Audi S8

Drop a mad engine into a big car and you get a su­per­sa­loon that can move four peo­ple very, very quickly. We drive five of the best back to back.

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words ANDREW NOAKES Pho­tog­ra­phy JONATHAN JA­COB

What hap­pens if we take the engine out of our rac­ing car and drop it in our ex­ec­u­tive saloon? What if we haul the mo­tor out of a limo and shoe­horn it into a smaller shell? Or take our fastest, big­gest-en­gined saloon, make the mo­tor even big­ger, and add a cou­ple of tur­bos for good mea­sure? Th­ese are the kind of ques­tions engi­neers ask them­selves in draw­ing board breaks, and usu­ally a few quick cal­cu­la­tions or per­haps even a lashed-up pro­to­type demon­strate the folly of the idea. But just oc­ca­sion­ally that idle thought be­comes a se­ri­ous project, and then a fully-fledged pro­duc­tion car, and it’s that rare and remarkable process that pro­duced th­ese five epic sa­loons gath­ered in a men­ac­ing gang be­fore me. Be­tween them they rep­re­sent every decade of en­gi­neer­ing mad­ness from the Six­ties to the 2000s. The ear­li­est is the Jaguar 3.8 Mk2, which wrote the rule book of the per­for­mance saloon when it started to burn up race tracks and Bri­tain’s new mo­tor­way sys­tem in 1960. Never be­fore had so much per­for­mance been avail­able in a four-door, four-seat pack­age, and at such a re­mark­ably low price. It was soon dom­i­nat­ing saloon car rac­ing, and be­came the bank rob­bers’ favourite get­away car.

Pull the cur­va­ceous chrome han­dle to open the driver’s door and you’re greeted by a trad wood and leather in­te­rior that fixes the Jag firmly in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury. A cabin upgrade dis­tanced the Mk2 from the orig­i­nal com­pact Jaguar sa­loons of 1955, so the in­stru­ments that sat in the cen­tre of the dash­board on the ear­lier car have moved to a bin­na­cle in front of the driver, be­hind an Amer­i­can-style two-spoke plas­tic steer­ing wheel with a chromed horn ring fill­ing the lower half. The in­te­rior is much brighter than a Mk1’s thanks to slim­mer pil­lars (the Mk2 has 18 per cent more glass area) and the view out over the curves of the bon­net is as evoca­tive as they come.

The elec­tric fuel pump ticks away for a few sec­onds af­ter I turn the ig­ni­tion key, then I can punch the starter but­ton on the dash and the 3.8-litre XK engine of this su­perbly restored ex­am­ple bursts im­me­di­ately into life. At the time this was Jaguar’s largest engine. De­vel­oped for the D-type and then pro­duc­tionised for the XK150 and Mark IX in 1958, it was a big bore ver­sion of the 3.4-litre unit. A deep bass boom fills the cabin when you tickle the throt­tle, and even if Jaguar’s con­tem­po­rary claim of 220bhp was a mite op­ti­mistic it has se­ri­ous urge thanks to the wide spread of torque.

Road tests recorded a 125mph max­i­mum and 0-60mph times in the mid-8s, in spite of the slow, pon­der­ous change of the four­speed Moss gear­box. Un­less you’re fa­mil­iar with the ’box it’s all too easy to get re­verse when you’re aim­ing for first, and the dainty lit­tle gear­lever with its tiny black knob op­er­ates in a gate which is claus­tro­pho­bi­cally nar­row side­ways, yet so ex­pan­sive fore and aft that en­gag­ing first or third gear has your fist al­most punch­ing the ra­dio speaker at the front of the cen­tre con­sole. The op­tional Lay­cock de Nor­manville over­drive, op­er­ated by a stalk on the right

‘Never be­fore had so much per­for­mance been avail­able in a four-door, four-seat pack­age’

of the steer­ing col­umn, is a boon. But this car lacks an­other op­tion – power steer­ing – so park­ing is a chore and even on the move the wheel needs a fair amount of ef­fort de­spite gear­ing which gives more than four turns from lock to lock. Swing­ing the wheel through a big arc has the body rolling like a galleon in a swell, but the Jaguar hangs on to its line as long as the road is smooth enough not to up­set the live-axle rear end. Stick to sweep­ing A-roads and the 3.8 Mk2 is a great en­ter­tainer.

