Imagine turning a corner and suddenly it’s 1966 again! While not all curbside classics in this post are as old as this Mercedes W110, it captures well the feeling that spotting a model which has all but disappeared from our roads, and our minds, may give us: A glimpse to the past, a memory of a time when we didn’t pay much attention to something that is mostly gone now but may still be dear to us in our memories, maybe precisely for the fact that we didn’t pay all that much attention to it while it was there. And in that, pathetic as it may be, spotting a curbside classic a bit like looking back on life itself. This is what this post will focus on: Ordinary cars 20 – 35 years old that we didn’t take a second glance at but which are mostly gone now. The old shiny Benz with its whitewalls and red roof is just here so you’d get hooked!
The Audi 80 B2 isn’t exactly known for being rust-proof. All the more surprising to see not one but two of these in beautiful condition parked on the same block on the same day!
I think I like the two-door better, or maybe it’s just my admiration for those rejuvenated rims.
The E30 convertible, particularly as a pre-facelift model, has been on the rise now for years. An example like the one pictured now easily runs 10k, with nicer ones reaching 20k. Nice as a classic BMW drop-top may be, this seems a lot of money.
Nowhere in the history of BMW is the gap between two generation more striking than between the E30 and the E36. To me, they look virtually unrelated and for a long time I have had a problem to accept the E36 as a proper BMW design. Now that they are getting ever more sparse (and the 3-series of younger generations are getting ever uglier) every nice example of an E36 that I come across puts a smile on my face. Even the E36 compact, whose pretty awkward proportions stand out best from the angle I chose to picture it. As different as it may look from the E30, the E36 in its „compact“ variant actually has quite a bit in common with its predecessor.
For the sake of cost-cutting father and son do not only share a dashboard but the E36 compact also did inherit the E30s rear axle. As it goes with an inheritance, you may not be all too happy with what you got versus what you expected you’d get. Or so the humble author (albeit in the days of his youth) thought when he noticed an amount of lift-off oversteer on an interstate exit that he had not been quite expecting (taking the exit at 110 miles per hour was not helping either).
In that sense, the E36 coupe is a real E36 as it has the newer dashboard and the new rear-axle. Roadholding is much improved over the compact, though not quite as lively. A much forgotten interesting fact about the E36 was that in its earliest versions, the steering was so quick it was deemed too dangerous for the German Autobahn so that BMW adjusted it to a slower ratio. In the US, however, where traveling at Autobahn speeds is outside the law, the quicker steering was universally praised.
The pictured example has undergone some modifications with an M3 style exhaust and a rear spoiler, but I think they are well executed and work quite nicely on the sleeker than the compact’s design. Though it looks the most dynamic in the E36 line-up, the 4-door is prefered for racing over the coupe as the coupe suffers from a weight penalty since it shares its weighty body reinforcements for added torsional rigidity with the convertible.
The Volvo 300 series, one could argue, is not really a proper Volvo after all. Development on the car had already started at Dutch DAF when Volvo acquired the small automaker from the Netherlands. Transmission choices were strange (CVT!) and the smaller engines came from Renault. Be that as it may, I would argue that the 300 was quite special in its own way. The most interesting factoid about it is the rare transaxle layout of its RWD drivetrain, with the power routed through the rear wheels through a trans that was located close to the rear de Dion tube.
All of this sounds familiar? It’s a rare for a sedan design and was mostly used in proper sports cars like the Porsche 924/944 and the larger 928 (though in that case with IRS). Oh, and of course on the Alfa 75/Milano and its predecessors Guilietta and Alfetta that are still praised for its their handling today. Historic side note: Volvo presented a sports oriented version of the 300, the 363CS, which featured the controversially discussed Douvrin PRV V-6. Incidentally, Volvo did not have a transmission that would fit a transaxle application with a torquey large-displacement engine such as the PRV. In their need, they turned to Alfa Romeo and were heard. Too bad the 363 CS never made it into production.
