Car Show Classics: Die Oldtimer Show in Paaren/Glien on the Outskirts of Berlin

On the first weekend of June it was finally time to take out my family for a spin in my “new“ classic car – a 1994 Toyota Carina E wagon. And what better way to honor the little Japanese car’s longevity, I thought, than to visit a classic car show….

My hometown, Berlin, features no less than five classic car shows each year (that I know of). Most circle around the fancy, better than new vehicle in the 50+ k price range. At these events, older men in suits worth twice my old Toyota exchange business cards in hushed voices. These shows – usually taking place at prime venues like the trade fair center – offer a great chance to admire the usual suspects at German car shows: polished Porsches, mint condition Mercedes and an occasional beaming beamer. What’s missing at these shows is any sign of life, any trace that these cars, or the people that own them, have spent any meaningful amount of time outside air conditioned atmospheres in the last two decades.

My trusty Toyota wagon– a classic car by many definitions though not really by the looks or image of it – didn’t have air condition and the atmosphere both outside and inside was approaching tropical as I was driving through heavy rain and weekend traffic towards Paaren/Glien some 30 miles outside Berlin. The ventilation system barely had an effect. The only sign that air was coming in was the occasional piece of insulation the air ducts would spit into my strained eyes while I was trying to approximate the Autobahn from behind a foggy screen.

There are quite a few little villages around Berlin that, officially, call themselves „[name of village] bei (close to) Berlin“, hoping that the big city glamour will wash off on their quiet existence. I have come to expect nothing but perfect provincialism from these places and that’s why I go there every once in a while. Paaren/Glien bei Berlin, the locale where the classic car show was supposed to take place on that rainy afternoon, was to top all of the other [names of village] bei Berlin: Paaren was present by its very absence, the „car show“ nothing but a huge pasture, complete with fencing for the cattle that apparently were out of town for the weekend.

Taken the place of the cattle had, among other motorized animals, this line-up of small BMWs: Two 02-series, one of them a rare covertible, an E30 and an E21 3-series. A rare sight to see in one shot, though the line up feels like a real missed chance in terms of chronology.

Barely visible in this picture, the E21 has the double headlights, which were exclusive to the 320/320i and 323i models. Interestingly, the E21 320 nameplate was used first to designate the 4-cylinder M10 (1975-77) and later the M20 6-cylinder model (1977-1982).

My father used to own a 2002 in the mid-seventies. It’s hard to imagine, but apparently, back then, 100 hp was all it took to be a serious player on the Autobahn: At a claimed top speed of 112 mph (for the manual) you were running with the big boys, even with the sluggish ZF-sourced three speed auto that my dad’s car had. Or in other words: Your 1970 2002 from back then is your performance inflation-adjusted 2018 440i coupe!

The strangest of the 02 BMWs in my opinion is the touring version. Not a commercial success, it could be argued that it was BMWs first hatchback, predating the E36 compact of the nineties by more than 20 years. It’s name, touring, however, would suggest a lineage to BMWs station wagons.

Does anyone know if the 02 touring was sold in the US, has anyone seen one on the roads outside of Europe? I’m eagerly awaiting your comments.

As automakers are trying to fill, or create, ever more niches, new bodystyle designations emerge and old ones don’t apply anymore.

How about this Opel Rekord two door station wagon ? (You gonna have to trust me that the lady in the picture is not hiding the rear doors). Today it would probably be marketed as a shooting break and sold at a hefty premium, back then it was the more economical of the two Opel Rekord station wagons. Opel wagons of that period have become incredible rare as back in the days they were mostly driven by handymen and „used up“.

Driving a station wagon was pretty much unacceptable in Germany until the early nineties. For example, BMW brought their first real wagon, the E30 3-series, to market as late as in 1988. It wasn’t even a desgin commissioned by the company but rather an after-work garage job from engineer BMW Max Reisböck who put in the hours. My father, too, bought only sedan versions from Germany’s big three (Audi, BMW, Mercedes) well into the 2010s, even as as station wagon take rates approached 80 percent in Germany.

By now you may have identified a unifying theme in my report from Glien. With no such intentions, I must have subconsciously focused on three door cars in my photography and shooting one like this Audi 100 coupe feels particularly special. Now, what bodystyle is this?

I would argue it’s a Kammback. Thought up by Wunibald Kamm in 1930s Stuttgart, it is a body with smooth contours that continues to a tail that is abruptly cut off for reduced drag.

Be that as it may, I say it looks spectacular. Known by few, the Kammback has remained mostly an oddity throughout car history (CC community, is this worth an article?!). It is no accident, though, that Audi, the ever striving parvenu fueled with jealousy for BMWs and Mercedes’ glamorous history, has quoted it’s only notably beautiful design in the A7 sportsback.

I live in Berlin, so I get to see a lot of supposedly rare cars. I have seen two Porsche 918 Spyders, the Ferrari siblings Enzo and La Ferrari and even a Bugatti Veyron Supersports this year alone.

What I haven’t seen in several years, anywhere, is this:

A what now? Yes, it’s a VW Polo G40.

The Polo, both too small and too expensively engineered to be deemed fit for the American market is Volkswagen’s great success story below the Golf. The fact that it’s cheaper than a golf makes for an unfavorable value/maintenance cost ratio and results in older Polos disappearing quickly.

The G40 was the range topper, the hot hatch polo. Think Golf/Rabbit GTI/GLI one size smaller. The G40 was equipped with a very rare type of supercharger that, due to its high maintenance cost, was only ever used in VW models of the late 80ies/early nineties and then never again. The supercharger was called a “G-Lader” (G-charger) because it was shaped like the letter G. In the Polo, the G-Lader had a diameter of 40mm (1 3/5 inches), hence the name G40.

