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2023 March
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Car and Driver: Down Periscope: Isdera Imperator 108i For Sale!


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Isdera Imperator 108i


As strange as it seems now, in an age when every vaporware supercar trots itself onto the internet with grand fanfare, there was a time when these automobiles were practically a secret. And if they weren’t secret, they were certainly myth. Even heavyweights like Lamborghini and Ferrari didn’t produce as many cars at they do today, and the only way to find out about something like the Isdera Imperator 108i was to catch a blurb about it in the front pages of an enthusiast magazine or a classified ad in the DuPont Registry.


Isdera Imperator 108i


When our sister publication Road & Track hauled a grip of supercars out to VW’s Ehra-Lessien course in 1987, among them was the Isdera Imperator 108i. And even among machines like the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV and Alois Ruf’s now-legendary CTR Yellowbird, the Imperator, with its periscope rearview mirror and its Mercedes powerplant, stood out. The fact that it wasn’t actually a brand-new thing, but rather had its roots in the Mercedes-derived CW311 didn’t matter. It was easily as supercar-chic as the Lamborghini, or the never-really-produced Vector W2, both staples of boys’ bedroom walls in the time.


In the supercar world, time moved a little slower back then. The Lambo had its roots in the early 1970s, the Vector first appeared in 1980, and the Imperator could trace its lineage back to 1972, when former Porsche and Mercedes engineer Eberhard Schulz got together with Rainer Buchmann to develop the CW311. Built largely of components from his former employers, Schulz viewed the CW311 as a successor to Benz’ C111 prototypes, featuring an AMG-tuned version of the W108 300 SEL 6.3’s M100 V-8 behind the front seats. In 1978, the the West German TUV granted the 400-hp supercar’s approval, but by 1979, Schulz and Buchmann had terminated their partnership, leaving the 311 as a one-of-one proposition.


Isdera Imperator 108i


Not content to consign his concept to the dustbin, Schulz founded Isdera in 1981, swapped the old M100 for the then-current, 235-hp M117 5.0-liter V-8, and launched the Imperator at the Geneva Auto Show in 1984. The version that R&T tested featured a 6.0-liter version of that engine, made the leap to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, and topped out at 176 mph. Ruf’s narrow-body, turbocharged 911 went 211 mph, which unfavorably shades Isdera’s accomplishment. In 1987, 176 mph was freaking fast, making Ruf’s achievement practically inconceivable. Even today, Porsche rates a modern 911 Turbo S at only 205 mph, despite its 111-hp advantage over the CTR.


But tuned 911s are a dime a dozen. Imperator 108is are not, and a glance at Bring a Trailer yesterday informed us that there’s one for sale right now for a mere 495,000 euros ($561,402), with only 400 miles on the clock. It’s a 1991 model sourced from a Japanese collection, and it features a 5.0-liter version of Benz’s later M119 engine. According to the seller, only 13 of the later Series 2 Imperators were ever constructed, with two of them sent to Japan. Regrettably, this example features conventional side mirrors, rather than the Das Boot-spec periscope, but can Isdera beggars be choosers? Our inner eleven-year-old says that they can, because the periscope captured this writer’s heart at that age. All other specs were secondary to that one. And somehow, today other specs still are secondary to that one. To pervert Benz’s current marketing tagline: “Isdera: The Periscope or Nothing.”


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