Alpina. More than just BMW
In 2015, the company Alpina, which is known by making the serial BMW cars almost exclusive sports cars, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. But if you are ever lucky enough to wander through the assembly workshops of Alpina factory in the city of Buchloe, Germany, you better not say out loud the word tuning. Otherwise, you will be immediately shown the door. They will be right to a certain extent, though, as legally Alpina is an independent automaker. Moreover, it has very curious and rich history.
Alpina’s history dates back to 1961 when a young student of economic and engineering faculties Burkard Bovensiepen purchased for his own use inexpensive Fiat 1500 with augmented engine by Nardi. To be honest, the joy of the driving did not last long – the engine broke down after 50 km of the trip. Nobody would ever guess that this failure would be momentous in the life of Bovensiepen.
Burkard took carburetor from Weber, camshaft with more flat cam profile and modified exhaust system, and that made motor not only revived, but also its capacity increased from 67 to 75 hp. The experiment seemed to him quiet successful, so Germans decided not to stop at this point and dived into a new project, which was unwittingly suggested by his “native” BMW.
By the early 60th Bavarian company finally began to return to life after the most severe financial crisis that nearly destroyed everything created by decades. Miraculous salvation came through the minority shareholders led by Herbert Quandt, who insisted on the revision of the marketing policy, resulting in the appearance of the autumn 1961 the new BMW sedan 1500 – the first post war car in Munich with a 4-cylinder engine.
The concept of the new model turned out to be quite successful, although many customers complained that the 1.5-liter engine capacity of 75 hp was, to put it mildly, weak. BMW’s considered criticism and exactly two years later released a version with a new 1.8-liter engine, which power was adjusted to 90 “horses”.
But what about those who have already purchased a model with 1.5-liter engine? This is how Bovensiepen appeared, it mounted on the Bavarian power plant two two-chamber Weber carburetors with a shortened polished intake manifold. Set cost 980 marks (10% of the value of the car), but raised the engine power to the same 90 hp and it became extremely popular though. At first, though, it was received with scepticism by experts and the media.
BMW’s could not close their eyes to the work of Bovensiepen. In 1964, the Research Department of the Munich company tested the revised car and they found it competent and reliable. Moreover, the legendary head of the department sales of BMW Paul Hahnemann personally ordered not to refuse warranty service customers of Bovensiepen. He got a taste and began to rework BMW 1800, which was not only a new intake system and carburetors, and “sport” cam, and other pistons to increase the compression ratio.
It became clear for Bovensiepen that further work in primitive conditions on paternal factory for the production of office equipment in Kaufbeuren was impossible. Therefore, January 1, 1965 with a starting capital of 15 thousand marks he recorded the company ALPINA Burkard Bovensiepen KG, expanded the space and employed eight people.
Bernard did not have to come up with the company name. On the advice of his mother, he took the same name, which was of a father factory – Alpina. A short time later he developed a new logo of the company – the coat of arms with two fields, which showed the inlets and the crankshaft, although there is an version opinion, according to which in the first years instead of the crankshaft, there was camshaft depicted.
But a new development stage of Alpina shifted with 2002 model on the presentation in 1966. This car was lighter and more dynamic than its predecessors, so the tuning of the Alpina was not the household necessity but the way to identify and develop sports quality of BMW products. Bovensiepen engaged into deep fine-tuning of engines. Now his customers have vehicles with balanced crankshafts and new camshafts, a special lightweight pistons, polished intake and exhaust ports. In addition, Alpina’s BMW was equipped with disc brakes on the rear wheels and adapted engine gearbox to the increased capabilities.
What is worth a powerful car with a sporty character, but with no achievements in motorsports? The same question Bovensiepen asked himself and the answer is – nothing. Taking the most powerful version of the 2002 model (2 litre, 200 hp), Burkard formed a small but full-fledged racing team, debuted in the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) in 1968.
Victory did not come immediately, but quickly and massively. In 1970, the coupe BMW Alpina 2800CS won the famous 24-hour race on the Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, the European championship and the German championships in the circular, mountain races and rallies.
