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.


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.


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!


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!

The unbreakable, 90’s Mercedes SL

There was a time when Mercedes had a well-deserved reputation for building unbreakable cars. That period reached its peak in the mid-90’s but unfortunately ended with the E-class internally known as the W210, launched in 1995, which tainted the reputation for solid quality quite heavily. In parallel however, Mercedes still built cars based on the previous generation, and one of them, the Mercedes SL (R129), is no doubt the most attractive car from the era – and still a bit of a bargain.

The R129, here with body kit, one of Bruno Sacco’s best designs. Cars from 1995 had white turn signal glasses.

The R129 was built from 1989 through to 2001, an incredibly long lifetime if you compare to today. But again, Mercs from this period were pretty much indestructible, and their buyers, typically elderly German doctors, didn’t look much at driving thrills – so from that perspective, why change a winning concept?

The 90’s SL had a number of different drive trains through the years, from a relatively modest 2.8 litre straight six to a monstrous 7.3 litre AMG V12 developing 525 hp. No doubt the most well-known models in Europe are the 300 SL with a sraight six, and the V8 500 SL developing 326 hp – probably one of the most reliable engines in the modern era.

The 500 V8 with 326 hp in a well-filled engine room.

The SL had some innovative solutions such as an automatic, invisible roll bar and seat belts integrated in the seat backs. The larger the engine, the better the equipment level, but interestingly all cars were delivered with a hard top, to complement the regular soft top. Some cars have (very small) rear seats whereas others only have a flat surface, but in both cases, the area is really only useful as extra luggage space. The SL is a two-seater and an Autobahn cruiser by excellence, steady, heavy, reliable. It will not give you the thrill of an Italian full-blood, but if you choose somewhat wisely, not anywhere near the same running costs either.

A good place to be. The SL is a two-seater, whether it has back seats or not.

A solid, relatively low-mileage SL 500 with the indestructible 326 hp V8 is easily yours for EUR 25.000 or even less, and that’s the wisest choice in the line-up. Cars with smaller engines will not necessarily be cheaper and certainly not give any additional thrills. The same money will buy you a 600 SL with the 394 hp V12, but besides huge running costs, driving-wise that also becomes a very front-heavy car. Finally the AMG models are very rare and correspondingly expensive. Little reason to go there – a 500 SL is good enough, there are plenty of good cars on offer, and it’s doubtful they will get cheaper than today.

The Bavarian über-coupé

Although the Berlin wall came down 30 years ago, it was actually not until the year after, in 1990, that German unification officially happened. In the same historical year BMW launched the 12-cylinder 850, a car that didn’t see a successor until this year, as noted by my co-writer Magnus in his post from February that can be read here. Magnus was far less enthusiastic about the new 850 than the old one, as am I, but unfortunately the first 850 can only be described as a failure, its success notably ruined by another world event a short while after – the first Gulf war. Today you can find a really good BMW 850i or Ci for EUR 2.000 per cylinder – and that, my friends, is a bargain worth writing about.

I have previously covered both mechanical (here) 12-cylinder and more modern 12-cylinder big coupés (here), but the 850 fell between the chairs on those two occasions and therefore now gets its own post, given my weak spot for this wonderful kind of automobile.

Let’s first do away with a misconception, namely that the 8-series coupé was intended as a successor of the 6-series. That was never the case, BMW clearly positioned the 850 higher up in the market, notably thanks to the famously smooth 5-litre, 12-cylinder engine originally developing 300 hp, a modest number today but oh so impressive back in the early 90’s. It was coupled to either a 4-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual gearbox, making it the the first 12-cylinder road car ever to be offered as a manual. From 1992, the 8-cylinder 840 was offered in parallel, but the first Gulf war made BMW cancel the plans for an M8 in 1991. Instead the 850 Ci saw its performance boosted to 326 hp in 1992 (the same year the “C” was added to the name), and the top of the range 850 CSi with 381 hp, produced between 1992 and 1996, was the most powerful version in the series. Production ended in 1999 and by that time only slightly over 31.000 cars had been built, of which only some 7.000 had been sold in the US – far below what BMW originally intended.

Set low with its stretched body, flowing lines, pop-up headlights (a clear tribute to the M1) and frameless doors, the 8-series has a wonderful 90’s look about it that in my view has aged really well. I remember thinking it was a really big car when I saw one the first time – that’s obviously no longer the case given how cars have evolved, but it’s still a 4.8 metre body and a true 4-seat coupé, although the back seats, especially in the leg-room area, are far more cramped than the size would lead you to believe. It was few years back I drove one, but I’ll never forget the smoothness of the engine – in normal speeds you can barely hear it and when pushed, it produces a lovely, classy, deep tone, oh so far away from turbo-charged, modern V8’s. The engine and the whole car quickly lets you know that it’s a travel companion, a true cruiser, intended for long, effortless stretches on a Bavarian autobahn or the sweeping curves of the route Napoléon with those pop-up headlights firmly pointed towards the Côte d’Azur.

