Race, Daily, Restore: Modern Pentathletes

Five cylinder engines were once an oddity. Over the last quarter of the Twentieth century, they became fairly common, especially in European cars. Today we ponder the merits of this middle ground between fours and sixes. Your trio of candidates, in no particular order, are:

  • 1993 Volvo 850 Turbo – 2.4L Turbo I-5, 168 hp
  • 1983 Audi 100 Avant (Audi 5000 wagon to those of us in America)  – 2.1 L turbo I-5, 130 hp
  • 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle VR5 – 2.3L VR5, 170 hp [Yes, the VR5 narrow-angle vee, not the inline five offered later on. I don’t believe the VR5 was ever offered in the U.S./NA Beetle.]

Your job is to tell me which of the three you would:

  • RACE – build into some sort of dedicated racing machine (not street legal) for your choice of competition — any legitimate, sanctioned form of motorsport: road course, rally, drag, LSR, Baja, etc.;
  • DAILY – have as your sole street-registered car, for all your commuting and general transportation needs.
  • RESTORE – do a museum-quality, factory-correct, frame-off restoration, then add to your collection, but not drive on the street.

Your choices should be accompanied by your persuasive justification, or at the very least which choice you felt most strongly about.

  1. Assume that you’re given these three vehicles outright, so there’s no acquisition cost, but the cost of race-prepping, maintaining, insuring and restoring them will be on you.
  2. Assume the cars are in “average condition” for their age; neither junk nor in flawless condition.
  3. These are your ONLY three cars. You cannot factor in any other cars you might actually own, e.g., “I’ll daily the MR2 because I have a van I can take the kids in…” Likewise, you can’t sell the restored car to buy another vehicle.
  4. You must assign one of the cars to each category. You can’t say, “I’ll race my street car,” or “I’ll drive that one for a season then restore it.”
  5. You can’t half-ass a car you don’t like, such as theoretically racing Lemons or doing a “20-footer” cosmetic restoration.

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29 responses to “Race, Daily, Restore: Modern Pentathletes”

  1. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

    Race the beetle because it’s probably the lightest and has the most power, is NA for good linear power delivery, and I don’t like how they look so I wouldn’t mind bumping it into a wall. If cheap enough for LeMons, I’d even get to doll it up like a 911 for *teh lulz*. Plus, the VR5 must sound cool or at least different (compared to more normal engines) with a free flowing exhaust.
    Daily the Turbobrick, working through well documented mods on turbobricks.com (Do I get to mod the daily, or does this hypothetical situation take place somewhere like Germany?)
    Restore the AUDI because I don’t want to drive it due to its reputation for poor reliability and understeer but it looks the coolest.

  2. ptschett Avatar

    Daily the Chevy Colorado, though I’d rather it be the V8 version they had in those years… [looks again] …dangit.
    Race the Beetle (demo derby), restore the Audi (then park it in the back of the barn), daily the Volvo I guess.

  3. Jofes2 Avatar

    Race the Beetle, because I would normally not like to be seen driving it but on the race track it can be explained as an ironic thing.
    Restore the Audi, because it has the most style and the Volvo is too boring for this.
    That leaves the Volvo for daily driving, which sounds good to me.

  4. mdharrell Avatar

    Five-cylinder engines may once have been an oddity, but five-cylinder, fixed-crank, horizontal radial engines are still an oddity. A magnificent oddity.

    1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

      I’ll see you and raise you a 5 cylinder rotary mounted in the front wheel of a motorcycle 🙂

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        The key word there being mounted “in” not on the front wheel!

      2. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

        Oh, radial.

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

          In this context—
          Radial: engine stationary, crankshaft rotates.
          Rotary: crankshaft stationary, rest of engine rotates around it.

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    Daily – The Volvo, I mean, c’mon.
    Restore – The Audi. Restored to wagon concours level, meaning I can carry firewood and not be bothered.
    Race – The New Beetle. Til the wheels come off and I find something that doesn’t make everyone else at the track laugh.

