One half of a Zuffenhausen V8

The car we’ll have a look at this week can very truthfully be described as a well-designed, well-built, practicle and perfectly balanced transaxle coupé with a real Porsche engine. Or, as is far more common, looked down upon as a Porsche-badged Audi. You’ve guessed it, this week we’ll look at the Porsche 944 in its different iterations, a car that is far better than generally believed, and in my view one of the few remaining bargains in the Porsche line-up!

The year is 1981, Ronald Reagan is the new US president, pope John Paul II gets shot (but luckily not killed) and Kim Carnes tops the charts with “Bette Davis Eyes”. The Porsche 924, the car that was indeed more of an Audi, had already been produced five years by then, and interestingly, was originally not intended to be a Porsche at all, but rather a Volkswagen. Had Porsche not picked up the project when Volkswagen decided to abandon it in the early 70’s, the 944 may never have existed (and, Volkswagen could potentially have had a far cooler image than it does today, had it not abandoned it!). As known though, when VW pulled the plug, Porsche picked up what was to become the 924 and thereby inherited quite a few parts along with it, notably the Audi engine with a power output of only 125 hp in the base version. Both the origin of the engine and its lack of power were always the weakest points of the 924. So in 1981, when Porsche decided it was time to launch the beefed-up 944, the first priority was more power. The six-cylinder from the 911 was not an option, notably since there were rumours at the time that rear-mounted engines would be banned in the US, and the only other engine Porsche had in stock was the newly developed, aluminium V8 in the 928. Cutting the V8 in half became the solution, and resulted in the original 2.5 litre four-cylinder of the 944, in its first version developing 163 hp (in Europe, 20 hp less in the US). Better, although still not shooting the lights out.

Porsche ads were frequent – and funny – in the 80’s

Apart from the engine which we’ll come back to in a minute and which except for the power output had a lot going for it, the rest of the 944 did and still does so as well. Firstly it looks good, in a nice 80’s way. At the basis it’s obviously the same body as the 924, but the more muscular, wider rear part makes a big difference and makes the 944 look like a real sports car. It’s also quite a practical car, with back seats (that can be folded) offering reasonable comfort for children, and quite a large luggage space under the glass lid. Secondly, the transaxle construction witth the new engine in front and the gearbox in the back gave the car a near perfect weight distribution of 49/51, making it very well-balanced. The advantage of the aerodyamic shape was also to give the 944 a very respectable top speed of far more than the 210 km/h Porsche had officially quoted. Thirdly, after the face lift in 1985 it also offered a nice interior, far better than the one of the first years that had been identical to the 924, and also far nicer and more modern than the 911’s (911 Carrera or 964) of the time.

Until 1985 there was only one version of the 944, but in 1986 the Turbo was added, producing no less than 220 hp and thereby putting it in a different league to the base model and improving the 0-100 km/h time by all of three seconds, to 5.9 seconds. The Turbo had various other improvements to it as well, notably larger breaks. A year later, the even stronger Turbo S (a name that is obviously still around today for Porsche’s strongest versions) took that up to 250 hp, making it the strongest four-cylinder engine in the world at the time. During the last three years of production until 1991, the S-engine then became the standard engine in the Turbo. There were however also improvements made to the naturally aspirated engine, through the “S” version in 1987 that thanks notably to 16 valves took the power to 187 hp, and then the “S2” in 1989, increasing that further to 208 hp, by now with an increased engine volume of 3 litres. All these engines were also available in the convertible version of the 944, that in my taste however loses a lot of the nice lines of the coupé, with a strange convertible top and through that also a strange looking boot.

Later 944‘s had a low “diffusor” spoiler, improving the rear looks

It’s a couple of years since I last drove a 944 in the 187 hp S version, but interestingly I remember doing so in the same week as driving a 964. No doubt the latter conveyed more of the “true” Porsche feeling, largely also thanks to the engine which is far stronger at lower revs than the 16v four-pot in the 944 S, which needs a bit of revs to reveal its best side. When you do rev it, it does however turn out to be a very nice companion that in no way feels short on power. The 944 also left a very positive general impression in everything from the steering over the surprisingly precise gearshift to the nice cabin, which as mentioned feels quite modern, especially compared to the 964. I actually struggle to remember a single car from the 80’s that presents a better total package for the money in question if its a true sports car feel you’re after. There are clearly atlernatives, some of which we’ve explored here such as the BMW 635i (see here) or the Jaguar XJ-S (see here), but those convey more of a GT than a true sports car feel.

Still today, a nice place to spend time in!

EUR 25-30.000 buys you a nice, late 944 in the S or S2 version, which would be the ones I would for. The first 163 hp version is a bit too weak, and the Turbo is on one hand at least EUR 10.000 more expensive and also more prone to problems. Potential issues are less costly than with a 911 but owner and maintenance history are nevertheless critical. The precise feel in both steering and gearshift that I mention above is a notable sign of a well maintained car, but also something that can vary a lot. Equipment-wise there wasn’t much to be had in the 80’s, but a well-maintained leather interior is nicer than the textile one, and the sunroof is indeed quite special, as it can be tilted but also fully removed in a slightly complicated procedure – nice as long as it works!

Sunroof off almost gives a true convertible feel, with wind deflectors!

If your set on a Porsche but don’t think it necessarily needs to have six cylinders in the back and your budget is around EUR 30.000, options are still few and far between. I’ve mentioned the 911 Carrera (G) and 964 here, which in a comparable condition cost two to three times as much as a 944. You could obviously also go for not only half but all of the engine, i.e. the V8 928, but that will also set you back at least EUR 10-15.000 more. It will also mean losing a bit of the sports car feel and vastly higher maintenance costs (as the 911’s will as well). That leaves the more modern 996, which is comparable in price and equally underrated. I can’t believe it’s almost to the day six years since I wrote about it, in a post you’ll find here. Compared to six years ago the 996 is still a bargain (albeit slightly less so) and the better car, but also one you see if not on every, then at least on many corners. If you buy the right car you can’t really go wrong with either one of them leaving it down to personal preferences. What is clear however is that the 944 is a true Porsche and we should be thankful to its “Audi” cousin 924, without which it would probably never have existed at all!

Street finds: the A112 Abarth!

The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!

The very cool 70 hp Abarth I saw on the streets, with stripes and a white roof!

Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.

With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.

The double pipes ensure a great sound to this day!

That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!

Brilliant Abarth steering wheel, wonderful bucket seats, long wooden stickshift – what more do you need!

So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!

The bargain family 911!

If you’re part of the crowd for which Porsche is equal to a 911 and you’ve looked at the 911 market lately (or for that matter at any point during the last 10 years), you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless a 911 is already safely stored in your garage, the train has left the station. But while that is indeed true in the case of classical 911’s up until the 996, it’s slightly less true for later 911’s and very much less true for the other models in the Porsche line-up, which today make up 85% of the company’s production. Today we’ll talk about one of those models, one that doesn’t receive much attention, that was always slightly controversial in terms of its looks, but also one that in its first iteration offers an unbelievable value for money whilst being capable of transporting four adults and their luggage in a way that no other family sedan can. You guessed it – this week is about the Porsche Panamera.

Definitely a Porsche – but good-looking?

Porsche’s decision to start producing other models than the 911 had been taken many years before the Panamera, notably through the Cayenne in 2002. Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s visionary CEO at the time and until 2009, had recognized that many 911 owners also had an SUV in their garage and wanted to have a share of that market, something he definitely succeeded in given the Cayenne today makes up alomost 1/3 of Porsche’s production. But then again everyone doesn’t want an SUV and Wiedeking also saw room in the market for a sports sedan-coupé, whatever you want to call it, the development of which ran during the 2000’s with the Panamera finally being launched in 2009. Importantly Wiedeking was not only visionary but also tall, and this is where the most criticized aspect of the Panamera – its roofline – comes into play.

It is said that at the beginning of the Panamera project, Wiedeking set as a condition for the car that he, and thereby well-grown adults, should be able to sit comfortably in the backseats (which in the first generation of the car were two separate seats, whereas later versions had the option of a 3-passenger rear bench). This forced the designers to raise the roofline which is what gives the Panamera its strange profile and earned it the nickname “buckle whale” in the home market Germany. Add to that the headlights resembling the Cayenne and some slightly strange-looking backlights, and you get a car that in the eyes of most is not beautiful, but luckily has a large number of other qualities that you experience once inside – which is where you spend your time anyway.

It’s clear to see where rear passengers have their heads!

It’s absolutely true that four adults travel in comfort in a Panamera, even when back passengers are over 180 cm. Contrary to many other coupé-GT’s the Panamera is a hatchback offering around 450 litres of luggage space, in addition to which the back seats can be folded. This is in other words a car that is fully capable of transporting not only people, but also their luggage. And if the exterior is controversial there is not much to say about the interior that is very nicely appointed and offers a true sports car feeling. Actually a 911 feeling, until you look over your shoulder and see the backseats. As so often a dark interior is to be preferred as it usually stands the test of time better – and make the few pieces of plastic that don’t have the real qualitiative look shine less.

“Pre-touchscreen” cars had a lot of buttons, but none more so than the Panamera’s center console!

The best part is of course the drive, which can be described as all the 911 feeling you can possibly get in a family car format. Going back to the Cayenne, it was at the launch said to convey the same 911 feeling in an SUV format, something all of us who have driven one know is not the case, as it can never be in a car riding as high as an SUV does. The Panamera is also a big car (almost five meters long and two meters wide) but it obviously rides much lower. At just under two tons it’s however no light-weight, making the driving experience even more impressive. Again, you won’t find a “family-compatible” car at an even remotedly similar price point (more on that below) that is more fun, precise and enjoyable. Two features that are important in that regard is opting for a car with PDK and if possible also air suspension which clearly enhances the ride quality.

The first generation Panamera was offered as two- or four-wheel drive with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines and a six-cylinder diesel. There was also a six-cylinder hybrid but we’ll pass on that and the diesel here, as there is no doubt that the eight-cylinder is the engine that was intended for the car – just looking under the hood of a six-cylinder shows you that, as half the space is empty. Also, the only engine that has given rise to mechanical issues through the years is the 300 hp, petrol six-cylinder, so steer clear of it. The 400 hp Panamera S and 4S where offered along with the 500 hp double turbo Panamera Turbo from the start in 2009, and were complemented with the (naturally aspirated), 430 hp GTS and 550 hp Turbo S in 2011. Except for the “basic” 8-cylinder Panamera S, all other versions are four-wheel drive as standard and all except the S also come with a 7-speed PDK. I would go for one of those and basically let you be the judge of how much power you need. The GTS is in my view especially interesting, being a bit more unusual and the strongest of the naturally aspirated V8’s.

Replace these bags with more car-appropriate luggage and you’ll fit even more stuff!

The reason you can be the judge of how much power you need is also that in the second-hand market, where plenty of Panameras are to be found, it doesn’t really make a difference. A budget of EUR 30.-40.000 will get you plenty of great candidates of all configurations, and neither the type of engine nor the equipment level make them differ significantly in price. You don’t even need to go back to the first model year as that budget will also be sufficient for the 2011 GTS and Turbo S with around 100.000 km on the clock. There is for example currently a fully-loaded, 100.000 km Turbo S in Switzerland in fantastic condition, that cost CHF 290.000 as new, for sale for CHF 37.000… 100.000 km is of course no issue for a Porsche V8, as long as the car has been taken care of, preferrably has had one owner and comes with a complete service history. When it comes to options, the more is generally the better but you should probably steer clear of the ceramic brakes that are supposed to hold a lifetime, but often need to be replaced already around 100.000 km or so – at a cost of half the budget given above.

So there we go – a slightly strange-, but also expensive-looking four-seater Porsche, four-wheel drive with ample luggage space that is a true joy to drive, for the same money as a diesel Passat. Come to think of it, it’s also far more enjoyable and much cheaper than a family XC90… Unfortunately the Panamera can do many things really well, but fitting a dog cage isn’t one of them, so I’ll have to pass on this one. If it wasn’t for the dog (stop looking at me like that!), a 2011-2012, well-equipped GTS with standard brakes sounds pretty unbeatable in terms of value for money!

DeLorean – back to the past

If you’re a petrol head born sometime between the mid-60’s and the mid-70’s, there’s probably few cars that you were more excited about in your youth than the famous DeLorean. Thinking of it, you probably didn’t even need to be a petrol head to find the car exciting. The looks, the gullwing doors, the unpainted, stainless steel body, the story around John DeLorean himself and of course, the car’s appearance in the “Back to the future”-movies have all contributed to this being one of the most famous cars from the 80’s.

In 1981 this was really back to the future!