The interior is quite a somber place with lots of buttons (we’re still talking pre-digital revolution here) and lots of black plastic, but at least there’s no outdated GPS to live with. If you’re lucky though, you may find one with a pre-historical mobile phone, mounted between the seats on the picture above!

If you’re in the market for an 850, it’s more important to find the right car than whether it’s a manual or automatic, or for that matter if it’s an i (300 hp) or a Ci (326 hp) – both will convey the same impression of superiority, and power will be plentiful. The 8-cylinder 840 with 286 hp will do the job almost as well, but obviously it’s not a 12-cylinder, which is a big part of what makes this car desirable, also from an investment angle. The only version that has shot up in price today is the top-of-the-line 850 Csi, of which only 1500 were built. Otherwise EUR 25.000 will get you a long way in terms of finding a good car, and I very much doubt they will ever get cheaper – especially the manual version. Maintenance cost will obviously be significant, but at the bargain price you get the car for, that’s where you can invest some of the savings from the purchase!

The best Ferrari is a Maserati

Always dreamt of a youngtimer Ferrari but didn’t get to it before prices sky-rocketed? You’re not the only one, which is why this week I bring you an idea that gets you very close to the real thing without ruining you, even giving you the option of bringing your children along – provided they are small with very thin legs. I am, quite obviously, talking about the Maserati 3200/Coupé.

The Maserati 3200 GT was launched in 1998 and became famous for its ultra-cool, boomerang-shaped rear lights. It was produced until 2002 with an 8-cylinder, twin-turbo Maserati engine developing 370 hp. It was replaced in the same year by the Maserati Coupé, looking basically the same but for the rear lights – you see, the Coupé would mark Maserati’s return to the US market after an 11-year absence, and apparently, someone had come to the conclusion that the US didn’t like boomerang lights. Judge by yourself…

The biggest change between the 3200 and the Coupé was under the bonnet, where the previous engine was replaced by a naturally aspirated, 4.2 litre Ferrari unit, developing 390 hp and 450 nm of torque. You may ask how this happened, but Ferrari had taken over the helm at Maserati within the Fiat group already in the late 90’s, so it was therefore not a question if, but rather when Ferrari engines would move into Maseratis.

Next to the regular Coupé version there was a Spyder and a Gransport, a sportier version of the Coupé available both as a manual and with the semi-automatic Cambiocorsa gearbox. Whatever you do, do not buy a Cambiocorsa car. Ever. That box was bad even by the standards 20 years ago and it certainly isn’t any better today.

The 3200 and subsequently the Coupé were both well received by the market notably for their styling, handling and luxurious inerior, with the Coupé also being voted best GT in the US in 2002, the same year it was introduced. Handling-wise the car is more of a GT than a true sports car, although the Gransport muddles that line a bit. The naturally aspirated Ferrari V8 doesn’t muddle any lines at all though, it’s a brilliant engine with a brilliant sound, slightly muted with the standard exhaust but with plenty of sport exhausts and aftermarket options to choose from! It’s also generally considered more reliable then the previous Maserati unit from the 3200 GT.

A Maserati is not an Audi, but that’s precisely its charm. Buttons are not always where you expect to find them, every seam will not be perfect and seats may not have heating. Either you like it or you don’t, and if you don’t, then this is not for you anyway. But if you have some Italianità in you, how on earth could you resist an interior such as the one below?

Early 3200 GT’s with high mileage today start at around EUR 15.000 whilst a good Gransport can be had for around EUR 25.000. Don’t go for the cheapest, and do spend money on a good inspection before you buy – this will never be a cheap car to run, but there are degrees in hell… If you’re speculating on rising values, an early 3200 with the boomerang lights and low mileage is the one to get. If you’re in it for the drive, go for a good Coupé Gransport. You will then be driving a good-looking, Ferrari-powered and well-behaved Maserati for a quarter of what a not-so-nice-looking-or-handling Testarossa will cost you today! But whatever you do, don’t forget it’s a 6-gear manual you want!

A gullwing on a rainy Tuesday…

It’s not every morning that a 300 SL is parked in front of your office, especially not on a rainy day such as this Tuesday, with no real weather improvement in sight… But if the sun doesn’t light up your day, a Gullwing certainly does, especially the coupe, of which there were only a total of 1400 produced between 1954 and 1957! At the time it wasn’t even the most expensive car in the Mercedes line-up, today at an estimated value of EUR 1.2-1.5m, it probably is…

Speaking of red Gullwings, enclosed below is quite a legendary on board video from the Arosa Classic Car race back in 2012, giving a close-up feel of what it’s like to drive one of these for real – enjoy!

The Thrill of Owning – BMW M3 E46

As mentioned in my post from last week, some of the cars intended for this section saw a price increase so steep before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves on the premises of being both great drives and sound investments. One of these was the wonderful BMW M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau, a legendary name originally featured on the 70’s 3.0 CSL), a lightweight version of the E46 M3 built in 2003-2004, with more power, lots of carbon and various other weight-saving measures compared to the original car. If a year ago you could still find a low-mileage version of the CSL for around EUR 50.000, be expected to pay around double that today.