Unlike the 300 series, the Volvo 900 series is considered to be proper Volvo and maybe the last cars of the Swedish automaker to be held in such regard. To me the 940 sedan may be the most beautiful of any Volvo sedans produced. Still angular enough to look like a proper Volvo, but already devoid of the awkward steep rear window that made older Volvo sedans look like bad copies of their bigger American brothers. And when we nickname a classic Volvo like a 740/760 a Swedish brick, this is a compliment that speaks more to the packaging and the reliability of these cars than to their design which to me was always questionable at best.
This is where the 940 who shares much of its underpinnings with the 740 really stands out: It takes classic Volvo lines and makes them viable for the (at least early) 1990s. It works even better on the down-to-earth 940 than on the somewhat over the top 960 with its Porsche engines and thick carpeting. The plain white also helps to highlight the congenial simplicity of this quintessential Swedish design. This one is so pure, the car does not even have an airbag! It’s Bang & Olufsen on wheels!
I am always fascinated by the mysterious ways that cars circle, just like people, around the globe, not caring much for national borders and immigration regulations. One thing that has lately come to my attention is how many cars from the United States are registered in Poland (and then driven in Germany, where many of our Polish neighbors come to work). This would still make some sense to me if you are a Polish immigrant coming back to Europe and you want to bring your nice Trailblazer or Tahoe along so your extended family can see how well you have down in the land of the free. But why bring a Passat B5? It’s American origins are clearly discernible by the shape of the license plate holder.
It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of a B5 sedan, quite to the contrary. The greenhouse is beautifully sculpted, a proper four door coupe before the four door coupe was invented. In Germany there were few of these to begin with, some 90 percent of this generation Passat had been sold as station wagons. The longitudinally mounted Audi V6, on top of that, was an engine choice for the eccentric. In that configuration (sedan, V6)– which was popular in the US – probably not even 1 percent of European registered Passat B5 were sold.
Maybe this is the appeal then for our friends from Poland, to show off a true rarity: Your neighbor may have the 90 hp TDI wagon with 200k miles on the clock to haul around his tools, you have a US re-imported thick carpeted full leather V6 AWD. Financially thought, with the cost of shipping easily surpassing the value of the car, it does not make sense. Or maybe that’s just the beauty of fit.
I have a weak spot for great packaging – for a design that provides maximum usable interior space on a small footprint. This is where the third Volkswagen Polo wagon will really deliver. I will let the picture speak mostly for itself. If there had been a sub-compact Volvo Wagon in the 1990ies, this is what it could have looked like.
If a VW Polo wagon offers great packaging, the Toyota Yaris Verso offers fantastic packaging. Constricting by a tricky geography, the Japanese are very resourceful when it comes to making the most out of little space. Need I say more that this vehicle was called the „Fun Cargo“ in Japan? Definitely one of the better car names, notwithstanding the Suzuki Every Joypop Turbo, of course.
The German masters of packaging are of course the various generation of VWs largest chassis, the Bus, T-series, Vanagon, Eurovan, hippievan whatever you wanna call it. „My, how have you grown! is what grandparents –or great-grandparents – will say to their offspring on the rare occasions that the young ones come by the house because they need money, a place to sleep, relationship advice or to borrow a safe car for a road trip. With each generation of automobiles seemingly surpassing the previous one in size, it’s refreshing to see more sensible growth, or really, not much growth at all here. I could have sworn the T5 was much bigger than the T2 but it seems I was wrong.
This is a quite typical view in my neighborhood. Hip classic campervan or a beater left to die in a sidestreet? It’s a fine line. Be that as it may, what am I doing wrong that my job doesn’t allow for me to go camping all the time?