They’re strong cars, but the mono­coque bod­ies are prone to rust with the sills, floor, wings and door bot­toms the most vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas. The 3.8 en­gines tend to burn oil but can achieve high mileages if well main­tained. Rat­tling tim­ing chains and leaks from the rear crank­shaft oil seal sug­gest an ex­pen­sive re­build is loom­ing. Spares and spe­cial­ist sup­port is ex­cel­lent, though Mk2s are not cheap cars to re­store and in­evitably the 3.8s are the most ex­pen­sive to buy. A con­cours car like this one, with match­ing num­bers and over­drive, could fetch £40,000 though half that will buy a worth­while car with room for im­prove­ment. Just over 30,000 3.8s were built, but prob­a­bly only a few hun­dred re­main.

Like Jaguar, Mercedes-benz had been suc­cess­ful at Le Mans in the Fifties with pro­duc­tion-based six-cylin­der en­gines, but when more power was needed for its vast new 600 limou­sine in 1963 Mercedes went a dif­fer­ent route, de­vel­op­ing its first V8. The 6.3-litre M100 was a huge and heavy iron­block unit, but that didn’t stop Merc engi­neers led by the mav­er­ick head of the test­ing depart­ment, Erich Wax­en­berger, from try­ing to squeeze it into engine bays never de­signed for it. A V8-en­gined ‘Pagoda roof’ SL proved un­sat­is­fac­tory, but en­gi­neer­ing boss Ru­dolf Uh­len­haut drove a pro­to­type M100-en­gined W109 S-class and backed it for pro­duc­tion as the Mercedes-benz 300SEL 6.3. Launched at the Geneva show in 1968, 6526 were made be­fore the W116 S-class took over in 1972.

Like all the W108/109 fam­ily the 6.3 is a hand­some, im­pos­ing beast. Next to the cur­va­ceous Jaguar, the rec­ti­lin­ear Mercedes, penned by Paul Bracq, is a mas­sive con­trast. Yet it’s not as se­vere a shape as you might imag­ine, re­lieved by sub­tle curves and con­cave sur­fac­ing. There’s lit­tle to demon­strate that this is the 6.3 rather than one of the lower-ech­e­lon S-classes which, for many buy­ers, was part of the car’s ap­peal. At the front there are aux­il­iary driv­ing lights that didn’t fea­ture on lesser mod­els, above the heavy­weight chrome bumpers and be­tween the big chrome grille with its clas­sic three-pointed star gun­sight and the licht­en­heit head­lamp/turn in­di­ca­tor units. At the back there’s a 6.3 badge on the bootlid, and sharp eyes will spot wider ra­dial tyres on the op­tional light-al­loy wheels that are half an inch wider. That wasn’t a lot to show for your out­lay, which came to £8483 when this car was built in 1972 – nearly £2000 more than a 300SEL 3.5. It was still £1400 cheaper than a Rolls-royce Sil­ver Shadow, how­ever.

Slim pil­lars and a low waist­line give the W109 a bright, airy in­te­rior. In­side this car there’s thick Ger­man leather swathing the wide seats, a pol­ished tim­ber dash and a flam­boy­ant white steer­ing wheel – the pref­er­ence of the first owner, Six­ties singer­song­writer Dono­van. He wasn’t much of a driver, so usu­ally em­ployed his brother-in-law Ste­wart as a chauf­feur and sat in the back, of­ten along­side mu­si­cian friends like Bea­tle Ge­orge Har­ri­son and Bobby Whit­lock from Derek and the Domi­nos, while the Merc hus­tled them into town at 110mph. How they whiled away the time in the back seat is not recorded, though owner Steve Bar­ratt says the orig­i­nal head­lin­ing was heav­ily stained from cig­a­rette smoke. They prob­a­bly weren’t just or­di­nary cig­a­rettes…

