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Headline:What happens at ALPINA todayDate:04/06/2006
Source:The ALPINA Register   (Click Here for more details).Article
Review:FAQ detailling what ALPINA is all about today. How cars are made and what makes ALPINA special


ALPINA today

What really happens at Buchloe ?



This FAQ is based on information provided by Kris Odwarka during a tour of the ALPINA factory in Buchloe, Germany on the 21st and 22nd May 2006. The purpose of this FAQ is to give an insight into ALPINA today and how cars are created and produced in collaboration with BMW. All points in this document have been checked and are factually correct at time of publishing.


R & D


Factory decked out in familiar ALPINA colours
It’s important to understand how ALPINA approach new models. In terms of time and investment each model and engine combination take around four years to come into being, when both the engine and the chassis are “new” to ALPINA. Subsequent BMW ALPINA models come to market more quickly, when ALPINA have collected experience on a previous project with either the engine or chassis.

Work begins with the engine, and this is prior to the model being available from BMW. As is common test mules are used to test and develop the engine.

Types of testing include extensive bench or test-stand testing, which is less expensive and time-intensive than road-testing. One attempts to learn as much as one can about the powertrain before heading for the open road. The test stands can duplicate driving conditions and temps from around the world, as well as the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring, for example. Local roads around Buchloe are used for testing full mules, as are tracks such as Nurburgring, in addition to the test situations listed below.

Once the model is available, something that happens early, as often BMW and ALPINA test their cars together. Extensive testing is undertaken to ensure that the engine and accessories can adequately function in the car itself.

Hot weather testing is undertaken in the United Arab Emirates where it is possible to hire the motorway from the government. This is possible as no one in their right mind will be driving when the tests take place (12 – 4pm) as it’s the hottest time of the day in high Summer in the high desert.

Testing starts with a Police car driving through at 100mph, if this is clear the tests can begin, the next police run might go through at 150mph and finally ALPINA roll through as fast as they can/need to, which in ALPINA’s case is very fast indeed. Tests are carried out in black cars with black interiors, where possible, to maximise the effects of the sun.

Another test involves sitting on the motorway, placing the car into drive and releasing the brake, the car then moves off and once a certain speed is reached, something more than a walking pace, the car is stopped again and the cycle is repeated many times over the course of days. This tests the cars’ secondary systems and whether the powerplant can support them.

The B7 uses a special gel battery (as too all 7 Series, and the B5 and B6 in the UK) to power the growing number of electric options in the cars.

Hot / High Altitude testing has involved the car being driven from 110 foot below sea level to 8,700 foot above in Death Valley, California, for example, as well as testing in the Black Canyon near Gunnison, Colorado. This allows the car to be tested in both thin air and temperatures from as low as –40C° to approaching 60C°.

ALPINA use the BMW F1 test centre at Miramas which has, among many other test circuits, a 7km/4mi oval. Tests here include one denoted simply as “the endurance test”. It involves a standing start up to 170mph, driving at 170mph for ten miles and then doing an emergency stop. This cycle is repeated again and again for over 30,000miles, with the only stops being fuel, driver change and oil. The test is designed to test various parts of the car, including the differential, to destruction. BMW also performs this test up to the tops speed of its vehicles speeds, or to the speed limiter of 155mph. It’s interesting to note that the 15mph difference in speeds (+9.6%) actually equates to an additional 20% in aerodynamic force.

If we work backward from the quoted top speeds of the H1-engined cars (the current B7, B6 and B5), they’re at around 3/4 qtrs - 5/6 ths throttle load at a steady 170mph!

ALPINA also tests with Michelin, their OEM partner for tyres, and also Pirelli. The testing takes place at Michelin’s high speed facility at Clermont-Ferrand, which has a 12km/7.5 mile oval. Testing is done at speeds approaching 320 kph (or ~200mph). The track actually incorporates a number of sensors that can accurately record the cars’ weight. Initially the car is driven over the sensors at a walking pace, and the sensors can record the weight at the front and rear axles without lift. The speed is then increased and readings taken.

Basically this allows the amount of lift to be monitored as the car appears lighter as it gains speed the net effect of the lift being exerted on the car. Obviously ALPINA is trying to reduce lift in this test and so far the most successful car in terms of mift reduction they have done is the Roadster S (based on the BMW Z4) in which they have decreased lift by 64% front, and 77% rear, meaning that at 100mph lift is only single digits in kilograms.