Interestingly however the “regular” M3 E46 has not seen the same price explosion and remains a very fine car – many would even call it one of the best M3’s ever. Built between 2000 and 2006 (the convertible from 2001) it features the legendary BMW 3.2-liter straight-six engine that here produces 343 hp (106 hp/l) with a tone that gets more Pavarotti-like the higher you rev it towards the 8000 rpm limiter. Still 80% of the max torque is available from 2000 rpm, and that’s actually quite good, since even if the tone towards rev limiter is increasingly intoxicating, just below the limiter the engine pistons travel at 20 m/s (yep, that’s meters per second). As the disclaimer on French alcohol advertising used to say, “à consommer avec modération”…


The E46 M3 was available both as a manual and with the second generation semi-automatic SMG box. The latter cost an extra 3.000 EUR new but does not command a premium today as it has been known over the years to be slightly problematic and prone to more or less serious breakdowns. Given BMW are quite good at building manual boxes that is a good alternative. One of the most popular after-sale improvements include reducing the gearshift travel of the manual box, making it even more dynamic and reinforcing the case for a manual even further.

In terms of looks, gone was the discretion of the predecessor, the M3 E36, which was hard to distinguish from a regular 3-series. The E46 M3 looks fat, standing on its 18″ or 19″-inch wheels under the slightly (roughly 4 cm) larger body, with the lateral air intakes and the four end pipes. To round it off, this is obviously the car that featured the Powerdome, which was not an onboard computer game but rather the slight elevation of the central part of the hood. This had absolutely no practical function at all given the engine fitted under the regular bonnet without problems, but it both sounds and looks cool, and all in all the package is highly attractive!


Both the convertible and the coupé with less than 80.000 kms can today be had for around EUR 30.000, which is nothing short of a bargain, also considering the price increase the M3 CSL has seen in the last year. As always the convertible weighs more (here around 150 kg) and is less rigid than the coupé, on the other hand it allows you to enjoy the engine tone singing out of the rear pipe better, so it’s rather the usage of the car (and the climate where you live) that should decide whether you need a roof or not. A manual will also probably be less prone to surprises than an SMG box. Ultimately however given the limited number of low-mileage, original cars available, the individual condition and service book are what really counts, as is the fact that it is an original, non-“improved” car. The powerdome is in all cases included for free!


Thrill of Owning – evaluation of recommendations so far

It’s been awfully quiet lately under the Thrill of Owning heading, something unfortunately due to a rather hectic work schedule of yours truly. Another factor at play is however the steady rise in collector car prices over the last year, by no means a new trend and no doubt one of the side effects of a zero- to negative interest rate environment and investors’ feverish search for alternative investments. This actually has led to quite a few objects that were intended for the column rising so much in price before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves!

In light of that I felt it was time to go back and have a look at the cars presented so far. If you had purchased them (and who knows, maybe you did?), would they so far have been a good deal not only driving-wise but also investment-wise? Given we started this heading in 2015 the track record is obviously short, but summarized below is an estimate of the price evolution seen by the cars presented during 2015 as per today, i.e. in November 2016.


It would not take much academic effort to completely disqualify the methodology behind the price estimations in the above table, but at least it is consistent with how prices were initially estimated. Basically I have done a rough estimate of average market prices for the presented cars in Germany, Switzerland and partially Sweden, according to the specs (for example max kms) as described in the post. Given in all cases samples are also small and the individual condition therefore critical, it should really be taken as an indication at best.

Still, it is interesting to see how some models have seen spectacular rises in a short time, none more so than the Lancia Delta Evo, whereas others such as the Porsche 996 or the BMW Z4M have had a moderate, although still positive price evolution, probably also due to them being newer cars produced in larger numbers. However, you will probably struggle to find another investment in the current period that has a comparable performance on average whilst at the same time bringing true driving pleasure!

Even if the mission of the Thrill of Owning has become harder, the column will remain and I still have a few objects up the sleeve to enlighten the darker and colder season. Stay tuned!

The Thrill of Owning… a 12-cylinder GT coupé!

A few months ago I wrote a short laud to the mechanical twelve-cylinder, which much like one of those friendly, vegetarian dinosaurs is heading towards rapid extinction.

Having given the matter some thought during the long and mostly sunny summer (isn’t that what summer is for?) and done some quick market research, it struck me that the damage is probably even greater; beyond not only the mechanical 12-cylinder but most probably any modern 8- or 12-cylinder engine that won’t pass modern emission standards (and that cannot be cheated with as easy as a VW diesel engine), it is a whole car segment that risks dying; that of the elegant, powerful, luxurious and highly desireable GT coupé. This is a car type that was never associated with strollers, Ikea furniture or skiboxes, but rather with leather bags for two, sunshine and magnificent drives in company of a lovely lady along the Grand Corniche in southern France. And importantly, unlike the flashy convertible, the true coupé is always be understated. If that is not a type of car worth preserving, then I don’t know what is!

