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R32 Skyline vs Merc 190 Evo II vs Alpina E30: take your pick

Three legends are coming up for auction, and we can't decide which one is best

  • In the grand scheme of how the universe operates, none of this is really that important. But choosing a favourite from these three rather wonderful cars is proving incredibly difficult in the Top Gear office.

    May we present to you a 1986 BMW Alpina E30 B6, a 1989 Nissan Skyline R32, and a 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190 Evo II. They're all coming up for auction via RM Sotheby's Scottsdale sale that takes place in January, in Arizona, which is in AmericaLand. 

    We have no indication yet on an estimated selling price for any of them, so we have a bit of time with which to irrelevantly debate which one - just one - we'd buy with our imaginary stash of magic rainbow money.

    So let's go through the merits of each and see if it's easier at the end. We begin, as is proper, with the Alpina...

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  • Alpinas are just cool. No argument, no debate. This one especially so, because it's completely rust free. Seriously, an E30 3 Series sans corrosion is as rare a find as any highly-stressed exotic. Reason enough to spend your imaginery rainbow money on.

    Beginning life as a 325i (not a bad place to start, admittedly), Alpina bored out the 2.5-litre straight-six to 2.7 litres. They also did some other things. Like fitting a more aggressive cam, custom Mahle pistons, revised ignition, and a higher compression ratio. The result was 210bhp and 195lb ft of torque, which is quite considerable in something that weighs less than an expensive sports shoe.

    Before the 3.5-litre engined B6 came about, this 2.7 was one of the fastest E30s you could buy, topping out at 140mph. Nice.

  • There is naturally more to it than an engine upgrade. Alpina fitted a close-ratio five-speed gearbox and a custom exhaust. The front and rear spoilers are new, you get those beautiful Alpina wheels, some, um, gold striping and better seats. Oh, and an Alpina steering wheel.

    This particular example is a Japan-only model, and a little plaque inside tells you it is car number 40 from just 67 ever built.

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  • Look, no rust! And no kerbing on the wheels! Amazing. It's also been treated to a full fuel system "tune up", so it should have much of that original 210bhp that left the factory. That's especially true because it has only covered 22,000 miles since 1986.

    So, this is easy. The Alpina takes our money. Unless of course...

  • want the E30's mortal enemy, the rather punchy-looking Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II, which is far too long-winded to repeat. No, the Evo II was a beefed up, harder, faster version of the 190 (of course it was) to race in touring cars. 

    The regular 'W201' chassis got bigger anti-roll bars, harder bushings, a limited-slip diff, better dampers, and a faster steering ratio. Then of course, there was that famous 'dog-leg' gearbox so beloved of a certain type of driver, while Cosworth bored out the Merc 2.3-litre engine to 2.5-litres. And gave it a light alloy cylinder head. And four valves per cylinder.

    The first of the 'Evo' models got a higher rev limiter, bigger brakes, better tyres and wider tracks with adjustable suspension and some body addenda. The Evo II you see here benefitted from a power hike to 235bhp, an even more insane wing, wider arches and a front splitter that'd make you weep.

  • The racing version of this car won the 1992 DTM championship, proving that if it looks fast, it is fast. And it certainly looks fast. And a bit angry.

    Now, we get onto the interesting bit about this car. The previous owner felt it wasn't crazy enough, and decided to fit a suite of upgrades to make it more like the one decimating all on the circuit. So, it comes fitted with (deep breath): a full racing exhaust, a custom header tank, individual throttle bodies, larger injectors, a lightweight aluminum pulley, fuel cell system, and a Motec engine management system.

    Then comes the additional chassis bracing, even more impressive Brembos, larger suspension links and DTM-spec OZ wheels. You can be a gold-star helmsman in this.

  • The cherry on this bewinged haymaker? It's only covered 5,000km since new, and has been "well cared for". It is the first Evo II to be publically offered in the USA, and therefore demands your attention. And your magic money.

    Or does it?

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  • Ah, the Skyline. The car that - if you read the Internet for long enough - is basically the best thing mankind has ever created. Dubbed Godzilla, it is - like the Evo II we've just seen - borne from motorsport.

    We're told that unburstable turbo straight-six was rated at over 600bhp in race trim, utilising the LONG ACRONYM four-wheel-drive system that we won't repeat here. In short, it allowed much power to be delivered via all of the traction. The racing R32 was so handy, it won all 29 races of the Japanese touring car championship, the 1991 Spa 24hrs, and Bathurst in 1991 and 1992.

  • Obviously, the tuning fraternity were rather taken with the R32, and it quickly became a fan favourite thanks to ludicrously modified versions popping up all over the place. Fresh out of the factory it would produce an advertised 276bhp, but count on around 300bhp in the real world.

    This particular car is, as you can see, in a wonderfully un-tuned, un-modified state. Which in itself is incredibly rare to find. It's also covered just 23,000km and has recently been serviced too.

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  • Recently imported from Japan, this low-mileage, un-modified R32 is said to be "exceptionally original". Hard to argue with that. Looks absolutely spectacular, we'll add.

    Which makes this all terribly difficult. Alpina it is. No, the Merc, no wait - the R32...

    Care to give us some help?

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