Alpina is a world leading tuning house, specialising in building cars based on BMW chassis – in fact they are an official German manufacturer using BMW shells and some running gear, however, unlike Abarth and AMG, Alpina has remained separate from the donor company. They are based in Bavaria, southern Germany.
The company that became Alpina was founded in 1962 by Burkard Bovensiepen to modify Weber carburettors for the recently released BMW 1500. Bovensiepen’s father ran a company called Alpina that made typewriters – similar to the German Triumph-Adler company. The BMW components were manufactured at the back of the failing typewriter factory. Bovensiepen took BMW engines, added on the new carbs and retuned them ready for the customer. Even BMW liked what they were doing and endorsed the products and extended the factory warranty to Alpina built engines and later, the full cars.
In 1965 Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen was founded after the original company had stopped manufacturing office equipment and two years later they released their new logo – a similar circle to BMW but with what appears to be a heraldic emblem. If you look closely you will see that the emblem is in fact a crankshaft and a carburettor, a link to their founding products!
To help market the tuning parts, Alpina went touring car racing in Europe with some top names like Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell and Niki Lauda. The success of the team with 1970 being an exceptional year, winning the European Touring Car title and various major wins meant that BMW commissioned Alpina to build the lightweight 3 litre CSL Coupe (famously known as the Batmobile). This was also a huge success with another European title in 1973. BMW and Alpina racing heritage were now closely connected.
1973 was the year of the first oil crisis and unlike many sports car manufacturers and tuning houses, Alpina survived by developing engines that provided the same power but running on a lower (and cheaper) grade of fuel. This was a stroke of genius as many companies went to the wall trying to sell thirsty luxury vehicles.
The business was growing nicely and a dealer network was founded with importers assigned for the UK and Switzerland in 1975. At the end of the 1970s, Alpina was one of the first companies to offer fully electronic ignition on their models – one of many firsts that Alpina have. The business then took another step in 1983 with the company becoming an authorised car manufacturer by the German Government. A few years earlier, Alpina had built a BMW 318 that could do over 100 miles per gallon as part of the Shell Kilometre Marathon. That’s around 2.8 litres per 100 kms! Even today, 30 odd years later, that type of fuel consumption is unheard of from a non-hybrid vehicle.
Other firsts for Alpina were the use of metallic rather than ceramic catalytic converters and in 1993, “Switch-tronic” semi automatic gearboxes using paddle levers behind the steering wheel. This was an evolution of the “Shift-tronic” introduced the year before.
Although their models are based on BMW models, they are badged as Alpina B models (although there are D models using a diesel motor as well). Currently there are D3, D4, B3 and B4 saloons the XD3, the D5, B5, B6 and B7 models too. With those numbers it is easy to see which BMW series they are based on. All of the models are now biturbos – reminiscent of the 1980s and more recent Maserati cars.
They don’t just slot in a bigger motor and retune the car; they typically put in a motor that provides better torque delivery. For example, BMW sold the M5, a monster 500hp V10 engined car. The Alpina version was the B5S and used a supercharged 530hp V8 with a much wider power delivery band. Like other high end manufacturers, they have found that the new biturbos can deliver plenty of power with greater fuel economy than the older V8s and V10s.
Alpina describe themselves as a medium sized company and their customers are automobile gourmets! Taking this literally and mixing some good definitions of the word “gourmet” means that their customers are people who “cultivate a discriminating palate” of good automobiles. The word comes from an old French word and is mixed with another Middle French word that means “glutton”. That fits well too as Alpina owners clearly love the fat spread of power from the motors!