Most German car enthusiasts are no longer familiar with the name “DKW”. It’s a shame considering the long history of DKW, whose name originates from the German Dampf-Kraft-Wagen or “steam powered vehicle” – just to give you a sense of the time period they started out. DKW reached its zenith in the 1930s, a time when Germany was experiencing massive growth in its economy and Hitler wanted to turn the Fatherland into a nation of drivers. Ironically, despite his notable efforts supporting Grand Prix racers and the development of the Beetle, pre-War automobile ownership in Germany was amongst the lowest in all of Europe. They were, rather, a nation of riders – motorcycles, to be precise, buying more of the two-wheeled transport than anyone else in Europe. It was what gave companies like BMW a start, for example, but the most successful of all of the pre-War motorcycle companies was DKW. Upon joining the Auto Union in 1932, they began experimenting more with small cars. But the aftermath of World War II meant that the area that DKW, Audi and Horch – 3/4 of the Auto Union company – were stuck in Soviet controlled areas, most of the factories being disassembled and sent back further behind the Iron Curtain as war reparations.
The result was that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, new efforts to resurrect these names were attempted. It’s not very surprising that the attempts were made; after all, imagine if Chevrolet went out of business due to a War; you can bet once things were cleaned up, someone would try to make a Corvette. And sure enough, based upon some pre-War designs the F89 was born. As with most post-War cars in Germany, it was small, affordable and versatile. DKW utilized the platform to create what was, in essence, the first Audi Avant. The F94 chassis you see here was an updated version of the F89, replete with the 2-stroke 3-cylinder engine that the company claimed gave the power of an inline-6 – hence the paradoxical naming strategy of 3=6 for the Sonderklasse. With a space-saving transverse motor driving the front wheels, there was ample room for flexible seating in the rear. Outside was a reasonably aerodynamic, compact design and the small motor ensured reasonable fuel economy – though no promise of speed. Today, nearly 70 years after the design was first sketched out, finding these Universal Kombis is extraordinarily hard – and when they surface in the U.S., they’re typically not in particularly good shape:
Although the C3 Audi chassis enjoyed a reasonably long production run of 1984-1991, each year introduced changes that, while evolutionary, were notable and make each specific model year feel a little bit bespoke. The biggest change was the 1986 introduction of Audi’s all-wheel drive system of quattro to the large model range, making three distinct packages you could get the unique drivetrain in the luxury market. In the U.S. market, 1986 5000 quattros came only in “CS” spec and sedan – basically, fully loaded with only heated seats, Fuchs forged wheels and Pearlescent White Metallic paint as options. 1987 opened the options, but not with more gadgetry – the Avant, previously only available in front drive normally aspirated “S” form, joined the quattro lineup full time after being introduced about halfway through the 1986 model run. Alcantara also became a seldom-selected option. 1988 saw a very minor revision to the turbocharged “CS” models with new script badges in the rear and a few more options including heating for the rear seats and Velour interior options, but the big news was a new “5000S quattro” model, which came sans turbo and without the twin-bulb headlights, but shared the big brother turbo brakes and wheels. It was a smart move to drop the price on the quattro models, as the normal run 5000 reported outsold the 5000CS quattro by a measure of 4:1!
1989 was highlighted by a complete model refresh, moving to the European “100/200? model designations. Accompanying the change were some new colors and minor alterations, such as more upscale-looking 15?x6” BBS wheels (color matched on Pearlescent White Metallic examples, just as the aero and Fuchs wheels had been). But inside an entirely new sweeping dashboard setup would be the standard on big Audis for the next 7 years. Instead of the previously confusing “S/CS” monikers, turbocharged models now wore the 200 badge, while normally aspirated models were 100s. The Alcantara and Velour options disappeared on the 200 models, which came only fully-loaded, and Fuchs were no longer an option. The 100 quattro shared many components with the 80/90 quattros from the same time, including the NG normally aspirated motor instead of the turbocharged MC1. 100s also ran the familiar small-chassis 4×108 bolt pattern with accompanying smaller brakes, but oldly Audi commissioned BBS to make a run of 15?x6? wheels that matched the look of the 200’s wheels outwardly. Mechanically, otherwise there were few changes to either model, though as with the 80/90 quattros, the option to lock your own differential was now limited to the rear, and then speed limited to 15 m.p.h.. While 1990 saw few changes to the run overall, there was a change in motor in the 200. A rolling change saw the revised (and very short lived) MC2 replace the MC1. Twin knock sensors allowed engineers to run higher compression; coupled with a reground camshaft, lighter mass flywheel and smaller K24 turbo meant that the MC2 could run less boost and spool more quickly for a better driving experience, but ultimately the facts and figures say the power was unchanged. As always, top of the heap was the 200 quattro Avant, like this Zermatt Silver Metallic example:
I don’t think a lot of people saw this coming, but the Mercedes-Benz AMG estates from the mid-2000s are firmly holding their values. The results don’t lie, none have traded hands under the low $20,000 range that I can find and most are above $30,000. Great news if you own one, maybe not so great if you want to buy one. Although if the values keep holding strong, I guess buying one isn’t the worst idea ever as you are basically parking your money. However, there is another way to get your big V8 AMG wagon fix if you don’t want to pony up $30,000.
