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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 5, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Portland, OR
Odometer reading: 260,000 miles
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.
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.
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.
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?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)