Home » Second-Chance Showdown: BMW 325e vs Dodge Shadow vs Pontiac Bonneville vs Mazda RX-7

Second-Chance Showdown: BMW 325e vs Dodge Shadow vs Pontiac Bonneville vs Mazda RX-7

Sbsd 1 26 2024
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Good morning, Autopians! It’s Friday, thank goodness. I was planning to eschew our weekly four-way roundup in favor of another pair of cars; Mercedes posted a car to our Slack channel the other day that’s so awful I can’t not feature it. But I couldn’t find an equally-awful competitor to it on short notice (yes, it’s really that bad), so I’ll look for something over the weekend and show it to you next week.

In the meantime, we’re giving the week’s losers another try, and for yesterday’s vote, that meant the derelict Mazda RX-7. It wasn’t a complete blowout, but it was a decisive win for the Infiniti. Personally, I don’t see the appeal; it caught my eye enough to write about, but I certainly wouldn’t spend money on the damn thing.

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I would, however, very much like to own an RX-7 someday, and the FC generation is my favorite. This one is a little expensive for the condition it’s in, especially with the dinged title, but maybe someday I’ll stumble across the perfect specimen for the right price. When I do, you can be damned sure I’m keeping the rotary engine in it. It’s what makes the RX-7 special; why would you swap it for some ordinary piston engine?

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I’m sure by now you’ve all read about our co-founder Beau Boeckmann’s latest acquisition: the legendary, and spectacular, Uncertain-T. It’s sure to become the crown jewel of an astonishing collection of famous hot rods, a collection which I have had the honor of seeing myself, briefly. The Uncertain-T was hidden away from the public for fifty years, patiently waiting for its time in the spotlight to come again.

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Newly-uncovered cars are nothing new in the car world, of course; there are even books and TV series on the subject now. Every rusted-out piece of crap on Craigslist claims to be a “barn find” these days. But once in a while, someone comes across something really special, squirreled away in someone’s garage or barn. But what about fifty years from now? Will old forgotten cars still hold the same appeal?

That’s our thought experiment for today. It’s 2074. Gasoline is a distant memory. Most cars are electric, but a few enthusiasts cling to their internal-combustion engines, powered by a biofuel made from, let’s say, seaweed and dandelions. Any older engine can be easily adapted to run on this stuff, so you can party like it’s 1999 – as long as you fill out all the required forms, pay the exorbitant fees, and register the car as an environmental hazard. One day, you come across an estate sale, in which four old cars have been found in a barn – these four cars, in fact – in roughly the same condition they’re in now. You have the opportunity to purchase one of them.

1984 BMW 325e

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BMW’s place in automotive history is not in doubt, despite its best efforts to sabotage it recently. “The Ultimate Driving Machine” will be the stuff of legends, long after cars are even more soulless appliances than they are now, and all the cool cars are banished to a country place no one knows about. Will anyone, in those days to come, know or care that this wasn’t the “cool” BMW?

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Yes, the interior is toast, and the paint is shot. Yes, it has a weak engine and an automatic transmission. But it’s still the iconic E30 shape, with the proper number of doors, and the classic inline six. I think, despite the low-revving “eta” engine, this would make a hell of a barn find in the future.

1994 Dodge Shadow ES

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The great titans of industry, for better or worse, are enshrined in our collective unconscious. It is impossible now, and will be in the future, to discuss the American auto industry in the late 20th century without mentioning Lee Iacocca. Without his leadership, Chrysler Corporation may not have survived the 1980s, and this car wouldn’t exist.

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Whether or not you think that would be a bad thing depends on your feelings about the humble K-car and its variants. But like it or not, Iacocca’s K platform is historically (and culturally) important, and good examples of cars based on it are coming into their own as bona-fide classics. And this one, as a high-end example of its line, with a desirable manual transmission, would make a good collector’s item.

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2002 Pontiac Bonneville SLE

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A hundred years ago, there were hundreds of automobile brands. General Motors alone had dozens of nameplates, some bought, some newly created. Pontiac came into being in 1926, as a companion brand to Oakland, a car company bought out by GM in 1909. Pontiac met its demise in 2010 in the restructuring fallout from GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. Its cars are already becoming the stuff of legend; I have no doubt that will continue in the future.

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This particular Pontiac is powered by another GM legend: the Buick-derived 3800 V6. It might never be as famous as the Chevy small-block, but this engine’s place in the history books is not in doubt. I think a 3800-powered Pontiac will suffice to make any future GM fan geek out.

1987 Mazda RX-7 GXL

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And speaking of famous engines, Mazda’s rotary, now fifty years old itself, won’t fade into oblivion any time soon. Many car companies dabbled with Felix Wankel‘s spinning-triangle engine design, but only Mazda picked it up and ran with it. Its most well-known application of this engine was the RX-7, which delighted driving enthusiasts for more than two decades over three generations.

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This RX-7 already looks like a barn find, and I think the commenters who thought it originally hailed from the desert Southwest are probably right. At least it doesn’t have any rust. A car in this condition would be near-impossible to restore properly in the future; it would be hard enough now. But who knows? Maybe 3D printing, or some as-yet unknown technology, will provide replacements.

So there they are: your future barn finds in the year 2074. The robot auctioneer is ready to accept your credits. Which one are you bidding on?

