The Thrill of Owning – BMW M3 E46

As mentioned in my post from last week, some of the cars intended for this section saw a price increase so steep before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves on the premises of being both great drives and sound investments. One of these was the wonderful BMW M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau, a legendary name originally featured on the 70’s 3.0 CSL), a lightweight version of the E46 M3 built in 2003-2004, with more power, lots of carbon and various other weight-saving measures compared to the original car. If a year ago you could still find a low-mileage version of the CSL for around EUR 50.000, be expected to pay around double that today.

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Interestingly however the “regular” M3 E46 has not seen the same price explosion and remains a very fine car – many would even call it one of the best M3’s ever. Built between 2000 and 2006 (the convertible from 2001) it features the legendary BMW 3.2-liter straight-six engine that here produces 343 hp (106 hp/l) with a tone that gets more Pavarotti-like the higher you rev it towards the 8000 rpm limiter. Still 80% of the max torque is available from 2000 rpm, and that’s actually quite good, since even if the tone towards rev limiter is increasingly intoxicating, just below the limiter the engine pistons travel at 20 m/s (yep, that’s meters per second). As the disclaimer on French alcohol advertising used to say, “à consommer avec modération”…

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The E46 M3 was available both as a manual and with the second generation semi-automatic SMG box. The latter cost an extra 3.000 EUR new but does not command a premium today as it has been known over the years to be slightly problematic and prone to more or less serious breakdowns. Given BMW are quite good at building manual boxes that is a good alternative. One of the most popular after-sale improvements include reducing the gearshift travel of the manual box, making it even more dynamic and reinforcing the case for a manual even further.

In terms of looks, gone was the discretion of the predecessor, the M3 E36, which was hard to distinguish from a regular 3-series. The E46 M3 looks fat, standing on its 18″ or 19″-inch wheels under the slightly (roughly 4 cm) larger body, with the lateral air intakes and the four end pipes. To round it off, this is obviously the car that featured the Powerdome, which was not an onboard computer game but rather the slight elevation of the central part of the hood. This had absolutely no practical function at all given the engine fitted under the regular bonnet without problems, but it both sounds and looks cool, and all in all the package is highly attractive!

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Both the convertible and the coupé with less than 80.000 kms can today be had for around EUR 30.000, which is nothing short of a bargain, also considering the price increase the M3 CSL has seen in the last year. As always the convertible weighs more (here around 150 kg) and is less rigid than the coupé, on the other hand it allows you to enjoy the engine tone singing out of the rear pipe better, so it’s rather the usage of the car (and the climate where you live) that should decide whether you need a roof or not. A manual will also probably be less prone to surprises than an SMG box. Ultimately however given the limited number of low-mileage, original cars available, the individual condition and service book are what really counts, as is the fact that it is an original, non-“improved” car. The powerdome is in all cases included for free!

 

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Thrill of Owning – evaluation of recommendations so far

It’s been awfully quiet lately under the Thrill of Owning heading, something unfortunately due to a rather hectic work schedule of yours truly. Another factor at play is however the steady rise in collector car prices over the last year, by no means a new trend and no doubt one of the side effects of a zero- to negative interest rate environment and investors’ feverish search for alternative investments. This actually has led to quite a few objects that were intended for the column rising so much in price before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves!

In light of that I felt it was time to go back and have a look at the cars presented so far. If you had purchased them (and who knows, maybe you did?), would they so far have been a good deal not only driving-wise but also investment-wise? Given we started this heading in 2015 the track record is obviously short, but summarized below is an estimate of the price evolution seen by the cars presented during 2015 as per today, i.e. in November 2016.

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It would not take much academic effort to completely disqualify the methodology behind the price estimations in the above table, but at least it is consistent with how prices were initially estimated. Basically I have done a rough estimate of average market prices for the presented cars in Germany, Switzerland and partially Sweden, according to the specs (for example max kms) as described in the post. Given in all cases samples are also small and the individual condition therefore critical, it should really be taken as an indication at best.

Still, it is interesting to see how some models have seen spectacular rises in a short time, none more so than the Lancia Delta Evo, whereas others such as the Porsche 996 or the BMW Z4M have had a moderate, although still positive price evolution, probably also due to them being newer cars produced in larger numbers. However, you will probably struggle to find another investment in the current period that has a comparable performance on average whilst at the same time bringing true driving pleasure!

Even if the mission of the Thrill of Owning has become harder, the column will remain and I still have a few objects up the sleeve to enlighten the darker and colder season. Stay tuned!

The Thrill of Owning… a 12-cylinder GT coupé!

A few months ago I wrote a short laud to the mechanical twelve-cylinder, which much like one of those friendly, vegetarian dinosaurs is heading towards rapid extinction.

