Big Test Supersaloons Jaguar 3.8 Mk2 vs. Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109, BMW M5 E28, Vauxhall Lotus Carlton and Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D

2018 Jonathan Jacob More and Drive-My EN/UK

Family space with supercar pace – five supersaloons from the Fifties to the Nineties on test. 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. Words Peandrew Noakes. Photography Jonathan Jacob More.


From left to right: BMW E28 M5, Audi S8 D2, Lotus Carlton, Jaguar Mk2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109

BIG FAST CLEVER  Our £5-50k picks for high-speed families PLUS Rauno Aaltonen on his favourites

‘Never before had so much performance been available in a four-door, four-seat package’ Power to the People… Four-door practicality with supercar thrust is an irresistable combination. So would a Jaguar 3.8 Mk2, Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3, BMW E28 M5, Lotus Carlton or Audi S8 satisfy both petrolhead and family?

BMW E28 M5, Audi S4, Lotus Carlton, Jaguar Mk2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109

BMW E28 M5, Audi S4, Lotus Carlton, Jaguar Mk2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109

The Big Test Supersaloons

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-ledged 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.

BMW E28 M5, Audi S4, Lotus Carlton, Jaguar Mk2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109

BMW E28 M5, Audi S4, Lotus Carlton, Jaguar Mk2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109


Jaguar 3.8 Mk2

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.

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

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 ills 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 four-speed 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 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.

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

Owning a Jaguar 3.8 Mk2

‘It’s all about the shape says Mk2 owner Trevor Aitken. ‘Since I was 15 or 16 a Mk2 was my dream car, and I wanted one in green. I bought it in Wales in 1989 in very sad condition. I had the engine rebored, along with having new sills and floors fitted, but then I ran out of money. It was stored for about 25 years, then Dovedale Garage totally rebuilt it.

‘It wasn’t in such a bad state, but Dovedale took out the engine and cleaned it up. The doors were rusted out at the bottoms, and a lot of time and skill has gone into getting the shutlines even. Much of the brightwork has been rechromed.

The carburettors have been rebuilt and it starts on the button. I mainly take it out on Sunday mornings and for shows. I don’t know much of its early history, but if people look particularly gullible I tell them the rumour is it was owned by Ronnie Biggs!’


Engine iron block/alloy head 3781cc in-line six-cylinder, dohc, 12-valve, two SU HD6 carburettors

Power and torque 220bhp @ 5500rpm; 240lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, optional overdrive, optional Borg-Warner three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential

Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, radius arms, leaf springs.

Steering Recirculating ball, optional power assistance

Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1448kg (3192lb)

Performance Top speed: 125mph; 0-60mph: 8.5sec

Classic Cars Price Guide £12,500-£40,000

{module Jaguar Mk2}

Jaguar 3.8 Mk2 driven
Jaguar 3.8 Mk2 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. 


Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109

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 iron-block 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 W109 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 gun-sight 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.

Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 driven
Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 road test. 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.

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 lamboyant white steering wheel – the preference of the first owner, Sixties singer-song-writer 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.

‘Running costs are very high and it can be very labour intensive to find parts. I tell people not to buy 6.3s unless they have very deep pockets.’

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.

Owning a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3

Says owner Steven Barratt, ‘The first owner, Donovan, specified a Blaupunkt radio, and had the sunroof fitted at great expense. I bought it in 2003 and had a lot of work done on the body, but the interior is still original, although I did re-dye the leather and carpets and refurbish the wood. The engine is crammed in, with very little space around it and it can overheat when idling in traffic. Because I hire it out for film work and weddings, reliability is vital, so I’ve fitted a thicker radiator and a big Kenlowe fan with a manual switch, and I use a waterless coolant. I’ve also fitted Pertronix electronic ignition. ‘Parts for the air suspension are expensive. There are some good specialists in the US and, as unusual as it sounds, I send things there for rebuilding because it’s cheaper than going to Germany and you get the same quality.

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


Engine 6332cc V8 M100, sohc per bank, Daimler-Benz mechanical fuel injection

Power and torque 250bhp @ 4000rpm; 371lb ft @ 2800rpm

Transmission Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, air springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: swing axle, air springs, anti-roll bar.

