Good morning! Today on Shitbox Showdown, we’re heading to the San Francisco Bay area to check out a couple of broken Germans. But first, we’ll settle the score on Friday’s rare stickshifts:
Saab wins, again! I’d have to look back to check, which would be difficult because I don’t keep track, but I believe the defunct Swedish brand is undefeated. From the comments, a lot of you felt the Subaru was overpriced for its condition (I agree) and that the Saab was more worthy of attention (ditto). A nice European sports sedan in good condition is hard to beat.
But what about a nice European sports sedan in not-so-good condition? Well, they’re cheaper. But you have to be ready, willing, and able to get your hands dirty, because it makes no sense to pay someone else to fix these cars for you. Their values drop faster than Evel Knievel at Snake River, but parts aren’t all that expensive, which could make a broken German car a good value for a patient do-it-yourselfer. Let’s take a look at a couple of them now.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead-cam V6, six-speed manual, AWD
Location: San Francisco, CA
Odometer reading: 179,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs, but…
Audi sedans are nice cars. They’re comfortable, good-handling, brilliant in inclement weather (especially, but not only, the Quattros), and feel solid and well-built. Unfortunately, they are also high-maintenance, fussy, and do not suffer ham-fisted attempts at repairs gladly, as the owner of this A4 found out. It allegedly ran and drove perfectly before a botched tune-up attempt: After replacing the plugs, coils, and some sensors, it “shakes violently” and there is “air coming from somewhere.” Uh-oh.
The A4 is Audi’s small executive sedan, meant to compete with the BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C class. This is the B6 generation, closely related to the contemporary VW Passat, but nicer-appointed. The A4 was available with a wide range of gasoline and diesel engines; this example features a naturally-aspirated three-liter V6 good for 217 horsepower. And yes, it’s a manual, and a Quattro, so you have your choice of six possible forward gears to send that power to all four corners at once.
Apart from the noted engine woes, this car is in decent condition, especially for closing in on 180,000 miles. It’s dirty in the way that daily drivers usually get, lending credence to the seller’s claims that it ran fine before the fateful tune-up. It needs a good cleaning, and someone absconded with the Audi rings [Editor’s Note: We call them Auto Union rings around here, sir – JT] from the grille, but it still looks good.
In theory, you should be able to just get a thorough accounting of what the seller touched and didn’t touch, go through their work carefully, find where they went wrong, and get this car going again without much trouble. Of course, after that, you still have a high-maintenance Audi to contend with.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead-cam inline 6, five-speed automatic, RWD
Location: San Jose, CA
Odometer reading: 165,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs, but…
I’m always a little nervous about posting a BMW, for fear of getting some detail wrong. Our resident newsman, Thomas Hundal, adores the brand, and will surely call me out on any mistake I make. Even worse, Mercedes Streeter owns this exact car, purchased from The Bishop, so I have to be doubly careful to check all my facts. I do, however, have direct personal experience with a BMW of this era with the same engine (an E46 3-series), so I do kinda know what I’m talking about.
For instance, I can tell you that the M54 inline six in this wagon is buttery-smooth and, while not a screamer, never feels underpowered. I can also tell you that it almost certainly leaks oil from the oil filter housing gasket unless someone replaced it recently, the VANOS variable-valve-timing system probably clatters like an old Caterpillar at high RPM, and the entire cooling system is made of a substance resembling hard candy.
Worse, the seller says this car is showing symptoms of a blown head gasket. As fragile as these cooling systems are, doing anything but starting it up for a second to verify that it does in fact run is inadvisable. Tow it home and get ready to tear it apart. At least you can fix all the other typical problems while you’re in there.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like here. I’ve driven a couple of E39 BMWs over the years, and they do have excellent road manners and are very comfortable. This one shows some wear and tear inside, but as a California car, is unlikely to suffer from the rust problems seen elsewhere. And a wagon is always a nice thing to have. It’s not worth having someone fix it, but if you’re handy and willing to take stuff apart, this could be a worthy project. For all the things that need repairing, BMWs are not particularly hard cars to wrench on. You just have to wrench on them a lot.
I know a lot of you are going to turn up your noses at both of these cars. But I also know we have some seasoned wrench-turners in our audience, and today’s choices are for you. The inexpensive way to have a car like these is to do the work yourself. Which one are you willing to dig into?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)