|1988 Alpina B7 Turbo/1 Katalysator
|278 (42 with catalytic converter)
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Plaque near passenger’s side front shock tower
|Engine Number Location:
|Stamped on engine block, above starter
|The Alpina Register
|1987–88 BMW M5, 1986–92 Mercedes-Benz 300E AMG, 1990–95 Mercedes-Benz 500E
This car, Lot 59778, sold for $167,535, including buyer’s premium, on Bring a Trailer on November 17, 2021.
Understanding this head-scratching auction outcome helps put the rarity and uniqueness of an Alpina BMW into modern perspective. Alpina is a tuning company focused on BMWs that came from humble origins, but its products are emerging as valuable artifacts of BMW history.
Alpina through the years
Alpina was founded in 1965 by Burkard Bovensiepen, beginning operations in a small building that was part of an affiliated typewriter factory. Initially, Alpina provided customers with upgraded carburetors, crankshafts and cylinder heads that generated more power from BMW engines. Over the years, the company evolved and became more sophisticated, its extensive modifications spanning most of the BMW model range. Although Alpinas are often (and somewhat mistakenly) seen as reimagined M cars, they are lately becoming more revered as distinct, tastefully modified, high-performance touring cars.
Unlike AMG, which began as a similar independent tuner, Alpina is still a sovereign firm today, though it maintains unusually close ties with the factory. One distinction of Alpina is that the German Federal Ministry of Transport considers it as an actual manufacturer of automobiles. This fact means that each Alpina produced after 1983 has its own bespoke VIN and is registered as an Alpina, not a BMW.
Authentic and original
Our subject car has a turbocharged 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine that is equipped with rare sport catalytic converters (hence, “Katalysator”) to add 20 hp. The improvements to the engine result in an Alpina-claimed 320 horsepower and 383 ft-lb of torque, compared with 218 hp from a stock BMW 535i.
It is a loaded example painted in desirable Diamantschwarz Metallic with optional black BMW leather heated seats replacing the standard Alpina cloth-covered items. Special Alpina touches are extensive and include a four-spoke Alpina steering wheel, Alpina wood shift knob, revised cylinder head, K27 turbocharger, reprogramed Motronic fuel injection, lightweight Mahle pistons, Alpina-spec camshaft and exhaust, Alpina/Bilstein suspension, 16-inch Alpina alloy wheels over larger Girling disc brakes, and proper Alpina graphics and badges. Importantly, this car has a 5-speed Getrag manual and optional a/c. An authentic patinated Alpina plaque is affixed to the center console and indicates this car is serial number 0243.
Before the auction, this B7 had some correction work done to the bodywork, spoilers, bumpers, sunroof and miscellaneous chrome components. This work was likely necessary, given the normal wear and tear of 86,000 miles of use. None of these repairs implies collision damage or evidence of a significant accident. Several important detail items were included with the vehicle — associated literature, original service books, a toolkit, spare keys, import documentation and more.
Miles matter less
The diverse, positive, passionate and thoughtful commentary on this auction is among the liveliest ever to grace the pages of an online auction. The discussion covered wonderful reminiscences about the late BMW and Alpina expert and Enthusiast Auto Group founder Eric Keller, and friendly technical dialogues between rabid Alpina and BMW enthusiasts. One particular quote eloquently framed the argument for coughing up six figures for a 4-door Bavarian sedan from the 1980s:
“If you look at the crazy run-up in the pricing of similar-era Mercedes AMGs, this early Alpina is much rarer and more refined. It’s exceedingly difficult to improve on BMW’s OEM engineering. Alpina is one of the rare examples of successful re-engineering (much faster, handles better, but does not compromise on ride quality, noise and harshness). In terms of RUF values, this is bargain-basement pricing.”
While our subject car has relatively high mileage, it appears to be well cared for and properly maintained. Akin to the meteoric rise in value of high-mileage Mercedes 500E models, this market segment seems to care less about mileage and is more focused on color, condition and history. Performance sedans like the Mercedes 500E and modified BMW E28 5 Series models were not cars to be saved. Instead, they were vehicles to be driven, enjoyed and used up. This B7’s sub-100k miles is a drop in the bucket compared to its theoretical longevity. If this Alpina was a tube of Colgate, it’s still three-quarters full — and the frothy auction outcome reflects this overall market viewpoint. This B7 squarely hits all the marks, and its desirable color and overall condition justify its $167k price.
Only the beginning
Authentic Alpinas will increasingly become untouchable for the average collector. One auction comment lamented selling an old rust-bucket Alpina car years ago for a song. At a recent concours in Palm Beach, FL, my 17,000-mile E30 M3 (sold to me by Keller 10 years ago) was trounced on the show field by a spectacular original and low-mileage BMW 850i Alpina. The owner waxed poetically about its dozens of Alpina upgrades, including the valve covers, unique seat stitching and impressive doorsills.
Today, AMG has become commercialized while Alpina remains more exclusive. Early Alpina cars should ultimately eclipse pre-Mercedes-acquisition AMG cars because they were generally rarer while offered in various desirable models. Perhaps the ultimate distinction, Alpina cars are their own product, unique from garden-variety BMWs. The coming years will be kind to Alpina artifacts and most models should see a steady rise in valuation. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bring a Trailer.)