Steering Recirculating ball, power-assisted

Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1780kg (3924lb)

Performance Top speed: 137mph; 0-60mph: 6.5sec

CC Price Guide £16,000-£52,000

{module Mercedes Benz W108/109}

Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 driven
Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 road test White wheel was chosen by original owner, Donovan Power steering means easy low-speed wheel-twiddling The 250bhp V8 was intended for the vast 600 limousine.


BMW M5 E28

The E28 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 leather-wrapped 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 E26, swapping from gear drive to a single-row chain for the double overhead camshafts and fitting Kugelischer mechanical fuel injection. A wet-sump form of this engine, known as M88, went into the M635CSi E24 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.

BMW M5 E28 road test

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

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 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 lies, with no sign of the force tailing of 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.

Owning an E28 BMW M5

‘I bought it at the height of the fuel crisis in 1993 when nobody wanted them,’ says E28 M5 owner Stuart Blount. ‘It’s been very well used – it’s covered over 150,000 miles and we’ve done over 100,000 of them. I’ve driven 1000 in the last fortnight.

‘It was written off in 2015 after it was hit by a Land Rover square-on at 60mph, but I couldn’t bear to be parted from it so the rear end is new and it’s had a complete glass-out respray. It took two years to get all the parts together.

‘They need regular maintenance and you must stick to the service schedule – don’t let it run for years on the same oil, which you could if you’re only doing a limited mileage. I bin the tyres after five or six years, regardless of mileage. The radiator blew recently and I found a new one through BMW, and I had a stainless steel exhaust built for it in 1993 which is still on the car. Other than that, all it’s needed in 25 years were wear-and-tear items. On a run it returns 22mpg, which is not bad.’


Engine 3453cc in-line six-cylinder M88, dohc, 24-valve, Bosch Motronic fuel injection

Power and torque 282bhp @ 6500rpm; 251lb ft @ 4500rpm

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited slip differential

Suspension Front: MacPherson struts, antiroll bar. Rear: independent, semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted

Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1465kg (3230lb)

Performance Top speed: 155mph; 0-60mph: 6.1sec

CC Price Guide £13,500-£38,000

{module BMW E28 Club}

‘The BMW E28 M5 lies, with no sign of the force tailing of as the rev-counter needle sweeps past 6000rpm’

BMW M5 E28 road test

BMW M5 E28 road test M88 six was developed from the M49 Touring Car race engine Dash focus and weighty controls mean driver’s car Signals of the BMW’s potential are subtly stated.


Vauxhall Lotus Carlton

Successive generations of M5 kept BMW in the supersaloon market, but in 1990 they had a new and unexpected rival: the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. The Luton-based manufacturer, then a British offshoot of US giant General Motors, was far better known for humble family cars than for supercar-chasing machinery. But it had built fine sporting cars early in its history and there was a revival in the Seventies, first with Gerry Marshall’s track exploits and then with the impressive Chevette HS/HSR rally cars. The Eighties brought the aerodynamic Astra GTE with a fine Cosworth-developed 16-valve engine and a high-performance version of the big Carlton saloon, the GSi 3000.

Evidence of a collaboration between Vauxhall-Opel and Lotus to produce a super-Carlton surfaced in 1989, when a Lotus Carlton concept was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show. The rumour was that at one stage Lotus – at the time another GM subsidiary – had considered replacing the Carlton’s six-cylinder engine with the V8 it had developed for the Corvette ZR-1, and it investigated four-wheel drive and active aerodynamics. But the production Lotus Carlton which appeared in 1990 stuck with rear-wheel drive and a huge, fixed rear wing. Its 24-valve straight-six gained its extra power through a combination of a longer stroke, to take the capacity out to 3.6 litres, and the addition of twin turbochargers. The result was an extraordinary saloon car that hit 176mph at the Nardo track in Italy, when most competitors were artificially limited to a ‘responsible’ 155. It had the tabloid press in a tizz, and questions were asked in the House of Commons. TV comic Jasper Carrott wondered which family needed a car that could go that fast – the Fittipaldis? (Ironically, Carrott later bought one.) Joyriders and bank robbers loved them, but the police weren’t so keen, because they had nothing that could keep up.

Vauxhall Lotus Carlton driven

Vauxhall Lotus Carlton road test The Lotus Carlton was fast enough to cause tabloid outrage in its day and it’s still shockingly quick and amazingly agile.