The fuel-in­jected V8 is vir­tu­ally silent at idle and never in­tru­sive on the road, but it de­liv­ers ef­fort­less per­for­mance. Though the Mercedes is con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than the Jaguar it’s no­tice­ably swifter, hit­ting 60mph from rest in about 6.5 sec­onds. Wrig­gle the se­lec­tor for the four-speed au­to­matic through its ser­pen­tine gate into the drive po­si­tion – ac­tu­ally la­belled ‘4’ – and the ’box se­lects sec­ond at a stand­still to pro­tect the drive­shafts against the abun­dant torque of the V8 (first gear is re­served for steep hills). Swift kick­down and sharp throt­tle re­sponse from the big mo­tor make over­tak­ing easy, and there’s plenty of ac­cel­er­a­tive urge even at high speeds thanks to sur­pris­ingly short over­all gear­ing.

‘The fuel-in­jected V8 is vir­tu­ally silent at idle and never in­tru­sive on the road, but it de­liv­ers ef­fort­less per­for­mance’

Power as­sis­tance for the big white wheel makes the Mercedes easy to han­dle at any speed, but it’s not a car that’s at its hap­pi­est on a wind­ing lane. In­stead its pre­ferred habi­tat is fast, straight roads where its sta­bil­ity and the com­posed ride of the air sus­pen­sion add up to im­pres­sive cruis­ing abil­ity. Even now this is a car that could eat up au­to­bahn kilo­me­tres with ease.

All W108/109s are tough but ex­pen­sive to re­store and main­tain, even more so in the case of the 6.3. Rust at­tacks the sills, front cross­mem­ber, A-pil­lars, spare wheel well and the chas­sis rails where they curve over the rear axle. Re­pairs to heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing are ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing, as is work on the air sus­pen­sion. Any­thing in­volv­ing the engine is dif­fi­cult be­cause there is so lit­tle space around it in which to work. Few of the 650 or so right-hand drive 6.3s re­main, and the bet­ter ones go for £45,000-£85,000. Left-hand drive project cars can be sourced in Europe or the US for £15,000 – but con­sider the cost and com­plex­ity of restora­tion be­fore you get too com­mit­ted.

The BMW M5 looked al­most as anony­mous on its de­but in 1984 as the Mercedes had 16 years ear­lier. The Claus Luthe shape had been around since 1981 when it re­placed the first-gen­er­a­tion E12 5 Se­ries. While the M5 added wider wheels and tyres, a slightly dif­fer­ent front valance, lower and stiffer sus­pen­sion and dis­creet badges, it didn’t look much dif­fer­ent from a 518 – un­less you spec­i­fied the op­tional Mo­tor­sport bodykit, but many buy­ers pre­ferred their M5s to be un­der­stated. Sit in­side one to­day and you can spot a few more clues to its char­ac­ter, among the generic Eight­ies BMW fea­tures like the cen­tre con­sole an­gled to­wards the driver, and the pre­pon­der­ance of hound­stooth-pat­terned cloth. The driv­ing po­si­tion is up­right but there are heav­ily bol­stered sports seats and a lovely leather­wrapped three-spoke steer­ing wheel to hint at the M5’s pur­pose, while the 170mph speedo and the rev-counter red paint start­ing at 6500rpm un­der­line its po­ten­tial.

Un­der the bon­net is the ul­ti­mate road­go­ing ver­sion of BMW’S ‘Big Six’ engine, in­tro­duced in 1968 for the E3 2500 and 2800 sa­loons. It was bored out to 3.0 litres for the E9 CS and CSL coupés in 1971, stroked for the 3.2-litre CSL in 1973, and formed the ba­sis of the M49 race engine for the Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship CSLS, de­vel­op­ing over 460bhp in four-valve, 3.5-litre form. A road­go­ing ver­sion of the M49 was de­vel­oped for the 1978 BMW M1, swap­ping from gear drive to a sin­gle-row chain for the dou­ble over­head camshafts and fit­ting Kugelfis­cher me­chan­i­cal fuel in­jec­tion. A wet-sump form of this engine, known as M88, went into the M635CSI five years later and the M5 the year af­ter that. BMW had re­placed the trou­ble­some me­chan­i­cal in­jec­tion with the lat­est com­puter-con­trolled elec­tronic in­jec­tion sys­tem from Bosch, and the com­pres­sion ra­tio had been in­creased to 10.5:1. With th­ese changes the engine pro­duced 286bhp (later cat­a­lyst cars had slightly less) and de­liv­ered more torque lower down the rev range than be­fore to make it eas­ier to live with and bet­ter suited to pow­er­ing big­ger, heav­ier cars.