Having given the matter some thought during the long and mostly sunny summer (isn’t that what summer is for?) and done some quick market research, it struck me that the damage is probably even greater; beyond not only the mechanical 12-cylinder but most probably any modern 8- or 12-cylinder engine that won’t pass modern emission standards (and that cannot be cheated with as easy as a VW diesel engine), it is a whole car segment that risks dying; that of the elegant, powerful, luxurious and highly desireable GT coupé. This is a car type that was never associated with strollers, Ikea furniture or skiboxes, but rather with leather bags for two, sunshine and magnificent drives in company of a lovely lady along the Grand Corniche in southern France. And importantly, unlike the flashy convertible, the true coupé is always be understated. If that is not a type of car worth preserving, then I don’t know what is!

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When the road is the goal…

The German magazine “Auto, Motor & Sport” a few years ago did a survey among readers on whether GT coupés fit the description in the above paragraph, or are rather meaningless, ugly and unpractical. Luckily 91% seem to love GT’s, which is some consolation. I would also think this is an interest helped by… a slightly maturing age. Sure, an Elise is a true driver’s car, but it’s also one that leaks water, kills your spine and lacks any form of practicality. Not so the GT, which will transport you in utter comfort anywhere you want, always in sublime comfort and with sufficient room for your weekend bags, and without messing up the little hair you have left. The kind of thing you start appreciating after a certain age!

The really great thing, and the reason for this post, is the fact that many of those true GT coupés with large engines have seen massive depreciation in spite of often having quite low mileage and a perfect ownership and servicing history. This is probably because those who had the money to buy them as new were, you guessed it, a bit older, and typically haven’t driven them that much. So if they were beyond your means as new, they are not any longer, in spite of not being more than 7-10 years old.

You could obviously define this segment in many different ways, but to stick to the theme of 12-cylinders and illustrate the point, I have chosen three fantastic coupés that cost somewhere around EUR 200′-250′ when they were new and have today dropped to EUR 40′-50′ with 50.000 – 100.000 kms on the clock, thus offering an extreme value for money. Whether they will depreciate further time will tell (but as we all know, when the offer is reduced, the price tends to go up…), but already at today’s prices, it is difficult to find better – and more stylish! – bang for your buck.

  • Bentley Continental GT: the car that made Bentley a mass brand (at least if you live in Zurich) was launched in 2004 and features the same VW W12 engine as the top version of the VW Phaeton at the time. In the Continental it develops a healthy 560 Hp and 650 Nm of torque, and has the additional benefit of being four-wheel drive. Contintentals are today in amply supply from EUR 40.000 for 1-2-owner cars.

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  • Aston Martin DB9: launched in the same year as the Bentley, the utterly beautiful DB9 (which was co-designed by Henrik Fisker) has a 12-cylinder engine producing 457 hp, so less than the Continental, but then at 1800 kg the car also weights half a ton less. They can today be bought for around EUR 50.000, often with less than 50.000 kms on the clock.

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  • Mercedes-Benz CL 600 and CL 65 AMG: the C216 CL-series was produced from 2006 to 2010, and both the 600 and the Überhammer CL 65 AMG, one of the most potent machines ever built by the guys in Affalterbach, was launched the first year and feature the same V12 engine which in the AMG version develops 612 hp, 100 hp more than the 600. At 1000 Nm, the torque of the AMG car is almost absurd, and just for the fun of it, the CL 65 does not have four-wheel drive, so that’s 500 Nm of torque per rear wheel… Still, this is a coupé on the S-class chassis, so comfort and refinement are sublime in both versions. Both the CL 600 and CL 65 AMG are a bit more difficult to find, but prices today start at around EUR 50.000, for both, again with less than 100.000 kms on the clock. If you are going to be unreasonable, why not be so all the way and go for the AMG version…

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The enormous depreciation these and other GT’s have seen have the additional benefit of leaving you just enough money to afford running them – and especially for the CL 65 AMG, for buying a few sets of rear wheels per year… The purchase price may be comparable to a new Opel, the running costs are certainly not. But then again, grooming your image was never for free!

The Thrill of Owning – improve your Karma!

You know all those times when you have seen the early designs of a car that looks spectacular, but when it makes it into production some time later, somehow the engineers have managed to remove every ounce of excitement the designers had imagined, making it look nothing like the picture above? There are exceptions of course. I remember the first time I saw an Aston Martin DB9 some 10 years ago, that looked pretty much like it came straight off the designer’s table. Shortly thereafter I learnt that the DB9 had partly been designed by a Dane named Henrik Fisker. A few years later the same Fisker, who had previously been at BMW designing the Z8, left Aston Martin. He went on to work on the early design of other car beauties such as the Artega and Tesla Model S, and then in 2007 together with a German partner founded Fisker Automobile, the company that two years later presented the Fisker Karma – a car often referred to as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever and a testimony to what cars could look like if all car brands hat designers running the show!

