Lost Wedge: 1987 Subaru XT Turbo

The XT is an up and coming classic. This is a car that was boldly designed, came with an intriguing array of engines and drivetrains and is unlike anything Subaru has offered since.

Perhaps the most striking feature is the styling, some sort of mod-primordial sculpture that looks like a leftover set prop from Blade Runner. With hidden headlights, blacked out pillars and a thin taillight strip it meant business, though. It also belied an extremely low drag coefficient of .29, resulting in good gas mileage and low wind noise. I really can't imagine what kind of person bought these new but they might have been funky, outside-the-box thinkers.

The mechanicals were just as intriguing, ranging from naturally aspirated and FWD to turbo and all-wheel drive. This survivor is half way between, with FWD but a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that produced 15 horsepower.

Inside, drivers became more like pilots. The dashboard was inspired by fighter jets with a bizarre asymmetrical steering wheel, pods of buttons, and instrumental cluster that moved with the wheel when it tilted and telescoped.

The seller says the odometer is accurate, but they bought the car from a Subaru specialist who freshened the engine and put in a new transmission. They say it runs and drives fine, a/c blows cold and power windows work.

These cars are endangered. Few were sold and even fewer remain due. It's beyond time we rescue these and start giving them proper recognition as a classic Japanese car.

Available here on ebay.


1987 BMW 735i 5-Speed

I love the E32. I wanted one very badly about two years ago but instead settled for a low-mileage E46 AWD. That's how hard a good E32 is to find these days. This one is even more significant with a nifty and super-rare 5-speed manual.

The 80s were BMW's breakthrough era. It not only meant making great cars, but also catching up with the competition. One of those competitors was that other legendary German luxury automaker, Mercedes-Benz. While BMW had offered cars that lightly infringed on Mercedes' territory (one could  say the E30 was a shot at the W201), the E32 was designed specifically to take on the big ol' W126 Benz.

The E32 was a resounding success. Sure, it was larger and heavier than it's predecessor, but it gained new engines that helped scoot it along, including a rather insane 12-cylinder.

Styling by genius designer Claus Luthe was a home run, introducing a whole new language theme that the company would use for years, then depart from, only to revisit again and again in the 21st century. Looking closely, it's actually a rather bizarre shape, with a long, low hood, big windows, high trunk and those devilish L-shaped rear taillights. But it miraculously works.

Unfortunately for a while the only engine options in the E32 were the underpowered 3.5-liter inline 6-cylinder or the over-complex 12-cylinder. Only until 1993 did an option in the middle arrive in the form of a V8, but by then the competition had caught up and the body would undergo a major restyling in 1995.

Fortunately, this early model has a stick to liven the driving experience up. Very, very few were brought to the US with 5-speeds and have become a coveted collector item since.

The interior looks sumptuous in a saddle-shade leather and awesome pre-airbag steering wheel.

The seller says it was imported from Canada and all paperwork is sorted with a Florida title. Cosmetically they say it wears original factory paint and chrome wheels. Mechanically, they say all power accessories work and it drives excellently and is ready to go anywhere.

Another great thing about the E32 is that it's still a pretty simple car, especially compared to BMW today. They are known for being rock solid and overall very reliable. With just 95k miles on this one, it's just getting warmed up. Drive it hard, change the oil religiously and just enjoy her.

Available here on ebay for the reasonable price of $5,700.


67k-Mile 1993 Honda Del Sol SI

The Del Sol was almost a stroke of genius by Honda in their glory days of the early 90s. Hot off the heels of breaking through the US market in the 80s, their strategy for the next decade was to expand the lineup and take on Toyota. For a while, it seemed possible.

In 1992 they debuted the Del Sol, just in time for a Gen-Xer's job promotion or a Baby Boomer's midlife crisis. The styling is pretty clever in that it recalls the mid-engine cars of the 70s or early 80s like the Fiat X1/9, but was in fact just another front-wheel four banger. What made it different than their other cars of the time was a removable targa top. This filled in a gap of customers pining for a Civic-like driving experience but with open-air fun.

Honda wrapped that concept in what turned out to be a body that has aged surprisingly well, even in the exotic colors they offered. The whole thing is classic 90s rising sun, all smooth yet taut planes, bubbly shaped lights and hidden-lug alloys. I particularly like the rear taillights, reminiscent of the BMW Z1.

Inside is equally successful with spartan plastic that is simple, clear and functional. For a touch of excitement, they seem to have color-matched the seats and floor with the exterior.

