Alpina and BMW? It’s a partisan crowd. You’re either an M5 person or a B5 person because, while there’s an obvious overlap in the ingredients, the cars can be chalk and cheese in terms of personality on the road.
Despite this, it’s difficult to overstate just how intimately intertwined the pair have always been. Had Alpina founder Burkard Bovensiepen not successfully campaigned the BMW 3.0 CS in touring cars during the late 1960s, he may never have been able to convince the suits in Munich that a lightweight 3.0 CSL version was paramount were the cars to remain competitive against the lighter Alfa Romeos and rocketship Ford Capris. And without the existence of the Batmobile, as the now-legendary road-going homologation version of the 3.0 CSL was nicknamed, there may have been no BMW M division at all. At least not as we know it today.
Sixty years after Bovensiepen identified while wandering the Frankfurt motor show that the new BMW 1500 would benefit from Weber twin carburettors, Alpina continues to work hand in hand with its ally and rival. The relationship is, in the truest sense of the word, unique in the automotive world, with the engineers at Buchloe privy to upcoming BMWs years before the public gets a sniff and able to use BMW test facilities (Autobahn A8 remains shared-use, however).
Alpina even tends to introduce its alternative take on any M car 12 months before the real thing appears, although after decades of manufacturing, the back catalogues of both concerns are now chock-full of glorious metal. Here are 10 of the best.
BMW M1 – £25,000 in 1978, £520,000 now
Many wonder when BMW M will build a bespoke supercar – although do that and they’re forgetting the M1. The plan for the first real M product was that 400 homologation examples would be built by Lamborghini, allowing BMW to go and school the Porsche 935 on the track. Neither thing actually happened, and today the M1, which was eventually constructed by Baur in Stuttgart, is best known as the star of the Procar series that supported Formula 1 in 1979 and 1980. Styled by Giugiaro and with a glassfibre body shrouding a 277bhp mid-mounted 3.5-litre straight six, it’s nevertheless regarded as a masterpiece and prized for its looks, history and effortless drivability, even by modern standards.
Alpina built only 61 examples of its ultimate take on the E30-generation 3 Series, and it isn’t difficult to see why these cars now command obscene prices. Whereas the B6 3.5 took the narrow-body BMW 325i as its base, the B6 3.5 S used nothing less than the original M3. Alpina ditched BMW’s 2.3-litre race engine and installed its own 254bhp 3.5-litre straight six, beefing up the front spring rates to compensate for the mass of two additional cylinders. Despite this, the donor car’s sweet handling balance was preserved, and the charismatic Alpina interior and huge performance for its time makes the B6 3.5 S irresistible today – if you can find one, that is.
Alpina B3 GT3 – £66,905 in 2011, £70,000 now
Alpina pulled out of motorsport in 1988 to devote all its energy to selling road cars, but in 2009 it returned to the GT3 class in a move that paved the way for a Buchloe-flavoured alternative to the spectacularly expensive (and orange) E92 M3 GTS. Instead of BMW’s 4.0-litre V8, the B3 GT3 used an Alpina twin-turbocharged straight six that made 402bhp, and its chassis was upgraded with manually adjustable suspension and one of Drexler’s aggressive limited-slip differentials. Intimidating on the road? No, actually, and it was supreme once unleashed on a circuit. Only 99 examples were ever built.