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The Karma is a spectacular so-called plug-in hybrid, launched in 2011 and produced at the Valmet factory in Finland. It is powered by two 150 kW-engines producing a total of 408 hp, with the energy being delivered through a 175 kW generator, in turn powered by a 4-cylinder petrol engine. This means that the car has a range in fully electrical mode of 80 kms (Stealth Mode in Fisker-language), or over 400 kms in combined mode. The latter allows for a top speed of 200 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of under 6 seconds.
imgresThe engines are however only half the story with a Karma. Apart from its sheer beauty the whole car is a high-tech construction. The 5-metre long and 2-metre wide aluminium body’s roof integrates a 120 kW solar panel that in sunny conditions helps extend the electrical range, alternatively can be used as park heating.  The interior has carpets made of recycled PET bottles, and all leather and wood used in the beautiful finished cabin has been recycled. As you Karma interiorwould suspect however, much like the Tesla, at 2.5 tons there is nothing high-tech about the car’s weight. But at least, again like the Tesla, the batteries are positioned low, hereby improving the car’s stability and handling.

The Karma generally received positive reviews and the press praised its driveability, quality of suspension and actually even quality of design. After some quality issues had been remedied after the first 500 cars, it was mostly the infotainment system that received more critical notes.

Unfortunately,  in spite of a convincing success concept, Fisker quickly learnt that building cars is not a cheap venture and that maybe, just maybe, those boring engineers may have their justification. The company quickly ran into financial difficulties and production was suspended late 2012, with Fisker going on to file for bankruptcy in 2013. At that point only around 1800 cars had been delivered in North America and Europe, at a new price of 110′-140′ EUR depending on version and trim. Most of these stayed in the US and only a few hundred made it to Europe. Today the new price has more than halved, and a low-km Karma in its top EcoChic trim can be had for around 50′ CHF/EUR. Most cars are in fact still covered by the warranty (through the general importer from the time in each market), and many European countries will subsidy their fixed costs thanks to the low emissions!

So there you go. A design that very rarely makes it into production and arguably one of the most beautiful cars in modern times, and one that will in the future be regarded as one of the pioneers of the electrical car era, for less than half the new price.  It is not a car for those shy of attention but for all others, it should prove a convincing case both driving- and investment wise!

The Swedish speakers among you can learn even more on the Karma and how it is to drive from my fellow blogger Sven’s post back in 2012, by clicking here.

 

A laud to the mechanical 12-cylinder

I had the pleasure of having a drink, Friday night, with Pierre, an elderly gentleman as crazy about classic cars as myself, but with a far longer pedigree both in ownership and understanding the mechanics than I will ever achieve. His brand has always been Jaguar, and his garage notably includes a 12-cylinder E-type coupé. We came to talk about the (to some, surprising) robustness of the engine, and it was then that it struck me: at a time when emission levels are being tightened and even Porsches and Ferraris have become turbo-powered, it is pretty clear that we will never see a new 12-cylinder engine being developed. And that, my friends, is sad news.

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A revolution at the time!

The first 12-cylinder I experienced (as a passenger at the time) was that of a BMW 750 from the late 80’s. It developed 300 bhp, then an astonishing number, but it was not the power itself but rather the smoothness of the engine that was so impressive. In that regard, nothing can really compete with a 12-cylinder.

So it’s sad we won’t see any new ones – but it’s great you can still get your hands on one without being ruined!

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How to fill an engine rome: XJ-S from pre-1990, when a cover hood was added to the middle part. 

Onone hand you have late 7-series and S-class models that you can oftentimes pick up fully loaded at something like an 80% discount to their new price with less than 100.000 kms on the clock. Surely exciting, but my heart beats more for a classical, mechanical 12-cylinder, such as the eye-watering ones from Maranello, or indeed those from the house of Jaguar. And whereas the former have sky-rocketed in prices, the ones from Coventry are still reasonable. Less so in the E-type, more so in the still very cheap XJ-S models, as coupé or convertible. Both can today be picked up in excellent condition for EUR 20-25.000, meaning they have most probably seen the bottom in terms of prices.

Will a Jaguar 12-cylinder ruin you? Not necessarily, according to my friend Pierre. The engine is quite robust and in some aspects less sensitive than the smaller 6-cylinder. It was also produced during a long time so by the time it made it into the XJ-S, it had already seen a number of revisions. My suggestion would be to find a car with full history, have it checked, and making sure you turn to a specialist the day something happens. If you have that in place, you can’t really go wrong!

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The coupé line is purer than the convertible
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Still looks like a million dollars but costs far less!

 

The Thrill of Owning: BMW Z4M – the forgotten one

BMW’s Z-range has always stood for roadsters, from the legendary Z1 with its unconventional doors that disappeared vertically into the bodywork, to the beautiful Z8. In between quite a few numbers are missing, but obviously we all know the Z3 and Z4 series that exist in a number of shapes and forms. Today we’ll look at the latter of those, the Z4 in its most potent BMW M-version.