This Lotus Carlton is Vauxhall’s own car, lovingly preserved in its Heritage fleet at Luton, and from the driver’s seat it’s hard to see why anyone got so excited about it. The ruched leather is attractive, if a bit fussy, and the simple four-spoke wheel looks businesslike, but the quality of the trim and switchgear lags behind contemporary Fords, never mind Nineties BMWs and Audis with their hewn-from-solid cabins. Start the engine and there’s none of the musicality of the Jaguar or BMW sixes, and at idle it doesn’t sound special at all. First impressions aren’t improved by a clutch that needs plenty of muscle, and the heavy, baulky and vague shift quality of the Corvette-sourced gearbox. The Lotus Carlton will almost reach 60mph in first gear, and such long gearing takes the edge of its initial acceleration. All the more remarkable, then, that it will dispatch the benchmark 0-60mph sprint in a little under five seconds. Even at low engine speeds there’s plenty of torque but the impetus just keeps building as the revs rise, while the engine note develops into a deep bellow and the Lotus Carlton punches forward with unremitting pace. With performance like that it needed serious brakes, and it got them – enormous ventilated discs, clamped by Group C-spec AP calipers, which haul the speed down impressively.

For such a big machine it’s also amazingly agile, and the suspension is supple enough that the Carlton is undisturbed by road imperfections, and able to put its power down cleanly. Transformative detail suspension work by Lotus’s Tony Shute delivered a chassis that makes the Carlton a supremely confidence-inspiring car to drive quickly. Yes, it has the performance to humble some Ferraris, but to think of it as a four-seat supercar is to sell it rather short. The Lotus Carlton is as impressive for its all-round ability as for its outright speed.

If you’re looking to buy, check for rust where the add-on panels meet the body. Wheelarches, the spare wheel well and the edges of the front and rear screens and sunroof are also problem areas. Mechanically there are issues with the clutch pivot pin, which can fail leaving the clutch pedal on the floor, and timing chains can rattle and ultimately break. Parts shared with other Vauxhalls are easily obtainable but anything Lotus Carlton-specific is either rare, expensive or both. A low-mile car can cost upwards of £50k.

Owning a Vauxhall Lotus Carlton

‘My car was up for auction online for £10k,’ says Lotus Carlton owner Paul Rees. ‘It had very rusty sills, rear arches and bottom rear quarter panels, and very tatty paintwork.

‘The Lotus Carlton has always been my dream car. It’s such an awesome, iconic machine and is an absolute dream to drive. The handling is outstanding in dry conditions but it’s a handful in the wet. ‘The bellhousing is prone to fracture if the weak clutchfork release pin snaps – Autobahnstormers supplies a strengthened one. Lotus Carltons also suffer from a hot spot between cylinders five and six that can be catastrophic to the head and gasket, but thankfully this can be overcome by fitting an auxiliary water pump that circulates cooler water after the engine is turned off.

‘I have experienced both bellhousing failure and the head gasket issue, but through the Autobahnstormers club I managed to source the parts. It’s a good idea to join the club if you’re thinking of buying a Lotus Carlton.’ ‘‘Four-seat supercar’ sells it rather short. The Lotus Carlton is as impressive for its all-round ability as for its outright speed’


Engine 3615cc in-line six-cylinder, dohc, 24-valve, GM fuel injection

Power and torque 377bhp @ 5200rpm; 419lb ft @ 4200rpm

Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential

Suspension Front: independent, MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar. Rear: semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar.

Steering Recirculating ball, power-assisted

Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1663kg (3666lb)

Performance Top speed: 176mph; 0-60mph: 4.8sec

CC Price Guide £17,500-£45,000

Vauxhall Lotus Carlton road test
Vauxhall Lotus Carlton road test Twin turbocharged 3.6 took the car to 176mph at Nardo Handling is well up to the standards the badge implies. Mundane interior belies the bonkers performance.


Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D

You don’t need anything like such deep pockets to buy a first-generation Audi S8, despite it being almost as fast and in many ways a much more advanced design. Audi had started to develop an innovative aluminium body structure in 1982, using extruded aluminium beams joined together at diecast nodes, with the exterior panels adding rigidity. Called Audi Space Frame, the new system was demonstrated at the 1993 Frankfurt motor show on the mirror-polished ASF concept car, forerunner of the production A8 saloon of 1994. Remarkably, the complete unpainted body weighed just 249kg.

