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BMW October 4, 1996

Bavarian bargain . . . but beware

Lithe, sporty and desirable, the final 6 Series model ran for a short few years. Avoid the traps, advises John Wright, and you can invest in a long-term performer.

The world gaped when BMW unveiled its 6 Series coupe at Geneva in 1976. Here was the answer to the Mercedes SL - big yet lithe, classy and quintessentially BMW, bolstering the maker's reputation as one of the most desirable sporting marques.

The big six remained on the market until the spring of 1989. It began life as the 633Csi (6 Series, 3.3 litres and CSi for Coupe, Sports, injection) was sold in Australia from 1977 to 1980. But its successor, the 635CSi, was not imported until 1986, so the difference in price between the old model and the newer is large.

BMW Unless you are a dedicated enthusiast or have plenty of money to spend on maintenance and reconditioning, the 633Csi is too old to consider; pick up an early, privately imported 635CSi and instead of an incipient classic, you may get a big hole into which you tip your cash.

A majority of the private imports came from the UK, and some from South Africa. It is easy to tart one up but beneath an immaculate new coat of two-pack paint may well reside a rotten body because the salt used on British roads is a catalyst for rust. That glorious looking vermillion 635Csi for $24,999 may in fact be a rustbucket.

But let's say you do find a rust-free, privately imported example. Because this car wasn't originally sold in Australia it will lack the silver compliance plate featured on all cars here since the late '70s.

The metal placard in itself hardly affects performance. But if you wish to borrow money from a finance company for the purchase, no plate means no loan. Worse still, most insurance companies won't provide comprehensive cover. In simple dollar terms, the absence of a plate could be worth as much as $10,000 at resale time.

So cars sold in Australia from 1986 begin to look like excellent value by comparison. For starters, rust is not a problem.

The 3.5-litre BMW straight six-cylinder engine is delightful, whether teamed with the four-speed automatic or either of the five-speed manual gearboxes. It lacks a little pep compared with the similar engine fitted to the privately imported models, thanks to Australia's stricter anti-pollution legislation. Its performance is still most satisfying and of similar order to an early model Brock Commodore.

Leather trim and comprehensive luxury features characterised the later models. Anti-lock brakes, on-board computer, cruise control and electric seats were impressive inclusions in 1986. Options were limited to an electric sunroof (an extra $3,330) and buffalo hide instead of standard leather for a mere $3,640.

Now comes the interesting bit, the manual gearbox options. The racing- style Getrag transmission has a different shift pattern (tucking first gear out of the way, placing second/third in the one vertical plane and fourth/fifth similarly) and ratios tailored to deliver the strongest acceleration. The other gearbox is a typical five-speed unit. Keen drivers will choose the former; eventually cars thus equipped should prove more collectible.

Long-term, the 635CSi should have potential in this respect but at this stage in its history it remains just a very competent and stylish luxury sports coupe that represents outstanding value for money.

Just consider the price of a new 8 Series, a model which to many observers looks oversized and lumbering alongside the classic good looks of the 635CSi.

Consider also the cheapest new 3 Series, and the mature 6 Series is outstanding value for enthusiast drivers at a similar price.

VERDICT: A swift, civilised and elegant coupe. An outstanding alternative to a newer but smaller BMW or an older Porsche.

FOR: Fast, luxurious, good looking, practical, durable, rare - and may appreciate in the long term.

AGAINST: Repairs can be expensive, buffalo hide was beautiful when new but deteriorates in Australian conditions.

More likely in a pre-1986 imported 635CSi. Avoid such cars.
Long doors
can sag.
Power steering
Check for excessive free play or fluid leaks.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1996. This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

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