As frequently mentioned in my previous posts I am a huge fan of Japanese car manufacturing from the late 80ies to early 90ies so this post won’t go without presenting some beautiful yet very understated vehicles from that – to me – magic period. The Mazda 626 Coupe – or MX-6 as it was known in the US – is certainly one such vehicle. The differences between the sedan and the coupe are fairly minor, but they work well to create a distinctively own vehicle. Incidentally, the BMW E36 copied the sedan/coupe differentiation from the 626 by the way the headlights are designed for each respective body style!
My last post sparked a pretty intense and somewhat emotional discussion about the beetle which may or may not only have been about the beetle. In any case – and to no surprise really – it turned out that there are many different perspectives and many different stories about a single piece of machinery. To me, this is what makes cars so interesting to talk and write about: They are tied to everyone’s individual and deeply personal memories.
One story about the beetle was that it was the Corolla of its time and though I am sure some would agree and other’s would not (my father’s four beetles never made it past 60k miles which may have been more his fault than the beetle’s), one thing is for certain: The Corolla definitely was the Corolla of its time and maybe never more so than in the late eighties and early nineties. This may be my favorite generation and even the somewhat pretentious red stripe is working rather nicely for me!
The succeeding Corolla comes in at a close second place for me. Toyota claimed that its design was inspired by the new flagship, the Lexus LS400 and though that may be somewhat of a stretch (quite literally) I would still agree that this generation Corolla is exceptionally sleek. Although they are still visible in the streets, an example this unblemished has become a rare sight.
Though largely forgotten now, I can see why the Renault 19 was such a huge hit at his time. During its early 90ies heyday it was even briefly the best-selling car in the former German Democratic Republic!
Speaking of the German Decocratic Republic: In my last post a Trabant was seen enjoying a somewhat elevated status to the point where it had lost its common touch and risen one above. That cannot be said of this example. Not only does it feature body panels in 3 different colors, the seats have been switched for those from a Honda CRX!
Which 5-series was peak 5-series? Luthe’s/Spada’s/MaysÄ E34 as many argue?
Or its successor, Joji Nagashima‘s E39 with its aluminum chassis for reduced unsprung weight, the five which is said to have the best handling of them all.
In any case you should always keep up on the maintenance, particularly with theTtouring’s automatic leveling (or not) air suspension.
Here comes a true oddball. The Corrado is one of the stranger VWs in the recent history and as of late has enjoyed a little more publicity and seen prices on the rise – as so often with older cars precisely is the case when they have all but disappeared from the roads and memories. The Corrado made a common late eighties mistake: With the world economy going strong, automakers aimed to position the successors to well-established two-doors an entire class upmarket and – with the economy cooling off – fell hard: The 8-series as the successor to the 6-series may be the more popular example of this development but the Corrado as the new Scirocco made the same mistake.
It didn’t help that it had a – first for VW – supercharged engine (called the G-Lader, it broke frequently) and – as some say – the best handling of any VW ever produced. Not only was it expensive, it also had a serious design problem: It was based on the Golf Mk2 which was a fine looking car but not a fine looking sports car. And the Corrado hit the market when the Mk2 was close too retirement. For perspective, here is another car from the same era from the same mother company and yes, they look world’s apart:
I will say nothing about the Audi 80. It is the car my father drove most of my childhood so quite naturally it must be the best car ever made. (It actually was and is a pretty good car).
The Opel Omega Mk2 would be an unremarkable car. It would be a car you wouldn’t notice, not even with all these insane modifications. But the Omega Mark 2 was the last of the large Opels, the last Opel with RWD. It sold poorly and Opel left the playing field to the competition. I have a soft spot for the losers and so the Omega warms my heart. Also, I am always happy to be alive when I see one cause the only time I ever rode in one was with a driver who had drunk half a quart of rum before we went out to the liquor store in his parents’ Omega wagon. But that was a long time ago, those days are gone like the large Opel and I, unlike the Opel, got away.
And yes, this is of course also the Cadillac Catera, one of GMs more interesting attempts to compete for market share in the US. Unlike Cindy Crawford claimed, it didn’t zig all that much but still Cadillac moved close to 100k of these.