Fire up the big six and the ur­gent bark through the ex­haust lets you know that this is an engine that means busi­ness. The mush­room-shaped, M-badged gear­knob slots left and away from you into first – none of the M5s had the dog­leg gear­box fit­ted to some M535is – and while the clutch is long in travel and not very dis­tinct in its bite, it’s not as heavy as you might fear. The engine is as docile as you could wish for at low revs, de­spite its rac­ing

‘The M5 flies, with no sign of the force tail­ing off as the rev-counter nee­dle sweeps past 6000rpm’

parent­age, but keep the throt­tle pinned in the in­di­rect gears and you’re left in no doubt about the power the multi-valve six pro­duces. The M5 flies, with no sign of the force tail­ing off as the rev-counter nee­dle sweeps past 6000rpm with a glo­ri­ous howl emerg­ing from the tailpipes.

With stiffer springs and dampers than a reg­u­lar 5 Se­ries the M5 has a well-con­trolled ride, but it’s by no means un­com­fort­able even on a bumpy road. With up­rated anti-roll bars com­pared to lesser Fives it cor­ners with­out excessive roll, but at speed it needs a firm hand to keep it on line and de­spite power as­sis­tance the steer­ing needs enough ef­fort to mark this out as a car for driv­ers rather than chauf­feurs. All the con­trols need meaty in­puts, in fact, from the chunky gearchange to the weighty col­umn stalks. But it’s worth it. The M5 is hugely re­ward­ing, whether you’re reel­ing in the hori­zon on a straight road or wind­ing down a coun­try lane. In the dry, at least – when it rains the cam­ber changes im­parted by the semi-trail­ing arm rear sus­pen­sion mean you need to han­dle the M88’s 251lb ft with care.

M5s are well-built cars, but sus­cep­ti­ble to rust in sills, wings, jack­ing points and sus­pen­sion mount­ings. The hand-made M88 en­gines are durable, though the sin­gle-row cam chain can cause trou­ble at high mileages and is ex­pen­sive to re­place. Prices are on the rise now buy­ers have wo­ken up to the sheer rar­ity of the E28-se­ries M5 – just 2191 were built and a mere 187 of those were right-hand drive. When new it cost over £30,000, which was bor­der­ing on Fer­rari money. To­day a de­cent one will fetch the best part of £50,000 and low-mileage cars are head­ing for six fig­ures.

The Mk2 3.8 cre­ated the blue­print for the su­per­sa­loon with its cool curves, 125mph po­ten­tial and amaz­ingly low price

The 3.8 was Jaguar’s largest ca­pac­ity engine at the time

Gen­er­ous help­ings of wood, leather and guages...

...curves and chrome made this the ar­che­typal clas­sic car

A waft through the English coun­try­side is just a starter for the big Merc. It would be quite con­tent to carry on with a full ban­quet of in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal cruis­ing

The 250bhp V8 was in­tended for the vast 600 limou­sine

White wheel was cho­sen by orig­i­nal owner, Dono­van

Power steer­ing means easy low-speed wheel-twid­dling

Rare, hugely re­ward­ing to drive and lit­tle more than 2000 built. No won­der E28 M5 val­ues are ris­ing rapidly

M88 six was de­vel­oped from the M49 Tour­ing Car race engine

Sig­nals of the BMW’S po­ten­tial are subtly stated

Dash fo­cus and weighty con­trols mean driver’s car

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