Somewhat surprisingly we’ve never written about the DeLorean on the blog and it definitely feels like it’s time to change that, also as I met a very nice DeLorean owner with his car not too long ago. This week’s post will therefore be on the car with almost a decade-long delivery time but that was only in production for 18 months, that at the launch was hopelessly overpriced and under-powered, and likewise the car whose creator was charged in a major drug smuggling case!

The car commonly referred to as the “DeLorean” was the only car ever built by the DMC, the DeLorean Motor Corporation, founded by John DeLorean in 1973. DeLorean had previously made a name for himself at General Motors in the muscle car era as lead engineer and vice president at Pontiac and later at Chevrolet. After many years at GM he got bored with what he perceived like a lack of innovation. He decided to leave, set up his own company and launch what he called an ethical sports car with notably more focus on safety than was the standard at the time.

The DeLorean was designed by Giugiaro, however based on an existing proposal Giugiaro had submitted to Porsche as an idea for the coming Porsche 928, but that Porsche had turned down. By 1975 the design was completed and apart from (very) minor tweaks remained unchanged until the car was finally launched in 1981. The initial plan was to use a 6-cylinder engine from Ford. That was then dropped for the four-cylinder engine from the Citroen CX (yep, really!), but in the end even DeLorean he had to realize that the power at just over 100 hp in the US due to stricter emission regulations was not enough. Finally it was decided to use the so called PRV 6-cylinder engine from notably the Renault 30 and the Volvo 760. In “US mode” the engine put out around 130 hp, better than 100 but still far less than somewhat comparable competitors.

The long development time was also caused by DeLorean realizing that his thinking around safety features wasn’t viable in the end and that some features such as a full-width knee bar in the interior had to be rethought. He therefore took in Colin Chapman from Lotus quite late in the process, who looked at the prototype and saw a need for re-working large parts of the car. When it was finally launched in 1980, the DeLorean was built on the Lotus steel chassis from the Esprit and had the engine not in the middle but in the rear, as the 911 (but unfortunately without the power of the latter). During the car’s development, the intention had been for it to be named the DMC-12, where 12 would refer to USD 12.000 as its sticker price. By the time deliveries started that price tag had more than doubled and the name was thus dropped for the more neutral DeLorean.

All cars were unpainted at delivery, so any other colour is an after-job

Around 9.000 DeLoreans were built in total in 1981-1982 in a factory in northern Ireland before being shipped to the US. The factory was financed by UK taxpayer money as a way to bring jobs to the region but didn’t last long as DeLorean filed for receivership at the end of 1982. As illustrated by the selling price, the long development time had caused costs to spiral out of control and although the car was well received for its futuristic looks, many prospective buyers were disappointed by the lack of innovation on the inside and again, the lack of power. To be fair though, had DeLorean gone on a bit longer such as to start selling cars in Europe, the power output would have been significantly higher at around 160 hp, thanks to more generous regulations, which would have been more in line with comparable cars at the time. There were also thoughts around a double-turbo version with over 250 hp, but that was never to be.

Interior was available in grey or black and wasn’t bad, but quite conventional

Back then to my newfound friend a few weeks ago who graciously showed me his DeLorean. It is indeed a spectacular car with notably the steel body panels looking really timeless and very cool, as do of course the doors. Who knows, if the first “Back to the future” had come out in 1981 rather than 1985, perhaps that would have given DeLorean enough of a boost to go on a bit longer? The car’s interior is far less innovative with a very 80’s feel to it. Here DeLorean had wanted a more futuristic thinking with digital displays and gauges, but again delays and costs forced him to adopt a more conventional look. The owner told me that driving-wise the car is much more of a cruiser than a sports car. He says he was happy to have a manual box rather than the slow automatic, but also that the PRV isn’t the sportiest of engines. He also mentioned what all DeLorean owners can probably testify to, which is that half the pleasure from driving the car comes from all the happy smiles, thumbs up and photographies from bystanders and other drivers.

Not a car for those not comfortable with being in the limelight!

Next to the lack of power DeLorean was also criticized for bad build quality, especially in the interior. This was probably true but then again I can’t really think of an 80’s car with an interior that has stood the test of time. The truth is that interiors were pretty bad over the board at the time and seen from that angle, the DeLorean at least doesn’t look worse than the rest. The owner hadn’t had any major issues but admitted that small things do break, a lot of them electrical. From that perspective it was probably a good thing that DeLorean didn’t have enough money for his more futuristic ideas… What is very good however, is that the car enjoys a very strong following and very active owner clubs in varous countries. It is believed that more than 6.000 of the 9.000 DeLoreans produced are still on the road today which is a truly impressive number, testifying both to a quality that can’t be that bad, and also a well functioning parts supply through the owners’ network.

So what about the drug dealing charges? Well, it’s kind of a strange story, but in 1982 DeLorean was arrested and charged with cocaine smuggling. He fought the case several years in courts and was finally acquitted of all charges, and it appears the whole thing had been an FBI setup, the purpose of which isn’t really clear. What is, is that following the bankruptcy of DeLorean, John tried to start a number of new businesses but was unable to find investors for any of them. Having been charged in a drug smuggling case probably didn’t help, even if he was acquitted…

Dreamcar builder, playboy, indirect filmstar – but probably not a drug smuggler

So there you are – almost. Because following the demise of DeLorean, in 1983 all remaining parts and stock of unsold cars were shipped to Ohio where they sat a few years until they were acquired by a company in Texas called… the DeLorean Motor Company. Still in existance today and present across the US, the “new” DMC built new DeLoreans out of spare parts, sell spare parts, and service and restores DeLoreans. They’ve also had plans to bring back the DeLorean as an electric car for a number of years, but whether that will ever happen is unclear at best – the original launch date was in 2013. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out http://www.delorean.com.

The new DeLorean company, the many owners’ clubs and hereby the good supply of spare parts along with an engine that was widely used and for which parts can also be found thus make the DeLorean a less problematic car to own than you may suspect. Should you be convinced, it should be noted that values of DeLoreans have gone up in the last years and around EUR 50.000 is what a good car will cost you. Looking across the Atlantic could definitely also be worth it, notably thanks to the new DeLorean Motor Company. As with all cars from this period, the manual version is to be preferred over the automatic which will make the experience even slower. The limited power means it’s not much of a sports car and the interior is nowhere near as spectacular as the stainless steel body with the gullwing doors, but few designs have stood the test of time as well, few still catch as much attention and arguably, few cars make you feel more like an 80’s filmstar!

The stunning Swede!

Arguably many beauties have come out of Sweden over the years, but next year the Volvo P1800, hands down the most beautiful Volvo in history if you ask me, will celebrate its 60th birthday. Let’s therefore wind back the clock to the early 60’s and have a closer look at what is not only a good-looking but arguably also one of the most robust oldtimers you can buy. And in the ES shooting brake shape, an even more beautiful and practical one!

An early “English” car – the design didn’t change much through the years!

The P1800 planning at Volvo in Gothenburg started in 1957. Volvo was in full expansion and its management and especially CEO Gunnar Engellau wanted something that would be an eye-catcher both in showrooms and at auto salons. Volvo had already given the sports car segment a try a few years earlier with the roadster P1900, modelled on the Chevy Corvette, but that had proven to be an utter failure with only 67 cars produced. That did however not change Volvo’s enthusiasm for the idea of a sports car, and the design mandate for what was this time going to be a coupé was given to the Italian design firm Frua – where, as became known much later, the 25-year old Swedish design trainee Pelle Petterson was responsible for it… Swedish readers of the blog will know that the same Petterson then went on to become a famous sailor and boat designer.

Launched in 1961, the P1800 was thus an international project form the start. Planned in Sweden, designed in Italy (by a Swede), premiered at the car show in Brussels in 1961, and initially built by Jensen Motors in the UK, as the strong demand Volvo enjoyed meant there was no free production capacity in Sweden. Volvo was lucky to get away with that, as the first 6.000 P1800 built in the UK suffered from massive quality issues. From 1963 onwards production was relocated to Sweden, however the bodywork was still handled in Scotland until 1969. The UK build years 1961-1963 can be seen in the model name “P1800” as the cars subsequently built in Sweden were called “P1800S” (S for Sweden). The injection version from 1971 was referred to as the “P1800E”.

A later, 1967 car in the popular “off-white” colour

The P1800 saw very few modifications through the years. Design-wise the body was left untouched with only minor modifications to turning lights, chrome applications etc. A testament to a good design from the start! In fact the design was deemed so good that the P1800 was chosen as Simon Templar’s (Roger Moore) car in the British cult TV-series “The Saint” that aired through the 60’s. To be honest though, the producers had first asked Jaguar, but when they declined their attention turned to the P1800, which certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of the car.

If the body stayed the same until the end in 1973, the engines did evolve, however moderately. All P1800 derived their engines from the P121 Amazon, with the first British-built cars having the Volvo B18 engine with 100 hp (later 108 hp and 115 hp in the Swedish-built ones). From 1971 the cars had the B20 engine with 135hp. Not only the engine but also most other parts under the body were derived from the Amazon, no doubt one of the most solid creations that has ever been built and pretty much in a league of its own at the time. But whilst solid is good, was the P1800 any fun to drive?

Probably a renovated interior, but with original parts and seats

Well, the honest answer is that compared to some other sports cars at the time, the P1800 was a rather heavy-footed companion. The solidity no doubt came at the expense of the thrill of driving, and there were certainly more fun cars, roadsters and others, if that rather than the looks was the priority. Today it’s of course a different story. You don’t really buy a 60-year old car to drive it on two wheels through the corners and the solidity is probably of bigger appeal, as are the four disc brakes on cars from 1969. The car has aged very well and few oldtimers turn as many heads as the P1800, but one that does is its own sibling – the P1800 ES.

With an E for Estate added to the name, the ES was only produced during the two last production years 1972-1973. Aggressive US emission rules combined with the first oil crisis together contributed to the ES not seeing the interest it deserved, as this was an early version of what we would today call a shooting break. The whole concept was new at the time and looked upon a bit more critically than today, and the car earned many nicknames in different countries, not always very flattering. In the German-speaking part of Europe it went by the slightly morbid “Schneewitchensarg” (Snow White’s coffin), in Sweden it was called the fish car… Beneath the body work, the ES was exactly the same as as the last version of the “normal” P1800 with the 135 hp B20 engine.

The ES didn’t – and still doesn’t – look like any other car!

Finding a P1800 today is becoming tricky and also expensive, even more so the ES, and you may not have the luxury of choosing between model years. That’s however less important given how similar the cars are. If presented with a choice, the first, second and third priority is to check everything, really everything, for rust, which was a big issue at the time. Next, you probably want to avoid the early English cars unless we’re talking about a complete renovation. Finally, you would want to find a late car with the B20 engine and disc brakes all around. If the P1800 ES is your thing, then there’s really only one version to choose from, but in terms of ES colours, my preferred one is not the most common gold but rather the oh so cool 70’s orange one as pictured below! Expect to pay at least EUR 25′-30′ for a decent P1800 today, and probably an extra EUR 10′ for an ES in the same shape. If you’re thinking of renovating then do make sure you know where to find the necessary parts before signing the contract, as some have become increasingly hard to come by.

Perfect colour with the optional roof rack – the practical oldtimer!

So there we are – a Swedish beauty from the 60’s that if treated well will run for a very long time (there’s reportedly a P1800 out there with more than 4 million kms on the counter, still with the first engine!), that is solid as an ox and easy to maintain, and that will turn heads more than most – what more could you possibly wish for?

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What to consider when buying your dream car

When I sold my Triumph TR4 this autumn after ten years and re-invested the money in my deal-of-the-century BMW 650i, quite a few people came to me both questioning my choice, but also asking for tips of things to think about when buying the dream car with a big D. Based on my experience over the years, I therefore decided to put together a few points in this regard that make up this week’s post.

My choice of switching from an oldtimer to a modern car, as mentioned in my previous post that you can read here, was basically a practical consideration based on how little I was using the TR4, that fact that I neither have unlimited space nor an unlimited budget, and a realization that our needs have changed. This is not to say you shouldn’t realize your oldtimer dream, but whether it’s an oldtimer or a modern car you’re dreaming about, there are some basic things to bear in mind.

Age is just a number – or is it?

The car’s age is obviously an indirect function of what your dream car is, but the point here is just to think about the implications the age will have on your ability to use it. To come back to my TR4, the longest trip I did in ten years was with my wife to Lausanne and back, around 600 kms. It was a great trip without any issues, but when we came back home I wasn’t really longing to go any further and I left the car standing for 3 weeks.  If you’re more hardcore or more passionate this will sound ridiculous, but at least for some of us it’s relevant and something you should consider before deciding.