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(Image credits: Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace sellers)

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Spectre6000
Spectre6000
23 days ago

Once upon a car buying expedition, I went to look at an E30 BMW. I had rounded up a handful of cars to go look at, and the BMW was too rusty. Pass. I mentioned to the seller that I was going to look at an RX-7 nearby. At the time, I had the usual enthusiasts’ casual interest in rotaries, having never driven one. The BMW seller got excited. Seems he used to own one, and thought highly of it (as nearly every former rotary owner seems to). He offered to go with me to check it out, and walk me through some of its foibles since I had no experience. We went around the corner to check it out, and I went on a test drive with the seller (only two seats, so BMW guy stayed behind). After we got it reasonably warm, the seller told me to take it to redline. I was shocked! I would never do that in someone else’s car! Especially not on a test drive like that! He assured me it was fine, and that it was necessary to assess the valving in the intake (he was 100% correct about that). That smooth, linear acceleration to redline was intoxicating! It wasn’t all that fast, but it glued a smile to my face. The RX-7 was rustier than the BMW, but I lost my mind and bought it anyway. I was thereafter hooked on rotaries. I only owned that RX-7 for 3 months (short, even by my standards) because it was just so damn rusty. I traded pinks on a squarebody truck because I needed a bed to move stuff around… I spent a few years without a rotary in my stable, but never forgot how incredible it was. Fast forward a few years, and I bought a beautiful, clean, low mile, one-owner Series 2 RX-8 during the pandemic, and I am one happy clam!

Oldskool
Oldskool
23 days ago

While the Bonnie will probably run until 2074, I’d be more excited to go into the barn and see my Shadow. Yeah my sister had one and it was a piece of shit, but this one being manual takes some of that out of the equation. And adds more fun! It’s also the middle of winter and I’m really missing Radwood shows.

AlterId
AlterId
24 days ago

The Dodge, if only because it’s a running car that you can pop the clutch to start if need be and has a spacious hatchback perfect for things like crude firearms and prewar canned food. Sadly, the white paint will have to be covered with rattlecan black to make it less visible at night, but the condition otherwise means it will look good when you go pay your annual tribute to your local warlord/head of state, Baron Barron I.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
24 days ago

Call me a Bavarian whore, but I’d still opt for the 325e. A manual swap is pretty simple in the E30, and the 325es I had eons ago was a fun little car to be ‘slow car going fast’ in. In addition, there were so damn many E30s sold, and BMW does a decent job with parts availability for their cars, that you would be pretty much guaranteed to find parts for it in [radio announcer voice] “The Future!”

The Mazda is a very close second, but I’d be concerned about parts availability and overall reliability (yeah, not a lot of moving parts in a rotary, but the M20B27 of the BMW is insanely overbuilt / under stressed with the exception of the timing belt).

The Dodge and Pontiac are no bueno because even in “The Future!” FWD is the devil.

Last edited 24 days ago by Derek van Veen
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
24 days ago

You forgot to include pricing in the Friday runoff. I was checking because a Dodge Shadow convertible showed up in my area for $2,500 with apparently no major issues.

ScottG
ScottG
24 days ago

Depends on use

shadow – winter beater
bmw- art car tribute
mazda- wife will sell for parts in future
bonnie- DD , kids , Florida coke runs

Anonymous Person
Anonymous Person
26 days ago

I had to go with the Shadow. Two of them were stick-shifts. Only one of them ran.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
26 days ago

Dodge or the Bonnie in this scenario. Parts will be possible to obtain. The RX-7 is the coolest, but it will be impossible to cobble parts together for it.

Cyko9
Cyko9
26 days ago

I was rooting for the Mazda originally, so it’s an easy vote today. Does seaweed juice work as oil as well as fuel? The BMW is a close second though. The Pontiac will be rust flakes by then, and I’m not seeing the appeal of the Shadow.

World24
World24
26 days ago

Out of any Dodge to be within a poll and win, a Shadow with a Mitsubishi V6 is the one people will choose. In the same competition as:

  • A Pontiac powered by the 3800 V6.
  • A literal RX7.
  • And a BMW.

Man, people are confusing.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
26 days ago

You can claim that they’d all be in their current condition, but all of them would be non-runners after sitting. The Shadow is the logical choice as a running 5-speed manual, but the Mazda is the one most of us find interesting.

JDE
JDE
26 days ago

I on the other hand feel like the RX7 would be a perfect candidate for a single motor EV conversion. The raging Dorito motor is interesting, but just not that good in the end. poor fuel economy, and limited lifespan but a nifty sporty flip up headlight super light body means you don’t need a lot of motor to make one go. the only trick part might be adequate suspension to haul around 100 miles or so of Battery life.

Scarily, the 90’s Dodge is the correct answer here and that is said with extreme trepidation.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
26 days ago

98 years old me will want to enjoy something rather unique. Mazda it is.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
26 days ago

Dodge Shadow. Been dreaming about it since tuesday and will still be dreaming about it in 2074

Greensoul
Greensoul
26 days ago

Although I think that is the best BMW 3 series body styling ever, I know to run from a money pit when I see one. It’s gotta be the Shadow for me. It’s just so darn…..white! For gosh sakes even the wheels are white. A rolling wedding gown.

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