Purists will scoff at this one's automatic transmission, but to make up for it is the SI trim, which included a 1.6-liter SOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder VTEC engine, power side mirrors, cruise control, rear disc brakes, anti-sway bars and wider tires. Frankly, if you're going to track down a Del Sol, you really might as well only get the SI.

Mechanically, the seller says its been serviced by Honda and runs well. Cosmetically they say it has normal dings and dents but thankfully no rust.

Targa tops were never really in fashion and are rarely offered on any cars anymore, although that could change with Porsche's hi-tech new reworking of the whole thing. Regardless, this can easily be a fun daily driver. Honda stopped making the Del Sol in 1998 and haven't made anything like it since.

Available here on ebay for $7,995 and the Make Offer option.


1999 Alfa Romeo 156

Sigh. Alfa Romeo in the late 90s. It's something we'll never know, because the company stopped selling cars here in 1995. Today, they offer just one car in the US, a snazzy sport coupe for over $100k. That's a shame, because they have a long tradition in something far more practical yet still very fun: compact sport sedans.

The last Alfa most Americans remember was the 164. Based on a Euro platform it shared with Lancia and Saab, it was a slight betrayal with front-wheel drive, but the styling and engine power were still quality. Alfa basically continued and expanded their front-wheel platforms after that, resulting in the 156, among other models.

The 156 debuted in 1997. European auto styling in the 90s completely eschewed the 80s hardcore techno-industrial angles in favor of soft corners, organic shapes and minimal details. The 156 is a great example, with small lamps, no anti-dent molding and rear door handles built into the c-pillar keeping the side profile clean. It's good looking, especially considering today's over-designed cars.

Under the hood of this example is a "Twin Spark" 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a stick shift. Alfa's are renowned for their exhaust notes and excellent handling. I certainly would have preferred this puppy over a mechanically similar Honda or Toyota back in the day.

The seller says the car has 145,000 kilometers, which is about 90k miles. They say it has one previous owner, some service history, a new timing belt and in good condition throughout.

This one is in Canada and is not exempt under the US 25-years-and-older import rule unless it is federalized, and who knows how much that entails or costs. Still, it's not impossible and is good to see this one on this side of the Atlantic nonetheless, especially in such a sweet color combo as silver over red leather.

Available here on ebay with no bids and a Buy It Now of $10,500.


1994 Lada Niva 1600

The Lada Niva is to Russia as the Jeep Wrangler is to the US: that standard, rugged, dependable two-door off-road vehicle. It is made by Russian auto manufacturer AvtoVAZ, formerly just VAZ. The Niva has been in production since the late 70s, remarkably surviving the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR.

The Niva was the first AvtoVAZ product not to be directly based on a Fiat. It shared some Fiat 124 mechanicals, but the body, four-wheel drive system and independent front suspension were all unique to AvtoVAZ.

Styling is pretty neat. It's typical 70s Eastern European mod, compact, hard angles and pure function but not without some character and soul. The red paint helps brighten things as well.

The seller says this is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gas version mated to a manual transmission. It won't win any drag races (unless your racing a Yugo) but it will get the job done and not guzzle fuel. Another bonus is the 4WD system, so fear no winter, either.

Mechanically, the seller says it runs like mint, with new battery, fuel pump, oil and filter and brakes. They say it has racked up just 85,000 kilometers which equals only about 52k miles. Cosmetically, they don't mention the exterior but say inside is immaculate with no rips, scratches or tears.

I would definitely check for rust. Otherwise, this is a sweet alternative to the ubiquitous Wrangler or too expensive and fussy Defender 90.

Available on ebay here with bidding at $2,300.


2005 Honda Accord Hybrid

Hybrids are still viable contenders as gas prices continue to hover just under $4 a gallon and no relief in sight. Alternative energy vehicles have a very checkered and infamous past, most notably with General Motors EV-1, which by most accounts was a pretty cool automobile until they abruptly canceled the program. It wasn't the first time GM pulled a weird move that resulted in several conspiracy theories.

Only a couple years later however, the Japanese marched in with the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. The first generation Insight was truly cool, using expensive high-strentgh but ultra-lightweight steel, and super aerodynamic design to achieve a new level of efficiency. Then the four door-Prius came along and found a spot in garages across American suburbs.

Honda introduced a Civic Hybrid, but it didn't have a hatchback or "hip" status like the Prius, which Hollywood celebrities drove to award ceremonies. Then Honda rolled out an Accord Hybrid. This was based on the North American seventh generation Accord. Hondas are frustrating cars. You feel like there's potential for a really great car, but they always seem to settle for just good. Unfortunately, "just good" meant they still had flaws. One of the things that has always bothered me about Hondas is ride quality and road noise, two things competitor Toyota seemed to care about and try refining.