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The first generation of the Z4 was launched in 2002 in the US and was designed by the then highly praised and later not so praised Chris Bangle. The car made it to Europe in 2003 and the M-version of the roadster followed when the Z4 was subject to a first facelift in 2006. The Z4M Coupé was launched in the same year. Both M-versions were only produced until late 2008, so roughly during around two and a half years, and all of them were built in Germany. All in all, only slightly more than 5000 Z4 M Roadsters and around 4200 Z4 M Coupés were built.

060303002.3Both the Z4 coupé and roadster were fitted with the same engine as the M3 (E46), i.e. a wonderful 3.2 litre straight six delivering 343 bhp in the Z4, allowing for a 0-100 time of below 5 seconds and a 250 km/h limited top speed (the limit could as an option be lifted, then allowing for a top speed of 275 km/h). That is a lot of speed so the brakes had better be good – and they were, as the Z4M inherited the same breaks as those fitted on the E46 M3 CSL. Unlike other Z4’s the M’s were only available with a 6-speed manual transmission. The M-cars were distinguishable from the less powerful Z4’s mainly through there 4 exhaust pipes and differently shaped engine hub.

Unknown-1The Z4M, given its power output was clearly positioned as a competitor to the 911 (997) rather than the Boxster. This is also the car it was most frequently compared to, comparisons it typically lost. Not because the Z4 was a bad car, rather because the 911 is an even better one… But precisely for that reason, the Z4 was sometimes praised for providing a bit more excitement than the 911. It was seen as a bit rawer around the edges, demanding more of its driver. And the fact that it was fitted with one of the greatest straight-six engines ever built allowed not only for great music but also for very similar speed.

Today the Z4M’s are rare figures, both as coupé and roadsters, but in spite of that prices have not yet started to climb, which is obviously the reason for this post. the Z4M ticks a lot of the right boxes: short production time, few cars built, great engine and design, and reasonable running costs. It is thus not a wild guess that prices may start to climb going forward as they have already done for example on the E46 M3 CSL (a lot!) and even the “normal” E46 MS. As we speak, nice cars with less than 100′ kms can be had for 25-30′ EUR, not much more than the less powerful, but much more ordinary Z4 3.0 version, and far less than any comparable 997. It is really a lot of bang for the buck in terms of driving pleasure!

So finally, should it be a coupé or a roadster? Both are two-seaters so it is really about individual taste. The coupé is arguably the more practical version and the better track car, providing more torsional stiffness. the roadster will compensate for that by unlimited access to the wonderful tones of the engine. Then again, the coupé looks better from behind, which is the end of the car most other drivers will see…

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The Thrill of Owning – 12-cylinder festival from Maranello!

As our Thrill of Owning for September we have chosen something truly hard to beat, except for the very best modern supercars: the Ferrari F550 and its sibling and successor F575). A 5.5 litre V12 from Maranello – can it really get much better?

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The F550 was presented in 1996 as a successor to the 512 (Testarossa). Designed by Pininfarina, the car is a mix of lines and curves or more precisely of design items from the past and that were to come in the future. It is not the most beautiful Ferrari but the 550 nonetheless has a distinct styling that has stood the test of time well. In other ways it was however a distinct break with the eighties: the engine was back in the front and Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s long-term boss, at the time of the launch had expressed a clear wish for the 550 to be the return to Ferrari’s racing GT car tradition. This means the car looks considerably longer than the mid-engined 355 and 360, although it was only 10 cm longer than the latter at around 4.55 metres.

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Luckily the GT ambitions in no way compromised the chassis which has stood the test of time even better than the styling. It is the extremely well-balanced but also very advanced, and it received wide praise even in comparison to the 360 Modena launched a few years later (1999-2005). Tests concluded firstly that the 550 is a true supercar but that even so the ride is more balanced with less going on than in the equally excellent 360. This is partly due to the individual wheel suspension but also to the front axis being wider than the rear, i.e. the same solution than on the Citroën DS! Ok, sorry, probably not a comparison Ferrari would appreciate.

2001_Ferrari_550_engineAt the heart of the car is a fantastic V-12 cylinder, 5.5 litre engine delivering 485 hp and 580 Nm torque, later increased to 515 hp and 590 Nm torque in the 575, exclusively coupled to a six-gear manual gearbox (in the 550) but where the torque of the engine meant you rarely need to use more than half the gears. The engine is linked to the adjustable suspension such as to limit the max torque in the softer settings and thereby improve power delivery. Surprisingly though the lovely V12 noise is somewhat muted, arguably improving the car’s GT quality but also the reason many cars have received another exhaust system allowing for a bit more tenor and bass.

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The interior of the 550 is pure Ferrari from the analogue age in a combination of leather and aluminium that remains difficult to beat even today. The seats are electrical and adjustable in a variety of positions and all cars had air-con as standards, both features that did not necessarily appeal to the purists as they added unnecessary weight.

