Story by Alex Sobran and Sebastian Schmitz
Photography by SSSZ Photo
While the badge might be found on the butts of Alpina’s souped-up 7-Series today, there was a time when B7 meant you had one of the fastest 5ers on the Autobahn (or a Japanese expressway, the company’s second-largest market after its home country). If your B7 was followed by the word “Turbo,” it meant your upright sedan would outpace anything with four doors and a license plate.
By the time the first generation of the 5-Series began production, Alpina already had over a decade of experience building radical BMWs. Before the manufacturer began its in-house competition department, BMW Motorsport, Alpina was one of the most successful privateer tuners working with the company to develop and campaign cars like the 2002 and nearly every iteration of the E9 platform, and thanks in part to early help from tuners like Alpina and Schnitzer the works team CSLs went on to dominate the European touring car circuit in the 1970s.
Later on, BMW Motorsport morphed into BMW M and sold hundreds of thousands of high-performance road cars in the process, but if you wanted something quicker than an M car without losing its understated shape, Alpina was the answer. The company began engineering and selling higher-performance parts for road-going BMWs as far back as the 1960s, and they offered some objectively awesome packages for the CSLs sold to civilians in the decade that followed, but when they turbocharged the first 5-Series in 1978 the company built what is in many minds the quintessential super Bimmer: a sports sedan that took the idea of a businessman’s express and added a cockpit-adjustable boost knob to take it up to 11.
It was the fastest production sedan in the world, and this 300hp “normal” version of the B7 was bested a few years later by the B7S that boasted 330 from its 3.0L to help take the title away from its sibling.
If you’re in the business of selling hi-spec street cars, saying yours is the fastest of its kind pretty much takes care of the marketing department’s responsibilities by itself, so when the E28 generation of the 5-Series launched to replace the E12, Alpina wasn’t about to let its countrymen at AMG take the title away with some automatic-gearbox land yacht with an atmo V8. As one glance at a photo comparison reveals, the E28 had a lot in common with the E12 it superseded, so in the end Alpina’s recipe didn’t need any major revisions to keep their place at the top.
They fitted a KKK K27 turbocharger to the M30 straight-six from the 528i, and along with the supporting modifications it was enough to get power up to 300 mark again. They only built 278 turbocharged B7 sedans based on the E28 though, and not all of these are the same. The so-called Kat versions, like the car pictured here, had around 320hp, and this particular example has received a larger intercooler and some tuning to produce something closer the 340-350 neighborhood.
This car, #265 of 278, belongs to a friend of mine, Sebastian Schmitz. He recently became a father, and one hatchback for the now-three-person household wasn’t going to be enough. Enter the land of certified pre-owned minivans though? Not when you can strap the kid into an Alpina and get him well on the way to the first words being “turbo lag.” Sebastian had wanted to own a classic BMW for a while, and it had to be a sporting model sedan. The quick Q-car scene has become pretty crowded since the 2000s, even within marques (how many M-badged and AMG cars occupy the same model-year lineups?), but looking further back the options start slimming down considerably. Basically, it looked like an E12 M535i or the car it spawned, an E28 M5, were Sebastian’s best options.
Getting more interested in early turbo technology led him to expand his search to include Alpinas from the early 1980s, and despite their rarity and pickier-than-most maintenance schedules and procedures, he entered a situation that left him hopeless but to buy one. They are special pieces of super sedan history, and once he entertained the thought of owning one of such piece it proved a particular sticky one.
So then with the goal set on a roundel with a crankshaft on it instead of Bavarian blue and white, many months of going through the dregs of the internet were in store as he sought the middle ground between overpriced garage queens and rusty pieces of crap that had their special bits parted out before the wall had even come down. Niche cars that would smoke a 911 in period aren’t likely to be the most reliable things, but like so many complex fast cars built in this era their reputations are often based on poor treatment rather than bad engineering. Even so, when Sebastian’s wanted ad caught the attention of a guy selling one with 300,000km on the odometer, he was a little wary. It was the very same car featured in Auto Motor und Sport in 1987, so there was some cool provenance in that regard, but press cars don’t always have the easiest lives…
“Once I took a test drive with the guy though, I was in love and lost every fear associated with the mileage.” The previous owner had had the car for the last 19 years, and cared for it meticulously throughout that time, making sure every component was in proper working order, being sure to cool the turbo after driving, getting it up to temp properly, really just about everything you’d hope a guy selling you a car would have done to it. Then when it was all nice and hot he booted it, and that was that. Sebastian is the happy owner of the car now, a proud parent with a car that’s two doors cooler than any bachelor coupe.