Michelin reckon that they learn more about high speed tyres from 3 groups: F1 teams, Porsche (with its Cayenne) and ALPINA. The quote about the last two at least is that ‘no one else is stupid enough to go that fast in something that heavy !’

An example of the lengths to which testing has to go is the rear spoiler of the B7. It was a huge project in its own right. Initially there were around 150 different spoiler combinations created in CAD-CAM. This number was finally brought down to 6 which were deemed aerodynamically sound. These six were than manufactured and tested. A finding of the high speed tests was that certain spoilers could act like a sail at 170-180mph (but only in cross winds) and as such pushed the rear sideways. This obviously had a serious effect on the cars’ high speed balance and ultimately was less stable at speed than ALPINA would have liked. The solution was to increase the radius of the outer corners of the rear spoiler and as such reduce prevent this effect in cross-winds.

That is just some of the testing that is undertaken to ensure every part of a new BMW ALPINA automobile is successful.


Engine Testing

Latest 3 Series Coupe testing at Buchloe
Obviously most of the testing I’ve mentioned above is done within a test mule or a pre-production model (Like the undisguised 3 series coupe that was driving around whilst we were at the factory). Before this the engines themselves need to be developed and tested. Currently ALPINA has two test stands that it uses.

This room is where things get very serious. It is the only room that is locked, the only room we are politely asked to put away cameras and the only room where casual glances are met with grim faces.

Serious stuff has happened in this room, not only for ALPINA but also for BMW. During the early ‘80s when BMW made the decision to enter F1, it was here that they did much of their early testing. Their mechanics travelled by train and stayed in small bed and breakfasts, all in the aim to remain undetected, leaving their BMW company cars at home.

Under Development

Under development currently is the next generation of the H1 engine, currently found in the B7, B6 and B5. Stated objectives for H2, as its known, is more power, more torque and greater efficiency. For an engine already producing 500hp, 516lb ft and a combined figure of 23mpg this makes an interesting, if a little challenging goal.

Also under development is the petrol engine that will grace the new e90 3 series. Specifics are not available for this engine however we can confirm that three engines are being considered:

1. A 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V8 (the 750i engine?)
2. A H1 ! 4.4-litre supercharged V8
3. A twin asymmetrical turbo straight six.

Power and torque output are also unclear but with the Audi RS4 sporting 414bhp and 317lb ft, BMWs M3 looking at using a V8 with at least 400bhp one can hazard a guess where ALPINA will be aiming.


Moving to Production

  Next the designs and prototypes need to be moved into production. To understand this, we need to talk about the two teams involved: vehicle development and series production.

Vehicle development is responsible for designing and testing the cars. First port of call is the BMW parts bin. This sounds a bit of a cop out but actually makes a lot of sense. BMW like ALPINA have high tolerances, have a wide range of parts (from mini to Rolls Royce) and also as the cars will be ultimately be assembled on a BMW production line it also simplifies things.

A good example of this is the brakes found on the B5, B6 and B7 these are basically the ones found on a 760Li, but not just any 760Li, the Middle East version.

If something is not found within the BMW parts bin, and that still leaves quite a lot, ALPINA will look to third party suppliers. Companies like Boysen for exhausts, Mahle for pistons, for example. This list of suppliers may or may not be common with BMW.

If the supplier can make the part and crucially they can meet the high tolerances set by ALPINA, they will do so and the resultant parts will be ordered and dispatched to the relevant BMW factory – or ALPINA in the goods received – parts confectionary.

For all other parts where neither BMW has it, or a third party company can make it to a given level of quality at a given price, then ALPINA will make the part itself.

So who makes the actual car? Well, since the early 1980s, most BMW ALPINAs have been made at BMW factories on the same production lines as standard BMWs. The car is constructed as we’ve discussed from BMW parts, third party parts and ALPINA parts.

ALPINA has to order a quota from BMW. This needs to be done by the 7th of each month and relates to slots two months in advance. For example an early July order would be built in September. All options that affect the wiring loom need to be specified the farthest in advance. This is an interesting point and something I was completely unaware of the wiring loom it seems is just like the spine in a human it needs to be fixed before anything else – it is also a restricting factor that is very expensive to produce and therefore difficult to change.

The introduction of a RHD D3 Touring was very unlikely until someone worked out a way to cheaply change the cars’ wiring loom. This change allowed the car to become a reality.