When the road is the goal…

The German magazine “Auto, Motor & Sport” a few years ago did a survey among readers on whether GT coupés fit the description in the above paragraph, or are rather meaningless, ugly and unpractical. Luckily 91% seem to love GT’s, which is some consolation. I would also think this is an interest helped by… a slightly maturing age. Sure, an Elise is a true driver’s car, but it’s also one that leaks water, kills your spine and lacks any form of practicality. Not so the GT, which will transport you in utter comfort anywhere you want, always in sublime comfort and with sufficient room for your weekend bags, and without messing up the little hair you have left. The kind of thing you start appreciating after a certain age!

The really great thing, and the reason for this post, is the fact that many of those true GT coupés with large engines have seen massive depreciation in spite of often having quite low mileage and a perfect ownership and servicing history. This is probably because those who had the money to buy them as new were, you guessed it, a bit older, and typically haven’t driven them that much. So if they were beyond your means as new, they are not any longer, in spite of not being more than 7-10 years old.

You could obviously define this segment in many different ways, but to stick to the theme of 12-cylinders and illustrate the point, I have chosen three fantastic coupés that cost somewhere around EUR 200′-250′ when they were new and have today dropped to EUR 40′-50′ with 50.000 – 100.000 kms on the clock, thus offering an extreme value for money. Whether they will depreciate further time will tell (but as we all know, when the offer is reduced, the price tends to go up…), but already at today’s prices, it is difficult to find better – and more stylish! – bang for your buck.

  • Bentley Continental GT: the car that made Bentley a mass brand (at least if you live in Zurich) was launched in 2004 and features the same VW W12 engine as the top version of the VW Phaeton at the time. In the Continental it develops a healthy 560 Hp and 650 Nm of torque, and has the additional benefit of being four-wheel drive. Contintentals are today in amply supply from EUR 40.000 for 1-2-owner cars.


  • Aston Martin DB9: launched in the same year as the Bentley, the utterly beautiful DB9 (which was co-designed by Henrik Fisker) has a 12-cylinder engine producing 457 hp, so less than the Continental, but then at 1800 kg the car also weights half a ton less. They can today be bought for around EUR 50.000, often with less than 50.000 kms on the clock.


  • Mercedes-Benz CL 600 and CL 65 AMG: the C216 CL-series was produced from 2006 to 2010, and both the 600 and the Überhammer CL 65 AMG, one of the most potent machines ever built by the guys in Affalterbach, was launched the first year and feature the same V12 engine which in the AMG version develops 612 hp, 100 hp more than the 600. At 1000 Nm, the torque of the AMG car is almost absurd, and just for the fun of it, the CL 65 does not have four-wheel drive, so that’s 500 Nm of torque per rear wheel… Still, this is a coupé on the S-class chassis, so comfort and refinement are sublime in both versions. Both the CL 600 and CL 65 AMG are a bit more difficult to find, but prices today start at around EUR 50.000, for both, again with less than 100.000 kms on the clock. If you are going to be unreasonable, why not be so all the way and go for the AMG version…


The enormous depreciation these and other GT’s have seen have the additional benefit of leaving you just enough money to afford running them – and especially for the CL 65 AMG, for buying a few sets of rear wheels per year… The purchase price may be comparable to a new Opel, the running costs are certainly not. But then again, grooming your image was never for free!

The Thrill of Owning – improve your Karma!

You know all those times when you have seen the early designs of a car that looks spectacular, but when it makes it into production some time later, somehow the engineers have managed to remove every ounce of excitement the designers had imagined, making it look nothing like the picture above? There are exceptions of course. I remember the first time I saw an Aston Martin DB9 some 10 years ago, that looked pretty much like it came straight off the designer’s table. Shortly thereafter I learnt that the DB9 had partly been designed by a Dane named Henrik Fisker. A few years later the same Fisker, who had previously been at BMW designing the Z8, left Aston Martin. He went on to work on the early design of other car beauties such as the Artega and Tesla Model S, and then in 2007 together with a German partner founded Fisker Automobile, the company that two years later presented the Fisker Karma – a car often referred to as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever and a testimony to what cars could look like if all car brands hat designers running the show!


The Karma is a spectacular so-called plug-in hybrid, launched in 2011 and produced at the Valmet factory in Finland. It is powered by two 150 kW-engines producing a total of 408 hp, with the energy being delivered through a 175 kW generator, in turn powered by a 4-cylinder petrol engine. This means that the car has a range in fully electrical mode of 80 kms (Stealth Mode in Fisker-language), or over 400 kms in combined mode. The latter allows for a top speed of 200 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of under 6 seconds.
imgresThe engines are however only half the story with a Karma. Apart from its sheer beauty the whole car is a high-tech construction. The 5-metre long and 2-metre wide aluminium body’s roof integrates a 120 kW solar panel that in sunny conditions helps extend the electrical range, alternatively can be used as park heating.  The interior has carpets made of recycled PET bottles, and all leather and wood used in the beautiful finished cabin has been recycled. As you Karma interiorwould suspect however, much like the Tesla, at 2.5 tons there is nothing high-tech about the car’s weight. But at least, again like the Tesla, the batteries are positioned low, hereby improving the car’s stability and handling.

The Karma generally received positive reviews and the press praised its driveability, quality of suspension and actually even quality of design. After some quality issues had been remedied after the first 500 cars, it was mostly the infotainment system that received more critical notes.

