Home » Uncharacteristically Noisy German Sedans: 1983 BMW 528e vs 1985 Audi 5000S

Uncharacteristically Noisy German Sedans: 1983 BMW 528e vs 1985 Audi 5000S

Sbsd 10 26 2023
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Good morning! Today on Shitbox Showdown, we shift our focus to the Autobahn, or rather, to two cars designed for the Autobahn that have made their homes here in America. Both are low-power variants of their type, both are blessed with manual transmissions, and both, for some reason, have had their mufflers “deleted” by enthusiastic young owners. We’ll get to those in a second; first we need to determine the winner of yesterday’s lazy luxury battle:

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Yeah, that’s the right call. The Chrysler is no great shakes, but it’s by far the cooler of the two. The Lincoln Versailles is a barely-enduring symbol of everything that went wrong in Detroit in the 1970s. Use it as a parts donor, and good riddance.

You’d never know it to look at their current ranges, but back in the 1980s, both BMW and Audi made sensible, no-bullshit sports sedans that were built like tanks. The maintenance on them was straightforward, the engines didn’t require periodic replacement of major components, and despite their comically low power ratings by today’s standards, they could cruise along at 100-plus mile per hour speeds for as long as you wanted them to, year-in and year-out. Oh, and by default, they came with manual gearboxes.

They really don’t make them like they used to. These cars were so good, in fact, that they remain acceptable, if not entirely wise, used car choices even after untold indignities have been heaped upon them by owners younger than they are. Let’s check them out.

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1983 BMW 528e – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.7 liter overhead cam inline 6, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Happy Valley, OR

Odometer reading: 177,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes indeed

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BMW’s famous tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” wasn’t just something invented by Germany’s version of Don Draper. It was a mission statement, a declaration of intent. BMW built cars meant to be driven, and it showed: dashboard controls were angled towards the driver, seating positions were high and visibility was excellent, controls felt good to operate. I don’t know how much of that feeling still exists in modern BMWs; the newest one I’ve ever driven is a 2005, but I know this one has it in spades.

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The 528e was a special model designed for fuel economy. It features a 2.7 liter version of BMW’s M20 six-cylinder engine intended to boost BMW’s corporate average fuel economy numbers in the US market. It’s not the typical revvy BMW six; this one redlines at something like 4500 RPM. The best way to make this car feel fast is to drive a Mercedes 300D right before it. This one at least has a five-speed manual to liven things up a bit. The seller says it runs and drives fine, and has had a recent timing belt change, along with some other work. However, some nitwit removed the muffler, so Midas should be your first stop, to give it back some dignity.

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I really dig this car’s interior. I don’t know if the red and black motif is factory original or not, but it’s striking. Most 528es I’ve seen have plain beige interiors. It’s in decent shape, it looks like, and the only problem noted in the ad is a non-functional left rear door. Have your friends get in from the curb side; it’s safer anyway.

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Outside, it’s a forty-year-old BMW: faded paint, a little rust, but still handsome. It isn’t currently registered, and here in the Portland area it would still have to pass a smog test before you could get plates for it – which would also require you to fix the exhaust.

1985 Audi 5000S – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 5, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

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Odometer reading: 260,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

This car I know well. My parents owned three of them when I was a teenager; I drove one to prom. I hit 120 mph on Interstate 39 in northern Illinois in another one. The Audi 5000 (100/200 in Europe) was a big hit in America, until 60 Minutes came out with their “exposé” on claims of unintended acceleration, and staged a “demonstration” with a rigged car. I just want to go on record as saying that every bit of acceleration I performed in my family’s Audis – all automatics, two of them turbos – however sudden it may have been, was completely intentional.

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This 5000 was never a part of the unintended acceleration scandal, nor the resulting recalls to install “safety devices,” because it’s a manual. Mind you, it’s neither a turbo nor a Quattro, so forget any ideas about turning it into some half-assed rally car. This one is meant for eating up Autobahn (or Interstate) kilometers (or miles) quickly and smoothly. And this car has eaten a lot of them – it has 260,000 miles on its odometer. It’s in good condition for all that, and the seller says it runs well and everything works. Like the BMW, this one has also lost its muffler to foolishness. Yes, the Audi five sounds great at full song, but this isn’t Michele Mouton‘s rally ride – it’s a classy sedan. Put a damn muffler back on it.

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I’m not surprised this car looks as clean as it does. After suffering disastrous rust problems with earlier models, Audi fully galvanized the entire body of this generation of 5000, and it made a massive difference in rustproofing. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these cars rusty, even in junkyards. And that, sadly, is where a lot of them are these days. Audi has more or less disowned their ’80s models, from what I have read, and parts are getting hard to come by. Basic stuff seems to be available, but you’ll be hunting for more specialized bits.