The total time for a car to be produced is 5 weeks with milestones at finishing 1 – exterior fit and finishing, finishing 2 – interior fit and finishing.


Parts Confectionary


Automated Shelving goes 2 storeys up and down 30ft.
It can store crates for upto 100 cars.
The first room we visit is confusingly, at least for me, called the “parts confectionary”. Unfortunately, it’s to do with not food but car confectionary. It is the term used to describe the parts required to build each car. The room is full of plastic crates which are filled bottom up with the parts required for each car, and car variant. That is, a B5 LHD is different to a B5 RHD etc. Some parts are actually constructed as they are picked out and an example of this is the injector assembly, which is built up prior to being placed in a car’s crate. Each car has two crates, an upper and a lower. Parts are placed in the order in which they will be used again to speed up build times.

ALPINA was one of the first car manufactures to be ISO compliant and as such everything is controlled. This starts when parts arrive from external suppliers; they are received and checked by quality control/goods receiving, and controlled 100% from there onwards. From goods received they move to the confectionary department, when the confectionary department calls the parts up as needed.

The room incorporates a large automated shelving system. The shelving disappears into the ceiling and the floor – up two storeys and down 30ft. And can hold the crates for 100 cars.

The D3 doesn’t have a box as its engine is built at the BMW factory in Steyr.


Machining Preparation, Parts Finishing


Older grinders and lathes and New 5 axis lathe
(white machine in far corner of bottom two photos)
This next room we visit is where parts machining is done to finish raw castings. Here ALPINA technicians can manufacture the parts not procured elsewhere. There were a number of older grinding/lathing machines in the “old” part of the room or on their new five-axis lathes. This allows a part to be lathed from a solid billet material, and to create the part in three axes from a CAD file, and also to grind a part around a “corner”. This machine was acquired when the building was extended last year and can make the production of a given part possible in the first place.

Examples of parts machined by ALPINA are the intercooler tops and bottoms, the H1’s clutch bell housing for the supercharger, the front chassis stiffner/multi-cooler carrier.

The supercharger found in the B7,B6 and B5 is constructed in exactly the same metallurgy as the engine and shares the oil from the engine. This is to ensure that it is totally in sync with the engine, having the same temperature and therefore growing and shrinking as the engine does.


Head Porting and Polishing Room


Time consuming engine cleaning no longer necessary on new generation engines.
Clever intercooler construction reduces prodcution time
In the room adjacent to parts finishing, there’s a room where a lot of the fine finishing takes place and also where parts are built up into aggregate parts to aide and speed up BMW production line build times.

This room was traditionally used to polish the engine’s intake and exhaust ports, flowmetrically match the cylinder heads, and seat the valves and guides. Up until the last cars, the E5-engined B3S and the F4/5-engined B10 V8s, most of the time was spent porting and polishing the engine internals. The analogy here is the difference between a river and a canal – they both transport water but the canal is smoothed out and more efficient.

To give an idea of the time spent here a straight six engine head as found in the B3 and B10 3.3s took 10.5 hours of porting, the head of the V8 found in the B10 took 16-17 hours. To put this in perspective ALPINA can build a new 4.4-litre H1 engine (which is found in the new B7,B6 and B5) in about the same time. In fact to build one B10 V8 took a total of over 40 hours.

So does this mean ALPINA is cutting corners that they no longer have the attention to detail that we’ve come to expect? Well no, the reason is that the newer engines are far better to start with and so it is now at the point where the amount of effort involved really has very little effect. In fact the new engines, since they’re not normally aspirated like the E5 or F5 engines, peak at over 1,800 milli-bars of pressure. In fact, modern engines are so efficient (and modern emission regulations so stringent), that today’s engines produce about 1/800th the emissions of an engine with no emissions restriction of any kind. Engines have moved on far quicker than most of us are aware.

A good example of what now happens in this room is the building of the H1’s intercooler aggregate. This is the most complicated aggregate that a BMW production line has to add to a car and it houses far more than just the intercooler.

In fact this one piece holds:
  • Intercooler
  • Engine Coolant cooler
  • Engine Oil cooler
  • Transmission Oil cooler
  • Power steering fluid cooler
  • Air con condenser
By building this up in such a way, ALPINA saves about nine hours of production time after a car returns from the BMW factory. In fact whilst we were in the room one of the engineers informed us that they had recently reduce the assembly time by a further hour. Which means the intercooler aggregate now only takes 2 – 2.5 hours to build.