Unfortunately,  in spite of a convincing success concept, Fisker quickly learnt that building cars is not a cheap venture and that maybe, just maybe, those boring engineers may have their justification. The company quickly ran into financial difficulties and production was suspended late 2012, with Fisker going on to file for bankruptcy in 2013. At that point only around 1800 cars had been delivered in North America and Europe, at a new price of 110′-140′ EUR depending on version and trim. Most of these stayed in the US and only a few hundred made it to Europe. Today the new price has more than halved, and a low-km Karma in its top EcoChic trim can be had for around 50′ CHF/EUR. Most cars are in fact still covered by the warranty (through the general importer from the time in each market), and many European countries will subsidy their fixed costs thanks to the low emissions!

So there you go. A design that very rarely makes it into production and arguably one of the most beautiful cars in modern times, and one that will in the future be regarded as one of the pioneers of the electrical car era, for less than half the new price.  It is not a car for those shy of attention but for all others, it should prove a convincing case both driving- and investment wise!

The Swedish speakers among you can learn even more on the Karma and how it is to drive from my fellow blogger Sven’s post back in 2012, by clicking here.


A laud to the mechanical 12-cylinder

I had the pleasure of having a drink, Friday night, with Pierre, an elderly gentleman as crazy about classic cars as myself, but with a far longer pedigree both in ownership and understanding the mechanics than I will ever achieve. His brand has always been Jaguar, and his garage notably includes a 12-cylinder E-type coupé. We came to talk about the (to some, surprising) robustness of the engine, and it was then that it struck me: at a time when emission levels are being tightened and even Porsches and Ferraris have become turbo-powered, it is pretty clear that we will never see a new 12-cylinder engine being developed. And that, my friends, is sad news.

A revolution at the time!

The first 12-cylinder I experienced (as a passenger at the time) was that of a BMW 750 from the late 80’s. It developed 300 bhp, then an astonishing number, but it was not the power itself but rather the smoothness of the engine that was so impressive. In that regard, nothing can really compete with a 12-cylinder.

So it’s sad we won’t see any new ones – but it’s great you can still get your hands on one without being ruined!

How to fill an engine rome: XJ-S from pre-1990, when a cover hood was added to the middle part. 

Onone hand you have late 7-series and S-class models that you can oftentimes pick up fully loaded at something like an 80% discount to their new price with less than 100.000 kms on the clock. Surely exciting, but my heart beats more for a classical, mechanical 12-cylinder, such as the eye-watering ones from Maranello, or indeed those from the house of Jaguar. And whereas the former have sky-rocketed in prices, the ones from Coventry are still reasonable. Less so in the E-type, more so in the still very cheap XJ-S models, as coupé or convertible. Both can today be picked up in excellent condition for EUR 20-25.000, meaning they have most probably seen the bottom in terms of prices.

Will a Jaguar 12-cylinder ruin you? Not necessarily, according to my friend Pierre. The engine is quite robust and in some aspects less sensitive than the smaller 6-cylinder. It was also produced during a long time so by the time it made it into the XJ-S, it had already seen a number of revisions. My suggestion would be to find a car with full history, have it checked, and making sure you turn to a specialist the day something happens. If you have that in place, you can’t really go wrong!

The coupé line is purer than the convertible

Still looks like a million dollars but costs far less!


The Thrill of Owning: BMW Z4M – the forgotten one

BMW’s Z-range has always stood for roadsters, from the legendary Z1 with its unconventional doors that disappeared vertically into the bodywork, to the beautiful Z8. In between quite a few numbers are missing, but obviously we all know the Z3 and Z4 series that exist in a number of shapes and forms. Today we’ll look at the latter of those, the Z4 in its most potent BMW M-version.

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The first generation of the Z4 was launched in 2002 in the US and was designed by the then highly praised and later not so praised Chris Bangle. The car made it to Europe in 2003 and the M-version of the roadster followed when the Z4 was subject to a first facelift in 2006. The Z4M Coupé was launched in the same year. Both M-versions were only produced until late 2008, so roughly during around two and a half years, and all of them were built in Germany. All in all, only slightly more than 5000 Z4 M Roadsters and around 4200 Z4 M Coupés were built.

060303002.3Both the Z4 coupé and roadster were fitted with the same engine as the M3 (E46), i.e. a wonderful 3.2 litre straight six delivering 343 bhp in the Z4, allowing for a 0-100 time of below 5 seconds and a 250 km/h limited top speed (the limit could as an option be lifted, then allowing for a top speed of 275 km/h). That is a lot of speed so the brakes had better be good – and they were, as the Z4M inherited the same breaks as those fitted on the E46 M3 CSL. Unlike other Z4’s the M’s were only available with a 6-speed manual transmission. The M-cars were distinguishable from the less powerful Z4’s mainly through there 4 exhaust pipes and differently shaped engine hub.