…when life was more hardcore than today…

Other aspects of old vs newer include some of the things we are so used to in modern cars that we don’t even think about them. Take for example the isolation of the convertible top – there is a very big difference between a 50-year old car and a new one in this regard. Connectivity is another one of those things – if you love connecting your phone, remember that Bluetooth is a recent invention. And remember that speaker systems have evolved. Unless you want to listen to the engine all the time, make sure you’re happy with the sound, because drilling holes in the door panels of your new companion is perhaps not what you dream about.

The art of lobbying

The dream car your mind is set on is not necessarily the dream of your partner or other family members, and this is where some convincing and lobbying comes into play. Believe me, that’s a far better way to go than to start by buying the car and putting your partner before a fait accompli. I’ve tried and it’s nothing I would recommend.  I’ll never forget the day we returned from holidays and whilst I brought in the luggage, my wife listened to the answering machine where a car dealer I had just made a deal with but not yet told her about called to confirm it. Somehow, I hadn’t found the right moment… She eventually came around, but I won’t try that again. Your family doesn’t need to be as enthusiastic as you, but it’s good if they’re in on the project and don’t hate your dream car – you risk becoming very lonely otherwise. Furthermore, if it’s a two-seater, that obviously means any children have to stay home. If it’s a convertible, it won’t necessarily be very comfortable in the back seat with the hood off. And so on.

The thrill of maintaining

All cars break down. To a certain extent this can be avoided by going through all the checks at the time of buying, but stuff happens. It probably happens more with oldtimers than with modern cars, but there’s more stuff that can break in modern cars, so all things considered, it may well come out the same. Also, if you believe like I did that oldtimer mechanics are good-hearted guys in it for the passion and not for the money, think again…

Many oldtimer garages still look the same, but prices have gone up…

Whether old or new, there is obviously a cost associated with your dream vehicle, and that cost will depend heavily on both the car’s age, its condition and its complexity. Looking at oldtimers, my TR4 was a relatively safe bet given it was a no-frills car with a four-cylinder engine originating from a tractor (it sounded great but revving wasn’t its thing…). A 12-cylinder E-type or an Aston Martin V8 are a completely different story, as friends of mine have experienced over the last years. I’ve now replaced my TR4 with a modern, 8-cylinder double-turbo 650i and when the guarantee expires, I’m potentially up for much heftier bills than with the TR4, but I like to think that at least I’m aware of it. You should be so as well, and you should set a projected budget aside. If you’re insecure, speak to a specialized garage or a car club who will be able to guide you. Please remember this. I know a frightening number of intelligent people who somehow managed to forget all about it until the day the bill is delivered…

Is depreciaton a friend or foe?

With the exception of a small number of collectible cars that gain in value from day one, as a rule of thumb nothing depreciates as quickly and heavily as luxury cars and as a general rule, the more they cost as new, the more they will loose. After a period of typically 6-10 years, values then stabilize at a fraction of the initial price, and this is when it gets interesting. Allow me to take my 650i as an example. 6 years ago when it was new it cost CHF 175’ with options. 50.000 kms later I paid CHF 36’. That’s a nice little depreciation of 80% or if you prefer, 2.8 CHF per km. Even if Elon gets his way, the whole world turns electric in five years and my resale value goes to zero, I’ll never be close to that depreciation. Also, and this was important to me, a great advantage of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car is that it was built at the time to cost CHF 175’, not CHF 36’ or anything in between. That shows in every single detail, and it’s a very nice feeling.

If this is you’re thing, depreciation runs in the 100.000’s the first years…

That’s one side of the coin, but there is of course also a reason for the heavy depreciation, and that’s the maintenance cost. Having said that, I’m a very strong believer in the market being very far from perfect in this regard, meaning that if you do your research, you can to a certain extent “beat” it. As a rule of thumb, never ever be in a hurry. There are of course situations where it’s warranted to act quickly but generally, there will always be good cars around. Take your time, do your checks, look into the history, speak to experts, call the car club etc. The more you know, the more likely you are to buy the right car, and the better prepared you’ll be.

When I set eyes on a 6-series, it was these type of considerations that led me to opt for the updated 450 hp V8 rather than the pre-2013 408 hp version. The extra power was nice but above all, a bit of research showed that the previous engine had a history of engine failures that can become very expensive. This was not at all reflected in market prices however. I knew which options were important to me, and also that I wanted a fully serviced one-owner car. When that car in the right colour scheme then appeared back in August, I was able to act quickly. Of course things can still happen and I certainly don’t want to sound like a know-it-all in this regard, but I’d like to think that knowledge and some experience have at least lowered the risk.

NEVER go for “almost” right

Finally, perhaps the most important point of all. Coming back to the point of not being in a hurry, never – ever – go for the car that almost has it all. If you want a manual 996, don’t buy the Tiptronic thinking you’ll get used to it, wait for the right one to come around – it will. Don’t buy a blue car if you want a black because it’s almost as nice and after all it was cheaper. You risk thinking about it every time you walk up to the car. If you dream of the 8-cylinder, don’t by the 6-cylinder version. And so on. If you’re realizing a childhood dream, you want reality to be as close to that dream as possible an “almost” won’t cut it. When the right car comes along, you’ll be glad you waited!

So there we go. Not by any means a complete guide, but hopefully a few points that can help guide you in your quest for the dream car! Good luck!

The striking 205 GTI!

If last week was all about the technological future of our cars, this week we’ll make a trip back in time and explore less of the thrill of technology, and more of the thrill of driving in its purest sense. We’ll do so by looking a bit closer at an absolute legend among hot hatches: the Peugeot 205 GTI.

A brilliant design that has aged very well!

Back in 1990-1991, when the 205 was still riding high although it had alaredy been on the market for seven years, a good friend of mine had parents kind enough to offer him a brand new 205 1.9 GTI when he got his driver’s license. I remember when he showed it to me the first time, it was black and shiny with those lovely 15″ rims and the half-leather interior, and man was I jealous. Not that there was anything wrong with my parents, but the blue Golf from -75 they got me didn’t really do the trick in comparison. As it turned out though, the Golf lived far longer than the 205. You see, my friend was in love with a beautiful girl, who also had just got her license, and kind as he was (and still is), lent her the car over a weekend. If memory serves me right, she didn’t drive more than a few hundred meters before crashing it so completely that it never came back. Luckily nothing happened to her, but the two of them broke off shortly thereafter, unclear why…

Except teaching us to be careful with whom we lend our beloved cars to, the story also highlights another fact which contributed to the 205’s early demise in the above case, namely that it’s a light car with correspondingly thin and light parts. It weighed in at less than 900 kgs and as I’ve written about previously on this blog, a low weight is the best recipe for good handling and speed – but not a good one if you plan to crash.

Anyway let’s go back to the beginning, which for the 205 means the year 1983 when the GTI started off in parallel to the regular 205, initially with a 1.6 litre engine developing first 105 and later 115 hp. In 1986 the engine size was increased to 1.9 litres with more torque and between 120-130 hp depending on version. The debate still goes on among enthusiasts as to which version was the best, some claiming the 1.6 is more playful whilst others talk of more speed and torque in the 1.9 litre. I’ve only driven the 1.9 and I’ll just note that the extra power means 1.5 seconds less to a 100 (at 7.6 seconds), quite beneficial since the car is still as playful as you would expect an 80’s hot hatch to be.

The 15″ wheels were large at the time and reserved for the 1.9 GTI

The 205 was an instant success in France, and the GTI version was a success pretty much all over Europe. In France its main competitor was the Renault 5 which didn’t have the poise of the 205, and internationally it was the Golf GTI Mk2, which was somewhat roomier and probably the better car, but which design-wise was a step back as compared to both the 205 and the Golf GTI Mk1. The 205 was a stunner in comparison and if you ask me it remains so today. I think it’s still one of the best hot hatch designs ever produced and if you look at the complicated forms hatches tend to come in today, certainly one of the cleanest!

It didn’t hurt the success of the 205 GTI, that lasted for 10 years, that a car by the same name but with few parts in common was very successful both in Group B and the Paris-Dakar rally. The 205 T16 / T16 Evo 2 was a mid-engine super car with up to 500 hp, competing with the Lancia Delta Evo and the Audi Sport Quattro, that I wrote about not long ago (click here if you missed it). The 200 homologation cars have mostly gone the same way as my friend’s car and finding one today is very hard and very expensive.

Looks roughly like a 205 and shoots flames out the back – that’s good marketing!

That the “normal” 205 is a real feather-weight becomes clear as soon as you open the (extremely light) door, sit down and look at the likewise very thin and basic plastic dashboard. Not much here to distinguish the GTI from a regular 205, but the comfy, good-looking seats along with the red carpeting remove any doubts as to which version you’re in, and both look sensational. Visibility is tremendous even by 80’s standards and the car is roomier than you think, both in front and back.

Taking it for a short drive, the first thing you note is how much the body moves and how soft the suspension is compared to modern hot hatches. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t stick to the road – it very much does so, but this was how hatches were built at the time and the longer suspension travel means that it’s actually overall more comfortable than a modern hatch. Naturally a new 206 GTI, Civic Type R or any other modern hot hatch is faster, but the 205 still provides a level of speed and fun which is right up there, especially since speed itself is relative and tends to be rather limited in most places you would use a hatch today. The car is playful, both steering and gearbox are fully ok, and the four pot has just the level and type of sound you wish for. It actually felt exactly as fun as it did 30 years ago, before disaster hit the car I drove at the time in the form of a pretty girl.

The dashboard could be any 205 but the seats and colors make the difference!

Finding a 205 GTI isn’t difficult, finding one in good condition a bit more so. Firstly most cars have really been used, and who wouldn’t? This means that may will have 150.000-200.000 kms on the clock which isn’t the end of the world as long as they have been maintained well. A good car will today cost you at least EUR 15.000, a perfect one with much less kms considerably more. Running costs won’t be much to worry about and the downside risk is very limited, as especially well kept cars get increasingly rare.

So why would you? Well, except for the looks and sweet memories from younger days, which in themselves are great arguments, there are other pretty rational reasons for looking at a 205 if a hot hatch is your thing. Assuming you will use it as most people, meaning on short city drives and spells of country roads rather than for long motorway trips, then things such as sound isolation and lack of top end power become much less important and having a small practical but very cool car with great visibility more so! You don’t need giant, Type R-styled wings in the city and you don’t need park assistance systems to park a 205 as long as you can still turn your neck. And whereas a modern hot hatch costs you three times as much to buy, the pleasure you’ll derive by taking the slightly longer way home along that twisty country road won’t be much different!

Four is more than two!

quattro (always with a lower-case “q” ). It’s difficult to find a word that has meant more to a carmaker than quattro to Audi. But the quattro concept goes beyond Audi and was to re-define the car world from the early 80’s until four-wheel drive became a common feature in all types of cars. So with the days getting shorter and the roads more slippery, and the original Audi quattro (Ur-quattro, as the Germans would say) celebrating its 40th birthday this year, let’s have a closer look at it, its brilliance as a rally car, and also at the genius of the late legend Ferdinand Piëch, without whom the quattro wouldn’t have happened.

The Audi quattro was truly innovative at the time, including the boxed arches!

To get some perspective we have to wind the clock back to the late 70’s. This wasn’t a very exciting period in the car world in general, and four-wheel drive was at the time something you only found in traditional utility cars like Land Rovers and G-wagons. In Ingolstadt, a bunch of talented Audi engineers under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch had however started thinking about the possibilities of using four-wheel drive in normal passenger cars, thanks to a room-saving, innovative new differential system.

In parallel there was also talk in the rally world of allowing four-wheel drive on rally cars, which until then had been forbidden. As the visionary he was, Piëch saw the opportunity of developing a new, four-wheel drive sports car and enter it in the world rally championship such as to provide a unique marketing window. This was the first true example of what would become Audi’s long-lived slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” (something like “head start through technology”). The quattro was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980 and given the rally rules had been re-written in 1979 to allow for four-wheel drive, the timing was perfect.

Not the most pleasant man – but Ferdinand Piëch was both an amazing engineer and marketeer!

Given the Audi quattro was a new concept when it was introduced, Audi weren’t really sure of the demand and modestly estimated it at a few hundred cars. They would be wrong by about 11.000, which was the total number of original Audi quattro’s built between 1980 and 1991! Using the Audi 80 chassis, the quattro also inherited the five-cylinder engine that had so far powered the Audi 100 and 200 (with turbo in the latter). The engine was an engineering tour de force in itself, born out of the need for a smoother engine than a four-cylinder, but in Audi’s case with too little room to fit a front-mounted, longitudinal six-cylinder engine, given the gearbox was placed right behind the engine.