The H1’s intercooler is as big as that found on a 7.5 tonne truck and is about three times bigger than that found on the Audi RS6.


Engine Production Room


Each engine hand built by one technician.
It is from this room that hand-built ALPINA engines are delivered to BMW production lines. Each engine is built by just one technician.

At this point it is interesting to discuss how engines are moved from vehicle development to series production. ALPINA uses a system of 1, 2, 4, 8 when introducing a new engine. Basically one of the senior production technicians builds the first engine with a senior member of both the vehicle development team and prototype workshop. Once he is happy, he teaches another of the senior engine builders (now 2). Now they both in turn teach one other engineer (now 4) and finally each of them teach one other technicians. This ensures that all eight technicians can build each engine.

We discussed that ALPINA is ISO compliant and this is also the case in the engine builds. As noted earlier, one engineer is responsible for building a complete engine. However in order to ensure quality, another engineer is responsible for scrutinising it. The role of the reviewer is rotated weekly between the senior engineers. In order to ensure that the person testing engines is not aware who has built an engine, a member of staff from another department moves the engine from the build section of the room to the testing section of room. The two sides of the room are separated by a low wall.

The H1 takes just 2 days to build from scratch, not counting the time spent in the parts confectionary, the time spent machining parts, and the time spent building the cooler aggregate.

ALPINA is looking to extend the current capacity and build an engine production line on the land behind the current factory. When this building is complete they will be able to roughly double current production initially. Interestingly, the technician will still move with his engine, so that it will still be one technician who oversees the build an completion of a given engine.

The H1’s intercooler is as big as that found on a 7.5 tonne truck and is about three times bigger than that found on the Audi RS6.


Over to BMW

  At this point focus switches to BMW. The engine and intercooler aggregate are sent to the relevant BMW factory. In addition, the ALPINA supplier chain send the transmission, the wheels/tyres, suspension, seats, dash, wood, steering wheel, drivetrain, leathers (if Std BMW spec), to name a few items. ALPINA buy the following items from BMW, as well as the screwing together of all the bits: the painted chassis, glass, the wiring loom, entertainment systems (TV, radio, NavSys) and airbags, and sometimes use the same ABS hardware that BMW use. Software downloads into the blank ECUs are made at the end of the BMW production line for BMW ALPINAs, just as they are for BMWs, using the software package provided by ALPINA.

ALPINA deals with the following BMW Factories:
  • Dingolfing – 5, 6, and 7 Series cars
  • Munich - for D3 touring and all RHD 3 Series saloons
  • Regensburg - for LHD D3 saloons and all other 3 Series derivatives
  • Spartanburg – all E85 Z4-based cars (ROADSTER S) and E53 X5-based cars
The B5, B6, B7 and BMW’s own 745d are the most complex engines to fit and slow down the Dingolfing production line the most. So it’s in everyone’s interest to speed up the time it takes. In fact the installation time of the B7’s engine has been improved from 19.5 hours when it was first introduced to a time of only 5.5 hours now. The B5 and B6 take a similar time.

Its often played up that BMW’s M Division are deadly rivals to ALPINA. In fact when ALPINA orders cars, they do so via M Division’s Individual programme. The BMW Individual programme was originally specifically setup up for special orders, M cars and BMW ALPINAs

Back to ALPINA


All BMW ALPINA cars are brought back to the factory in Buchloe to be finished. Finishing in this case means:

  • Adding the spoilers
  • Decals
  • Badges
  • Plaque
  • ALPINA Chassis number
  • Special requests – including interiors, the UK’s +2mm leather steering wheels

This work is completed in the adjacent building to where engines are built.




In the same building on the first floor is the upholstery department. This is where customers’ interiors are hand made using the best of materials.

Practically anything can be covered in leather as we were shown this has and is commonly requested. Everything from manual seat handles to door mirror switches can all be covered in extremely thin (down to 1/256th of an inch!) leather.


Out the door

  Once the finishing is done the car is ready to be delivered to the relevant dealership. Whilst we were there two B5s were ready to depart to their lucky owners in the UK.

You could of course also choose to visit the factory and pickup your car – I know what I’d be doing !

Full Set of Photos taken during the Factory visit

ALPINA UK website

ALPINA Main website



R & D

Engine Testing

Move to Production

Parts Confectionary

Machining Preparation, Parts Finishing

Head Porting and Polishing Room

Engine Production Room

Over to BMW

Back to ALPINA


Out the door



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