|Review:||ALPINA: A Longtime Synergy with BMW in High-performance Automobiles|
In this unlikely place, a small Bavarian city about 50 miles from the state’s capital Munich, you’ll find ALPINA with its handsome showroom facing a quiet street and fronting the modest, spic-and-span shops and works where high-performance engines are developed and assembled, high-performance automobiles are conceived and crafted, and a dedicated work force of 170 labors with dedication and enthusiasm.
The story of ALPINA as a purveyor of special automobiles began in 1961, when Burkard Bovensiepen – son of Dr. Rudolf Bovensiepen, founder of the ALPINA office-machine company – began his automotive career by devising a twin-carburetor setup for the BMW 1500. That was the midsize sedan that started BMW on its path to today’s worldwide access. Burkard Bovensiepen recognized the newly introduced 1500‘s sporting nature and potential, and wanted to extract more performance out of it.
By 1964, Burkard – himself a business-management and engineering student as well as auto enthusiast – had his father’s factory producing the Weber carburetor setup in small numbers for a growing body of racing and performance enthusiasts in Europe. BMW took notice, attesting publicly to the ALPINA equipment’s quality by granting full warranty coverage to BMWs equipped with it. With this welcome wind at his back, Burkard Bovensiepen founded his own company, ALPINA Burkard Bovensiepen KG, in the Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren on January 1, 1965. It had eight employees.
Soon ALPINA was getting active in Touring Car racing, a popular European motorsport form featuring production-based cars. Between 1968 and 1973, such successful and increasingly well-known racing drivers as Derek Bell, Harald Ertl, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, Brian Muir and Hans Stuck appeared on the ALPINA payroll. In 1970, ALPINA won the Touring Car Championship, the classic 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and every major German racing championship – the rally, hillclimb and road-course series.
At this point, ALPINA convinced BMW that a lightweight version of the 3.0 CS, BMW’s top-of-line luxury coupe, would be needed to stay competitive in Touring Car racing; BMW responded by awarding ALPINA the development contract for just such a car. The ALPINA connection was visible in the roadgoing version, called 3.0 CSL, in the form of its 20-spoke wheels – a design cue still found on ALPINA vehicles, including the new B7. As for the all-out racing version: In 1973, four of the drivers mentioned earlier helped bring home the European Touring Car Championship for BMW and ALPINA. One of them, Niki Lauda, put down an absolute Touring Car speed record in that year’s Nürburgring 6-hour race.
ALPINA’s last Touring Car Championship came in 1977, again in a BMW CSL. Now ALPINA, so clearly ahead, withdrew from racing to concentrate entirely on roadgoing performance vehicles. Just a year later, ALPINA introduced its first models formally carrying the name BMW ALPINA: the B6 2.8, based on the 3 Series of the time and powered by a bigger 6-cylinder engine than was offered in the regular models; the B7 Turbo, based on a 5 Series sedan and claimed to be the fastest sedan in the world at the time; and the B7 Turbo Coupe on the basis of the 6 Series Coupe. Continuing a now-established ALPINA pattern, all three models featured advanced technology: fully electronic ignition, at the time a brand-new concept.
In the late Eighties, ALPINA again engaged in motorsports, this time campaigning emission-controlled cars in the German Touring Car Championship. Like the company’s road models of the time, these vehicles used metallic catalytic converters, more capable than ceramic ones of cleaning the exhaust of high-performance engines; in fact, this pioneering technology continues in the new B7. Having achieved another round of impressive accomplishments and confirmed that racing cars too could be environmentally friendly, ALPINA again withdrew from racing and devoted itself to ultra-performance BMW-based vehicles.
Over the years since, BMW ALPINA highlights have also encompassed –
1975 – ALPINA establishes a dealer network in Germany and opens representation in Switzerland and England.
1979 – an ALPINA importer in Japan is opened.
1983 – the German motor-vehicle authority recognizes ALPINA as an automobile manufacturer.
1985 – ALPINA equips all its production models with catalytic converters, again of the metallic type.
1989 – the B10 Bi-Turbo, based on the 5 Series Sedan and called by famous racing driver and journalist Paul Frere “the best 4-door in the world“ in Road & Track magazine’s September ‘91 issue. In this review, Frere captured much of the character of all ALPINA vehicles: “For me this is the car. I mean it’s fantastically quiet…It’s so civilized and it goes at speeds that are incredible for a sedan.“
1990 – ALPINA expands; now employs 120 associates, builds new facilities for management and vehicle production.
1992 – the B12 5.7 Coupe, based on the 8 Series Coupe and introducing a new 6-speed manual transmission with automatic clutch.
1993 – introduction of the SWITCH-TRONIC automatic transmission shift system that appears in the new B7.
1995 – another advance in emission-control technology: the electrically heated metal catalyst. This was a joint development of BMW, ALPINA and EMITEC, the last being the developer of ALPINA‘s earlier metallic converters.
1999 – ALPINA’s first diesel model, the D10 BITURBO.
2002 – the BMW ALPINA ROADSTER V8, an ALPINA version of the Z8 Roadster with a Buchloe-modified 4.8-liter BMW engine and SWITCH-TRONIC. This was the first ALPINA model to be offered officially in the U.S.; 555 examples were built, 450 of them for the U.S.
2004 – European introduction of the B7, which now becomes ALPINA’s second model to be offered in America. The B7, based on the 750i luxury sedan and introducing a new form of supercharger, went on sale in the U.S. in early 2007.
Today, ALPINA calls itself “Manufacturer of Exclusive Automobiles.“ Producing about 1500 vehicles a year including planned B7 production for North America, ALPINA currently offers eight BMW ALPINA models, ranging from the 3 Series-based, 200-hp, diesel-powered D3 Sedan and Sports Wagon to the 500-hp B7 and encompassing 5 and 6 Series-based models in between.
It’s not an overstatement to say that ALPINA creates cars for connoisseurs. And since 1979, the company has operated another business for connoisseurs: a wine distributorship that imports and purveys top-class wines to fine German restaurants and European wine enthusiasts.