The solution was one of the first mass-produced five-cylinder engines that would come to define Audi over many years almost as much as the quattro concept, and that was said to combine the smoothness of a six-cylinder with the fuel consumption of a four-pot. The first part is true, and it can be added that it does so with a very distinctive sound. The part on the fuel consumption is very much dependent on the driver… In the quattro, the turbo-boosted engine produced 200 hp in the 10-valve version until 1988, which was increased to 220 hp in the 20-valve version for the last three production years.

The radiator had to be placed to the right of the engine, with the turbo to the left.

When you look at the quattro today, the “Vorsprung durch Technik” motto (sorry, sticking to the German version as the translation doesn’t sound as good…) quickly comes to mind. Not that the car is ugly, but it’s certainly not a design masterpiece (then again, neither was the Lancia Delta, the Renault Turbo 2 or other somewhat similar cars from the period). It does however look very purposeful, notably with the the lovely boxed arches that many years later would also come on cars like the Lancia Delta but were very much a first in the early 80’s. They also helped distinguish the quattro from the “standard”, 136 hp Audi Coupé. The interior has that lovely 80’s feel of hard plastic but offers lots of room for four and their luggage, meaning the quattro is a real all-rounder.

The single headlights came in 1982, only early cars have four separate headlights.

When you get behind the wheel, as in most 80’s cars you’re struck not only by the cheap plastic but also by the large windows and the excellent visibility. 200 hp is of course not a lot today, but then again the quattro weighed in at just under 1300 kgs and the turbo character means the car feels rather quick even by today’s standards, helped by an excellent, tight gearbox and, by 80’s standards, precise steering. It also feels solid, obviously not like a modern Audi but more so than many other cars from the period. It’s let down slightly by the breaks that feel soft and not very confidence-inspiring. All in all though, this is a car you can live very well with, knowing that as soon as a twisty back road opens up, the car is ready and will not let you down.

The 80’s won’t be remembered for the interior quality….

As was so often the case, Ferdinand Piëch had been right about entering Audi in the world rally championship and in the early 80’s the quattro became a true rally legend with a total of 23 race wins and four world championships until 1986, thanks to legendary drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomquist, Michèle Mouton and of course Walter Röhrl. However, once other brands caught up, the quattro was soon a victim of the less-then-ideal weight distribution that five-cylinder engine pushed all the way to the front of the car caused. Audi stood no chance against the mid-engine competition from 1986 and onwards, but that’s a different story.

The quattro was far more successful than he Sport quattro in rallyes

Interestingly, afraid that the “standard” quattro would be too big and heavy for the new Group B class, Audi presented the Sport Quattro in 1983, a 32 cm shortened group B car of which 164 homologation cars were built for road usage. However the Sport quattro was said to be more difficult to handle and never became as successful on the rally scene as the “standard” quattro. At around 200.000 DM the road version of the Sport quattro was Germany’s most expensive car in 1983, twice as expensive as a 911 Turbo. Today, Sport quattros don’t change owners very often but when they do, it’s at around EUR 500.000.

32 cm less overall length gave the Sport strange proportions, but it remained a very capable rally car!

Should you wish to make the original quattro yours, the good news is that you can take off a zero of the Sport quattro price, as good “standard” quattros trade at around EUR 50.000 today. The 20 valve version from 1989 and onwards cost more but are hardly worth it. Ten years ago both could be had for less than half, but even today a good car, meaning one with a known history and a “tight” driving feel still remains a stable investment – and how could it be different, after all it’s an Audi!

PS. In a class that existed only between 1982 and 1986, the group B rally cars were some of the wildest and most powerful in history. Click the link below for a reminder of what it was like deep down in the Finnish forests, when a 550 hp Sport quattro flew by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDRkHXMHqFo

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The gentleman’s GT

Two weeks ago I wrote about Lotus, based on my friend Erik’s experience (if you missed it, you can read it here). Today we’ll look closer at a car that weighs more than any two Lotuses in combination and is thus very from the lightweight motto, but on the other hand offers one of the best combinations of power and comfort that can be had in the world, and where very nice pre-owned cars can today be had for less than a family hatchback: the Bentley Continental GT.

Before going into the history and details, let that sink in a bit. We’re talking about a Bentley, one of those brands with a special magic to the name. Not as exclusive, but also not as old-fashion as a Rolls. Not as extravagant (by a few miles) as a Lambo or a Ferrari. A Bentley is, and has always been, the gentleman’s sports car, and a car where a combination of power and comfort has always taken centre stage. Given the bargain prices the first generation of Continental GT’s are today trading at, let’s look a bit closer at whether that makes it something for which you should find space in your garage sooner rather than later.

The Continental GT saw the light of day in 2004 and was the first car to be developed under VW’s ownership of Bentley. Evil tongues would claim it’s an Audi or even a VW Phaeton on steroids, given these are cars with which the Crewe-built GT shared essential parts like the chassis, the 6-speed gearbox, the air suspension and the engine, although in the Continental, two turbos bring the power to 560 hp in the base version. To me that would be missing the point though. In our modern era, brands such as Bentley can’t survive without some reliance on larger brands, and these to my mind do not take anything away from the attractiveness of the package – if anything they add to it, given higher reliability than older Bentleys used to offer. Another feature the Continental GT shares with its VW siblings is the standard four-wheel drive that on one hand helps get the power onto the tarmac, but also make the car more than just a summer GT – should you want it to.

The double-turbo W12 was the only engine option for the first generation of the Continental GT, built until 2011, that we’ll focus on here. In 2007 a 35 kg lighter Speed version was however added and a couple of years later Bentley brought a Supersports version with 630 hp and as much as 120 kgs less weight, achieved notably by removing the back seats. And of course, from 2006 on there was a convertible version alongside the GT. The second generation, built from 2011, saw a decent face-lift and added the “budget” 4-litre V8 version to the line-up. Finally the heavily reworked third generation came out last year, but that’s another story.

The first generation Continental GT is an impressive car, and one that has aged very gracefully. As so often, the lines of the coupé are more harmonious than those of the convertible, and you needn’t do more than open the door to realize that this is something truly special. The interior oozes of a British gentleman’s club, you’ll look in vain for plastic parts (except, admittedly, for some rather cheap looking buttons on the centre console around the antiquated satnav, and on the steering wheel), every piece that looks like metal is just that, and the number of cows that had to leave the green pastures to be reborn as a Continental GT interior would make even meat-lovers blush. Bentley has always offered a multitude of interior colour combinations, and these are finished to the last detail. If the interior is, say tan, then every little piece of it will be finished in tan – including the seat belts and their holders.

The engine comes to life in a very different way than other cars of comparable power output, that is to say very discreetly. The steering is very light, and although improving a bit at speed, this is not a car where you really feel the road, which is also to say that the air suspension is sublime, as is the general noise level. If not earlier, it’s clear by now why this is a car weighing in at around 2400 kgs. Having said that, the GT handles better than could be expected and lets you forget some of that weight. Power is plentiful in any gear, the engine has a very pleasant bass tone when it’s pushed, something the car doesn’t mind, although not inviting it either. The 90-litre tank will mean you’ll have to stretch your legs and refill every 500 kms, something safety experts will tell you you should do anyway – arguably though, those experts have never travelled in a Continental GT.

It’s easy to see why the Continental GT looks like an interesting option. Next to the comfort and surprisingly good driving experience, the massive depreciation to something like 1/5 of the price as new, combined with the fact that the first owner quite often was an older gentleman not really into track days, clearly speak for the GT. The fact that the car is built around a VW and Audi engine and chassis is also rather positive, although it doesn’t mean that you can take it to your local VW repair shop – they wouldn’t know what to do with it. That brings us to the only real downside with the car, being the massive servicing costs. I won’t go into any detail but assuming they’re on Ferrari level is a good start.

Some owners’ illimited budgets means good bargains can be had on “exotic” colours…

When I was a little boy back in… well, a while ago, I remember my father telling me there was no official power output number for Rolls-Royces more than to say it was sufficient. Another similar tall tale is around the cost and maintenance of RR’s and Bentleys, saying that if you need to ask, you can’t afford it. If you can afford it though, a nice pre-owned Continental GT should make you a very happy person. Maintenance history (and budget!) is key, elderly pre-owners are to be preferred, and the somewhat more powerful and more focused GT Speed is slightly better than the ordinary GT. You’ll be able to find both from 2008-2009 for around EUR 40.000-50.000, adding EUR 5.000-10.000 should you prefer a convertible. The fact that early ’04 and ’05 cars don’t trade much lower indicates prices are bottoming out. Given more than 66.000 GT’s have been built so far (more than any Bentley in history), this is not to say prices will start to rise tomorrow, but I also remember learning something else in my youth, and that was not to wait until tomorrow to enjoy something that can be enjoyed today. In the context of the Continental GT, that feels like very good advice!

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The Bavarian long-runner!

A first week with the 650i is now behind me (if you missed the story from last week you can read it here), and thankfully the weather Gods were kind enough to let the sun shine from a blue sky everyday, meaning I’ve been able to enjoy the car as it should be, with the roof down. Impressions so far are very positive and having now experienced a bit more of the quality, comfort and power train of the 650i, my unofficial rating of it as the most mispriced used car in the market is confirmed – not that I’m complaining!

Therefore, feeling a bit Bavarian this week (and thus sad to hear earlier in the week that this year’s Oktoberfest is cancelled), I thought we’d have a look at last time BMW had a 6-series, back in the 70’s-80’s. The first 6-series indeed still has a lot going for it, as is proven notably by the fact that its 13-year production run is the longest of any BMW model!

The 6-series was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1976 and was produced with relatively minor updates until 1989 to a total of over 85.000 cars. The E24 as it’s called internally replaced the E9, and although it mostly resembles the 7-series that followed a year later in 1977, it was built on the smaller, 5-series chassis, as a true four-seat GT car, that over the 13 years of production was only ever available with 6-cylinder engines.

The original line-up included the 630cs and the 633csi, complemented in 1978 by the 218hp, top of the line sport version 635csi that I’ll focus on here since it’s the car to have in the range. The 635csi was easily distinguishable already in the first generation through its front and rear spoilers and ultra-cool, 80’s-style BBS wheels.

Some of the best looking wheels in the last 40 years!

The first (and only) major model update in 1982 was important as the chassis was more or less replaced by that of the second 5-series, giving the whole car far more rigidity and stability in combination with lower weight. From 1982 ABS breaks came as standard on the 635csi, and on the inside, the equally-sized speed and rpm gauges so typical for BMW had now found their place in the gauge cluster. Various other cosmetic touches contributed to give the car a more modern look. Oh, and I almost forgot that the pre-infotainment check control, that allowed the driver to test various functions in the car, was now automatic and didn’t have to be activated by pushing a button. There was also the optional board computer that let the driver check the outside temperature, the average consumption and the total distance driven. That was advanced stuff back in the early 80’s!

Check control far left, board computer far right – this owner was king of the hill in 1982!

In 1984 BMW introduced the top-of-the-line M635csi with a re-worked version of the M1 engine, with four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts (DOHC). The M-version produced 286hp and from 1986 260hp with catalyst, and was only available as manual (by then, catalytic cleaning meant the regular 635csi was down to 185hp).

In 1987, a second and last facelift mostly consisting in various chrome pieces being replaced by black metal and plastic, helped the by now quite old 6-series live for another two years. The last car was produced in April 1989 and the 6-series was replaced only a few months later by the the 8-series and the 12-cylinder 850i, but that’s another story (that I’ve written about here should you want to read it).

M635csi – 30mm lower, larger front spoiler

The clean lines of the 6-series are purest in the simpler versions, but to me the 635csi has always been the one to have. That is except for the M-version of course, but at the EUR 60.000 and upwards good M-cars cost today, they are at roughly double the price of the standard 635csi, which given the car’s age in my view delivers sufficient power and driving pleasure. And driving pleasure there is, in a very 80’s style; I drove a 185hp, 635csi recently, briefly considering it as I was selling my Triumph. No doubt it’s a car that works perfectly as both a daily driver and a GT car for longer trips. The steering is surprisingly good, the manual gearbox is distinct, although with long throws, and the breaks work just fine. The six-cylinder has a nice tone to it and you’re left with the feeling that the only thing missing is an old Modern Talking cassette in the standard Becker cassette radio!

A late 635 with a custom center piece – the coolest back seats ever!