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For now, at least, this one doesn’t need much. The seller notes that it will need brake pads soon, but that’s about it. Honestly, I kind of want to contact this seller just to test drive this car, to see if it’s as nice as I remember, but I can’t buy it, so I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

BMW and Audi’s modern cars are technological wonders, and astounding performers. But they’ve gotten so complicated and fragile that I can’t imagine them being worth owning in 40 years, and I think – especially for the prices – these two are. Either one will need a little tinkering, and neither will ever be as rock-solid reliable as something like a Camry. But they’re both a hell of a lot more interesting to drive. All that’s left for you to do is decide – low-revving six, or front-wheel-drive five?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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R Hum
R Hum
7 months ago

Audi 5000. This is the car that sparked my now famous “10 year old Audi rule” (ask my kids). The rule is don’t buy a 10 year old Audi (or other “great” German car, no matter the condition). I purchased a mint 1984 5000 in 1992. Perfect condition with 90,000 miles and complete service records – all from the same local dealer I bought it from. I loved the car, especially driving it. But – the repair costs ate me alive. Every thing that went wrong cost at least 5 times as much to fix as a domestic model. The only shops that could work on it were the dealer (only one in town) and “specialty” shops. The car’s Achilles heal was the door handles. A tiny plastic part inside the handle would break during cold weather – you had to replace the entire handle at almost $80, and then it would break again. I went through 3 drivers door handles while I owned it and spent most of the time reaching through from the passenger or rear door to open it (30 years later and still bitter). The last straw was a routine break pad replacement that cost me $500 (at the time a domestic break job was less than $100). I sold the car a month later. I am definitely not anti German car. I love Audis and BMWs. I just would not own one that was not under a current warranty.

JumboG
JumboG
7 months ago
Reply to  R Hum

Team Door Handle! I stopped buying Audis in the early 2000s and switched to BMWs.

SolamenteDave
SolamenteDave
7 months ago
Reply to  R Hum

I drove an 82 Audi 4000 in college during the early 90s. Due to a kid’s wheel coming off his RX-7 (he’d done the brakes with a friend) and whacking my parked car, the driver’s door wouldn’t open from the outside. Thankfully, this was the era of the front vent window. I’d just leave it unlocked, and when it was time get in the car, I’d just open the vent, reach in and open the door from the inside. Not sure if it was due to the same plastic part, but I never had any trouble out of the other doors. Drove it like that for a couple of years until I sold it. Loved that car.

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
7 months ago

Love that forward slanting grill era of BMW. Gotta get that one, then dump stupid amounts of money into making it shiny again.

John E
John E
7 months ago

My dad bought a brand new 1984 Audi 5000. On the 30 mile drive home the digital dash went black and the engine shut down. There was about 50 miles on it at that point. It was towed back to the dealer and 2 weeks later it was “fixed”. Something to do with a faulty fuse control box computer thing. Driving home, the dash lit up with warning lights and the car ground to a halt on the side of the road, but the engine was still running. It got towed back to the dealer. It may have had 80 miles on it. The dealer called a couple days later and said the transmission was completely destroyed. They would have to order a new one-5 weeks minimum from Germany. The dealership manager said they’d buy it back and they did. We owned it for a little over 2 weeks and maybe 45 minutes of actually driving it. Run. Run as fast as you can from the 4 rings of hell, unless a) you’re rich and can LEASE a new one or b) a masochist.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
7 months ago

Beemer…more iconic body style

FleetwoodBro
FleetwoodBro
7 months ago

I love this generation of Audis. If it was a wagon might go for it, but… an old Audi is even more fragile than an old BMW with the disadvantage of poor parts support and fewer good mechanics. Plus that BMW interior is glorious. BMW for me!

Ricardo
Ricardo
7 months ago

I can smell the BMW interior from here.

BMW for me.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
7 months ago

I’ll take the Audi, purely because I know what I’m in for thanks to the Practical Enthusiast on YouTube.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
7 months ago

It’s a photo finish for the Audi, based solely on the cars’ respective ads: the 5000’s owner seems enthusiastic about the car and knows a bit about it, whereas the E28’s owner seems like someone’s who’s realized he’s in over his head and is trying to flip it. Otherwise, I’d still be here trying to decide. Well done, Tucker.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
7 months ago

To stay true to my personal vow to never own another BMW, give me the Audi all day long.

Ricki
Ricki
7 months ago

Tough choice, but I think I’m going BMW just based on the classic styling. I can’t say the toasted clear coat is my favorite thing, but I think the car overall could be cleaned up real nice.