By that time, incidentally, the staff of Alpina has increased up to 70 people, and the company itself moved from Kaufbeuren to Buchloe, 60 kilometres from Munich. As the BMW, saw the potential of the series coupe CS there, the company decides to create its light version 3.0 CSL, but since the factory racing program at that time was focused exclusively on Formula 2, the work was entrusted to Bovensiepen, ensuring him by generous funding.
Realizing that to pull a project alone would not be easy, Burkard employed Fritz Indra. Engineer by education and holder of a doctorate, Indra takes on two projects at the same time – racing and ecological ones. The latter was not without significance for Bovensiepen since early 70th authorities of German lands attended the influence of emissions on the environment, and the Germans had to be sure that the Alpina does not fall under attack for failing to environmental requirements.
In 1973, racers of Alpina – Niki Lauda, Derek Bell, Brian Muir and Harald Ertl – continued their victorious march to the racetracks in Europe, winning the 6-hour race at the Nurburgring. Unfortunately, the tragedy could not be avoided. During daily marathon at Spa driving a BMW Alpina 3.0 CSL died Hans-Peter Josten, but Bovensiepen in those days worried not only about that. His first blow to the automotive industry caused the energy crisis, which crippled more than one company. It threatened Alpina too.
Fortunately, the talent of Bovensiepen allowed to redistribute competently power to Buchloe and focus on the production of cost-effective, yet powerful gasoline engines. Burkard did not fire any of the 90 employees. Moreover, by 1975 Alpina began to build its own dealer network in Germany and opened offices in Switzerland and the UK.
Meanwhile, in motorsports, BMW Alpina 3,5 CSL reigned, which in 1977 in the hands of Dieter Quester won the European Championship among factory team Jaguar. Even in the 1973th with 3.5 litres of displacement prepared car in Buchloe shoot 360-370 hp and a year later – 470 hp. The great potential of 3,5 SCL was not enough and at the end of 1977 Bovensiepen announced that Alpina left the motor sport.
Changing the priorities
Frankfurt Motor Show 1978 was marked by the presentation of a new concept of Alpina operations. On completion of individual units the company has moved to a comprehensive review of the structure, presented the new generation of cars – Alpina B6 2,8 based on the BMW 3 Series with a 6-cylinder engine (218 hp), while the base model shipped with 4-cylinder unit only.
Besides B6 in Frankfurt two more models were released– B7 Turbo and B7 Turbo Coupe. Both equipped with 6-cylinder engines, but with the KKK turbocharger and a capacity of 300 hp.B7 Turbo thus became the fastest sedan in the world, which accelerates from 0 to 100 kph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed is 256 kph. All engines which are mounted on Alpina cars are from new generation, fully equipped as standard with an electronic ignition system, which was an absolute novelty in the automotive industry.
Alpina pleasantly surprised its customers with speed and dynamics, but even more surprising thing was that Burkard Bovensiepen started up the import of expensive wines. German believed that in this way he would be able to draw attention of connoisseurs of the elite drink, who are mostly rich, to his cars. Extra income has never stopped anyone.
It is difficult to judge what the results brought the “Wineries” Bovensiepen, but engineering and technical potential of Alpina was brilliantly demonstrated in 1981 in the competition for the most economical car, organized by the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, together with Shell. BMW 318i Alpina, built on the basis of model E21, won a kind of ecological marathon at the Nürburgring. For economy it used “disconnected” cylinders and drive only on one wheel. Result – 2,672 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometres. A “five” BMW (E28), prepared in Buchloe, took in-class second place (2.92 l/100 km), second only after diesel Mercedes (2,87 l/100 km).
In 1983, Germany’s federal transport agency assigned Alpina automaker status, and with it the right to assign their own cars VIN-number. In accordance with the standards of the agency, of all German companies to finalize production vehicles the same right enjoyed only Brabus and Ruf (Tuner Porsche). Bovensiepen insists that his company sells ready-made cars rather than individual components, and becomes very offended when he is still called the “tuner”.