Although it was produced in a total of more than 85.000 cars, the original 6-series is becoming increasingly rare, and if you ask me it’s no doubt one of the best cars coming out of the 80’s. Its combination of good looks, great engine and practicality make it a very usable youngtimer at a still attractive price. I would opt for a manual 635 from after 1982, paying more attention to the car’s history and condition than the exact model year. Go through all the usual checks and in terms of equipment, make sure you get the original BBS wheels, a nice leather interior and a Becker cassette radio, and you should still be on the right side of EUR 30.000. The only thing left before hitting the road will then be trying to remember in which box you stuck those 80’s cassettes many years ago…

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Classic cars as investments

In the last ten years, interest rates in the developed world have been close to nil across the board, and you need to look no further for an explanation to why various kinds of real assets have seen steep increases in price. Cars are definitely part of that group, although it’s unfortunately not the family Volvo that has become a good investment, but rather classic cars and selected sports cars.

Irrespective of the statement above, the Volvo 240 has actually started to appreciate in value…

If you read this blog, chances are you also read other car blogs or follow some car Youtube channels (perhaps even one or several on my favourite list that you can see here). You don’t need to look far to find someone that describes a classic car such as the Jaguar XJ-S that I wrote about last week (see here) as “a good investment” or something that will “most definitely increase in value”. Personally my stomach turns at such unsubstantiated, general statements, but let’s look into whether there’s any truth to them.

In 2015 we launched the new sub-section “The Thrill of Owning” on this blog. We did so seeing the price evolution many enthusiast cars were starting to take, and I wrote about some cars I believed (without guarantee!) would increase in value over the coming years, adding an economic upside to the ownership experience. The first 5 cars I picked were the Lancia Delta Evo, the Honda NSX, the BMW Z4M, the Porsche 996 and the Ferrari 550. Looking back now five years later, it’s clear that had you bought an NSX, a Delta or a 550 in 2015 that you would sell today, you would get substantially more than you initially paid – the first two have basically doubled in price. For the Z4 and the 996, the evolution has been less steep but still in the right direction. Buying and selling is one thing though. Owning is another that should not be forgotten.

An Evo has basically doubled in value in five years, but is far from cheap to own.

Since close to ten years I’m the owner of a Triumph TR4 from 1965, a car that has brought me great joy and that I’ve been extremely lucky with. It hasn’t left me standing a single time and has generally been close to as problem free as a classic car can be. Nevertheless, and even if I haven’t driven thousands of kilometres per year, it still needs regular servicing and old parts will wear out and need replacing. Also, not to forget on a classic car is that the engine will typically need more adjustments than a modern one. In ten years I have thus had it thoroughly serviced and revised three times, redone the breaks once, and replaced more regular wear and tear parts such as the battery, tires etc. in between. A rough estimate is that the car has cost me around EUR 12-13.000 in servicing and parts costs over my years of ownership. To that should be added tax, registration, garage etc., but given how different those costs are depending on your circumstances and country, we’ll leave them aside for this exercise. You shouldn’t though, when you budget your ownership!

My TR4 is living proof that not all English cars fall to pieces!

Had I instead bought that Delta Evo in 2015 my costs would most probably not have been lower, as the Deltas are known as cars needing lots of love an attention. That said, the economic upside would definitely have been higher. On a higher level for the 550 as well, at least with the right car. The bullet-proof NSX may have been cheaper to own, had I been lucky. But again, all this will depend on the particular car you buy, its history, condition – and luck. This is why a statement such as something “definitely increasing in value” is quite simply not true. Firstly, it’s very difficult to say which models will increase in value (although if you know your stuff, I agree you can have a pretty good idea). Secondly, it’s all about the condition of the individual car.

Has my Triumph been a good investment? Price-wise it’s worth around CHF 10.000 (30%) more today than I bought it for, thus covering a fair part of my running costs. In my particular case living in Switzerland where owning and running an oldtimer is cheap, I’ve nevertheless had to rent a garage for the ten years I’ve had it and I’ve certainly not covered the costs for that. It should also be noted that a TR4 is quite a basic oldtimer, with an extremely robust, 4-cylinder engine. Friends of mine who own E-Types, Aston Martin V8’s and other, more advanced cars, will give you a number considerably higher than mine, even though most of them are more capable in a garage than I am and thus do a lot themselves.

The original V8 Vantage – a beauty when it works, a nightmare when it doesn’t…

That’s the economic side of it. On the emotional side, there is no doubt that it’s been a good investment and has brought me much joy and great memories. And that is really the point of all this. Don’t buy a classic car purely as an investment, but also as something to love, drive and enjoy! There will never be any guarantee that an XJS or any other car will be worth more 5 years from now and if you buy the wrong car, you will most certainly not make any money. Arguably it will also reduce the pleasure of ownership, but if this is the car you’ve been dreaming of since you were young, believe me, you will forgive a lot!

Unlike a painting, a car is made for driving. Be thorough in your checks, but also buy with your heart in the sense of loving what you buy, enjoying it, and not to be forgotten, knowing that you will be able to use whatever your dream car is on a regular basis. Good luck!

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The irresistible big cat!

If last week was all about Italianità in all its simplicity with the lovely Alfa Romeo Spider (if you missed the post you can find it here), this week we’ll turn things around a bit and talk about an undisputed future classic, but also a car that complicates things quite a bit in comparison, and replaces pasta al dente under the Tuscan sun with rainy skies, tweet jackets and lush, green country roads: The Jaguar XJ-S (or as it was written in the last years of production, the XJS).

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a piece about the XJS back in 2016 (read it here), however that was more around its mechanical 12-cylinder engine than the car itself. Given that and also that quite interestingly, and in stark contrast to many other future classics, not much has happened on the price front in the last four years, I felt a fuller description of this true icon of English car manufacturing was called for. Still to this day, the XJS remains something of a bargain – at least in purchase price. That will most probably change in the future.

The XJS was launched in 1975 and produced all the way through 1996, in three distinct series. For a combination of factors, it was far from a resounding success at launch. Firstly, although recognized as rather good-looking, it did succeed the E-Type, one of the greatest designs of all time, which wasn’t to its favor. Secondly it was also a bit misunderstood, as Jaguar never intended the XJS to be a replacement of the E-Type. Instead they were aiming to produce a GT car, comparable to the later Mercedes CL or similar. In that they succeeded, but it took a while for the market to recognize it. Thirdly Jaguar ran into stupid difficulties in some markets such as Germany, where the buttresses behind the windows were deemed to restrict the rear view, and German authorities refused to grant the XJ-S type approval, meaning individual owners had to obtain individual road approvals for their cars – not something that boosted sales numbers… Finally, although there were other 12-cylinder cars in the market at the time, the XJS launched in the wake of the oil crisis and as you will suspect, fuel consumption has never been its strong point…

The rear buttresses (the triangular shapes on the sides of the boot) caused major issues for German clients

So after a difficult launch, the first series was built between 1975-1981 in around 15.000 units and was only available with the 5.3 litre, V12 engine. In the first year the manual gearbox from the E-Type was actually available as an alternative, but that was soon scrapped for the 3-speed, automatic box. The engine developed around 270 hp and made the XJ-S comparable to other V12 cars from Ferrari and Lamborghini at the time.

The second series ran for 10 years until 1991, and now a number of things happened. Next to the coupe, in 1983 a targa convertible was introduced, based on speculation at the time that the US would ban full convertibles for fear of roll-over accidents. That luckily never happened, and Jaguar subsequently replaced the targa with a full convertible in 1988, which contrary to the former became a great success. That of course makes the targa a rare and quite interesting find today, since no more than 5.000 cars were produced in total.

A targa convertible currently for sale in Switzerland

In 1983, the 12-cylinder was also complemented with a 3.6 litre straight six engine that was only available with a manual transmission until 1987. It produced around 230 hp as compared to the 265 hp of the V12, obviously with considerably less torque but also less fuel consumption. Importantly, in 1987 the much outdated, 3-speed automatic was replaced by a more modern, 4-speed ZF one.

By the time of the third series that started in 1991 and ran until the end of production in 1996, Jaguar had been taken over by Ford and was part of Ford’s so-called Premier Auto Group. A number of changes were done to the XJS, both in terms of design (front and rear bumbers and lights, slight changes to the windows and famous buttresses etc.) and engines. The 5.3 litre V12 was increased to 6 litres and around 300 hp, and the straight six was replaced by a 4 litre version.

Irrespective of engine choice, the beautiful interior remains the same

Irrespective of age, there are few cars that have the same level of road presence as an XJS in a very British, understated way, very far from the screaming lines of a Lamborghini. By today’s standard it’s also a much smaller-looking car than it was initially, and its smooth lines obviously only add to the attraction. Driving it is a very similar experience. The 300 hp of the final V12 version that I’ve had the pleasure of trying are enough to make the cat roar should it have to, and steering and body roll are actually much better controlled than could be expected. Where the XJS excels still to this day is however in the smooth gliding department. It’s a comfortable cruiser, very quiet even by modern standards, and with a giant booth that will easily accommodate luggage for two. That’s also to say that the rear seats in the coupe and some convertible versions (the other ones being strict two-seaters) are not meant for humans with legs.

Whether to opt for the most common, 5.3 litre V12 version or rather one of the straight sixes is obviously a decision that can have quite wide-ranging, economic implications. There is no doubt that the V12 is the engine that suits the car best, but you could also argue that the straight six has enough power and is obviously much cheaper to own. Whichever engine you go for, a complete service history is critical – do not take any chances here! The 6-litre V12 from the Ford era has a better reputation for reliability than the previous 5-3 litre version, although both engines are actually quite solid if serviced correctly.

The convertible is generally not more expensive than the coupe

Coming back to the price mentioned initially, a good XJS can still be had for EUR 15.000-20.000, with top cars rarely going beyond EUR 30.000. That’s probably the cheapest V12 you can buy and gives the car a clear upward potential price-wise. As I will come back to in next week’s post however, one reason for the low prices is as so often the far higher running costs, where the V12 is a prime example. But as long as you’re aware of that and find the right car, there are very few cars that provide a similar experience. I would recommend a post-1987 car such as to benefit from the 4-speed automatic box, and if you like the styling of the third series and want a V12, then preferably a post-1991 car. The (full) convertible is the ultimate glider, but the lines come through better in the coupe. It’s really a matter of choice as the convertibles are not more expensive than the coupes. Finally, the targa convertible is the hardest to find but should be most interesting from a value preservation perspective, even though it’s also the most expensive model today.

Find the right car, put on your tweet jacket, make sure there’s fuel in the tank and double-check whether you did start the engine, given how silent it is – silent enough for your passenger to hear you whistling “Rule Britannia” as you set out on your roadtrip!

Italianità at its best!

We spent a wonderful week in northern Italy in late July, something I warmly recommend to anyone having some unplanned vacation time left this year. Enjoying the beauty of cities like Venice, Bologna and Florence without the crowds is a fantastic experience, and as long as we return to some kind of normality before hotels and restaurants go bust, my impression is also that the local population in a tourist hot spot like Venice enjoy the “break”. So go if you can and enjoy the quality of life and the beauty of the country, you won’t regret it!

If you do so, what you shouldn’t expect is however coming back with lots of pictures of old Fiat 500’s or some vintage models from nearby Maranello or Sant’Agata. At least in northern Italy the automotive scene has moved on and become as bor… dominated by the large, mostly German brands (preferably in grey or black) as in other countries. For us, it took until the last day with only a few kilometres left to the Swiss border until we spotted a beautiful example of a true legend of Italian car manufacturing, and with a total production time of 28 years, likewise the modern car with the longest production I can think of: the Alfa Romeo Spider.

A Spider Series 1 from 1966, the first year of production.

The Spider saw the light in 1966 as a two-seated roadster with rear-wheel drive. Launched at the Geneva Motor Show the same year, it was a direct successor to the Giulia Spider and was in its first version produced until 1969 with a 109 hp, 1.6 litre, twin cam four-cylinder engine. From the beginning the car was equipped with a five-speed gearbox and disc brakes on all four wheels, something that was far from being the case on all cars at the time, even more expensive ones. Speaking of price, a new Spider was at the time around the same as a Jaguar E-Type, something that is definitely no longer the case!

Only the first series enjoyed the beautiful, rounded rear

In 1968 a slightly larger, 1750cc engine replaced the 1.6 litre in the version called the 1750 Spider Veloce, and a smaller, 1300 cc engine developing 88 hp was introduced in the Spider 1300 Junior. The smaller engine was replaced by a larger, 1600 cc four-pot in 1977, while the 1750 engine was increased to 2 litres in 1971. Whilst being further improved through the years with its power increasing to 128 hp at most, the two engines would equip the Spider until the end of production in 1993.

The Series 2 from the 70’s, the shape that basically stayed the same until 1993.

In spite of continued refinements through the years, you could still argue that the main differences between the four series are mostly cosmetic. From the lean lines of the first two series, over the spoiler-and-skirts third series of the 80’s to the surprisingly clean-looking, last series, the Spider evolved with time and managed to keep a classic look, never getting too old. To me, the first and last series are the best looking ones.