A total of 3600 F550 Maranellos were produced until the F550 was replaced by the F575 in 2002. From 2001 a small series of 448 convertible F550 called F550 Barchetta Pininarina was also produced.

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The F575 (2002 – 2006) was the 550’s successor and was body-wise just a minor facelift. The engine’s volume was increased to 5.75 liters (+30 hp). From 2003 a semi-automatic gearbox was available and from 2005, as for the 550, a small open top series was produced under the name F575 Superamerica. This was however not a traditional soft top convertible, rather the car had a carbon roof that could be moved backwards, hence a targa construction.

Unlike its predecessor the 512, the 550/575 has not yet taken off price-wise which is obviously one reason why we write about it. Both cars with reasonable mileage and in excellent condition can be had for around EUR/CHF 90.000 – 100.000, around half the price as new, and generally the F550 comes slightly cheaper than the F575. The convertible/targa series due to the limited numbers produced are in a different league. altogether so forget about those. Noticeable is also that most 550/575’s have indeed been used, again a testimony to the car’s qualities (and reliability!), so mileages of 40.000 – 70.000 kms are normal, obviously meaning that a reliable service history is an absolute must! Worth remembering is also that the F550 was only available as a manual whereas most F575 were sold with the semi-automatic.

This being a Ferrari V12 it is clear that each bill will make you cry, but just as clearly you will forget all about it every time a road opens up, you shift down to third and let the 12 tenors find their voice!

Will the F550/F575 take off price-wise as so many other Ferrari models have? That is obviously difficult to say, but factors that speak for it is obviously the car’s uncontested road and engine qualities. And even if it does not it is clear that the downside at this point is very limited to inexistent. So even though owning a V12 Ferrari is hardly rational, this is probably as sensible as it gets! And as the following video will show you, there is indeed a remedy for that somewhat timid V12 sound…

The Ferrari-kicker from the land of the rising sun

1989. A year when the authors of this blog got their driving licenses, Milli Vanilli topped the charts (without singing, as we learned later) and Don Johnson drove his (fake) Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona) in the last season of Miami Vice. In the real world Porsche and Ferrari dominated the sportscar scene, Porsche obviously with the still air cooled 911, Ferrari with the brand new 348, successor to the classical 328. Honda was a brand among many building family cars, although these were among the most reliable in the world. But even though they had the small go-cart like CRX in the line-up, it was not a brand anyone associated with supercars.

And then, out of nowhere, came the Honda NSX (Acura NSX in the US). A car with precisely the 348 as explicit target, but with in comparison unbeatable everyday usability. A car that from every angle looked absolutely stunning. admittedly with some inspiration from the same 348. And a car that Ayrton Senna at the zenith of his career had actively helped develop, along with a small team of Honda’s most senior engineers and car-builders. Finally a car that became a showcase for Honda’s technical developments at the time.

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Development and Design

Development on the NSX – New Sportscar eXperimental – had started already in 1984 but as it became clear that the Ferrari 348 would succeed the 328 at the same time as the NSX would launch, the initial ideas of a small, 2 litre V6 engine were abandoned in favour of a more powerful mid-mounted 3 litre engine. The car’s design was fully Japanese, with the bodywork and especially the cabin being inspired by the F16 fighter plane, with the objective of giving the driver a similar visibility as in an F16 from inside. Whether that is true I unfortunately cannot tell you, as my experience of fighter planes is slightly limited, but it was a shame that Honda did not take more inspiration of the F16 or for that matter the 348 to build a slightly more exciting interior, which as it was turned out a bit too close to those Honda family sedans.

The NSX was a showcase of new technologies. Firstly the aluminium monocoque body that saved some 200 kg weight over a standard body. To that came aluminium suspension, electrical power steering and Honda’s VTEC technology, allowing the engine to rev up to 8000 rpm’s with a gorgeous sound. The engine produced 270 bhp until 1997 and 290 thereafter, little by today’s standards but very competitive at the time.

imgresAnd then came Senna, who was very involved in the chassis settings of the car, testing it extensively on various racetracks both in Europe and Asia, and who himself owned three NSXs – at the same time.

Versions

The NSX was produced with very few modifications for a very impressive 15 years, from 1990 until 2005. In total around 18.000 cars were built. Outside of Japan there was only one engine version, available with a 4-gear automatic transmission (the US was an important market after all) or a 5-gear manual (6-gear on later models). In 1995 a targa version was introduced, becoming the only version sold in the US whilst it was available alongside the coupé in Europe. In 2002, the pop-up headlamps were replaced with conventional xenon headlamps.

2003 Acura NSX.
2003 Acura NSX.

In Japan the NSX was available in a number of more powerful and lighter versions, but given these cars were never exported and are all left-hand drive, but for a few that were privately imported to the UK, they never made it to Europe.