The Audi definitely has plusses, and the weirdness factor, but my stodgy internet bucks go to the devil I (sort of) know.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
7 months ago

Audi. A five cylinder is a nigh guaranteed vote from me.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
7 months ago

I don’t really care for this generation of 5 series so I voted Audi. I once had the European of that Audi with the same power train and while it wasn’t fast it sure was comfortable. The inline 5 sounds good also when you punch a hole in the air box.

Myk El
Myk El
7 months ago

I’ve never owned a car with an inline 5. So Audi. It’s as good of a reason as any.

MiniDave
MiniDave
7 months ago

A 40 year old car with 260K won’t be as reliable as a Camry? I think they’ve both done pretty well! I choose the Audi because I’ve owned and driven Audi’s for more than 40 years so I know them and like them – obviously.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
7 months ago

Audi. I had a friend back in the 90s with a 528e in pristine shape and wow….was it not a fun car. The chassis was promising, but the “e” at the end just sucked the soul out of the thing. Were it in better shape I might consider it for an LS- or EV-swap, but the Audi is in nice shape and is also quite charming.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
7 months ago

I voted Audi because of Ferris Bueller’s dad

Millermatic
Millermatic
7 months ago

Audi. Audi. Audi.

My family bought a 5000 when we were stationed in Germany. Had it until my sister wrecked it a decade later (Learning to drive. In a school parking lot). Absolutely wonderful car.

Fun facts… reading lights for rear passengers. Headphone ports (and a headphone “holder”) for rear passengers on the rear deck.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
7 months ago

I remember at the time the 528e was pitched as a car that would last 40 years, for people who objected to the smell of a diesel Mercedes.
Checks calendar…

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
7 months ago

Despite my better judgement….(sigh) BMW. E28s might just be my Eleanor.

Plan: E34 M5 motor or built 3.5. Headers. M5 or better suspension. More modern BMW non-powered sport seats.
Reupholster the back seats to match. Cosmoschwarz metallic paint, or just black (Tremclad comes in that colour). M5 body kit. 17 inch style 5s. Decent stereo. More modern lighting. Better steering wheel (it ain’t a bus). Shadowline the trim. Exhaust that sounds mean, but not overly intrusive.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
7 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

This is exactly the right answer. Just because it’s slow, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
7 months ago

Those Audis are just too complicated mechanically for my taste. I’ve got a shot at fixing the BMW.

JumboG
JumboG
7 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

The engine mechanicals and transmission are typically bulletproof in this model of Audi. It’s all the other systems that break you. FI, engine cooling, climate control and braking are the two biggies. Throw in Audi discontinuing all but the most used parts for this generation and BMW is the answer here.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
7 months ago

Damn it! How are muffler and cat deletes allowed at all in this country??!!! My ears and lungs are wholly offended!

I wouldn’t buy either, even though the muffler fix is easy, because eff them guys! (I walk my dog every night, and one in every 30 vehicles are seriously obnoxious! Interestingly, trucks and BMWs are easily the most common offenders.)

That aside, the BMW has looks that make me happy (sharknose!!! and torque!), but the Audi is the better car on offer.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
7 months ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

I recently bought a low mileage, OEM condition 2013 Honda Ridgeline. Absolutely mint, with one exception. Some damn fool had cut the muffler off and welded in a straight piece of tailpipe. The Honda 3.5L V6 never sounds good no matter what you do, but this sounded absolutely ridiculous. I think the day after I bought it, it went to a muffler shop for a Walker OEM style replacement.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
7 months ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

The mental illness that causes people to mod their vehicles into horrendous-sounding douche-mobiles is this country’s unspoken epidemic. In my neighborhood I’d say about 30% of vehicles that pass by are modded. It is pure insanity. No wonder SEMA is a billion-dollar-industry.

I’m always seeing studies about how “Younger generations don’t care about cars.” That may be true in general, but the few who do have cars are all obsessed with making them sound like utter shit. And the type of car doesn’t matter anymore. On my street there are modded 1990s Corollas, pickup trucks (of every size category), an XJ Cherokee, TWO Hummer H3’s, a Ford Excursion…ad nauseum.

It always stuns me to see someone put time, money, and labor into modding the exhaust of a 1995 Geo Metro instead of just spending it on a better car.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

I’m actually happy when a car goes past with a legitimate muffler failure. It’s loud, but justified.

Last edited 7 months ago by SlowCarFast
Sklooner
Sklooner
7 months ago

Friend had the diesel model of this BMW turbo was blown and he still drove it, I think it had less power than my non turbo diesel Jetta but it rode really well

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