The fourth series, produced between 1990-1993..

The Spider was a light car, but even with a kerb weight of at most 1100 kg in the fourth series, it’s clear that 128 hp doesn’t make it a race car. Then again, that was never the intention. The Spider is a cruiser from the mechanical car age, with no driving aids but with lots of road presence. The first thing everyone will notice next to the large, wooden steering wheel that equips most cars, is the gear lever that is basically mounted on the dashboard in an angle that you do however get used to pretty quickly. The chassis does not excel in rigidity to put it mildly, meaning a squeak here and there will always mix with the nice sound from the four-pot. Taken together, you will never wish for more power but rather quickly settle in to the cruising-type of drive the Spider was built for, and excels at!

The only car with the gear lever on the dashboard!

When production ended in 1993, a total of 124.000 Spiders had been produced, of which a fair number have survived until today. Prices have started to move upwards, especially for the first series where nice cars now cost from EUR 40.000. My guess is that especially the later series that today can still be had for EUR 20.000 or even less for nice examples, still have further to go. Also, unlike something like the E-Type, a Spider with its uncomplicated mechanics is cheap to maintain, making it something of an ideal classic for country roads in Tuscany or elsewhere, but wherever you are, always with enough Italianità!

When AMG means business

AMG. One of the most famous abbreviations in motorsport, and obviously to Mercedes what the M cars are to BMW. The three letters stand for the first letters in the two founders’ names, Aufrecht & Melcher, with the addition of the G for Großaspach, the German town where Mr. Aufrecht was born and where AMG was founded in 1967 as a tuner of Mercedes cars.

The firm moved to Affalterbach in the 70’s and following an increasingly close collaboration with Mercedes-Benz over the years, Mercedes became AMG’s majority shareholder in 1999. No doubt the addition of AMG has greatly helped improve Mercedes’s image, but that has however come at a price, namely an inflation not far from Venezuela’s in terms of how AMG badges are applied to all product lines and most cars in the Mercedes line-up. For obvious reasons that’s not to everyone’s taste. Fortunately though, there is a very good remedy, one that will celebrate its 15-year anniversary next year: the AMG Black Series cars.

It was the newly created performance studio of AMG that in 2006 set out to start producing very limited numbers of more focused versions of some cars in the existing Mercedes line-up, under the name Black Series. The cars were thoroughly re-worked, including performance increases but also chassis changes and improvements to suspension systems (typically adjustable) and brakes. Weight reduction was also high on the list, notably by an extensive use of carbon fibre. What wasn’t reduced was the price, as Black Series cars were typically at least 40% more expensive than regular AMG models. 5 different Black Series models have been built so far that I’ve summarized below.

SLK AMG 55 Black Series

Launched in 2006, the SLK started the Black Series range and early on made clear that a Black Series is not a convertible, as it was changed to having a fixed (carbon) roof. Power was up 40 hp to 400 hp, weight was reduced around 50 kg to around 1500 kg, suspension was stiffened, the chassis was widened and brakes were re-enforced. Around 120 SLK 55 Black Series were built all in all, the smallest production number of all Black Series cars so far.

CLK 63 AMG Black Series

The CLK followed a year later and became the first car to use the well-known 6.2 litre V8 engine that has equipped three of the five models so far, here developing 500 hp. The track was much wider than on the standard car, meaning both the body and tires increased as well. No doubt the Black Series took some inspiration from the DTM version of the CLK at the time. 700 CLK Black Series were built until 2008.

SL 65 AMG Black Series

The monstrous SL 65 Black Series followed in 2008 and was actually built by the independent race engineering firm HWA Engineering in collaboration with AMG. The SL 65 has an extravagant design were basically only the doors were retained from the original car. Like the SLK, it also got a fixed roof. It’s also the only car in the Black Series line-up to use the 6-litre V12, here developing 670 hp. 350 cars were built all in all.

C63 AMG Coupé Black Series

Less spectacular but arguably more efficient was the C63 Coupé launched in 2011. The 6.2 litre V8 was back, now developing 507 hp, the track was widened, the suspension was reworked, and if the changes weren’t enough, further track packages could be added on top. 800 C 63 Black Series were built in total, the most of any Black Series so far.

SLS AMG Black Series

Finally the SLS AMG Black Series was launched in 2013. The 6.2 litre V8 now delivered 631 hp and weight was down by around 70 kg compared to the standard version, mostly through extensive usage of carbon fibre. Only 350 of the SLS Black Series were built and although it’s not easy to add to the drama of the standard SLS, the Black Series does a good job of trying!

Black Series cars are no weekend cruisers but rather the most track-focused cars in the AMG line-up. The earlier cars were a bit hampered by having to resort to the standard AMG automatic transmission with no manual version available. The double-clutch box introduced on the SLS in 2013 solves the issue, but I can’t help thinking that a stick shift would have been a nice alternative on the early cars.

A Black Series car would be an alternative to the more hard core versions of other Porsches, Ferraris or Lambos. Thanks to the very limited production numbers they hold their value well, and in some cases such as the SLS, prices have risen quite steeply since new. The SLK 55, CLK 63 and C 63 are the cheaper cars, with the SLK 55 starting at just under EUR 100.000 and the CLK and C 63 between EUR 100.000 and EUR 150.000. The SL 65 starts at around EUR 250.000 with the SLS coming in between EUR 500.000 – EUR 700.000.

There is a lot of activity at the AMG performance studio right now, as it’s become official that the AMG GT Coupé will be the next and sixth Black Series model. The car has just been presented and Shmee, one of the Youtubers I follow (as mentioned in my post a few weeks ago that you can read here), just did a very detailed walk through of the new car, so I’ll let him do the honours – enjoy!

The Goddess in the 1950’s

It’s vacation time! But this year being like no other, for many of us it has made changing plans or holiday habits. Most won’t fly far, we cannot visit certain countries and generally, many feel an unease for the hole concept of travelling. In our case it will mean spending our well-deserved weeks close to home, or rather within driving distance. A bit like it was back when our parents were young in the 50’s and 60’s. So this week, whether you’re at home or not, let’s take a trip down memory lane back in time, more precisely to France in 1955. Because there and then, “la révolution” was about to hit the car world!

First though, let’s picture what Europe was like in 1955. The war was over since 10 years and the worst memories had faded somewhat. The economy was strong as Europe was rebuilding – in fact we were already 10 years into the 30-year expansion period that lasted until the mid-70’s and in France was referred to as the “30 glorieuses”, the 30 glorious years. There were plenty of jobs, things were looking up – maybe peace would last this time and Europe had a bright future?

Paris in 1955 – color returning to a city still showing the scars of war.

With a bit more money in their pockets, people started going on holidays. In France, the first motorway construction projects had just started, but “la route des vacances”, the holiday road, was still the Nationale 7 that ran for almost 1000 kms from Paris to Menton on the Côte d’Azur, just next to the Italian border. This is the road most holiday makers took in cars that were a mix of pre-war models and some early 50’s models. Many were French, and many were Citroëns, at the time the second largest French brand behind Renault but just ahead of Peugeot, with Simca in fourth place. Citroëns at the time were mostly the famous 2CV and the Traction Avant. But in 1955, Citroën introduced the car that would leave a mark for many decades to come – the DS.

A “Déesse” from 1957 – like nothing seen before!

Citroën at the time were not only innovative when it came to building cars but also in naming them. Pronouncing DS in French can be transcribed as “Déesse”, meaning Goddess. The DS would have many nicknames through the years, but notably in Germany it was most known as the German translation of the word – “Göttin”.

When the Salon de l’Auto opened its doors in October 1955 the car got more attention than anyone could have hoped for, and by the time it closed its doors, Citroën had taken 12.000 orders for the new car, almost equivalent to half the brand’s total annual production at the time! This was obviously a great success and the start of the DS story, that was to last no less than 20 years with more than 1.3 million cars sold in total. What was it then that was so exciting about this car, and that gave it such a long life?

Let’s start with the design. In 1955 cars didn’t look like the DS. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the above selection, all cars from the same era. In comparison, the DS was modern, daring and futuristic. The front axle was 20mm wider than the rear, giving the car a droplet form. The roof-mounted, rear turn lights looked like small turbine engines. The sloaping front was a clear break with other cars at the time. And when other cars still had flat windscreens, the DS’s was arched in a way that was hugely complicated to produce. Given the the car also offered generous interior space (for the time), it quickly became General de Gaulle’s official presidential car.

A design study of the original DS

There was also the technology and innovations that were at a level to make a 1950’s Elon Musk blush. From the start the car offered hydraulic, assisted steering (a first on mass-produced cars) and hydraulic front disc brakes. The steering wheel, originally a model from 1904, was constructed such as not to pierce the driver’s torso in case of accident. The wheels had a single, central bolt until 1966. During the car’s life a number of other technological features were added, most notably the turning headlights in 1967, that turned in the same direction as the steering wheel. Other car brands needed more than 30 years to come up with a similar solution!

Then again, this was a French car, meaning all ideas weren’t necessarily logical to the non-French. Putting the spare wheel under the front hood in front of the radiator was smart, the fact that you needed to remove the rear side body part to change a back wheel less so. And in spite of thousands of tests having been performed, it took Citroën a few years to find the right liquid to circulate through what the car has become most famous for – its hydraulic system and hydraulic suspension.

A DS suspension sphere, at the core of a suspension system that was revolutionary.

Citroën had actually launched its hydraulic suspension system already in 1952 on the Traction Avant, but it wouldn’t become famous until the DS. To provide a simplified explanation, where a normal car has springs and dampers, a DS has spheres filled with gas in one half and hydraulic fluid in the other. Given gas compresses but fluid doesn’t, gas takes the role of a spring and the fluid of a damper. The system was often accused of being complicated and a nightmare for later owners, but provided it doesn’t leak and is being regularly maintained, it basically relies on the laws of physics who work as well today as in 1955.

The hydraulic suspension gave the car a ride quality that was sensational for the time, and still today is a fascinating experience. A DS literally floats over the road, so much so that some people feel seasick when riding in one. Further advantages with the system are notably that you can raise and lower the car, and Citroen’s innovative marketing people were also happy to show how the car could ride on three wheels in case… you had forgotten the fourth one. In 1962 a very capable driver actually managed to save President de Gaulle’s life, escaping from an attack on him at high speed down a bad road – with two flat tyres. Perhaps even more suprising to most is that the DS during 15 years proved a very capable rally car, winning a number of classical rally races such as Monte-Carlo, Marocco and the Thousand Lakes up in Finland.

Should you not have four wheels, three will do the trick!

The DS was built at a high technological level for the time, and a couple of years after it had been introduced, the mechanically far simpler and thereby cheaper ID model was produced in parallel. ID cars had vinyl roofs, a different dashboard, less equipment but above all, a simpler hydraulic system, not including for example the hydraulic steering. They did however retain the same suspension system.

A DS provides a peaceful, floating driving experience. Power evolved through the years from initially 75 hp with the old Traction Avant engine during the first years, to 130 hp for the later years, adequate but not more. The steering is a strange experience with no natural feel whatsoever and requiring very little effort. Much has also been said about the breaking as the DS doesn’t have a conventional brake pedal but rather a sort of mushroom-like rubber button sitting on the floor. Every person driving a DS for the first time will apply too much breaking pressure as you really only need to touch the mushroom lightly for the car to stop.

The black round thing on the floor is the break “mushroom”. The non-intrusive steering wheel was originally designed in 1904.

In the 1970’s the DS started to age and even more importantly, the way it was built was no longer at a modern standard. Citroën was losing money on every car and had run into great financial difficulties in the early 70’s, so that Peugeot had stepped in as owner. This meant the end of the DS that was to be replaced by the no-less futuristic CX – but that’s a different story.

Should you wish to have a bit of French history in your garage you would have been able to pick up a nice DS for EUR 10-15.000 no longer than 10 years ago. Today you won’t find a good one below EUR 30.000, with no real difference between model years or even the ID/DS models as the condition is far more important. Should you want to go for the beautiful convertible model, of which only some 1300 were built by Henri Chapron, it will set you back quite a bit more, currently around EUR 200.000. Whatever you choose, why not take it for a ride this summer? Maybe even to France? Parts of the Nationale 7 are still there and I’m sure the sun will be shining as you gently float towards the south!

The forgotten ones

In the last weeks I’ve published posts about Porsches, Aston Martins and Alpines. All fantastic cars, but also cars that you – more or less frequently – see on the streets. There is nothing wrong with that, and you could argue that a car that is never seen is probably not worth seeing. Yet, precisely that is the point for some of us. Having a car that is unique. That makes people point fingers, ask what it is, even give a thumbs up (when did that happen to a 911 driver the last time?). And contrary to what you may think, there are indeed cars that for various reasons never reached high production numbers but are still very much worth considering!