If you want to buy one like these today, think 10.000 euros, more than ten times ten times what a base model 1.0 liter will sell for. That is if you find one at all and a seller left to part from his.

I will spare you my thoughts on body style nomenclature, but what I find very fascinating is that this generation Polo (and the one before) were offered in two different kinds of three door hatchback body styles. One had a slightly more angled rear window and was called: The Polo Coupé (which is the only body style the G40 was offered in)…..and I’m sure VW charged a premium for the „coupe“ which meant paying money for taking away interior trunk space, a successful formula to increase your margin throughout the ages.

A car that has gotten very expensive over the past years is the BMW 850CSI. I always had respect for the 8-series, and respect is probably what it commanded when it first hit the roads, though not admiration of the kind that the E9 or maybe even E24 coupes evoked, spiritual predecessors to the 8-series.

The 8-series was, like many luxury cars of the late eighties/early nineties, ill-timed to a crumbling luxury market as the world economy took a downturn. This car broke with pretty much all of BMWs established and beloved design features, taking vague clues only from the M1 and Z1 which were too rare to really have become part of BMWs visual DNA for the general public to notice the lineage.

Even the Hofmeister-Knick is tiny, though it’s still there. Sometimes you need a vehicle like that to break with old paradigms and take a company’s visual language to the next level, but the 8-series failed to do that if only for the disappointingly low number BMW managed to sell and put on the roads. It would be interesting to see what had become of the BMW design language if the world economy hadn’t slowed down and BMW had managed to put the E31 on the roads in greater quantities. What I’m saying, of course, is, this could have spared us some of Chris Bangle’s works.

Today the E31 stands as the last reminder of a branch of the BMW family tree that bore no further fruit – like that older cousin who barely ever shows up to the family reunion, has a ton of money but never got married or had kids. What made the 850ies a visual outcast and slow seller in BMW showrooms of the nineties is, however, what makes it so desirable today. Don’t you just love the view from the side?

By now we have crossed the pasture and gotten close to what claims to be a convention center but looks more like a state-run home for the elderly. Here, we turn our back on the Germans and have to open our minds to non-Germanic interpretations of three door body styles.

Certainly interesting was the following line-up of cars that you are extremely unlikely to have seen anywhere on the road for at least twenty years, except for maybe France.

I must admit, this yellow example was maybe the first Renault 15 I ever consciously saw. It vaguely reminds me of an AMC pacer, actually. And what is it with the heavy chromed rear fender? It’s definitely an interesting design feature, certainly one I don’t recall any other from any other car. Or do you?

This Matra Murena is a regular at local classic car shows. It’s hard to see in the picture, but the Matra features a pretty rare three seat arrangement with the middle seat moved back just a little. The only other sports car that I can think of to feature three seats up front is of course the legendary McLaren F1, though the driver in the quintessential supercar of the 90ies was located in the middle seat for better center of gravity. CC community, can you think of any other three seater (non-American) sports cars out there?

This second generation Renault Alpine A 310 has always struck me as visually out of balance. You have to applaud the bravado of the headlight arrangement, they must look scary in the rear view mirror when the PRVs six turbo spools up and maybe that is what this design is all about. There is something C3 Corvettish about this car though that I like.

For the last few cars we break with our three-door paradigm and open our minds to the great French five-door tradition that is encapsulated in cars like this Citroen CX and Renault 20. The Renault is actually equipped with a non-collectors license plate, suggesting it’s being used as a daily driver. The Renault, whose sculpting of the sidelines are great to make out in this shot, actually features the N/A diesel engine which makes it a rare sight (and sound).

I love for a good car show to end on a weird note and the Nissan Pao was as weird as it got for me on that day. My visit to the car show at Paaren/Glien took place before a collector from the states made the press by buying hundreds of them from Japan and so it was my first ever confrontation with this Nissan Micra K10 based postmodern oddity that actually has a place at the New York MoMa. I talked to the owner who told me he had bought imported in from an old lady in the south of England.

On our way out we came across this older brother younger brother couple of Audis from the 80ies:

With their rectangular headlights and no-nonsense industrial straight Bauhaus lines they seemed to be looking at me sternly as if to say: Tree doors? French cars? Hatchbacks? Get a hold of yourself, boy.

The Audi 100 C2 (read Audi 5000 for US readers) seems more of a child of the seventies with its chrome-laden windows and side crest line while the Audi 90 (yes, a rare 90, the 5 cylinder iteration of the 4-cylinder only Audi 80, read Audi 4000 for US readers) spells eighties as it is the facelifted model that was bringing its seventies origins in line with the newer Audi 100 C3 design that had debuted in 1982. What unites these brethren across class and decade boundaries is their straight-five engine, a first for a gasoline powered vehicle after the legendary Mercedes OM 617 had paved the way for the rise of the fives. The Audi’s engine actually derived from the Benz’s oil burner – but that’s another story.

The day was almost done. On our way back to the parking lot I stumbled across what might be the Nissan Bao like oddity at future car shows….

…a second generation Nissan Cube.

On a pretty nerdy side note, it featured the local license plates that start with „OHV“ for Ober-Havelland (upper Havel country, for the river Havel that runs through these parts of the countryside west of Berlin). When I read „OHV“ what first comes to mind is of course always the valve configuration. This Cube then, is falsely labeled, as it features a double overhead cam engine design….