Car Lot Classics: Take Your Pick – JC Whitney Lexus Or Single-Kidney BMW?

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Time for a couple of back-row cast offs, courtesy of a local dealership. It’s getting so that even the old trade-ins at local dealerships are nothing more interesting than mid-’90s Camrys and Tauruses, but this pair was enough for me to get out of the car.

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The 318ti was a short-lived U.S. version of the E36 Compact. The Compact came out in 1993 in Europe and was quite successful. So successful, in fact that it came to the States for the 1995 model year. I remember seeing them at the ’95 Chicago Auto Show. That, along with the Dakar Yellow M3 and 1st gen Z3, are my best memories of ’90s BMWs.

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But while the Z3 and E36 M3 were resounding successes, the 318ti fell flat. For most Americans, “hatchback” spelled “cheap,” and that meant little interest in the littlest BMW, despite a rather attractive MSRP. All U.S. imports got the 138-hp 1.8L inline four in 1995; the “M44” 1.9L DOHC unit replaced it in 1996 and was shared with the inaugural Z3.

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The ti lasted only to 1999, disappearing with the introduction of the E46 3-Series. An E46 Compact was built and sold well in its home market, but we never got it, due to the dismal failure of the E36 version.

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The E46 Compact was ultimately replaced by the 1-Series, which we DID get, and still remains available today. Due, I’m sure, in no small part to its three-box styling with a trunk, not a hatchback. This somewhat neglected ti with “DO NOT DRIVE” lettered on its windshield is the first one I’ve seen in years. Looks like it could be put to rights with little trouble, though.

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Moving on, we have this Lexus SC coupe. This V8 400 and its inline six-powered 300 sibling were very classy luxury coupes when introduced in 1992, and, for what it’s worth, was Motor Trend’s 1992 Import Car of the Year. They looked good, and along with the Lincoln Mark VIII and redone Acura Legend coupe, made for some fine-looking sport/lux coupes in the early Nineties. Pity that this one’s been customized by some myopic previous owner.

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The wheels actually aren’t bad, and I like the pearl-white paint, but that body kit says “I have poor taste, fellow motorists!” Are those tumescent sills on the rocker panels flotation devices, in case you drive into a lake?

Here’s a nice stock version, for comparison’s sake. Better, yes? These look especially nice in midnight blue or black cherry paint.

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At least you can’t see what’s been done to it from the inside, though the leather has seen better days. Provided it hasn’t been neglected too much mechanically, the 256-hp 4.0L V8 could provide some fun on the road, as long as you can keep the thirsty mill in premium unleaded.

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The back seat was near mint, but the legroom is a bit lacking…so which one of these cars would you take home? They both have needs, and their merits. Take your pick!

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