If you’re part of the club of those loving the unknown, here are three great but rare sports cars that definitely deserve a place in the dream garage, and perhaps even the real garage one day. We’ll go from my own assessment of most known to least known and at the end, some general thoughts on small scale productions and their often visionary founders.

Wiesmann

The story of the German manufacturer of BMW-powered roadsters and coupés starts in 1988 when brothers Martin and Friedrich (forming the MF in the model names) went from producing hardtops to cars. They had a vision of building a beautiful and luxurious but mechanically rather traditional roadster, and so they did. The Wiesmann design is timeless and features a (very!) leather-rich, beautifully crafted interior. Attention was also given to keeping the weight low, with Wiesmanns weighing in at between 1100-1300 kg. Last but not least, getting access to BMW engines meant that the cars were equipped with some of the best 6, 8 and 10-cylinder engines in the world!

The first Wiesmann to see the light of day was the MF3, powered by the brilliant 343 hp strong, straight-six from the BMW M3 (E46). The design later models remained more or less the same and it’s difficult to say anything negative about it!

Note all instruments being centered.

The MF4 coupé presented in 2003 was Wiesmann’s first coupé, now powered by BMW V8’s. The MF4 roadster followed in 2009 before the last model MF5 saw the light, also available as coupé and roadster. The MF5 featured the BMW 10-cylinder from the late 00’s M5 and M6, developing first 507hp and later in the twin-turbo version 555hp. The MF5 was sold in parallel to the MF4.

My only experience with Wiesmann goes back a few years when I was passenger in an MF3. It was a true, hardcore roadster experience with a brilliant engine roar, but also lots of other mechanical sounds. There were no squeaks or rattles though, even though the car was a few years old, and the owner also said he had practically had no issues at all with the car that he had owned since new.

Wiesmann increasingly ran into financial difficulties in the 10’s and went bankrupt in 2014 after a failed rescue attempt. About 1600 cars had been produced when the lights went out, and finding one today is actually easier than you could expect. At the time of writing there are about 80 cars available in Germany, by far the largest market. Prices depend on version and engine but are generally between EUR 120.000-EUR 250.000, meaning quite close to their price as new. With a weight of 1100-1200 kg, my choice would be the MF3 with the 343hp six-cylinder from the E46. Power is plentiful, the engine is lighter and you’ll be towards the lower end of the price range.

Artega

Usually, car brands are born out of more or less eccentric engineers or designers with rather empty pockets, who manage to convince someone with somewhat deeper pockets to finance the initial stage. Not so Artega which was born as a project of the very established German car supply firm paragon AG, at the time an established supplier of auto electronics to all major German car brands. Feeling he knew a thing or two about the car industry in which he had worked for 25 years, and that he could do things better, paragon CEO Klaus D Frers set out on the project that was to become Artega GT, a light, mid-engined sports car built on Volkswagen technology, initially intended only as a showcase for the company but later making it into production.

The Artega was designed by Henrik Fisker, known from beauties such as the BMW Z8, the Aston Martin DB9 an obviously his own Fisker Karma. The whole development process was advised by a number of German car gurus and car professors, the likes of whom you only find in the land of free speed. The car was finally presented at the Geneva Car Salon in 2007 and received wide praise from the motoring press, being referred to by some as “the Porsche killer”. An innovative construction with an aluminium space frame and other light-weight materials helped keeping the weight down to 1285 kg, an easy match for the 300 hp VW V6 engine and the DSG gearbox.

Inspired by the DB9 and a car from which the Alfa 4C seems to have got some inspiration!

Various tests of the Artega speak of a very accomplished sports car that was for example still quicker around Hockenheim than a Porsche Cayman in 2013, four years after its market introduction. it is however a small (4m long) and low (1.12 m high) car, so large drivers may have problems finding a good position. Obviously also, the selling point of being a technology showcase ten years ago feels a bit different a decade later.

Neither the position, nor the angle of the satnav screen are ideal…

153 Artegas were produced between 2009 and 2012 when the company went bankrupt. Reasons are a bit unclear but if you are to believe CEO Frers, the Mexican financiers he had manged to pull in didn’t understand the car business, an almost-made deal with a Chinese group never came through, and there were disagreements within the company where some wanted to make Artega a European Tesla and switch to electrical power.

Given the low production number, it’s surprising how relatively easy it is to find one that will be yours for around EUR 50.000-70.000 – not bad for a very capable sports car relying on both the knowledge of VW and a leading automotive supplier, and that you are guaranteed never to see in the supermarket parking lot!

MVS Venturi

The Venturi story starts in 1983 when engineer Claude Poiraud and designer Gérard Godfroy come up with the somewhat crazy idea of launching their own sports car brand. Having found some money, they manage to present a full-scale, mid-engined mock-up at the car salon in Paris in 1984. In the following years, production starts under the company name MVS (Manufacture de Voiture de Sport) which literally translates to Sports Car Manufacturer…

A few hundred cars are produced between 1987-1990, mostly equipped with the PRV V6 engine from Renault. The cars are very much hand-made with a luxurious interior according to the taste of the time. The handling and driving experience are said to be brilliant, weight distribution with the engine in the middle is next to perfect, and the body, very much reminiscent of the Ferrari F355, is maybe a bit anonymous but has aged quite well until today, although the 80’s lines are clear for all to see.

Notice the very after-market cassette radio!

Sales never take off though, with no more than 200-300 cars produced until 1990 when new ownership and capital lead to the Venturi Atlantique, the most accomplished car that will be built in various models until the company’s bankruptcy in 2000. The shape is still that of the original Venturi, but in the 400 hp Atlantique 400 GT race version, this was actually the world’s first car with carbon brakes, on par with Ferrari and other sports cars in terms of power, and generally highly praised by motor journalists as one of the best drives on the market in the 90’s. It’s also the most powerful sports car built in France to this day!

The Venturi Atlantique 400 GT

When Venturi threw in the towel in 2000 it had sold less than 700 cars in the 13 years of production. And unlike the other cars presented here, finding a Venturi of any type today is hard work – a quick check before writing this post indicates there’s less than 10 available in Europe (including a bit surprisingly 3-4 in the UK). Based on this very small sample, prices at around EUR 40.000-50.000 seem quite reasonable for car that not only is a great drive but that also will make you truly unique on the road, knowing you’re driving a bit of automotive history from La Grande Nation!

Conclusion

Is buying a car produced in such small numbers as the three described here synonymous with economic ruin? Not necessarily. These three examples all rely on technique from large manufacturers (in order BMW, VW and Renault), so mechanically they don’t present too much of an issue. The bodywork is obviously a different story – here it may well be impossible to find old parts, meaning repairing collision damage could been having to produce new parts…

The examples also illustrate that as could be expected, financing is the hardest nut to crack for the visionary creators. Wiesmann, Artega and Venturi all struggled with somewhat unclear financing from parties not always aligned or serious, and when these then run out of cash or bow out, bankruptcy comes quickly. The main problem is obviously that going to see your bank and asking for a loan to start a new car company has never been easy – neither in the 80’s, nor today.

What these cars also illustrate is the at the same time creative and traditional thinking of their founders. Traditional in their conception of a true sports car as light-weight and rear-wheel drive, focusing on driving pleasure, creative in their usage of modern materials to get there. It’s indeed a shame that with the possible exception of Lotus and Alpine, all large manufacturers today seem to move in a different direction.

Finally if all goes well, all three brands presented here may re-appear in the coming years. The rights to Venturi have been bought by a Monegasque millionaire who wants to produce an electric super car. Artega presented the Scalo at the IAA in 2015, basically an electric version of the GT but only build on order, so not really a mass production item. Finally Wiesmann are planning a comeback still this year with Project Gecko, a rather traditional roadster said to resemble the MF5 and equipped with a BMW 4.4 litre V8. Nothing wrong with that either. Sounds good to me!

The Gecko – will it see the light of day still this year?

The best 911 for €100’000

Maybe you’ve been saving up for some time. Maybe you’ve had a nice run in the stock market (which, a bit surprisingly, hasn’t been too difficult in the last months). Maybe you’ve cancelled your holiday plans because of… we all know what. Anyway you find yourself with enough money to realize that dream you’ve nurtured for a long time – buying a 911.

For the following exercise we’ll assume your budget is around €100.000. We’ll also assume that although there’s a number of other really nice cars out there, it’s a 911 you want. You’re still open to different generations though, preferring if possible something a bit special, but knowing full well that the real “special” 911’s have price-wise left the earth’s orbit a long time ago. Given that, what does a budget of EUR 100.000 buy you today?

A nice 930 Speedster is today more than €200.000

Fortunately the answer is quite a lot. And what is so fascinating in doing this exercise with the 911 is that it’s the only sports car I can think of where that budget buys you either a 5-year or a 50-year old car – and a few interesting ones there in between!

Below is my personal 911 top 3 for different types of usage. They are probably not the same as yours and luckily I should also add that you can have great 911’s for far less money – the 996 Turbo or the 997.2 4S are two that spring to mind for around half the budget. But today, we’ll look closer at the 100.000 top list.

Porsche 911 (930) Turbo 1978-1989

For many of us, this is still today what a 911 should look like

If you’re anything like me and grew up in the 70’s and 80’s , this was pretty much the coolest car around. The 911 had been available as turbo since the early 70’s, but 1978 saw the engine volume increased to 3.3 litres and the power boosted to 300 hp thanks to an intercooler. This was the one to have and as anyone who’s driven one knows, it’s not a car for the faint-hearted. The combination of a rear engine on a short wheel-base and a perceived 5-minute turbo lag leads to some pretty heavy over-steering. In the current days of digital safety systems, let’s just say it’s quite a refreshing experience! The rest of the package with the giant wing and the massive rear wheel arches is still spectacular to this day, as is the wonderful, analogue interior.

There was no help to be had here – you’re on your own!

Refreshing as it may be, you should remember that this is now a 40-year old car based on an even older construction, so a 930 is not a daily driver. It is however a great car for special occasions and definitely solid enough for a weekend getaway.

You can find a good 930 Turbo for EUR 100′ but it will take a bit of effort. It’s well worth it though, and although prices have risen strongly in the last 10 years, the risk of 930’s starting to drop in value is very minor indeed.

Porsche 911 (996) GT2 or GT3

Moving on to the 996 range means going from the purists’ air-cooled engine to a water-cooled one, but that’s a move to the modern era that no one really disputes anymore. The reason for including both the GT2 and GT3 here is that the GT2 is turbo-charged and built on the wider 911 Turbo body whereas the GT3 is based on the leaner, regular 911 Carrera body with the naturally aspirated, legendary Mezger engine. This also means the GT2 is up roughly 100 hp on power on the GT3, depending on version. Both GT2 and GT3 were built from 2000 until 2005 and could be had in Clubsport version, with gripping bucket seats and other racing attributes.

Although none of them were homologation models, both cars feature a lot of racing technology and are both driving- and comfort-wise quite far from a regular 911. To enjoy them fully to the car’s full potential, you will want to take them to a race track now and then. When you do, it will no doubt be one of the greatest drives you can have until this day!

Pricing-wise the GT3 at around EUR 80.000 comes in around EUR 20.000 cheaper than a good GT2. Many GT’s have been modified but try to go for an original and if you do, it’s difficult to imagine a more entertaining and value-preserving use of your money!

Porsche 911 (991) Targa

The 991 range was built from 2011 until 2019 to a total of more than 230.000 cars, so this is very much the modern 911. It’s come a long way from the 930 we started with above, but 40 years later it’s still one of the very best sports cars you can buy. In the range and for the budget, I think a targa is a great combination of the coupé/convertible you want a daily driver to be, and a bit more special than the regular model. it also looks better and can be expected to preserve its value better with fewer built.

The Targa 4 (345 hp) and Targa 4S (395hp) started in 2014 and the GTS version (430 hp) was added in 2015. You’ll struggle to get that into your budget, but you’ll quite easily get in a Targa 4 or even a 4S. That also means enjoying the modern version of a naturally-aspirated engine… Targa or not, it’s stil difficult to predict how well a modern 911 produced in such large numbers will preserve its value, but you’ll sleep well knowing you have bought one of the best cars on the market at roughly half its price as new.

991 Targa 4 – an extremely capable, allround car.

It’s amazing how much the 911 has evolved from its origins in the 60’s to today’s cars, and just as amazing is the price evolution these cars have seen in the last 10 years. That has also meant a change in the market, with many models (especially those more expensive than the ones listed here) looked upon more as an investment than the fantastic cars they are. The point of this exercise was not that – it was finding a great 911 for a €100.000 budget to enjoy on a Sunday, on a track day or everyday. As we’ve seen, that is still possible!