Driving

Unfortunately I have not (yet!) had the opportunity to drive an NSX. But sitting in one as I did not long ago is quite an experience. The seats are superb, the sitting position is low, visibility is indeed what you could imagine from a plane, and steering wheel and gearshift, although as said looking a bit boring, are perfectly positioned. Apart from those short observations we unfortunately have to rely on external test drives and with very few exceptions, all of these, both then and now, were very positive. The NSX handles like a true supercar from the time, with excellent balance and a chassis and suspension rigid enough to enable very good track times (thank Senna for that!). At its limit the mid-mounted engine cam apparently lead to sudden oversteer, but you would really need a race track to notice.

NSX InteriorUnfortunately a slightly boring interior, compared to the rest!

Owning

The NSX is a Honda, which is really not bad when it comes to owning one. Servicing is marginally more expensive than for a standard Honda but cost-wise has nothing to do with anything from Maranello. Insurance is quite cheap as well, and reliability is superb. But above all, Honda made a point of making a car that was as good as the 348 but easy enough to be used as an everyday car and as per reports, that is precisely the case. In other words a perfectly sensible choice as second car (or third, or fourth…)!

Which one?

Tthe first problem you run into when deciding on an NSX is to find one. The offer is very limited indeed, and finding a later version (after 1995-1996) is practically impossible. Currently there are around 10 cars available in Germany and about as many in Switzerland. In Sweden there is right now only one car on the market.

Clearly you will want to go for the manual version, as a 4-gear automatic can never do the car justice. In terms of colour, chances are you will have to settle on red or possibly black, anything else is very hard to find. There is currently no targa model on the market in the countries mentioned, but even if you find one it is not necessarily the version to go for, as the targa construction added weight to the nimble NSX and also reduced the much-praised chassis rigidity. Finally, apart from a Momo steering wheel that some cars have fitted along with larger wheels (which do the car justice!), don’t go for a transformed one with body kit or gullwing doors, those are neither good for resale value, nor for your image.

If you find the right car, the odds are that its owner has treated it well and remedied the very few shortcomings of the original construction, but if not these are anyway not costly (they notably include electrical windows getting very slow with age, and some engine bearings).

Interestingly, although steadily rising, NSX prices have not really taken off yet. You can find a good car for around 40′ EUR / 40′ CHF with less than 100.000 kms, a price that given the scarcity of cars can be expected to remain very steady if not increase over coming years.

So what more could you ask for? A supercar from the swinging 80’s, designed after an F16, developed by Ayrton Senna, free of problems and marginally more expensive than an Accord to service? Sign me up!

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The greatest Porsche bargain of all times!

imagesOur new heading The Thrill of Owning is about cars that are not only a thrill to drive, either because they are very good value, or because their future value can be expected to hold up very well, alternatively even rise. One car that firmly ranges in the first of those categories is the Porsche 996, produced between 1997 and 2006 as the successor of the fabulous 993. Looking at the classifieds in different countries today, early rear-wheel drive 996 Carreras with less than 100.000 kms on the clock can be had for around 20.000 CHF/EUR. As anyone who has driven a 996 knows, that is a true steal and there is clear reason to believe they will never be cheaper!

History

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the 996 so we’ll keep it short. The new model was the 993’s successor but and in many aspects a new car – larger, roomier, more comfortable and far more practical than the old one. It was also Porsche’s first water-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine, something that didn’t go down well with the 911 purists. For slightly more flexible owners, it did present several advantages (notably that of cheaper servicing) but more importantly, it was something that had become necessary as certain technological developments and new emission regulations were not compatible with the air-cooled boxer.

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The other thing that didn’t go down well with the purists were the headlights. The Boxster had been launched one year earlier and some cost-saving genius in the marketing department came up with the not-so brilliant idea of fitting headlights in the same layout as on the Boxster to the 996. This is something that has haunted the car ever since and is today given as the main reason for the poor secondary value. We agree – the headlights are not pretty and especially on the Mk1 version until 2002 they are downright ugly. But we are talking about a pair of headlights, and as long as they light up the road in front of you when you are driving, that is about as much thought as you should given them.

Versions

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The 996 was available as coupé (Carrera) and convertible in 2- and 4-wheel drive versions. Standard output was 300 hp (320 hp from 2002). The four-wheel drive Turbo (above right) was launched in -00 with 420 hp, increasing to 450 hp in the Turbo S from -05, as coupé or a very fast hair dryer. Further versions included the more hardcore, rear-wheel drive GT3 (above left) and subsequent GT 2 with up to 483 hp.

Owning

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As some of you know, my fellow blogger Sven is a 911 aficionado, having owned both a Mk2 996 Carrera (with performance kit, as he is keen to point out…) and a Mk1  GT3 Clubsport (pictured right). He loved them both and praises the practicality of the “standard” 996 that he used as an everyday car. This is not something that is recommended with the hardcore driving machine GT3 CS, of it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a low-mileage one in good condition.

Which one to get?