Flaws aside, the Accord Hybrid seemed like a good idea. If you couldn't stand the dingy looks or compact size of the Civic but still wanted fuel savings, the Accord Hybrid was an option.

One of the things that made it interesting was the pairing of 6-cylinders and an electric motor. The 1st-gen insight only had three cylinders and the Prius just four. 6-cylinders seemed to address hesitations about hybrid performance while still utilizing the electric motor for efficiency. In fact, the combination produced 15 more horsepower and made the '05 Accord Hybrid faster than the gasoline V6 Accord. There was just one problem: the 29/37 mpg wasn't that much better than the regular Accord and not great as far as hybrids go in general.

Not surprisingly, since it looked like a regular Accord, drove like a regular Accord and was $3k more than a regular Accord, the Hyrbid Accord didn't take off, and wasn't offered after 2007.

The seller of this example seems to be a former Marine who "just got married at age 66" and took exceptional care of the car. With just 57,008 miles on the clock, they also barely drove it. Accord Hybrids were positioned at the top of Honda's lineup, so they usually come very well-equipped, and this one has nice leather seats and a bunch of other goodies.

Honda just reintroduced an Accord Hybrid for 2014, but until now this was the only Accord Hybrid, and it still remains a rare and interesting alternative energy car. Being a hybrid, it still bears a price premium, but it's a good design and will still be mostly efficient and very reliable transportation for a long time. Or, at least until it needs a new electric battery (every 10 years).

Available here on ebay for $12k.


Still For Sale: 1986 UMM Alter II

Over a year after COTC first featured this UMM Alter II it appears to still be for sale here in Plaistow, New Hampsire.

I had never heard of this thing before I found it the wilds of craigslist. But I'm sure glad I did because it's pretty cool.

UMM (which stands for Uniao Metalo-Mecanica) is a Portugese truck manufacturer, and the Alter was standard-issue their all-terrain passenger vehicle. The "II" denotes this being a second generation Alter, and follows a long line of 4x4 vehicles. It brought about a new transmission, transfer case and suspension.

Styling-wise, this is a pretty sweet looking ride. It's sort of a combination between the Mercedes-Benz Galendenwagen, Toyota FJ-cruiser, and Land Rover Defender. All hard angles and utilitarian details. The steeply slanted hood, square headlights and triple windshield wipers add unique touches.

It helps this one is in black, always a good color. The white steel wheels are correct and the front guard bars and rear mud flaps finish the rugged look. It's definitely not lacking. I also like the two-door configuration, adding to the quirk factor.

Inside is definitely not lacking for space, with two seats up front and side benches in the rear. The instrument cluster is refreshingly spartan, although the plastics all look worn and faded, including the Peugeot steering wheel and tired foot well. The center console also seems to be missing a few things, although again given the simplicity of the rest of the dashboard it's hard to tell exactly.

As the steering wheel implies, underneath the hood is a Peugeot 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine. It's not the most desirable engine the UMM came with, but it will get the job done and shouldn't be too bad servicing and fixing, with Peugeot parts readily available in Europe.

Unfortunately the seller doesn't give any indication things are working or not. Just from the photos the cosmetic condition seems about fair, and that's without even seeing the underside, which might hide extensive rust. The odometer reads 19,342 but that's probably in kilometers so the mileage would be about 11,809, if the reading is functioning and accurate.

Despite that, it's an extremely rare vehicle for a US dealer to be selling and overall seems worth getting cleaned, detailed and properly sorted so it can be used and brought to auto clubs.


1967 BMW 2000 Ti-Lux

The BMW 2000 was part of their "Neue Klasse" of coupes and sedans of the 60s and 70s. These are classics now, but also represented over a decade of experimentation, growth and change for the brand.

The 2000 was intended to be a more upscale version of the 1800 sedan. It featured different taillights and headlights, although the front lamps were changed on US models. This one happily features the original square Euro lamps.

The styling is pretty sweet. They look like exactly what they are: an early BMW. The forward leaning front is truly a sign of a bygone design era, as is the whole "bathtub" shape, but the lights and simple slab sides are surprisingly clean and modern. I don't care for red in general and especially not on German cars but it actually works really well on this and helps brighten it tremendously. The seller seems to have spray painted the grilles, bumpers and wheels black, which, while unnecessary, isn't terrible either and certainly isn't worth the effort reversing. The front fog lamps are a cool add-on and together everything gives the car a subtle rally vibe.

Inside, the interior looks remarkably clean, although it's hard to see the entire dash. The seller says the seats were recovered, which explains why they look so good, and black is a great color and saves the next owner the hassle. Thumbs up.

Mechanically, the 2000 was available with a 1,990 cc 4-cylinder engine powering the rear wheels. The seller says that this is a "Ti" version, however, so it originally had the more desirable twin-Solex side carburetors boosting to to a decent 120 horsepower. The seller says this now has dual Weber carbs instead and mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The "Lux" version added leather seats, wood trim and other assorted high grade interior bits and accessories.

This is a rare car that has clearly been given some recent love. The seller says it has almost no rust and have the original steel rims and hubcaps. The asking price is high given the age and that it had the paint and interior re-done, but those are also plusses. The extent of the rust will have to be checked out as well as full ownership and maintenance history, if any. Otherwise, this seems like it's ready to be a driver.

Available here for $8,900.


The Last Saab: 2011 9-5 Aero XWD

The second generation 9-5 was supposed to be a comeback car for Saab. That's what its successful predecessor was in a way. Instead, it was the last Saab ever built, at least under the ownership they had for over two decades. That's not to say the 9-5 was at fault. In fact, it was a pretty great car. The demise of Saab actually goes all the way back to General Motor's meddling in the company starting in 1989. Some say they buy the competition to destroy it. They have every reason to. Saab used to make cars GM couldn't.

Saab is notorious for giving their cars initial designs that were well-executed and conservative enough so that they aged well and didn't need replacing for a decade. The first generation 9-5 replaced the 9000 in 1997, itself dating back to 1986. Both the 9000 and the 9-5 shared European GM front-wheel drive platforms. It was nothing special but got the job done. The 9-5 came at a good time in the mid 90s when the company needed a new car. It came with a sleek all-new body and interior. It was big, comfortable and reliable. These were favorites of middle class New England suburbs and sold in respectable numbers.

Unfortunately Saab (or GM, as nobody really knows who was calling the shots at that point) waited too long to replace the first generation 9-5. It fell above Volkswagen but far below Mercedes-Benz and BMW and somewhere even with Volvo, so it occupied a weird position in the market as a luxurious car with the front-wheel drive and therefore needed extra appeal and marketing to stand out. It received neither, and even after several decent facelifts, gradually just faded to the side as an automotive dinosaur. It was shameful.

In 2010, a new 9-5 did finally arrive. Saab had already tried to stage a comeback with an all-new 9-3, but that was an utter failure as the car was a poorly made and unreliable rebadged Euro GM front-wheel four-banger. It didn't stand a chance against anything Germany or Japan were offering, and it wasn't even better than an Accord or Camry. The new 9-5 was a chance to hit the reset button.

At first things looked promising. For starters, the car came in a super smooth, almost sexy body. It hinted at the brand's heritage while moving into the future. It's simple, clean and well-executed. The blackened a-pillars are cool, and the rear-tailights finish the car on a satisfying note. They also came with nifty alloy wheels that resembled fans. (always a good detail on Saabs).

Inside was one of Saab's best interiors yet, which is saying a lot since they always had good interiors. Saab had made aircraft before cars and designed the car dashboards to resemble the highly functional, user-friendly, wrap-around cockpits of a jet fighter. The result was iconic. Numerals were green, needles orange, and every button, switch and knob was artfully formed to be both easy to use and pleasing to touch. The 2nd gen 9-5 took things to a new level, with beautifully carved shapes, silver accents and artful layouts.

Underneath the hood was even more impressive. Although the previous 9-5 was never really underpowered, it wasn't exactly a hot-rod, either. Saab clearly intended to change that with the 2nd generation. This is the top of the line aero model and comes with a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine that produced 300 horsepower. As icing on top, it was matched with Saab's burgeoning system of all-wheel drive called "XWD". Frankly, I always thought it was ridiculous that Saab never offered all-wheel traction earlier on, seeing it was a Swedish carmaker and they sold so many in the snowy Northeast. But for a moment at least, the 9-5 Aero XWD was a really impressive package, for a Saab at least.

All the momentum was crushed however when Saab's financial troubles climaxed in 2010. The 2nd generation 9-5 barely got out of the gates before production ended in 2011, with just 11,280 units made, making this one of the rarest production Saabs in recent memory. The company has gone through bunch of corporate shifting from then until fall 2013, when it appears it will continue some limited production under the National Electric Vehicle Sweden (Nevs), but who really knows what will happen.

The last 9-5 is an impressive car. The platform and engines were widely used in Europe and shouldn't be too difficult to get parts. Servicing might just have to be done at a specialist, Pep Boys or your garage, though. The one positive fallout is that resale values have plummeted, so what was normally a $35k-$45k car can now be had for less than $25k.

Find this one available here for $22,895.