Journal: The Ten Best Classic German Sports Sedans Under $25K

The Ten Best Classic German Sports Sedans Under $25K

Avatar By Sam Webber
October 24, 2014
19 comments

On Monday we challenged our readers to choose a classic, sporty German four-door sedan on a budget of $25k. Fortunately, that amount of money can go surprisingly far in this category, leaving almost all of Germany’s classic sports sedans as potential candidates.

Following are the top ten choices based on your answers for the greatest pre-1990 German sports sedans under $25,000…

#10 BMW 745i Turbo (E23)–Produced through 1986, the 745i was amongst the top of BMW’s sedan line-up. Optional amenities in the “Executive” trim option included water buffalo hide interior, rear armrest radio controls, leather-wrapped cell phones, and burl wood accenting. Purchasing one today, there might be cracks in the leather or wood, and the onboard cell phone might not work as well as your iPhone, but you can be sure that the 252hp turbocharged M106 engine will make this a sporty, reliable hauler for your friends or family.

#9 BMW Bavaria (E3)–The BMW “New Six,” or “Bavaria” as sold in North America, was the lighter, four-door brother of the sportier and undoubtedly elegant E9 Coupe. Alas, with an exterior design team lead by Wilhelm Hofmeister and detail work executed by Bertone and Michelotti studios, the E3 looks sharp and refined. Standard four-wheel disc brakes and fully independent suspension meant the E3 sedans were ahead of their time in the ‘70s. If you’re looking for a E9 Coupe but aren’t opposed to four-doors, remember the fact that a E3 3.0Si sedan will outrun a 3.0 coupe with the same engine configuration.

#8 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL–The W126 Mercedes-Benz was the second generation of the “S-Class” lineup, regarded as more fuel efficient, spacious, and aerodynamic. The 560SEL (long wheel-base) was produced during the last half of the twelve year production run of the W126 and featured a 5.5L V8. Capable of producing up to 300hp and over 300ft lbs. of torque, the 560SEL will easily accommodate five people on a spirited drive.

#7 Audi 200 20v Turbo Quattro–With its 2.2L, 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive, and manual transmission, the 200 Turbo was one of the fastest production sedans of its time. The turbocharged powerplant produced up to 220hp, and was the first DOHC engine Audi put into a sedan. Unfortunately, due to Audi’s poor sales worldwide, the 20v Turbos, arguably the most desirable of the 200 platform, are very hard to find.

#6 BMW 320is S14 (E30)–The E30 320is was a limited production model sold exclusively in Italy and Portugal that sported a 1990cc S14 engine and Getrag 5-speed gearbox out of an E30 M3. This variation took advantage of the countries’ lower tax on engines sized 2.0L or less. With all other components shared with the base model 3-series, and performance numbers close to the 2.3L S14, the 320is is definitely a sleeper. But be on the lookout! Only 1,205 four-door models were ever produced, making this sedan a rare find (pictured is the coupe).

#5 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9–You might not buy a 6.9 for looks, and perhaps the power figure isn’t spectacular considering the displacement; the reason you buy a 450SEL 6.9 is engineering. The 450SEL was the first Benz produced with a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension, providing a smooth ride with good handling for a car weighing in at around 4200 pounds. Other features included aluminum cylinder heads on a hand-built, 250hp (in North American trim) V8, and sodium-filled exhaust valves that effectively dispersed heat. In addition, the dry-sump oil system allowed you to travel around 12,500 miles or one year before the recommended oil change. Want to learn more? Click here.

Photography by Rémi Dargegen

#4 BMW 535is (E28)–Younger enthusiasts look here! Assuming you don’t mind a couple of extra doors, a well-rounded example shouldn’t cost you more than $10k, making these the most affordable sedans on this list. The 535is is about as close as you can get to an E28 M5 without a significant price increase. Equipped with a 3.5L variation of BMW’s “Big Six” M30 engine, and featuring M5 styling cues including sports seats, a rear spoiler, and a front air dam, (as well as a sport suspension) these 5-series are quite the bargain. Excellent reliability and usable power add to the checklist, not to mention the airy-greenhouse interior capable of seating five comfortably.

#3 BMW M5 (E34)–The second generation M5 shared the same M88/S38 engine as its predecessor with an increased displacement: 3.6L in earlier models, and 3.8L later. Cars manufactured for the North American market got the shorter end of the stick once again, and produced only 307hp compared to those built for Europe and elsewhere that produced up to 335hp. If you like the older models, “M-system” wheels and bolt on wheel covers were included, designed to vent air to the brakes for cooling purposes. BMW switched wheel designs for more effective cooling for the late models, however the “turbine” covers remain popular amongst enthusiasts. Fortunately, these cars have relatively unassuming styling, and won’t draw all that much attention…that is until you step on it.

#2 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3L 16v–In order to participate in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) racing, Mercedes-Benz had to enter a car based on a production model. Their answer was the Cosworth 2.3L. The production model featured a detuned version of the 2.3L Cosworth engine, with a usable 182hp, Recaro seats, and a dogleg 5-speed transmission. These cars proved very successful in DTM, so successful in fact that BMW responded with their first-generation M3. With performance comparable to the M3, you might expect their prices would be similar? Close? They aren’t. Not at all actually. You can find 190E 2.3L 16v’s in good condition for around $10k, which is far less than you should be prepared to spend on a well-sorted E30 M3.