The real bargains are the low-mileage Mk1 996’s, that even well-equipped will be yours from around 18-20′ CHF/EUR with less than 100′ kms. Many 911 drivers praise the 2-wheel drive version as a bit more agile than the 4-wheel drive, so if you have money to spare, rather put it on a cabrio if that is your thing, or on a Mk2 version, which both start at around 25′ CHF/EUR. Whether to go for the 6-gear manual or tiptronic is a matter of taste but the manual difficult to fault.

Looking at Turbos and GT3’s, they both start at around 45-50′ CHF/EUR, again for sub-100′ kms cars, and come roughly at the same price even if the cars are radically different – whereas the Turbo is comparable to the standard 996 in practicality, the GT3, standard or CS, is a pure driving machine. In terms of future value the GT3 is probably the way to go, especially the GT3 CS (if you can find one, that is…).

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To put these prices somewhat in perspective, a comparable 993 (i.e. the previous, last air-cooled version, pictured left) in standard version costs about 3 times more than a standard 996, starting at 60′ CHF/EUR. The 993 is a fabulous car, but it is not 3 times better than a 996.

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Whether the early 996’s will also start to see their value raise is difficult to say, notably given the quite large number of cars produced. But there is clearly reason to believe they will never be cheaper than today. In terms of driving and value for money, you could argue it is one of the best deals on the market, and one that is very hard to resist!

Lancia Rally Heaven

As a small addition to my recent Thrill of Owning post on the Lancia Delta Integrale where I briefly mentioned Lancia’s rally tradition, I feel I have to share this 16-minute video with you as it basically sums that up, featuring a very lucky Chris Harris (motor journalist and a hot contender for the title “the guy with the best job in the world”) on the passenger seat with Markku Alén, Juha Kankkunen and Paolo Andreucci behind the wheels. If you have the least bit of petrol in your blood, this risks compromising your work afternoon quite heavily…

Next to the driving and the sounds, these rally legends’ not-so-legendary English is also highly entertaining, as is Paolo Andreucci’s intensive tongue work whilst driving the Lancia 037, the brand’s last rear-wheel drive rally car that clinched the world title in 1983.

Enjoy – and Happy Easter!

The Thrill of Owning presents: Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Welcome to the Thrill of Owning, the new heading on our blog that at regular intervals (ideally once a month, but please don’t hold us too strictly to it…) will present cars that are not only a thrill to drive but also somewhat of a thrill to own, in the sense that their value has not yet shot through the rough and will not be halved in the coming years. Rather we try to present cars that have yet to take off and in the best of cases, may start to gain in value over time. The main reason for considering them should however be the same reason as reading this blog – that they are a thrill to drive!

Obviously you need to kick of a new section in style, and we do so with a car that no one with the slightest motoring interest born in the late 60’s or 70’s can have missed: the legendary Lancia Delta Integrale. Not because it’s pretty. Not because it, magically, has better build quality than any other Italian car from the 80’s. No – quite simply for the reason best expressed by Evo, the bible of this blog: driving-wise, it’s “one of the finest cars ever built”. And as if that was not enough, the last versions of the Integrale were even called just that – EVO (short for Evoluzione).

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History
The Integrale dates back to the family hatchback Lancia Delta, launched in 1979. Lancia had been established on the rally scene since the 50’s and was at the time racing the legendary Stratos (that is one car that price-wise has already shot through the roof!) and Beta. The launch of the Audi Quattro in -81 however changed the rules of the game, demonstrating the enormous advantages of four-wheel drive. Both the Stratos and Beta were rear-wheel drive cars, as was the 037, which was based on components of the other two but still managed to clinch the world title in 1983. That was however an exception as it had become clear that Lancia needed a 4wd car to remain competitive on the rally scene. The solution was brought by the Delta that Abarth helped fit a 4-wheel drive system on. The Integrale had thus been launched and it went straight on to win the world championship the first year it took part in 1987, and then continued doing so the five following years until 1992, mostly with Juha Kankkunen behind the wheel.

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Not your typical rally car…

The body of the Delta Integrale started getting fatter already in 1988 to accommodate 4-wheel drive, larger wheels and more advanced suspension components than on the original Delta, and it grew even further in 1991 with the launch of the EVO-series. Production stopped in January 1994 and still today, with six consecutive world rally titles between 1987 and 1992, it is the most successful rally car in history.

Engine – chassis – body
All Integrales share the same 4-cylinder, 1995 cm3 turbo engine that in street versions produced between 185 and 215 hp depending on turbo pressure, with a classical, 80s ketchup-bottle like delay in power delivery. Torque for all cars was slightly above 300 Nm. All versions were 4-wheel drive with a 47/53 front/rear split, contributing to their incredible balance.