Unknown-1The Z4M, given its power output was clearly positioned as a competitor to the 911 (997) rather than the Boxster. This is also the car it was most frequently compared to, comparisons it typically lost. Not because the Z4 was a bad car, rather because the 911 is an even better one… But precisely for that reason, the Z4 was sometimes praised for providing a bit more excitement than the 911. It was seen as a bit rawer around the edges, demanding more of its driver. And the fact that it was fitted with one of the greatest straight-six engines ever built allowed not only for great music but also for very similar speed.

Today the Z4M’s are rare figures, both as coupé and roadsters, but in spite of that prices have not yet started to climb, which is obviously the reason for this post. the Z4M ticks a lot of the right boxes: short production time, few cars built, great engine and design, and reasonable running costs. It is thus not a wild guess that prices may start to climb going forward as they have already done for example on the E46 M3 CSL (a lot!) and even the “normal” E46 MS. As we speak, nice cars with less than 100′ kms can be had for 25-30′ EUR, not much more than the less powerful, but much more ordinary Z4 3.0 version, and far less than any comparable 997. It is really a lot of bang for the buck in terms of driving pleasure!

So finally, should it be a coupé or a roadster? Both are two-seaters so it is really about individual taste. The coupé is arguably the more practical version and the better track car, providing more torsional stiffness. the roadster will compensate for that by unlimited access to the wonderful tones of the engine. Then again, the coupé looks better from behind, which is the end of the car most other drivers will see…


The Thrill of Owning – 12-cylinder festival from Maranello!

As our Thrill of Owning for September we have chosen something truly hard to beat, except for the very best modern supercars: the Ferrari F550 and its sibling and successor F575). A 5.5 litre V12 from Maranello – can it really get much better?


The F550 was presented in 1996 as a successor to the 512 (Testarossa). Designed by Pininfarina, the car is a mix of lines and curves or more precisely of design items from the past and that were to come in the future. It is not the most beautiful Ferrari but the 550 nonetheless has a distinct styling that has stood the test of time well. In other ways it was however a distinct break with the eighties: the engine was back in the front and Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s long-term boss, at the time of the launch had expressed a clear wish for the 550 to be the return to Ferrari’s racing GT car tradition. This means the car looks considerably longer than the mid-engined 355 and 360, although it was only 10 cm longer than the latter at around 4.55 metres.


Luckily the GT ambitions in no way compromised the chassis which has stood the test of time even better than the styling. It is the extremely well-balanced but also very advanced, and it received wide praise even in comparison to the 360 Modena launched a few years later (1999-2005). Tests concluded firstly that the 550 is a true supercar but that even so the ride is more balanced with less going on than in the equally excellent 360. This is partly due to the individual wheel suspension but also to the front axis being wider than the rear, i.e. the same solution than on the Citroën DS! Ok, sorry, probably not a comparison Ferrari would appreciate.

2001_Ferrari_550_engineAt the heart of the car is a fantastic V-12 cylinder, 5.5 litre engine delivering 485 hp and 580 Nm torque, later increased to 515 hp and 590 Nm torque in the 575, exclusively coupled to a six-gear manual gearbox (in the 550) but where the torque of the engine meant you rarely need to use more than half the gears. The engine is linked to the adjustable suspension such as to limit the max torque in the softer settings and thereby improve power delivery. Surprisingly though the lovely V12 noise is somewhat muted, arguably improving the car’s GT quality but also the reason many cars have received another exhaust system allowing for a bit more tenor and bass.


The interior of the 550 is pure Ferrari from the analogue age in a combination of leather and aluminium that remains difficult to beat even today. The seats are electrical and adjustable in a variety of positions and all cars had air-con as standards, both features that did not necessarily appeal to the purists as they added unnecessary weight.

A total of 3600 F550 Maranellos were produced until the F550 was replaced by the F575 in 2002. From 2001 a small series of 448 convertible F550 called F550 Barchetta Pininarina was also produced.


The F575 (2002 – 2006) was the 550’s successor and was body-wise just a minor facelift. The engine’s volume was increased to 5.75 liters (+30 hp). From 2003 a semi-automatic gearbox was available and from 2005, as for the 550, a small open top series was produced under the name F575 Superamerica. This was however not a traditional soft top convertible, rather the car had a carbon roof that could be moved backwards, hence a targa construction.

Unlike its predecessor the 512, the 550/575 has not yet taken off price-wise which is obviously one reason why we write about it. Both cars with reasonable mileage and in excellent condition can be had for around EUR/CHF 90.000 – 100.000, around half the price as new, and generally the F550 comes slightly cheaper than the F575. The convertible/targa series due to the limited numbers produced are in a different league. altogether so forget about those. Noticeable is also that most 550/575’s have indeed been used, again a testimony to the car’s qualities (and reliability!), so mileages of 40.000 – 70.000 kms are normal, obviously meaning that a reliable service history is an absolute must! Worth remembering is also that the F550 was only available as a manual whereas most F575 were sold with the semi-automatic.

This being a Ferrari V12 it is clear that each bill will make you cry, but just as clearly you will forget all about it every time a road opens up, you shift down to third and let the 12 tenors find their voice!

