One could say Alpina is to BMW what AMG is to Mercedes, or even, in a way, what Abarth is to FIAT. Unlike AMG or Abarth, Alpina adds a unique enhanced comfort and luxurious side to the upgraded performance it offers.
Burkard Bovensiepen was still reading engineering when he developed a twin Weber carbs intake manifold for the BMW 1500. That was very high quality work and Munich agreed to market it. The Alpina company was founded on 1 January 1965, set up in a corner of the family typewriter factory in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. Three years later, Alpina started racing its own cars. Soon, victories in touring, hill-climbing and the 24 Hours of Francorchamps races ensured the brand’s reputation. The cars were entrusted to the greatest drivers of the time, including a certain Jacky Ickx.
In 1970, the tuner moved to more suitable and much larger premises in Buchloe, where it is still located today. Eight years later, Alpina started to convert BMW road cars. In 1979, Burkart Bovensiepen developed a new wine import business alongside the automotive activities. In 1983, the German Ministry of Transport recognised Alpina as a fully-fledged manufacturer. Today, the company employs about 300 people and last year, it produced about 2000 cars. Besides Germany and Europe, the most important markets are the USA and Japan.
Working along big brother…
For 55 years, the brand has been in the shadow of its big brother from Munich. Obviously, it must follow the manufacturer’s strategic directions, whether they are SUVs or… electric vehicles. Assembly is carried out on the BMW production lines but… to Alpina standards. Over time, the brand has filled in gaps in the Munich range. No M3 or M5 Touring available from BMW? No problem, Alpina would take care of these niches. A BMW M Alpina- tweaked is not like an AMG prepared by Brabus… it is a more refined, more comfortable and more exclusive version. Alpina is a manufacturer without a design office: there is no need for it as it exclusively refines BMW bases. Over the years, the Alpina formula has not really changed… it just improved, like good wines : the turbine-like rims have grown in size, but are still immediately recognisable. The bumpers are always more aerodynamic but still subtle. And the iconic brand’s blue and green metallic colours are still available. In the 1970s, the cars also featured stripes in contrasting colours.
Today, although these are still available, Alpina cars are much more discreet. Inside, refinement and high-quality materials are the order of the day. The brand sets itself apart with its unique “Comfort +” mode, for the autobox, something which is not available anywhere else. We could see them as “Individual”, comfort-oriented versions but they offer even more performance than the purely sporty M versions. The B5 is more powerful than the M5, but the emphasis on a comfort-oriented driving style reinforces its efficiency and everyday enjoyment. Everything Alpina does is BMW- approved, even if the brand’s technical choices were always its own decision. Moreover, Alpina works as a subcontractor for BMW, developping engines, suspensions…and a myriad other parts for the car maker.
The future of Alpina
Even if it’s a small manufacturer, Alpina must change and adapts itself to electric mobility. Ever more stringent and restrictive exhaust emissions regulations also affect it, just like the ever trickier complexity of validating on-board software or new driver assistance requirements. Such a challenging context means the current five years collaboration agreement with BMW signed in 2020, will be the last. The takeover of Alpina by BMW will lead to changes in Buchloe. BMW has undertaken to keep Alpina collaborators that won’t have work at the factory after 2025. Burkard Bovensiepen took a bit of a back seat in 2020 (he’s more than 80!) and handed over the company to his sons Florian and Andreas. The former is the company’s finance officer, while the latter is more involved on the product side. Andreas started his career as an engineer at BMW. There, he workied in the chassis department, before being in charge of the Z8 project and… joining Alpina a few years later.
However, the Bovensiepen family will not be leaving the automotive world : its members want to develop new, different kinds mobility solutions. The assembly and manufacturing activities will evolve into engineering services that will become available to car manufacturers outside of the BMW Group. At the same time, the company will set up a new purchase, sale and restoration department dedicated to classic Alpina cars and the manufacture of currently unavailable parts for them. Alpina Wein GmbH + Co KG will continue its activities. Is there a risk that the brand will lose its exclusivity after 2025? Will the iconic V8 be upgraded ? Will it comply with future emissions standards? The development costs would surely be high and even prohibitive, especially for low production figures… Let’s just hope that BMW treats Alpina like a precious jewel. And that, in a few years time, we will not come across “Alpina line” or “Pack Alpina”-branded electric BMWs on every street corner, a bit like the “M pack” 1 series that are all over the place today! (Text: Paul-Edouard Urbain / Translation: Dimitri Urbain)