Alpine A110 – enjoy it while it lasts!

I had the privilege to spend part of my childhood in the late 70’s and early 80’s in Monaco. I had caught the car virus already back then, although the 8-9-year version of myself was mostly interested in counting car antennas (these were the days where cars would regularly have 3-4 antennas, and the really cool guys would have a 2-meter, roof-mounted one, making it look like they were receiving from the moon…).

Monaco is obviously embedded in France, and France is obviously very French, also when it comes to cars. In this period there were two French sports cars that easily (at least according to the French) held up with the competition from both Germany and Italy. The first was the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo 2 nicknamed “the steel mouse”, basically a Renault 5 with a wider body and the engine moved back to sit where the back seats used to be, and developing anything between 160-300 hp depending on version and year. Few of these are left today and when they change hands, it’s at stratospheric prices.

Très cool! Antenna on the smaller side though…

The other came from the small French manufacturer Alpine, established in 1955 and mostly known for the A110, built during the 60’s to the mid-70’s. Alpine had always had a close relationship with Renault who took over the company in 1973 and after the A110, sold its successor the A310 (later A610) until 1995 when the Alpine name disappeared.

Très – ugly, from the front as well as from most other angles.

In 2017 Renault then re-launched Alpine with the new A110, a small, light sports car clearly reminiscent of the original from the 60’s, and in many ways inspired by Lotus (Lotus Exige bodies were even used during the development process). The A110 received a warm reception especially from the motor press since it was a car that finally went against the logic of ever-increasing power in ever-heavier sports cars. The car magazine Evo (the tagline of which this blog uses as its name) even elected it runner-up in its Evo Car of the Year in 2018. In addition, a small engine with low emissions in a light body made the car cheap to own, which is very important in France but increasingly also in other European countries.

I obviously no longer live in Monaco but our family typically returns to the south of France every year (typically doesn’t include this year by current looks…) and we stay close to a large Renault dealer with a separate Alpine showroom. I visited it last summer, got a personalized demonstration of the car as well as a test drive in the adjacent back country that was really an experience.

Firstly I love the looks, that for me strike the right balance between old and new and are quite unique. Secondly you sit really low with the car wrapped around you. Thirdly, it’s a great drive. The mid-mounted, turbo-charged, 250 hp four-pot (now also available in a 295 hp, “S” version) delivers more than enough power to the rear wheels for the 1.100 kgs it weighs. The engine is in great harmony with the 7-speed DSG box and handling is sharp with a notable absence of body roll. It’s also very well made and doesn’t need to be thrown around a corner to be enjoyable. As Renault has shown previously, all the way from that R5 Turbo to modern incarnations of the Mégane, it knows how to develop great drives, and the A110 is a testament to that. At a starting price of around EUR 55.000, I would also claim that it’s quite competitive, being far cheaper than any new Lotus (and in comfort and finish, only the Evora could compete) or Porsche Cayman (that is however more than 500 kgs heavier), the two most obvious competitors.

The interior doesn’t disappoint either!

Apparently though, not a lot of people agree with me on that last point – because very few Alpines are being sold – and this is even before the whole Covid thing. A total production of around 7.000 so far of what was always going to be a niche car doesn’t sound too bad, but sales in large markets are in free fall and in December, the daily production was cut from 15 cars to 7. As noted in my post on Daniel Ricciardo’s switch to McLaren a few weeks ago (that you can read here), Renault’s finances are also in bad shape, with 15.000 employees currently being cut as part of an EUR 2bn savings plan.

The Alpine is a great sports car at a good price, and although the brand may be less-known than Porsche or Lotus, the reputation and tradition should appeal to at least some of the mid-aged sports car enthusiasts that are the target group. The problem is rather to be found on the distribution side. Given Alpine is not in line neither with the rest of Renault’s line-up nor with its clients, the cars are sold over separate dealers that are few and far between (11 in Germany, 2 in Switzerland, 3 in Austria and not more than 20 in the home market France, that has more than 3.700 Renault dealers). Taken together, that 6-month old Cayman that can be serviced around the corner, that is certainly the safer option and that definitely carries the more prestigious brand, all of a sudden sounds quite attractive…

If it wasn’t for those Germans…

A mother company in severe financial straits with the French state as 15% owner does not bode well neither for Renault in F1, nor for niche projects like the Alpine. If sales don’t pick up, which is highly doubtful given what’s happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if for the second time in its life, Alpine is laid to rest. That may be sad for Alpine but not necessarily for A110 owners, who can still enjoy a great car that will never be seen on every corner and that can be expected to hold its value really well!

BMW 6-series (F12/13) – hard to resist!

Chris Bangle is a name associated with everything from love (for some) to dislike of various degrees (for most) in BMW circles. The 65-year old American designer who today runs his own company out of Italy, notably working for Samsung, came to BMW in 1992 as chief designer and was responsible for mostly everything that came out of Munich in the following 17 years. Of all the various models he led the work on, one of the more controversial was no doubt the 6-series grand tourer, internally known as E63/64, launched in 2002, and available both as coupé and convertible. Pretty much everyone agreed that whereas the front and side views were more or less ok, the rear view was not, looking lack the trunk lid of another car had been fitted by accident.

Things improved slightly with the 2008 facelift, as seen above.

Fortunately the launch of the successor F12/13 range in 2011 and built until 2018 meant a vast improvement. The range now included the previous coupé and convertible but also a four-door grand coupé, that I will however not focus on here. The new car was the work of Adrian van Hooydonk who had succeeded Bangle as head designer (but who was partly responsible of the E63/64 as well, so he doesn’t come out completely unscathed…) and produced a far more appealing package from all angles. In V8 650i-version, both body shapes usually cost between EUR 120.000-160.000 with options. Today, excellent cars can be had for EUR 30.000-40.000 with less than 100.000 kms on the clock, for a less than ten year old car that looks as modern now as it did then. That makes it a very compelling proposition!

Why didn’t they do that from the beginning?

Coupé and convertible share the same, almost 5 meter long body, but the convertible is around 150 kg heavier, pushing it on the wrong side of 2 tonnes. More weight is added if you opt for the 4WD Xdrive version that could be had with all engines, although the rear-wheel drive ones are more common. You would think such a big car offers ample interior room, but whereas you sit like a king up front and have room for all your luggage especially in the coupé, the rear seats are cramped for any person bigger than a mid-sized child, especially in the leg area.

A lovely place to be – as long as you’re in the front.

BMW offered four different engines in all three versions and whereas the 6-cylinder, 308 hp diesel can perhaps be an option for the coupé and for lovers of torque (knowing it produces 680Nm), I still personally struggle with a diesel engine in combination with a convertible. That leaves the two petrol options, a single-turbo, 6-cylinder with 315 hp, and a double-turbo V8 with 402 hp until 2013 and 444 hp thereafter. The same engine is also boosted to 553 hp in the M6 version, which today is however almost twice as expensive as the 650i. The six-cylinder 640i certainly has enough power for the character of the big Bavarian, but the V8 in the 650i excels in outright power, torque and sound, and would be my choice.

Steering away from the M6 is also based on the 6-series not being a track car, or really a sports car in that sense at all. It’s a fantastic machine for the left lane on the autobahn or for large open roads, but neither size nor weight invite to being thrown around narrow mountain roads or on track days. The 6-series is much more of a well-behaved cruiser, enjoying high speed transport in luxury and comfort to St. Tropez as much as posing in front of Club 55 once you get there. That’s why I would also choose the convertible over the coupé – it’s the perfect body for this car!

The M6 certainly looks good, bu it’s debatable if its character suits the body format.

Contrary to what the reputation would you have you think, the 6-series only comes out average in quality surveys, with problems notably linked to the very extensive electrical system, the A/C system and also coolant leaks. This shouldn’t be exaggerated but buying form a dealer with a warranty is certainly a good idea. You also want to make sure all electronics are working and, for the convertible, that there are no strange noises or issues with the hood – open and close it a few times just to make sure. Owner and service history are obviously also important, but fortunately, many of the owners tend to be on the right side of 50 from a pre-owned car perspective.

All in all , a pre-owned 640i or 650i is a wonderful proposition and quite unbeatable in terms of value for money. This is after all a modern car with all the luxury you would expect at the original price point – but not really at the one they can be had for today. Interestingly, especially in convertible form, it’s also a car without real competition. A Mercedes SL of corresponding age is more expensive and a strict two-seater. Audi never built a larger convertible than the A5-series, which in terms of comfort, luxury is on a very different, inferior level. A Maserati GranCabrio/Coupé is was never a very convincing car and additionally may make you look like something you don’t want to. It will also cost you far more. If you ask me, go for a 650i, choose wisely and enjoy the satisfaction of having done a good deal on a very complete car, and looking very good this summer!

A great buy with the additional benefit of making you look great!

It’s Aston time!

If you were to ask a random bunch of people what they thought was the most beautiful car over the last two decades, I’m quite sure Aston Martin would get a lot of votes. Starting with the DB9 in 2004, following on with the V8 Vantage in 2006, and then the Vanquish in 2012 (that Sven fell in love with in an old post in Swedish that you can read here), we’ve been spoiled with beautiful cars coming out of the factory in Gaydon. The head designer at the time Henrik Fisker, who’s also been featured previously on this blog as we’ve written about the Karma, can take credit for most of these, even if he didn’t fully design the DB9, rather finishing off the car that was done by Ian Callum.

The thing is though, Astons have not only looked expensive – they have been so as well. Until now. Because as we speak, around EUR 40.000 will get you a low-mileage V8 Vantage, or for that matter a DB9. That is pretty much a steal, especially in the case of the DB9 which was considerably more expensive than the V8 when it was new. I strongly doubt good, relatively low-mileage cars will get much cheaper over the coming years.

Let’s first settle the fact that although both exist both with and without roof (the V8 is then called the Roadster, the DB9 the Volante), the design only fully comes into its right in coupe form. The fixed roof also saves around 100 kg (meaning around 1600 kg for the V8 and 100 more for the DB9) and means there are fewer parts that can break – not unimportant when you’re talking about a hand-built British sports car, as we’ll come back to later.

The DB9, as a 2+2 seater, is around 30 cm longer. To me the V8 looks nicer, more compact, with better proportions. And given the back seats cannot by anything but very small children anyway (and by the time you buy an Aston, they will be too big anyway…), there’s little reason to choose the DB9 for them. There is however a very big reason to choose the DB9, and that is of course the fabulous, 6-litre, naturally aspirated V12 from the (old) Vanquish, developing around 450-520 hp depending on construction year. The V8 in the Vantage developed around 380 hp as 4.3-litre, and around 420 hp after 2008 as 4.7-litre (in later years there was also a V12 Vantage, but that’s at a very different price point today). Most will agree that power is thus plentiful in both cases, as is the sound, both with 8 and 12 cylinders.

Oh yes!

Both cars were reworked in 2008, meaning more power but also improved build quality, and some slight design quirks. With some luck you can squeeze in a post-2008 car to the EUR 40.000 budget, or stretch it a bit, in which case it’s probably a good decision.

So what’s the downside? Certainly not the engines, that have a solid reputation even in higher mileage cars, as long as they’ve been properly serviced. The interior has aged less well than the timeless exterior design and should be inspected carefully. Unfortunately, there’s also been quite a few quality issues with everything from the slightly upward-opening swan doors, to – many – electrical issues. Therefore, having a specialist inspect the car you’ve just fallen in love with might be one of your better decisions in life. And then there are of course the running costs, and the insurance, and… But then again, if you’re looking for cheap car to own, an Aston shouldn’t be on your list in the first place.

A V8, here in manual version.

Both the DB9 and the Vantage had long runs and large production numbers in Aston terms. The DB9 was replaced by the DB11 in 2016, the V8 Vantage was produced a year longer. Something like 17.500 DB9’s were produced in total and around 22.000 V8 Vantages (exact numbers seem impossible to find!).

To me an Aston is in a class of its own. The “baby” Aston V8 Vantage was discussed as a 911 alternative when it was launched but I think that misses the point. The 911 (at this price point typically a low-mileage 997, or slightly cheaper as a 996 4S) will objectively always be the better car, but you see one on every corner. How many Astons did you see this week? It’s a rare thing of beauty and a traditional driver’s GT car. It’s actually a car where performance is secondary (but not the engine noise!), since its more about the feel, the sound, the whole experience. Personally I would go for a post-2008 V8. But if you want nothing but the best it can only be the V12 DB9. Because a naturally aspirated V12 can never be wrong!