Coupe in both two and four wheel drive. However it only came to the U.S. in one configuration – the under-appreciated 7A inline-5 20V motor pushing all four wheels. The B3 ran the second generation of quattro, with the center differential controlled by a Torsen unit and the rear open with an optional, speed limited locking unit. It upped the safety and electronic options to respond to market demands. They were heavy with electronic features including power seats, and passengers enjoyed the confusing safety net known as PROCON-10 – essentially, a series of cables which pre-tensioned seatbelts in the event of a crash. Though the production run of U.S. Coupes was brief at only 2 years and roughly 1700 units, there were many changes over that time. The motor changed ISV valves and computers as well as swapping from a tubular header to a cast iron unit. Shortly into production, airbags became standard on both the Coupe and sedan models. A rear swaybar was added, along with changes to the hydraulic system. All of these went relatively unseen to consumers, making the only notable change the addition of a glass sunroof to 1991 models. For the most part, these cars came fully loaded with the only options being Pearlescent White Metallic paint and power heated seats, unlike the sedan which despite being fewer in number has much more variety in options.
VAG’s decisions on who would be able to shift their own gears have always been a bit confusing, but the period of the 3.2 VR6 is really where this came to a head for U.S. customers. In 2004, Volkswagen brought their hottest Golf (finally!) to our market, featuring the singing VR6 in 6-speed manual only form with the R32. Great, but Audi offered the same platform in slinkier TT 3.2 Quattro form. However, fans of manual shifting were overlooked as Audi opted to bring the top TT here only with DSG. This carried over to the A3 model range, where you could get a 3.2 quattro but only with the DSG box.
When it came to the next generation, VAG opted to change this formula. As it had been a fan favorite, you’d assume that the R32 would retain the same layout. But no, Volkswagen removed the manual option and the Mk.5 based R32 became DSG-only. So that would hold true in the bigger budget, typically more tech-heavy TT too, right? Wrong, as in the 2nd generation, Audi finally opted to allow buyers to select a manual in either Coupe or Roadster form:
I’m not much of a Corvette fan. Outside of the original ZR1 and some interesting classics (I’m a big fan of the flawed-but-beautiful ’63 Coupe), most just aren’t very interesting to me. However, take the same formula and drop it into a German car, and I take notice. Is this fair? Probably not. Nevertheless, the ‘German Corvette’ – the 928 – has always intrigued me.
I’m not alone, as the market star of early 928s is rising and the GTS models are still breaking records. So what better way to go than to split the middle? The S4 is just that – enough updates to have fun without the budget-breaking buzz of the last-of-the-run GTS. Sure, you give up some horsepower. But it’s not like the S4 is exactly slow – the 32-valve V8 cranks out 316 horsepower, if you’re counting – and here it’s hooked to a 5-speed manual and a limited-slip differential, as well. You also got the updated looks of the later cars, and the Baltic Blue paintwork shows those curves well. Slip inside and you’ll find Linen leather in the luxurious cabin. What’s not to love?