The high-performance S8 arrived two years later. Settle into its soft leather driver’s seat and the first thing that strikes you is the extraordinary quality of the interior. Every switch clicks into position with smooth precision, every trim panel aligns exactly with its neighbours, everything on show is pleasing to the eye and the touch. It’s as good as, and possibly better than, anything BMW or Mercedes-Benz were producing around the turn of the century. It’s packed full of equipment, too, from electric sun blinds to satellite navigation and double glazing for the side windows.

Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D driven

Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D road test A big 4.2-litre V8 and lightweight aluminium structure adds up to no shortage of shove.

But it was the S8’s combination of speed and space, not its equipment list, which made it a movie star. John Frankenheimer’s action thriller Ronin, starring Robert De Niro, is famous for its car chases, and an S8 is one of the main automotive protagonists in the early part of the film. The Audi chases a Citroën XM around Nice, and it’s not giving away too much of the plot to reveal that it comes out on top. It’s even referenced in the dialogue, when wheelman Larry says the car he needs is, ‘Something very fast. Audi S8. Something that can shove a little bit.’

Shove the S8 certainly can. The early A8s used the VW Group’s V6s and V8s with up to 295bhp and the S8 adopted the bigger 4.2-litre V8, which was reworked for more power. The all-alloy engine had a forged steel crank and conrods, and double overhead camshafts on each cylinder bank. A toothed belt operated both exhaust cams, which in turn drove the intake cams by a short chain, and there were four valves per cylinder with sodium-filled exhaust valves to aid cooling. A two-stage variable-length intake system helped to ill out the torque curve at low revs while still allowing the engine to breathe at high revs and deliver 335bhp. This late S8 has even more power, because Audi fitted a new five-valve version of the V8 when the S8 was given a mid-life update in 1999. The three intake valves and two exhausts were operated by roller rockers to minimise friction, and there was a more sophisticated engine management system to help liberate 355bhp.

‘The first thing that strikes you is the extraordinary quality of the interior’

A six-speed manual transmission was available in some markets, but the UK only ever got S8s fitted with a five-speed ZF automatic (ZF 5HP). The gear selector can be pulled to the right to select a manual mode, and there are gearchange buttons on the steering wheel, which sound like a good idea but in practice are rather fiddly to operate. Left in Drive the transmission does a pretty good job of selecting the right gear for any situation, though it’s flattered by the V8’s superbly linear delivery. You can barely hear the engine at all until you’re really pressing on, and then there’s just a subdued burble to signify that the V8 is working hard. This one still has its standard exhaust system, but many owners it straight-through exhausts to liberate a little more of the V8’s music. The Quattro four-wheel drive system puts the power down without drama, and the S8 scythes through corners with barely a hint of roll. Numb steering and the sheer size of the S8 count against it when the road is twisty, but on open roads its unflappable character makes high-speed cruising a breeze.

The Typ 4D D2 Audi S8’s Achilles heel is its auto ’box, which needs regular servicing. If it clunks or slips during changes it needs a £3000-plus refurb. You can get water ingress into the interior if the sunroof drains block up, and there’s a hole in the bulkhead sealed with a paper sticker which deteriorates and lets water into the fuse box, so you get wet floors and electrical issues. Being aluminium it’s not cheap to ix dings and scrapes on exterior panels, and look for rust on the sunroof and filler cap, because both are steel. A full service history is essential, and a car with one won’t break the bank – even the best S8s struggle to reach five figures.

Owning an Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D

‘I’ve only had it three months,’ says S8 owner Dean Smith. ‘I’d been looking for an S8 for quite a while but couldn’t find a decent one, so I had two A8 2.8s.

‘This one is a Final Edition, which came in four colours. I know of only one other Misano Red S8. Oddly, despite being run-out models, Audi didn’t spec them up – it doesn’t even have the auto-dipping mirrors my 2.8s had. I looked at the service history and the condition, and it didn’t need much doing to it.

‘We had a meet in June with people coming from Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, and the Germans voted this as the best example they’d ever seen. I initially thought it would be a daily driver but now I just use it at weekends – it needs to be preserved in this condition.

‘I’ve added a hidden Bluetooth kit so I can stream Spotify and take phone calls, and fitted wheel spacers just to make it look a bit beefier.’


Engine all-alloy 4172cc V8, dohc per bank, 32-valve/40-valve, Bosch Motronic fuel injection

Power and torque 335-355bhp @ 6600-7000rpm; 302-317lb ft @ 3400-3500rpm

Transmission Five-speed automatic ZF 5HP, four-wheel drive

Suspension Front: , double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar.

Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted

Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted

Weight 1750kg (3858lb)

Performance Top speed: 155mph; 0-60mph: 6.5sec

Classic Cars Price Guide £5000-£10,000

Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D

Audi S8 D2 Typ 4D driven All-alloy V8 has forged steel crankshaft and conrods Torque is shared among all four wheels. Interior is all about precision and efficiency.



There can be little argument about which of these cars offers the best value for money. Given the Audi S8’s extraordinary ability both as a cruiser and a performance car, not to mention its film star provenance, it’s surprising that you can still buy a great example for under £10,000. If the Audi’s just too modern then the closest in character is the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W108/109, which offers crushing performance, effortless cruising and plenty of space – though it’s much more expensive, both to buy and to run.

Classic style is the strong suit of the Jaguar 3.8 Mk2. It’s a usable, characterful car with iconic looks and plenty of driver appeal, and for such a well-loved classic prices are remarkably reasonable. The BMW M5 offers a more modern take on a similar theme, yet it still dates from an era when cars were relatively simple, DIY-friendly and fixable without a degree in computer science or racks of diagnostic kit. It offers a deceptively swift combination of classic and modern.

The one that’s hardest to pigeonhole is the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. In this company it’s a mongrel amongst thoroughbreds, and in some ways it’s the most lawed of the five. But it’s the fastest of this group, too, and backs up its epic straight-line pace with surprisingly deft and forgiving handling, and bags of character. Owning one wouldn’t be cheap and it probably wouldn’t be trouble-free. But it would be a whole lot of fun.

‘Given the Audi S8’s extraordinary ability, it’s suprising that you can still buy a great example for under £10,000’

Five decades, one mission – to move a great hunk of four-door metal with huge pace.

Thanks to: Terry Birt at the Jaguar Drivers Club Mk1 & 2 Register (, Mercedes-Benz Owners (, Vauxhall, Mikki Jayne, A8 Owners Club (, Lucy Birch and Richard Baxter at BMW Car Club GB (, Autobahnstormers (, Richard Gunn, Barratt’s Classic Car Hire (


When they were new

The secrets of the supersaloon phenomenon, as revealed by those who experienced them straight of the factory floor – including Rauno Aaltonen, Jasper Carrott and Larry from Ronin.

The E28 BMW M5 was an understatement,’ says race and rally driver Rauno Aaltonen. ‘It looked a normal mid-size four-door saloon. When you got inside and sat in the driver’s seat it felt right. The so-called ‘cockpit-design’ instruments were easy to read. After starting the engine both the inlet noise and the exhaust revealed it was not intended just for going shopping. The six-cylinder Motronic-fed engine gave around 280bhp with nice torque curve. A delight to drive. The engine-speed- variable power steering was good – easy for parking but with good feedback at higher speeds.

It understeered at speeds below 50mph, which is right and safe for a normal driver. With increasing speed it got well balanced. Of course without slip control it was easy to provoke oversteer, which would be a horror for today’s drivers groomed with electronics. It is difficult to find a car for any price with the qualities and feeling of the original M5 because I think the acceleration and straight-line performance of today’s supersaloons don’t compensate for the handling of the more compact, lighter E28. The smaller and lighter M3 was handier on twisty roads but at higher speeds the M5 was directionally more stable and more comfortable because of the longer wheelbase.’

Aaltonen’s in-period experience of supersaloons didn’t end there. ‘I like big engines and the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 was an impressive vehicle, I had the honour to be invited to race it 1969 in the 24 hour race in Spa-Franchorchamps together with Dieter Glemser. The V8 was bored to nearly 6.9 litres and made close to 500bhp. And it was quick! I believe we reached about 260kph [161mph] at Spa but it was so sensitive I could not take my eyes of the road to look in the rear-view mirror – the car would start drifting. We tested the car in Hockenheim and did some quick laps. I think I was the fastest in night practice. But we had a problem – the wheel rims were too narrow and the wider ones were not homologated. The tyres would only last three laps at racing speed so the whole team had to be withdrawn. In those circumstances it was perhaps the most exciting car I’ve ever driven.’

Journalist and author Peter Dron road-tested the Lotus Carlton in period. With a 140mph limit imposed on him at Millbrook because banking of the test track’s bowl confused the self-levelling suspension, he headed to the A92 autobahn for the V-max. It runs north-east from Munich to Deggendorf and is completely level and straight for 25 miles – the majority of which is unrestricted.