  6. Andrew_theS2kBore Avatar

    Race- the Volvo, for retro DTM glory.
    Daily- the Audi, because it’s spacious, comfortable, and you can turn the wick up on the turbo 5 to an almost absurd extent.
    Restore- the Beetle, as a warning from the pages of history.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      My answer is very similar, race the Volvo in one of the Peter Brock liveries as raced out here, daily the Audi because station wagon vs the ridiculous Beetle, and restore the Beetle… engine, and put it in my Mk1 Escort. I’d like to do a 5-cyl conversion but the Volvo 5-cyl as used in the last Focus is really a bit long (I wonder if the Audi one can be much shorter?), so a VR5 might be a feasible way to get a 5-cyl engine note. Probably not feasible enough though…

  7. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Flip a coin over daily and restore the Audi and Volvo and race the Beetle, since that way I can swap the engine.
    While I don’t recall whether the US market Beetle got the VR-5, I do remember reviews of the VR-5 Jetta saying it had the power of a 4 and the fuel consumption of a 6 so best left alone in favor of either the 1.8T or the pukka VR-6. On the slightly positive side, as far as I know the VR-5 is the only production V5 car engine ever made.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      I’m sure a V5 is a good way to confuse people as to how it can work

      1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

        Unlike radials or rotaries a V5 works just like a V4 or V6. You may need a balance shaft to smooth out the vibrations and a distributor might be a challenge but modern engine management systems don’t use a distributor so you just need a 5 position crank sensor and electronic injectors.

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          That’s more in depth than I was thinking – non-mechanical people would wonder about 3 cylinders on one side and 2 on the other, without realising that the crankshaft can be designed to space the cylinders evenly as well as the items you mention. I remember talking to one guy about it and I’m sure he was picturing a V6 with one cylinder removed and no other changes.

          1. Vairship Avatar

            Now let’s start thinking about a V1…

          2. outback_ute Avatar

            Is that a narrow or wide vee angle?

          3. Vairship Avatar

            It can be either: narrow 0 degree is standard, or an optional wide 360 degree is available at a slight added cost!

          4. outback_ute Avatar

            I wondered about that, I heard rumours the 360 degree version was originally an eastern bloc cold war experiment that was smuggled to Japan via Vladivostok in the early 60’s

  8. Manxman Avatar

    Race the beetle til the wheels fall off, hit a hay bale or over rev the engine. DD the Volvo until the wheels fall off, hit a light pole or over rev the engine. Restore the Audi and test drive it til the wheels fall off, hit a case of clay bars or over rev the engine.

  9. Maymar Avatar

    I was going to say daily the Audi, but realized there was no reason the Volvo couldn’t be a longroof, right? So daily the Volvo (nothing I can conceive of I need that it isn’t capable of), race the Beetle (as said, lightest and most powerful), and restore the Audi (it looks great).

  10. Alff Avatar

    Daily Audi, reliving my time with the sedan version.
    Restore Volvo. Orphans are collectible.
    Race VW. Preferably demolition derby.

    1. caltemus Avatar

      What makes the Volvo an orphan?

      1. Alff Avatar

        Adoptive parents.

  11. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    as a corrective note, the Volvo will have a 220ish hp engine if it’s a capital-T Turbo. the 2.4 you’ve listed is the displacement for the GLT “low-pressure” turbo cars, which made 190hp, and 168 is the figure for the 2.4L NA model.
    i think there’s an objectively correct set of answers here:
    – daily the Volvo, because it’s a fine car that will last a long time (though needy – currently in the midst of a weeks-long engine surgery on my 99)
    – restore the Audi, because they’re rare and badass
    – race the Beetle, because nobody really will miss it. i drove a Jetta with the 2.5 for a week or so, and i was Not Impressed.

  12. Turbobrick Avatar

    Race the Beetle, because a fast Beetle is way more fun than anyone wants to admit.
    Daily the 850 because no one is ever going to shed one tear after a 4-lug 850.
    Restore the Audi because in 25 years no one is going to believe that cars like that actually existed.

  13. crank_case Avatar

    I would daily the Volvo so hard if it had an Auto. I still miss my S80, my wife still misses it too, no-one does comfort like Volvo. The S80 had seats that were better than the ones in many houses, never mind cars.
    Random factoid about the 100 – indie synthpop group New Order used to use one as a touring vehicle. It doesn’t get more 80s than that.

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