Despite the fact that Alpina has gone from racing in 1977, Burkard maintained close ties with BMW Motorsport, which in the early 80s desperately needed a more powerful version of the engine model 635CSi.Munich was again busy with a global project, this time in Formula 1, so that the case took Alpina experts. The Buchloe revised diameters of cylinders and valves, increased compression ratio, and reprogrammed the system of injection and ignition. As a result, for the season 1983 racing coupe 6 Series received the 3.5-liter engine, which develops 285 hp at 6000 rpm.
After two years, Alpina equipped its entire range of catalytic converters, made with the metal components only (excluding ceramics). In 1987, this converter was equipped racing BMW Alpina M3 too. Yes, Bovensiepen decided to come back in a big motor racing. Furthermore, he was actively involved in the drafting of the regulations of the German Touring Car Championship DTM, and his racers – Ellen Lohr, Fabien Giraud, Peter Oberndorfer, Christian Danner and his son Andreas – two years mined many victories in the group “A”. Catalytic converters became standard in the DTM, but Bovensiepen again decided to end the sports program for the sake of expansion of production road cars.
Another novelty from Alpina – B10 Bi-Turbo based on BMW E34 – produced a real sensation. Authoritative journalist and car racer Paul Frere, in the magazine Road & Track, called this vehicle the best sedan in the world, and for a good reason. It gas got a modified 6-cylinder engine of 3430 cm3, equipped with two turbochargers Garrett T25, produces 360 hp at 6000 rpm, allowing to disperse Alpina to 100 kph in just 5.6 seconds. More frolicking car became only Model B12 5,7 Coupe with electronic clutch control Shift-Tronic, which saw the world in 1992.
Bovensiepen with its employees, numbering more than a hundred, in a few years introduced more than one technical solution. In 1993, for example, Alpina cars with automatic transmission were equipped with the system of sequential gearshift Switch-Tronic, control buttons of which brought to the wheel, and since 1995 technology Superkat was commercially introduced – catalytic converter with electric heating, first established on the model of BMW Alpina B12 5,7 E-KAT.
At the beginning of the 1995,Buchloeshipped perhaps one of the most famous models in the company’s history – B8 4,6 based on the BMW E36. Alpina received coachworks for the model from the BMW factory in Regensburg, where Bovensiepen made some changes in its design.
Time after time, opening new horizons for its features, Alpina introduced Model D10 Bi-Turbo diesel engine at the Geneva Motor Show 1999. Experts unanimously admitted this car as the most powerful diesel sedan in the world (245 hp, 254 kph). Meanwhile, Bovensiepen was already involved in preparation of a new masterpiece for those who were attracted by the luxurious and comfortable driving “outdoors”. So, in 2002, a roadster based on the BMW Z8 appeared on the Alpina, which was made in the amount of 555 pieces and for the first time company Bovensiepen’s company took the US market. The roadster was equipped with 8-cylinder petrol engine, as always skilfully forced in Buchloe.
But from a technical point of view, the most interesting was model B7 500-horsepower engine with drive supercharger combined boost with a valve system Valvetronic, which appeared in the 2003.Alpina completely reprogrammed control valve mechanism and made compressor switched off, providing it with a bypass damper. While the accelerator pedal is pressed less than by half the compressor is idling, but it is necessary to open the gas as follows – the valve opens, and cylinders receive an additional charge of fuel mixture at the pressure of 0.8 atm. This technology, by the way, worked with the fuel economy and emissions, to which not only Burkard Bovensiepen was incredibly pleased, but also his son Andreas, who succeeded his father as a head of Alpina.
With the advent of a leadership position Andreas Alpina did not hand over their positions, but also strengthened its. In 2005, the company introduced the successor legendary B10 Bi-Turbo – BMW Alpina B5.Two years later, it opened a new research and test center, released in 2013 its first ever crossover XD3, and in 2014, exactly on the eve of the anniversary, established own record – more than 1,700 sold out cars worldwide.
Despite a lot of changes within the company and in the car business as a whole, Buchloe still cherishes company traditions. Alpina again participates in the race (though not as a factory team), its cars as before are always equipped with the exclusive 20-spoke rims with “secret” (air valve is not positioned on the rim but in the center, under a lockable lid), and Burkard Bovensiepen with his son Andreas are still wildly angry when somebody calls their company a “tuning studio.”