Will the F550/F575 take off price-wise as so many other Ferrari models have? That is obviously difficult to say, but factors that speak for it is obviously the car’s uncontested road and engine qualities. And even if it does not it is clear that the downside at this point is very limited to inexistent. So even though owning a V12 Ferrari is hardly rational, this is probably as sensible as it gets! And as the following video will show you, there is indeed a remedy for that somewhat timid V12 sound…

The Ferrari-kicker from the land of the rising sun

1989. A year when the authors of this blog got their driving licenses, Milli Vanilli topped the charts (without singing, as we learned later) and Don Johnson drove his (fake) Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona) in the last season of Miami Vice. In the real world Porsche and Ferrari dominated the sportscar scene, Porsche obviously with the still air cooled 911, Ferrari with the brand new 348, successor to the classical 328. Honda was a brand among many building family cars, although these were among the most reliable in the world. But even though they had the small go-cart like CRX in the line-up, it was not a brand anyone associated with supercars.

And then, out of nowhere, came the Honda NSX (Acura NSX in the US). A car with precisely the 348 as explicit target, but with in comparison unbeatable everyday usability. A car that from every angle looked absolutely stunning. admittedly with some inspiration from the same 348. And a car that Ayrton Senna at the zenith of his career had actively helped develop, along with a small team of Honda’s most senior engineers and car-builders. Finally a car that became a showcase for Honda’s technical developments at the time.


Development and Design

Development on the NSX – New Sportscar eXperimental – had started already in 1984 but as it became clear that the Ferrari 348 would succeed the 328 at the same time as the NSX would launch, the initial ideas of a small, 2 litre V6 engine were abandoned in favour of a more powerful mid-mounted 3 litre engine. The car’s design was fully Japanese, with the bodywork and especially the cabin being inspired by the F16 fighter plane, with the objective of giving the driver a similar visibility as in an F16 from inside. Whether that is true I unfortunately cannot tell you, as my experience of fighter planes is slightly limited, but it was a shame that Honda did not take more inspiration of the F16 or for that matter the 348 to build a slightly more exciting interior, which as it was turned out a bit too close to those Honda family sedans.

The NSX was a showcase of new technologies. Firstly the aluminium monocoque body that saved some 200 kg weight over a standard body. To that came aluminium suspension, electrical power steering and Honda’s VTEC technology, allowing the engine to rev up to 8000 rpm’s with a gorgeous sound. The engine produced 270 bhp until 1997 and 290 thereafter, little by today’s standards but very competitive at the time.

imgresAnd then came Senna, who was very involved in the chassis settings of the car, testing it extensively on various racetracks both in Europe and Asia, and who himself owned three NSXs – at the same time.


The NSX was produced with very few modifications for a very impressive 15 years, from 1990 until 2005. In total around 18.000 cars were built. Outside of Japan there was only one engine version, available with a 4-gear automatic transmission (the US was an important market after all) or a 5-gear manual (6-gear on later models). In 1995 a targa version was introduced, becoming the only version sold in the US whilst it was available alongside the coupé in Europe. In 2002, the pop-up headlamps were replaced with conventional xenon headlamps.

2003 Acura NSX.
2003 Acura NSX.

In Japan the NSX was available in a number of more powerful and lighter versions, but given these cars were never exported and are all left-hand drive, but for a few that were privately imported to the UK, they never made it to Europe.


Unfortunately I have not (yet!) had the opportunity to drive an NSX. But sitting in one as I did not long ago is quite an experience. The seats are superb, the sitting position is low, visibility is indeed what you could imagine from a plane, and steering wheel and gearshift, although as said looking a bit boring, are perfectly positioned. Apart from those short observations we unfortunately have to rely on external test drives and with very few exceptions, all of these, both then and now, were very positive. The NSX handles like a true supercar from the time, with excellent balance and a chassis and suspension rigid enough to enable very good track times (thank Senna for that!). At its limit the mid-mounted engine cam apparently lead to sudden oversteer, but you would really need a race track to notice.

NSX InteriorUnfortunately a slightly boring interior, compared to the rest!


The NSX is a Honda, which is really not bad when it comes to owning one. Servicing is marginally more expensive than for a standard Honda but cost-wise has nothing to do with anything from Maranello. Insurance is quite cheap as well, and reliability is superb. But above all, Honda made a point of making a car that was as good as the 348 but easy enough to be used as an everyday car and as per reports, that is precisely the case. In other words a perfectly sensible choice as second car (or third, or fourth…)!

Which one?

Tthe first problem you run into when deciding on an NSX is to find one. The offer is very limited indeed, and finding a later version (after 1995-1996) is practically impossible. Currently there are around 10 cars available in Germany and about as many in Switzerland. In Sweden there is right now only one car on the market.

Clearly you will want to go for the manual version, as a 4-gear automatic can never do the car justice. In terms of colour, chances are you will have to settle on red or possibly black, anything else is very hard to find. There is currently no targa model on the market in the countries mentioned, but even if you find one it is not necessarily the version to go for, as the targa construction added weight to the nimble NSX and also reduced the much-praised chassis rigidity. Finally, apart from a Momo steering wheel that some cars have fitted along with larger wheels (which do the car justice!), don’t go for a transformed one with body kit or gullwing doors, those are neither good for resale value, nor for your image.