The only W203 worth buying, the C55 AMG, actually was made in wagon form in 2005 and 2006. They didn’t make many of them, less than 2,000, and exactly zero came to the United States. Not exactly a common car to find and even less so as it is rumored a lot of them went to Japan and other Asian countries. However, you can still find a handful for sale in Germany at any given time and they actually look pretty darn cool. We just have to wait until 2030 to import one to the United States. Canada however, get your chequebooks ready!
While the B10 BiTurbo generated the headlines as the world’s fastest sedan, BMW’s replacement M60 V8 motor was making its way into production and the M30 inline-6 was on its way out. Of course that meant it wasn’t too long before Buchloe got their hands on one, and in turn it wasn’t too long before the B10 4.0 replaced the BiTurbo as the top offering. But a year later, Alpina had already punched out the block to 4.6 liters. Now generating 340 horsepower, the new B10 4.6 not only was as quick as the M5, it was considerably cheaper and less complicated than the BiTurbo had been too.
Like the 4.0 before it, the standard 17″ Alpina wheel treatment, upgraded suspension, larger and less restrictive exhaust, aerodynamic tweaks and unique interiors all made their way here. Also like the 4.0, the 4.6 was available as either a sedan or Touring, and as either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed Switch-Tronic automatic. A scant 46 were built before the end of E34 production, of which only 19 were Touring models – making this one of the most limited Alpinas produced:
Audi brought the S4 Avant to the United States for the first time in 2001. It joined the sedan lineup and offered a follow-up to the large chassis S6 Avant from 1995. This was actually the second S4 Avant, as Europeans had enjoyed the C4-based creation in the early 90s. Audi’s renaming convention therefore created a successor to the B4-based S2 Avant. Instead of the traditional inline-5 motivation, though, Audi had developed a new 2.7 liter version of its V6. With a K03 turbocharger strapped to each side, the APB produced 250 horsepower at 5800 rpms and 258 lb.ft of torque at only 1850 revs. Like all the B5s, Audi’s new generation of ‘quattro’ used a T2 Torsen center differential and relied upon an electronic rear differential utilizing the ABS sensors. The B5 chassis used the same technology on the front differential as well and was capable of independently braking each front wheel to try to sort the car out through its dynamic stability program.
But the real fun was that it was available as an Avant and with a 6-speed manual. Just over 1,500 were claimed imported between 2001 and 2002’s model years, with about 600 of those being Tiptronic equipped. LY9B Brilliant Black was the second most popular color ordered behind Light Silver Metallic, and this particular Avant is one of 183 Brilliant Black (out of 850 total) manuals brought in for the 2001 model year:
Update 5/7/19: This time around, the Bamboo Bomber sold for $12,100.
I don’t think there are any young children sitting around pining for the loss of the wagon. It’s hard to imagine a young teen hanging a picture of a Audi Allroad on his wall next to the idealistic Ferraris and Porsches, after all. Say to a average car-obsessed 10-year old “someday you’ll really want a wagon”, and they’ll probably laugh. Then try to tell them it will be beige…
All of this raises an interesting point: at what point does this particular car become appealing? Is it because it’s rare? Certainly there aren’t many 200 20V quattro Avants out there, with most fans accepting that approximately 149 were imported. Is it because it’s old? Now on the verge of being 30, the scant number originally imported has dwindled to the point where I’m sure someone knows them all by name. After all, there were more people in my high school graduating class than 200 20V Avants imported. Is it because it’s powerful? Well, to be honest, the 217 horsepower the 3B turbocharged double-overhead cam 20V inline-5 chucked out originally seems pretty tame today. But at the time, you needed to spend a lot of money to go faster than this 5-door. Is it because it’s beige? Now it gets interesting, as I was frustrated by the drapes-match-the-carpet tones in a recent S8, which otherwise shares most of the characteristics I just mentioned:
2001 Audi S8
Yet here, this rare Bamboo Metallic over rare Travertine in the (you guessed it) rare 200 20V quattro Avant pulls the right strings and becomes quite desirable:
If I’m honest, neither the outrageous Passat W8 nor the overpriced A4 Avant from Sunday really thrilled in the same way as the 2.7T-swapped B6 Ultrasport build did. Granted, you could just about buy both the Audi and the Passat for the same price as that build, but if you’re going to take on a complicated older fast wagon, there must be some sort of reward for all the risk, right?
