The Top Ten Unexceptional Bahnstormers

by Sam Skelton
16 April 2015 4 min read
The Top Ten Unexceptional Bahnstormers
The Mercedes-Benz W126 (Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz)

The “Bahnstormer” is a concept only Germany could have created. With their long, wide, derestricted autobahn network, the Germans needed big, lusty saloons and coupes with which to traverse them at speed. Bahnstormers are cool classics – though there are some which have been unfairly overlooked and which we should celebrate for what they are. In the spirit of Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional, this is our pick of the top ten unexceptional Bahnstormers to recognise and appreciate while there are still some left.

BMW 732 E23
You can’t look at German Bahnstormers without looking at BMW. The E28 5-series with its uber-desirable M5 option, the E24 635CSi, and the six cylinder 3-seriese all punched well above their weight. But the daddy – the E23 7-series – is often overlooked. We remember its E32 successor, the big behemoth with an optional 5.0 V12, but the first of the 7 series line was a big hitter in its own way. Climate control, an electronic service indicator and ABS were a big deal in 1977, and that Paul Bracq shape has aged very well. Six pot petrol lumps mean they’ll keep pace in the outside lane of the autobahn too.

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Porsche 924
It’s still stigmatised. It’s still a bit of a cop-out. The cheap one that nobody wants, while the Porsche 924 is by no means a laughing stock in the same way the entire BL back catalogue is, there’s still something about one that isn’t entirely pukka. And we’re not sure why. Is it the Audi engine? Is it the tame, clean styling? Or is it a misguided notion that a proper Porsche needs the engine behind the driver? In tuned Carrera and Turbo guises the 924 makes a fearsome outside lane weapon, while the standard version is brisk but cheap and thrifty too.

Opel Commodore
Who remembers the Vauxhall Viceroy? A slightly stretched, six cylinder derivative of the MK1 Carlton (again, who remembers those now?) With just fifteen Viceroys left you could be forgiven for having forgotten this halfway house between the Carlton and the Royale ever existed – and here in Britain, the Opel Commodore upon which it was based would be totally unheard of. Yet between 1977 and 1982 it was available in the UK alongside its Viceroy sister. Powered by a 2.5 litre version of the Royale/Opel Senator straight six, it makes a great Bahnstormer and a talking point at any classic show.

VW Scirocco Storm (MK1)
Want a sharp-suited Unexceptional ‘stormer? You’ll want the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s lesser-remembered cousin then, the Scirocco GLi. That 115bhp 1.6 litre engine in a pretty body, with the Golf’s superb handling, made the GLi a very desirable bit of kit, but because it lacked the image few now remain. The only way to better it was the Storm; a GLi with a deep Zender chin spoiler, a passenger door mirror, leather seats, and just two special colours. Storms weren’t cheap in 1979 at £6687, which explains how just 618 found buyers. But they’re now more affordable, and still seriously cool.

VW Passat Syncro
Wait – Passats are dull aren’t they? This one is different. This is the car you’d want for Bahnstorming through winter. Because this is the only car on the list with all-wheel drive. The Passat Syncro was based on the standard Passat estate, although thoroughly re-engineered with a completely new floorpan to accommodate a four wheel drive system. While you could get a carburetted 1.8, most were powered by 2.0 and 2.2 litre five cylinder engines borrowed from the Audi 100. Don’t think of it as a Passat, think of it as an Audi 80 Quattro without the image. Could this be the ultimate Unexceptional German classic?

Audi 100 C3
If you want to get to the beach before the Germans, you need a serious Bahnstormer. That was the message of Audi’s ad campaign in the UK for the C3 generation Audi 100. Its aerodynamic body – better than the Ford Sierra at just 0.30Cd – meant that it was better able to use its power. More economical, too – and the innovative Procon Ten safety system made sure that if you had a crash you stood a better chance of living. Speed freaks will want the 5 cylinder 200 Turbo – smaller 1.9 and 2.0 variants will be adequate for daily use.

Mercedes- Benz W126
This is the forgotten S Class – despite being the longest-running and arguably the best. Everyone remembers the W116 as the car from Octopussy, and the later W140 gained notoriety in 1997 as the car in which Princess Diana tragically lost her life. The interim car was actually rather good – cossetting, spacious, nicely equipped and – if you got a V8 – quick, too. While it’s fairly anodyne, that just means it’s more soothing at the end of a long day. For ultimate Unexceptional kudos, seek out a bargain basement 300SE six cylinder, but if you want to be top dog there’s no finer Unexceptional barge than a 560SEL.

Bitter SC
It’s easy to see why the Bitter SC is widely considered an unexceptional classic. When taken at surface value, it’s a poor knock-off copy of a Ferrari 400GT, sat on the underpinnings of the Opel Senator and retaining elements of the base car’s interior trim. But there’s more to it than that. The cabin is truly elegant with only the finest materials used, and with the stroked 3.9 litre six it was quick. Criminally undervalued when compared to similar parts-bin GTs like the Jensen Interceptor and the Gordon Keeble, the time of the Bitter SC will soon be upon us.

Ford Granada MK3
The MK1 and Mk2 Ford Granada had real kudos thanks to starring roles in television series. Jack Regan was chauffeured about in a Consul GT and Granada S models, while severe CI5 boss George Cowley enjoyed the comfort of five different MK2s in The Professionals. The MK3 had big boots to fill – and while it was based on the capable Sierra, it never captured the public imagination. Posh Scorpio versions and Cosworth 24v engines later in life didn’t help – it sold well but was easily forgotten. A large hatchback boot and a big V6 make this the most practical of our Bahnstormers – and it’s the cheapest, too.

NSU Ro80
The NSU Ro80 was always destined to enter the history books. As forward-thinking and innovative as a Citroen DS, NSU had pulled off a master-stroke of design. That big glasshouse, the smooth, clean lines, the tasteful interior – all features of the archetypal German executive saloon well into the 21st century. A clutchless gearbox and rotary engine meant it innovated under the skin, too. But rotor tip wear robbed the Ro80 of its place in the automotive hall of fame, cost thousands in warranty claims, and cost NSU its future. Now the problems are solved, it makes a cracking classic Bahnstormer.

Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional: A Concours de l’Ordinaire, celebrates the normal, the mundane and the everyday car. It takes place on Saturday 25th July 2015 at Whittlebury Park, NN12 8WP. More details, including how to enter, can be found here:

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