If you find the right car, the odds are that its owner has treated it well and remedied the very few shortcomings of the original construction, but if not these are anyway not costly (they notably include electrical windows getting very slow with age, and some engine bearings).

Interestingly, although steadily rising, NSX prices have not really taken off yet. You can find a good car for around 40′ EUR / 40′ CHF with less than 100.000 kms, a price that given the scarcity of cars can be expected to remain very steady if not increase over coming years.

So what more could you ask for? A supercar from the swinging 80’s, designed after an F16, developed by Ayrton Senna, free of problems and marginally more expensive than an Accord to service? Sign me up!


The greatest Porsche bargain of all times!

imagesOur new heading The Thrill of Owning is about cars that are not only a thrill to drive, either because they are very good value, or because their future value can be expected to hold up very well, alternatively even rise. One car that firmly ranges in the first of those categories is the Porsche 996, produced between 1997 and 2006 as the successor of the fabulous 993. Looking at the classifieds in different countries today, early rear-wheel drive 996 Carreras with less than 100.000 kms on the clock can be had for around 20.000 CHF/EUR. As anyone who has driven a 996 knows, that is a true steal and there is clear reason to believe they will never be cheaper!


Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the 996 so we’ll keep it short. The new model was the 993’s successor but and in many aspects a new car – larger, roomier, more comfortable and far more practical than the old one. It was also Porsche’s first water-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine, something that didn’t go down well with the 911 purists. For slightly more flexible owners, it did present several advantages (notably that of cheaper servicing) but more importantly, it was something that had become necessary as certain technological developments and new emission regulations were not compatible with the air-cooled boxer.


The other thing that didn’t go down well with the purists were the headlights. The Boxster had been launched one year earlier and some cost-saving genius in the marketing department came up with the not-so brilliant idea of fitting headlights in the same layout as on the Boxster to the 996. This is something that has haunted the car ever since and is today given as the main reason for the poor secondary value. We agree – the headlights are not pretty and especially on the Mk1 version until 2002 they are downright ugly. But we are talking about a pair of headlights, and as long as they light up the road in front of you when you are driving, that is about as much thought as you should given them.



The 996 was available as coupé (Carrera) and convertible in 2- and 4-wheel drive versions. Standard output was 300 hp (320 hp from 2002). The four-wheel drive Turbo (above right) was launched in -00 with 420 hp, increasing to 450 hp in the Turbo S from -05, as coupé or a very fast hair dryer. Further versions included the more hardcore, rear-wheel drive GT3 (above left) and subsequent GT 2 with up to 483 hp.



As some of you know, my fellow blogger Sven is a 911 aficionado, having owned both a Mk2 996 Carrera (with performance kit, as he is keen to point out…) and a Mk1  GT3 Clubsport (pictured right). He loved them both and praises the practicality of the “standard” 996 that he used as an everyday car. This is not something that is recommended with the hardcore driving machine GT3 CS, of it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a low-mileage one in good condition.

Which one to get?

The real bargains are the low-mileage Mk1 996’s, that even well-equipped will be yours from around 18-20′ CHF/EUR with less than 100′ kms. Many 911 drivers praise the 2-wheel drive version as a bit more agile than the 4-wheel drive, so if you have money to spare, rather put it on a cabrio if that is your thing, or on a Mk2 version, which both start at around 25′ CHF/EUR. Whether to go for the 6-gear manual or tiptronic is a matter of taste but the manual difficult to fault.

Looking at Turbos and GT3’s, they both start at around 45-50′ CHF/EUR, again for sub-100′ kms cars, and come roughly at the same price even if the cars are radically different – whereas the Turbo is comparable to the standard 996 in practicality, the GT3, standard or CS, is a pure driving machine. In terms of future value the GT3 is probably the way to go, especially the GT3 CS (if you can find one, that is…).


To put these prices somewhat in perspective, a comparable 993 (i.e. the previous, last air-cooled version, pictured left) in standard version costs about 3 times more than a standard 996, starting at 60′ CHF/EUR. The 993 is a fabulous car, but it is not 3 times better than a 996.


Whether the early 996’s will also start to see their value raise is difficult to say, notably given the quite large number of cars produced. But there is clearly reason to believe they will never be cheaper than today. In terms of driving and value for money, you could argue it is one of the best deals on the market, and one that is very hard to resist!

Lancia Rally Heaven

As a small addition to my recent Thrill of Owning post on the Lancia Delta Integrale where I briefly mentioned Lancia’s rally tradition, I feel I have to share this 16-minute video with you as it basically sums that up, featuring a very lucky Chris Harris (motor journalist and a hot contender for the title “the guy with the best job in the world”) on the passenger seat with Markku Alén, Juha Kankkunen and Paolo Andreucci behind the wheels. If you have the least bit of petrol in your blood, this risks compromising your work afternoon quite heavily…

Next to the driving and the sounds, these rally legends’ not-so-legendary English is also highly entertaining, as is Paolo Andreucci’s intensive tongue work whilst driving the Lancia 037, the brand’s last rear-wheel drive rally car that clinched the world title in 1983.

Enjoy – and Happy Easter!