Well, not to be outdone, here’s a stellar BMW option. The standard 325xi Touring, while available with a 5-speed manual, isn’t nearly as exotic sounding or performing as the duo from the other day. The M54 2.5 liter inline-6 was about 100 horsepower down on the Passat W8 and they weighed pretty close to the same. BMW also chose to not equip any of the xi models with the M-Sport suspension, either. While the 3-series was substantially cheaper than either the A4 2.0T S-Line Titanium package or the Passat W8 4Motion, out of the box it also didn’t feel as special.
Of course, if you rip it apart and rebuild it with a S54 borrowed from a M3 and a 6-speed from a X3, the story changes a bit…
Fortunately for its seller but unfortunate if you actually were interested in it, the 2.7T-swapped Audi B6 A4 Ultrasport Avant ‘Unicorn Killer’ I wrote up a few weeks ago sold just before I went to press. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other interesting options out there, and I found two in direct competition (at least, ostensibly) with one another on my local Craigslist.
Here, we have two all-wheel drive wagons from VAG. Both are complicated. Both are reasonably quick. Both have mindbogglingly long names. Both have 6-speed manuals, both originally had MSRPs north of $40,000 and both, predictably, are quite rare to find. But while the mileage on the two is different, their asking prices are within a hundred dollars. So which would you take?
Continuing on my theme of rare European treats, here’s a Jetta you don’t see every day. While the market may have seemed fairly saturated by the 2000s with all-wheel drive wagons – including Volkswagen’s own Passat Variant 4Motion – that didn’t stop VW from bringing a new generation of small wheel drive five-doors to customers. Of course, there had been a Mk.3 Golf Variant Syncro available with the VR6 previously – I looked at one a few years ago:
4WD Week: 1996 Volkswagen Golf Variant 2.9 VR6 Syncro
The Syncro name was dropped for the 4th generation and fell in line with the new 4Motion branding shared with the Passat. However, while the Passat’s longitudinal drivetrain borrowed Audi’s B5 quattro system, the Mk.4 was of course transverse. As a result, the Mk.4’s Haldex system was shared with the Audi A3 and TT. The Golf Variant was also renamed the Bora Variant, and thus was born today’s car. Engine revisions mid-run led to this model: the 2.8 V6 4Motion Highline. While the car is branded “V6” and if you open the engine bay it even says “V6” on the beauty cover, it was in fact a 24 valve variant of the 2.8 liter narrow-angle VR6. Dubbed the BDF and rated at 201 horsepower, that made this a little all-wheel drive pocket rocket 5-door, and just like the R32 we saw it could be mated to a manual transmission:
So here’s part one in a trio of strange, yet desirable in their own right, Volkswagens. There are plenty of popular Volkswagens that demand premiums, sometimes inexplicably. These special models have a draw and demand money that makes people laugh. Sure, in the car world, itâ€™s become accepted that vehicles like the 21 window Samba are now $100,000 plus fully restored; however, tell that to my father-in-law, who grew up driving them, and youâ€™ll get nothing but boisterous laughs. Other Volkswagens exhibit charm or were class leaders; the GTi, the Vanagon Westy, the Corrado â€“ stylish in their own ways, with charm to match. Then thereâ€™s the Passat. Despite the serious popularity of the B5 and B5.5 chassis, I still feel like I need to explain to people that theyâ€™re really quite nice cars. Do you know why?
Mostly itâ€™s because of the reputation of the B3 and B4 Passats. The B4 Passat will certainly not go down in history as the best made, fastest or even prettiest mid-sized Volkswagen. Poor build quality coupled with an unerring tendency of early 90s Volkswagens to rust heavily meant theyâ€™re an odd choice for the Volkswagen fan. And when I consider the B4 Passat, all I can think is that itâ€™s arguably the most vanilla Volkswagen ever produced. I praised Volkswagen when they launched the B3; smooth, aerodynamic with a distinctive wedge shape, it looked very different than any other sedan on sale at the time. Most of that distinction came down to the grill-less front end, but regardless it was cool. It was so cool, in fact, that no one got it. Of course, it didnâ€™t help that it was pretty expensive and not particularly reliable in the best trend of early 90s VWs. So it probably came as no surprise when the revised B4 Passat in 1995 went more mainstream. New wheels, mostly new body panels and some minor interior changes signaled its introduction, but thatâ€™s not what people sought. No, the big news was under the hood; Volkswagen moved the 1Z 1.9 TDi into the Passat â€“ and behind the headlines of the Vans, Corrados and GTIs, itâ€™s probably the most sought 1990s Volkswagen â€“ especially in 5-speed Variant form: