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The Ones That Got Away, Part VIII

January 25, 2012 by Matt

1991 Audi 200 Avant White quattro Turbo 200q20v

This one unfolded before your very eyes, as it were.

It started in mid-September last year. On a whim, one idle Tuesday afternoon, I checked a site I hadn’t in a while,, the hub for most transactions involving older Audis. It was innocent enough; I just wanted to do some window shopping, but as often happens, a seed got planted in my brain during the process.

It burrowed into fertile ground—I have an enduring affection for older 5-cylinder Audis; I owned an ’86 4000 quattro for a couple of years and was very interested in purchasing a ’90 200 Turbo quattro in the process that ultimately resulted in the acquisition of my BMW 525.

So the gears started turning, and I discussed my ruminations with my wife. She wasn’t very keen on the idea—she loves the BMW—but was willing to go along with it in the spirit of compromise, with the understanding that she did have to be at least okay with whatever vehicle I settled on.

1991 Audi 200 Avant White quattro Turbo 200q20v

With her half-blessing, I resumed my participation on the Audi 200 e-mail list and put out a feeler for anyone looking to sell. I knew exactly what I wanted: The 20-valve, turbocharged iteration of the Audi 200, a flavor imported to the US for only one year: ’91. I love the engine, the bodystyle and its non-conformist cool, among many other attributes. The 200q20v, as it’s known, is rare, comfortable, well-appointed, equipped with a manual gearbox, attractive in an understated way and capable of a startling turn of speed with a few basic bolt-ons. It was The One, sellers were coming out of the woodwork; the stage was set for a fast pick up.

Only…it wasn’t quite so simple. One wrench in the works was my BMW. It had never excited me in the way a 200q20v would, but it remained an excellent car, reliable, capable and an absolute dream to drive, so fluid and sure-footed in all its movements. Whatever I acquired would have had to at least match it in terms of overall condition, a tall order for the crop of 20-year-old cars I was investigating.

And not only was the 525 a tough act to follow, its previous—and first—owner is a neighbor of my parents, a good friend and very “interested” in my ownership of the car in the sense that I pledged to keep it for some time and take good care of it. Now, I know fundamentally that the car is in my name, and I’m autonomous, but there had been some car transactions in years past that had left a very poor taste in my parents’ mouth, and selling the BMW after having owned it for less than two years would have been very, shall we say, frustrating for them. I’m an independent agent, but my decisions do affect others, I agonized quite a bit over whether it was worth disappointing my parents and their neighbor in pursuit of a car whose purchase I really couldn’t rationally justify.

1991 Audi 200 Avant quattro Turbo 200q20v Interior Inside Cockpit

In the meantime, I started narrowing down my leads. The one I was most drawn to is the example pictured in this post: an Alpine White ’91 200 Turbo quattro Avant (Audi’s word for a wagon). It was in pristine shape for its age, and had had every possible wear item replaced recently—and in many cases not just replaced, but upgraded with a higher-quality piece. The interior (including the headliner) was in fantastic shape, compression and power were dyno-checked and factory-spec, and the car was completely rust-free. It was on the other side of the country—admittedly an issue—but the seller’s price was eminently fair, and he would include boxes and boxes of spares he had accumulated over the years. It was a great deal.

My only reservations about the car were its color and bodystyle. My wife hates white cars, and I’m not the biggest fan of the color either, especially on a mid-’80s-to-early-’90s car with the fashionable large black trim strips running down its flanks. And while I remain a fan of the Audi 200’s sedan shape, try as I might (and I tried), I never could warm up to the wagon shape. The angle of the tailgate was unique, and I liked that, but the rear overhang really was excessive, and the rearward extension of the roof killed the sedan’s appealing “wedge” profile. I just couldn’t get used to either attribute, but was willing to live with them given the car’s other qualities.

1991 Audi 200 Avant quattro Turbo 200q20v Engine 3B Motor

And then the brainstorm rolled through. All my internal conflict, all my hand-wringing over the potential response of my parents and their neighbor and the fact that I felt like I was being pulled inexorably toward the Audi’s purchase, and I could never feel satisfied with my BMW—it all came into focus. I finally understood what was driving me against my good sense to make a poor decision: It was the tension between my need to turn a wrench and the fact that the restoration of my Datsun 240Z project car seemed like an unobtainable goal, detailed in this post. It was a revelation.

With my newfound clarity, I decided to forgo the Audi 200 purchase. It was difficult—I still have a great deal of affection for the car—but I wrote the seller and explained the situation as best I could. He was keen on selling it, so I do hope he was able to use some of the information and photos he passed on to me in service of a sale to another worthy owner.

Who knows; I may own one yet. But the Z comes first.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part VII

November 11, 2011 by Matt

Mazda RX-7 RX7 GSL-SE GSLSE 13B 1984 1985 84 85 Rotary Wankel Brown Maroon

It’s appropriate, I suppose, that part VII of this series should be about an RX-7. This one was more of a brief flirtation, but it does illustrate the enduring appeal of one’s “first love,” automotively-speaking, and represents a seminal period in my thinking about cars.

In early 2003, I was underemployed and driving my ’88 Supra Turbo, pre-engine swap. Between working part-time and hunting for a serious, degree-related job, I had a fair amount of time to mull over my car situation. I liked the Supra very much; it had been my companion of sorts during my 6-month adventure in Florida the previous year, so we had some “history.” However, as evidenced by the diversity of topics on this very site, my automotive interests resist confinement to one model, brand or even type of car. The grass is always greener, and even though I did have a bond with the Supra, I was getting bored with it, as dumb a decision as a car switch would have been at that point.

My car philosophy was in flux as well. A vehicle like the Supra is easily upgradeable for big power; modification paths are readily available and well worn. That said, I was in the midst of a kind of existential crisis, coming to the realization that there would always been a car out there with more power than mine, faster than mine. That may seem like a truism, but it was very immediate for me during that period, coming to terms with the fact that the horsepower war is a bottomless money and time pit. Of course, being as broke as I was, I couldn’t have upgraded my car anyway, so it’s likely the “crisis” was, as much as anything else, a subconscious attempt to pin my automotive self-image on something other than raw speed. Convenient, that.

In any case, during my soul searching, instead of going after big power, I resolved to value qualities in a car unrelated to the amount of tire smoke it could generate on command. Self-serving it may have been, I determined to seek out the intangibles, to value the character of a car more than its spec sheet.

Mazda RX-7 RX7 GSL-SE GSLSE 13B 1984 1985 84 85 Rotary Wankel Brown Maroon Interior Inside Cockpit

Naturally, my conclusion led me back to the first car I’d really fallen for, my first project car, the ’79-’85 Mazda RX-7. Even in top-of-the-line 135 hp ’84-’85 GSL-SE trim, it’s no speed demon, with a 0-60 time of around 8 seconds, comparable to that of a modern family sedan, and upgrade paths are considerably steeper than for the Supra. What it did possess was a raw, elemental feel, an eager, curve-hungry personality coupled with a unique, turbine-like rotary engine. Its timeless shape has always appealed, being neither bound to the campiness of ’70s styling conventions nor the harsh angularity of ’80s trends. And I already knew every nook and cranny of its engine bay, having performed an engine swap between a pair of ’85s. The combination of character, uniqueness, design and familiarity was irresistible. I fired up Autotrader and began hunting for one.

Being the product of part-time job daydreaming, I wasn’t completely serious about the endeavor, and even if I had been, I’d have had no idea how to unload my Supra in favor of an RX-7. I indulged my wandering emotions a bit, though, and when an ’84 GSL-SE closely resembling the one feature in this post’s pictures popped up 90 miles away, I roped a car buddy into doing some investigation with me.

We made the trip and found the car in fantastic condition. The paint was lustrous, the engine ran well (and idled properly—a rare quality for the GSL-SE’s 13B Wankel) and the interior, while brown, wasn’t the hideous maroon color many ’80s sports cars seem to have been afflicted with. I could have lived with a chocolatey RX-7 very easily, but in the end I had no real plan to acquire it, and my buddy and I returned home. Having actually kicked the tires, my longing for a first-generation RX-7 was sated just enough to clear the fog of fixation, and I backed off my quixotic quest. I rediscovered character-related attributes I enjoyed about my Supra, and learned, in the end, that even in cars with readily-tapped power potential, there are still a host of other aspects to relish.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part VI

August 26, 2011 by Matt

1990 Mercedes-Benz W126 420SEL Sedan

I should’ve stuck up for this one.

Pictured above is my dad’s old ’90 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL. It’s a long wheelbase, 4.2l V8-engined example of the celebrated W126 series, the second-to-last (the smaller W124 was the last) of the classic “money no object” Mercs. The quality of the car was palpable: The paint was a foot-deep glossy enamel, the doors opened and closed with Swiss watchmaker precision and a bank-vault-like thunk, the ride and dynamics were absolutely serene and interior materials were made to last 50 years. The whole car represented the diametrical opposite of the “planned obsolescence” carmarking philosophy.

1990 Mercedes-Benz W126 420SEL Sedan

My dad bought it from a family friend in early ’05; the friend had owned the car for years and was reluctantly parting with it, having been talked out of keeping it in favor of a newer Buick. I recognized the car for what it was back then: Something special. When my family lived in Europe during the late ’80s, our family car was a Euro-spec W123 280E, and the 420SEL’s quality and overall demeanor reminded me very much of my childhood experiences of the earlier Merc.

1990 Mercedes-Benz W126 420SEL Sedan Interior

It was familiar, and I think my dad felt that too; he and I have always shared a unique nostalgia for our time overseas. It was a big boat of a car, but smells and sounds felt like home. I drove it alone a few hours to the beach later that summer, and I loved every minute of it–the big Merc was a magnificent trip car.

Problems soon set in, though. The engine’s old L-Jet fuel injection system began to misbehave about a year into my dad’s ownership, and the car was never quite right afterward, with a loping idle and occasional stumbles in the rev range. He had trouble finding a mechanic who knew his way around older Mercs, too, so although the issues were ameliorated somewhat, they were never completely resolved. Fuel economy for the big, heavy, V8-powered tank wasn’t anything to write home about, either.

The summer of 2009 rolled around, and with it, the infamous Cash-for-Clunkers program. At the time, my parents owned three cars, one of them the 420SEL. Eager to pare the inventory down to two, and desirous of something a bit more miserly at the pump, my dad decided to clunker the blue Merc in favor of a new Ford F150. My heart sank when I heard his plans, but at the time, there was little I could have done to rescue the car. Our finances were still in a precarious state, and there was no way I could have scraped together anywhere near the $4500 the government (read: us) would give my dad to trade it in. So the stately, gorgeous W126, built to last 400,000 miles, was led to the slaughter, nothing wrong with it that half an hour with a older Merc specialist probably couldn’t have sorted out. The previous owner was shocked when he heard the car’s fate, but he respected my dad’s right to make that decision. I do too, but truth be told, I wish I could have found a way to assume ownership. It was a princely machine.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part V

August 11, 2011 by Matt

1982 BMW 628CSi

Two Aprils ago, I sold my white ’86 BMW 635CSi. It wasn’t a bad car; far from it—I enjoyed it greatly and miss it very much, even now.

Why did I sell it? A number of reasons, some having to do with the state of the car as it was:

  • Cramped rear seat access impractical for our growing family.
  • Marginal rustproofing made me a nervous owner driving in the winter slush.

And some reasons related to where I wanted it to go, so to speak:

  • The car was my daily driver, and as such I would never be able to give it the attention it needed, since everything had to be buttoned back up for the next morning’s commute.
  • My wife hated the white color, and I wasn’t its biggest fan either, mainly because of…
  • The US-spec “diving board” bumpers. They murdered the lines of the car and their black expanses of rubber contrasted with the white to make the car look very much like a Star Wars Stormtrooper.

Before I sold it, I made a last attempt to “save” it by selling it in favor of another E24 6-series “Shark” that addressed at least a couple of the issues noted above. My hope was that my car’s new owner would live in an area of the country where salty roads in winter weren’t an issue, or at least perhaps the car wouldn’t be a daily driver, saving some wear and tear and allowing the new owner to take the time to dig into it and rectify its flaws. Meanwhile, I would “leapfrog” a few of my car’s issues by acquiring a car without them, and in the future get my hands on an econobox for daily duty, finally giving the E24 the repose and chance for “big fixes” it needed.

So during the fading months of ’09 and the early part of ’10, I continually had my feelers out for a non-white, Euro-spec-bumpered E24 to replace my example. During the early part of December, the car shown at top appeared on an online classifieds site.

It was non-white, obviously, and a gray-market Euro-spec E24 with the lovely, thin bumpers. The engine in the car was interesting as well: A 2.8l version of my car’s 3.4l engine. You’d think it would be a step down in power, but actually, the lack of emissions controls and higher compression of the Euro-spec engine meant power levels were actually very similar. And that particular engine displacement was never offered by the factory in the US, either. It was an ’82 628CSi 5-speed in Henna Red, to this day one of my favorite colors for an E24.

There were a few issues: A bit of rust here and there, the interior was trashed and the engine ran rough. That said, the seller was motivated by his need for a fully operational car (mine was) and just wanted to get rid of it. He was amenable to a straight-up trade, and even willing to deliver the car and let me swap my car’s decent interior over. How could I refuse?

I didn’t refuse; indeed, I tried for a good month to make the deal work out. The seller, however, was in and out of the hospital with health issues and generally unresponsive, whether through e-mail or by phone. It took me three weeks just to get him to send me the picture at top, the only one I have of the car. The seller’s “camera was broken,” apparently, and resisted all attempts at being fixed for quite some time.

Pre-'82 BMW 628CSi Henna Red Hennarot

I was disappointed it didn’t work out. I held on for a time, and had visions of restoring it to the glorious state shown above. But after two months of back-and-forth, asking the same questions over and over again and getting nowhere, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen, and I had to cut my time losses and back out. The seller did contact me a couple of months later, asking if I was still interested, but by that time my head had cleared and I realized it probably wasn’t the best move for our family at that time anyway.

I still have a desire for a Euro-spec E24. It’s just a shame it wasn’t the Henna Shark.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part IV

July 30, 2011 by Matt

1991 Volvo 780 Rear

This one was a part of my emergence from a self-imposed three-year “car interest hibernation.” Our family had been going through a transitional period, and as part of my effort to put the family first, emotionally and financially, I had resigned myself to letting my wife drive my ’93 Volvo 940 Turbo, while I commuted to work in her old ’97 Saturn station wagon. Between the Saturn’s blob-like styling, asthmatic engine and pregnant-looking center console, it was a humbling, but necessary experience.

Emerging from that period as a family, our horizons widened in many ways. We sold the Saturn and purchased a minivan for our growing kids. I returned the Volvo to DD duty, and it did wonders for my automotive self-image, being the big, black, Swedish executive sedan that it was. It was rock-solid on the highway, and although the Redblock 4-cylinder lacked the ability to overwhelm with acceleration, it could at least get out of its own way. The handling was floaty but secure; the live rear axle was unsettled at times by mid-corner bumps, but the rack-and-pinion steering was slop-free and direct. Best of all was the car’s tank-like feeling, familiar to anyone who’s owned a 200- or 7/900-series Volvo. Put all those factors together, and the car definitely endeared me to Volvos of that era.

Fast forward to a few months after our minivan purchase, and catalyzed by the acquisition, my car interests were awakening from their 3-year slumber. Our family budget crystallized, and previously-unassigned resources appeared. In other words, with a bit of financial discipline, we found money we didn’t know we had, and that discovery set the gears turning in my head, ramping up for a possible car trade or purchase.

I went through my mental checklist: It still had to be inexpensive, obviously; the budget was still tight, but I was determined to see what interesting cars I could find. As part of my “return to the automotive world,” I had recently begun to be active on the Volvo forums, an environment I had previously shunned for fear that all the talk there of modifications and repairs would make it more difficult for me to resist doing something impulsive. It’s easier to overcome an itchy trigger finger when it comes to car purchases if the cars I would consider weren’t dangled in front of me on a daily basis.

1991 Volvo 780 front

All that said, I was on the Volvo forums, and I did like my 940. Add those two givens to the fact that I’ve always had a weakness for interesting, non-conformist cars, and the ’87-’91 Volvo 780 coupe naturally rose to the top. If there was one styling element I really hated about my 940, it was the sloped grille, a feature the 780 lacked, and besides, I loved the proportions of the coupe, feeling that Bertone, the styling house responsible, got them exactly right.

It was rear-wheel-drive, had the very familiar Volvo Redblock engine, and on a sentimental note, the interior reminded me of our honeymoon, since the 940 had been our vehicle during that adventure. And I loved the “academic” feel of the 780; it seemed like the sort of car a slightly dorky family-man designer like myself would drive. A manual transmission option was sadly never available, but a bolt-in swap from a 740 was possible. Also, everything save the interior and bodywork was shared with the much more common 7/900 series cars, a boon for mechanical repairs.

1991 Volvo 780 Interior

I was sold on the car; the only challenge remained to find a decent example for a good price in the area, something not easy given its rarity. After watching the Volvo forum “For Sale” boards like a hawk for a few weeks, the 780 shown in this post appeared in upstate New York. From the pictures and description disclosed by the seller, it seemed to be in excellent condition, but the best part was the price: Less than $2,000. Unfortunately, not having even that amount saved up, I tripped all over myself trying to find a buyer for the 940 so I could commit to the 780 and make the ol’ one-way plane flight to pick it up. But… I couldn’t move the 940. At its asking price, the 780’s seller didn’t have long to wait, and he found a buyer in a grocery store parking lot a week or two after he put it up for sale. I was disappointed, but moved on to BMWs. So I suppose there is a bit of a silver lining.

1991 Volvo 780 side

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part III

July 18, 2011 by Matt

1969 Plymouth Sport Fury Ad

I don’t really regret walking away from this one. But the idea of it sticks in my mind, mainly the contrast between the car I owned at the time, and the car offered in trade.

The would-be trader had to have known it was a long shot. I honestly don’t remember how he found me. I was barely into my second year of ownership of my ’88 Toyota Supra Turbo, and no performance bits had yet been installed. I was active on a few boards, and during one of my periodic fits of dissatisfaction with my current ride, I must’ve posted a “for sale or trade” ad, which the would-be trader then saw.

Thing is, what could possess the owner of a rusty, 50K mile, non-running 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury to peruse the Supra boards in search of a thoroughly modern ’80s Japanese GT car to trade for? The cars are so…dissimilar.

If nothing else, it piqued my interest. I immediately set about figuring out just what the heck a 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury was, and discovered, pleasingly, that it was a somewhat handsome (for the era) cruiser. Being more a fan of the performance side of the automotive spectrum, I had trouble visualizing myself behind the wheel of the old coupe, but with some doing, I managed to shoehorn some variant of my self-image into the scenario. If I traded, I would outfit the car with a killer sound system and some mild appearance and power mods and cruise around, one hand cocked atop the wheel, arm hanging out the window. I guess there was some merit to that avenue of car modification, I told myself. I could get into it.

I contacted the would-be trader and informed him that it was a long shot, and that his car would have to be in really good shape for me to contemplate a trade, but that I would come take a look. It took me a while to find his house, buried in a forest of rural Orange County. Pulling up next to the Sport Fury, it was as he had described it: Non-running, but with a decent (if rusty in places) exterior and very good interior. Not too bad.

Then he popped the hood. Rust everywhere, a minuscule two-barrel carb perched atop a hefty cast iron manifold, and that ubiquitous ’60s Detroit brake master cylinder reservoir with the wire latch for the lid. Ugh. No thanks.

So I passed. The would-be trader was a little disappointed, but again, I don’t think he ever really expected me to go for it. If nothing else, it was educational. I’ll leave it at that.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part II

July 9, 2011 by Matt


I did my darndest to come back over to the Light Side. No one can accuse me of not giving it my best shot.

To a typical German car enthusiast, for reasons hidden in the annals of the history of automotive fandom, BMW represent “the Dark Side.” Conversely, their counterparts in Ingolstadt—Audi—represent the “the Light Side.” No idea how the appellations came about, or for that matter, where the third pillar of the German triumvirate, Mercedes, falls along that spectrum (Gray side? Shadow side?).

With that in mind, and to continue the metaphor, I’d been an avid disciple of the Light Side for years. Audi has always been a champion of lovely, understated, beautifully-executed car design, so as a designer, they’d always had a place in my heart that way. Also, they represented the “alternative” to the Big Two of Mercedes and BMW, and I kind of liked rooting for the underdog. I owned an ’86 Audi 4000 quattro for several years, and while the car did have its shortcomings, overall, it was very good to me, and something handsome, unique and fun to drive.

It was with some apprehension, then, that in the summer of ’09, I descended into the Dark Side with my first BMW purchase, the ’86 635CSi. It was kind of a rushed purchase decision, something which did nothing to quell the feeling that I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. Any car buff knows BMW makes excellent cars, but the “BMW sea” is a big one, and can be intimidating to wade into.

The car was superb in all respects. I owned it for 8 months and enjoyed every minute of my time with it. It was fun to drive, hustled beautifully for such a big machine, the big M30 six made a wonderful sound as it spooled toward redline, and the car had more character in one fender crease than a post-’00 car has in the entirety of its sheetmetal.

But there were some issues. The back seats were cumbersome to get into, a problem as our kids were getting older and bigger. I always felt guilty relegating such an obvious classic to daily driver duty, knowing that I’d probably never be able to give it the care and feeding it deserved (and we didn’t have the funds or space at that point to buy a third car to relieve the BMW of its daily responsibilities). The biggest problem for me, though, was the potential for rust. BMW’s rustproofing was notoriously terrible until the mid/late ’80s, and I was on pins and needles every time I had to drive the car in the snow, slush, or even rain, worried that I was ruining a pristine rust-free example of the type.

I hemmed and hawed for several months before finally coming to a decision to let the car go, in favor of something with four doors, better suited to daily duty, and with better rustproofing. Of course, I still had some requirements: The car needed to have a stickshift, if at all possible, be rear- or all-wheel-drive, and be somewhat interesting.

It was a great opportunity for me to acquire an Audi, and return to the Light Side, even if I didn’t know what particular model of Audi I wanted. I posted “want to trade” ads on a few boards, and to my surprise, not one but two guys, with nearly identical cars, contacted me, interested in trading. They were both Pearl White Audi 200 turbo quattro sedans:


Tidy, fleet-looking, well-proportioned looks, a great interior, stickshift, AWD and Audi’s 5-cyl with a turbo attached. All the goodies were there. My wife hates white cars, but I had sort of talked her into the idea, given the cars’ advantages for our family.


So why didn’t the trades work out? One would-be trader backed out, and the other’s car just didn’t measure up to my BMW in terms of value; it needed some suspension work, the headliner was sagging, and the engine bay and undercarriage weren’t well-kept. So I never could bring myself to commit to a trade.

Fortunately, in the midst of my negotiations, my current car popped up for sale, and I decided to purchase it instead. It fits all my requirements except, I’m sad to say, being somewhat interesting. For me, in spite of the fact that my BMW E34 probably beats the pants off the Audi dynamically, is stickshift, RWD and all the rest, it just doesn’t have that pull, that cachet… It’s the obvious choice, the mainstream choice, the boring arena rocker when you’d rather listen to the interesting indie band. I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining about my current ride; I’m not—it’s a brilliant car. But one day, I would like to get my hands on a big Audi sedan, and return to the Light Side.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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The Ones That Got Away, Part I

July 2, 2011 by Matt

Opel Manta Front

My automotive history is littered with almost-acquisitions, some potential purchases, some attempted trades. I’ll be the first to admit that my affections for one particular car, or model of car, or even a make in general, are very fickle. Also, I have a sizable appetite for the Next Big Thing™, especially for unique or rare cars that “just need a little TLC” (though they often need much more than that). Knowing myself, and trying to keep the big picture in mind as much as possible, my impulsive car buying streak is something I’ve had to work to suppress. I’ve tamed it (or it’s been tamed for me) significantly, but I can’t say it’s an urge I’ve entirely overcome.

Also, I’m a fan of the what-ifs. I like to imagine the possible, whether it be looking forward with my penchant for sci-fi, or looking back with an interest in alternate history. Revisiting the cars I’ve almost owned fits with that fascination; I visualize how I would have been perceived by others, or the resources that would have been directed to different places had a different decision been made, and the car acquired.

The one that I come back to most often is the little ’75 Opel Manta pictured above. Near the end of ’04, I had just sold my ’88 Supra Turbo, and was driving my little silver ’86 Audi 4000. The Z had suffered the engine fire and was parked (and is still parked). I was on the cusp of applying to Piedmont Baptist College’s pilot program; I hadn’t done it yet, but the intention was certainly there, so there was some direction in my life, a larger goal, which usually stands in opposition to the kind of idle noodling around that leads to random car purchases/trades. However, I had been direction-less for a couple of years at that point, so my “automotive eyes” were very used to wandering.

The owner lived in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, and wanted to trade not just the Opel, but also his ’95 Ford Escort wagon for my Audi—a two-for-one deal. No cash involved. I’ve no idea how I would have gotten them both back down here to NC. The logistics would have been crazy, or expensive. Probably both.

Opel Manta Rear 3/4

It was tough to turn down the proposition. I love look of the car, and its rarity. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I can see myself cruising around in such a car. Mechanically it’s dirt simple and reliable, so it would be easy to maintain. But it’s the coolness that really latches onto me and won’t let go. The Audi is cool to me because I appreciate all the design details and mechanical elements that are just done right on the car, but to most anybody else it just looks like another sedan. The Opel has visual character in spades, style, and to my eye a certain amount of class as well (though class is a more nebulous quality than the other two). It turns heads, it provokes comments. It’s classic, really, especially since people notice it and don’t really know what kind of car it is.

In the end, though, my rational side won out, and I kept the Audi, probably saving myself a lot of headaches. There were downsides to the Opel that went beyond just the hassle of getting it here—the driver’s side floorpan was rusted out, and it was an automatic. Swapping in a manual transmission would have been fairly simple, but repairing the rust would have really taxed my resources and abilities at that time.

I still think about the Opel, though. If nothing else, because of that experience, I’ll always have a soft spot for the rare little coupes.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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