‘After considerable frustration, we achieved a mean of runs in opposite directions of precisely 170mph,’ Dron recalls in his book The Good, The Mad and the Ugly… Not to Mention Jeremy Clarkson. ‘I am sure that the car had peaked and was not going to go any faster, but I wanted to do a run or two more in each direction to be certain. But it was not to be. I had just shed 100mph or so for a speck which became two blobs which then metamorphosed into a dirty trailer-truck from Hungary passing a dirtier trailer-truck from Romania. I depressed the clutch to change down a couple of ratios but there was a noise like a washing machine minus its balance weight. I struggled 70 miles back to Munich in fifth gear, accompanied for some distance by a low-lying police helicopter. ‘A bolt had dropped out from somewhere. When the Vauxhall delivery driver came to collect the car he said, “I hear you had a spot of bother with the transmission. You’re not the only one!”’ Comedian Jasper Carrott also encountered Lotus Carlton bother, albeit of a different nature. ‘In the early Nineties I was strolling round the Motor Show at Birmingham’s NEC and, in a spur-of-the-moment madness, I bought a Lotus Carlton,’ he said in his Sunday Mercury column in 2013. ‘I drove it for about ten months and then it had to go. Not only was it broken into three times but on the motorway I had every neutered rally wannabe challenging me to a race with their Exchange and Mart bargain banger.’

Car collector and American TV host Jay Leno worked in a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Boston at the age of 22. ‘They didn’t bring the car to the dealership on a transporter,’ he recalled of a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 in an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. ‘We had to fly down to Port Elizabeth, New Jersey and pick them up as they came of the boat and drive them back to Massachusetts. Trying to get back to Boston in under two hours, that was my favourite part of the job. I spent a night in jail in Roanoke, Virginia. I got lagged at 128mph at about one o’clock in the morning. I got taken to the judge’s house, just like in that movie. The judge came out in his pyjamas, sat down at his desk, banged his gavel and fined me – I could spend a week in jail or pay the fine. I had cash in my sock so I paid the fine and kept going. There were cars that were faster, and cars that handled better, but there weren’t cars that, when you put the combination together, were better than this.’

Actor Skip Sudduth played Audi S8 driver Larry in Ronin and did much of his own stunt driving. ‘John Frankenheimer was pretty direct,’ Skip said in a behind-the-scenes Ronin documentary. ‘He said, “You don’t get any points for smashing it into a wall. And I don’t want to see those brake lights.” There was a replica built from scratch to look like the actual car. That had a stunt driver sitting in the trunk who’s driving the car. They put a box over the pedals so my feet can’t go to the brake or gas if I panic.’

William Boddy, former editor of Motor Sport, heaped praise on the Jaguar Mk2 when he tested it as a new car for the magazine’s September 1960 issue. ‘The big-engined Jaguar is a fascinating car because it has such enormous powers of effortless acceleration that there is little need to wear oneself out hurling it at corners or playing angry bears in traffic. It hunches itself up and streaks away from corners and congestion and, with retardation to match, can afford to behave with dignity in adversity.

‘For this reason alone the 3.8 Jaguar is an effortless motor car in which to cover many miles. If its road-holding is bettered in some sports cars or in Continental GT vehicles costing fabulous sums, this is scarcely relevant if the driver is in sympathy with the style of driving this Jaguar encourages.

Former CAR magazine editor Gavin Green tested the E28 M5 as deputy editor in the magazine’s May 1987 issue. ‘As with all BMWs, the engine is easily the highlight. It’s the motor that’s responsible for the £34,000 tag. You could call it a £21,000 option for the 520i. You’d expect a gold cam cover for that sort of money. There’s no gold in sight when you open the bonnet, though, but what is on show is still lovely. The engine looks like a mechanical work of art; it behaves like one, too. It is so refined, so smooth, so pleasant in note, and so powerful, that it soon establishes itself on a different plane from all but the most exotic of six and 12-cylinder engines.’

Clockwise from top: Jaguar Mk2 came with effortless acceleration as standard; Audi S8 had low-key credence galore; Lotus Carlton was a Parliament debate subject; Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 W109 was most exciting car Aaltonen drove; BMW E28 M5 had tail-happy tendencies.

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