And finally, #1… the BMW M5 (E28)–Are you surprised? I knew this car would place near the top of the list, and would probably be voted number one, but I wasn’t expecting a landslide. Out of everyone who offered an opinion, about half voted for the E28 M5. At its launch, the first-generation, hand-built M5 was the fastest production sedan in the world. Powered by BMW’s 3.5L M88/S38, these engines produced 282hp (256hp in those built for North America). The E28 M5 is regarded as one of the best all-around performance sedans ever built and are among the rarest BMW Motorsport production cars ever built. It won’t be too long before they creep over $25k!

Images Sources: bmwmregistry.com, i2.8000vueltas.com, bmwmregistry.com, m535i.org, bmwmregistry.com, audi.com.au, automobilesdeluxe.tv, seniorsix.org, productioncars.com, staticflickr.commye28.com

Join the Conversation
Related

Leave a Reply

Ricardo Rodriguez
Ricardo Rodriguez

Audi V8, circa early 1990’s. 8 cylinder 6 speed manual quattro, that’s about as good as it gets!

Todd G. Westlie
Todd G. Westlie

It’s good to see my car – 1993 E34 M5 – on the list. I have owned it since January 1995 and I still turn to admire its fine chiseled lines as I walk from my garage into my house 😀

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

Surely a nice list, I took all of them into consideration when trying to answer the question some time ago. I would rearrange the order a little and drop the 560SEL for another BMW (E12 M535i) or possibly the Opel Omega 3000 (blasphemy?). Other than that, I can’t really complain. Does smiling a little when I saw that you included my oddball E23 745i make me egocentric?

Inigo
Inigo

Where is the 500E?

David Cloete
David Cloete

Nuts. How do you post a pic on here. I’m referring to BMW 635 and 3.0 CS.

David Cloete
David Cloete

Where are the coupes?

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

I’m afraid there’s no room for coupes in the “best classic German sports sedans” category. They have too few doors.

Michael Anderson
Michael Anderson

That last image of the first M5 brought back childhood memories of the poster on my wall.. “Power is nothing without control”

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

TJ Your right about the 320i in the form seen in the US but the top ten refers to the very rare 320is which used a 2.0 litre version of the S14 M3 unit. I actually can’t say whether they’re any good or not as I have never driven one have you? considering they we only ever sold in Italy and Portugal? I probably would not put the 560SEL on the list either having driven one although it was quite a fun car to smoke the rear tyres with. If you wanted less BMWs the Vauxhall Carlton /Opel Omega 3.0… Read more »

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa

Had no idea that the 320is was sold only in Portugal and Italy. I went straight for the biggest used cars website here and found three, all black, two of them under 100.000 miles. They are being sold for 12.000 euros, and even 20.000 one of them, so I suppose their portuguese owners, even if they’re not the original buyers, know well the rarity of the car.

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Matthew L – BWTM .. forgot to mention the E30 320i ! The asthmatic kitty of BMW’s if there ever was one . Step on the gas and listen to the engine laughing its fool head off … asking the question ; ” You want me to do what ? You’re joking ! Right ? “

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Matthew Lange ; ” I can’t think of anything remotely sporty about the Ford Scorpio ” One can say very much the same about the BMW Bavaria E3 [ a genuine cow of a car to own and drive ] – the Audi 200 [ a prime example of the automotive dog ] as well as the 560SEL [ the very epitome of the automotive wallowing pig ] No Mr Lange … the only thing keeping the Scorpio [ or at least the US version of it ] off the list is the fact that theres a Blue Oval instead… Read more »

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

I can honestly say I haven’t driven the BMW E3, so I can’t comment on ownership or how it is to drive. However, you need to put things in perspective. The E3 was sold more than a decade before the Scorpio and a lot of things happened between the 60’s and 80’s. Still the E9 was a lighter car with more horsepower. Again, I can’t comment on how they would compare when thrashing them around a track, but still. The E3 was a pretty quick car back in it’s day. The Scorpio however, that only got some kind of performance… Read more »

Gregory Smith
Gregory Smith

If the e34 M5 is considered pre-1990s, then so should the E500E….which is noticeably absent.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

Well, given that the first production year of the E34 M5 was 1989 and the first for the E500 was 1991, I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I like the E500, but the E34 M5 is in fact a “pre-90 car” (though just barely), while the E500 is not.

Grant
Grant

Just a few years back in highschool a friend had a e28. I Think it was a 86 or 87. Red with worn out tan leather, interior had a interesting smell…Anyway, I grew up around classic jags, so the beemer engine wasn’t quite up to par. But hot damn it was the second best thing. We revved the crap out of it, I think the exhaust had a leak but it was stock, it gave it a tastefully raspy sound.
Its blasphemy next to any proper jag but a hell of a lot of fun.
Gah I want one again

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Well … other than the over priced Volkswagen on the list [ Audi ] and the fact that there’s way too many BMW’s as well as the Merkur Scorpio /Ford Granada Scorpio wasn’t included … its a pretty decent list . Way too many Bimmers though .. way too many ! Not all of them even approaching good or desirable either [ hint … avoid any and all Turbo Bimmers like the plague .. even the new ones ] But err … I’m still needing that Happy Fix I requested yesterday Petrolicious . That funk created by the reality of… Read more »

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

I can’t think of anything remotely sporty about the Ford Scorpio 🙂 even the 2.9 V6 Cosworth engined ones (not used in the Merkur version). Most have those have donated their engines to Capris these days anyway

ACFowles
ACFowles

The Ford Granada Scorpio as a Top 10 Classic German Sports Sedan – very funny 😉

I can only imagine that you typed that idea as a joke as there is nothing whatsoever that is classic or sporting about that car. Remember that this was the car that that measured up so poorly against the competition that it resulted in Ford’s departure from the executive/sports saloon market across Europe.