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A well-filled engine room – the stabilizing bar only came with the late Evo models

When you stand in front of an Integrale it becomes clear how small it is, compared to modern cars – only 3.90 metres long. At the same time it’s probably the most practical rally car that was ever built, with four doors and a very decent boot. Driving it softly you may even be able to fool your better half into thinking you have bought a normal hatchback, although you may struggle to explain why you went for a not-so-pretty 80’s model… The chassis and suspension saw a constant evolution over the cars lifetime and chassis-wise it is clear that the Evo models are the most advanced. All Integrales are however very well balanced and will cover all the daily needs of middle-aged men with rally memories from their youth.

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3.90 metres of pure driving pleasure!

The first Integrale in 1987 was 8v, and that engine was produced until 1991 although the 16v was launched already in 1989. This was linked to the introduction of catalyzers at this time, which the 16v version didn’t receive until 1993. The 16v engine is slightly more powerful, developing between 200 and 215 hp depending on year of production, whereas the 8v produced 177 – 185 hp. Torque was however roughly the same in all versions.

On looks, the two Evo versions (Evo 1 (1991-1992 and Evo 2 (1993-1994) are as good a tribute to the 80’s as you will find, and if you are less into the large shoulders and rolled-up sleeves, you may prefer the earlier Integrale versions.

images-3maxresdefault        A rally and a civil Evo on the roads they are made for!

To drive
A few years back I had the opportunity to drive a 16v Integrale Evo 1, unfortunately not for as long as I would have liked to. It was not clear to me at the time what classic this car was about to become, but to this day I remember how incredibly well-balanced it felt and how the power delivery was vastly different from other high-pressure turbo cars I had then experienced (including my father’s Saab 900 Turbo 16v Aero, where you could easily loose the rear of in third gear if there was a bit of gravel on the road)… This was a car that really made you fell like Juha Kankkunen in those fabulous Recaro seats and with one of the most direct stearings I have experienced. As for the rest, in terms of build quality it was pretty much the same feeling as in an 80’s Fiat, but what did I care?

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Fabulous Recaro seats, and an equally fabulous Momo steering wheel!

Which one?
Given the large similarities between the models (even though the Evos 1 and 2 were more technically advanced, especially suspension-wise), the critical point is really to find a good – and original – one. This is at heart a rally car and many have been driven as such, so the challenge is to find one with low mileage, in good shape and ideally with an engine that has not been modified or if so, then only by someone who knows what he’s doing.

The best part is yet to come: even a very good Integrale or Evo will not ruin you, neither in price, nor in maintenance given its relative simplicity. Expect to pay between 20.000 – 30.000 EUR for a good to top Integrale and slightly more for an Evo. The offer is clearly limited, but there are quite a few cars in Germany in decent condition and around half a dozen in Switzerland. An insider’s tip can also be to try and find a car re-imported from Japan, for the simple reason that they have mostly been driven carefully (and by the way, all Integrales were left-hand drive). In terms of equipment there really wasn’t much on the list and that will certainly not be the main concern in buying this car. Some Integrales are fitted with leather (Recaro) seats as an option to the alcantara ones, but the latter are actually to prefer, giving better grip. The optional air condition can be nice if it still cools, but otherwise opening the window is a perfectly good option – it won’t really affect the noise level…

The German Auto Bild Klassik price catalogue, that we use as benchmark for this section, has the Integrales in the same price ranges given above. Price evolution has so far been limited but the trend is clearly pointing upwards. There is good reason to think it will continue to do so, but the biggest smile will be put on your face by driving one of these babies and remember was it was like when the driver, not the ESP, was actually in charge!

For further Integrale impressions I recommend the following clips, featuring first Juha Kankkunen gives driving lessons on an Integrale in 1992 (imagine the crowed standing as close to the cars today!), and then Evo founder Harry Metcalfe showing and driving his fabulous Integrale Evo II.

Have you owned or driven an Integrale? Have you thought about getting one? Do please let us know over the comments field!

The Thrill of Driving launches the Thrill of Owning!

As a reader of this blog it’s probably safe to assume that much like Sven and me, you are something of a petrolhead. Should that indeed be the case, chances are also that you have discovered that this common hobby of ours is oh so fun, but can also be oh so costly after running costs and especially depreciation haven taken their toll. But does that have to be?

With the introduction of our new section The Thrill of Owning, we wish to present a selection of fun to drive cars that may cost money to run, but should be quite safe in terms of depreciation – or even showing some nice appreciation over the coming years.

Now anyone who has seen a car auction the last years in our world of zero interest and hype for real assets knows that certain automobiles have reached truly mind-boggling levels. These are not the type of cars this section will be dedicated to.  Fortunately however, there are lot of beautifully fun cars out there that can still be yours for reasonable money, quite often to be found in the young timer decades of the 80’s and 90’s. And even though we believe these will hold their value well over the coming years, there is absolutely no guarantee they will make you rich – other than in driving experience!

Our ambition is to present around one car per month, including some history, why we believe it fits this section, a couple of objects from the classifieds and in as many cases as possible, a recent test drive to support it. We hope these posts can lead to interesting discussions as well as stories of previous experiences, so stay tuned!