Rare tuned version of BMW’s Z4 marks the end of an era for its maker
Mention tweaked BMWs and most people think of the much-loved ‘M’ cars. But what about the less obvious products of Alpina? There will be few evo readers who haven’t heard of Alpina, but not all will realise that 2015 marks half a century since Alpina was officially founded, after Burkard Bovensiepen created his first twin-carb conversions for the BMW 1500 in a shed around the back of his family’s typewriter factory.
Within three years the typewriters were out of the window and Alpina was fully focused on building hot BMWs, with drivers such as Derek Bell, James Hunt, Niki Lauda and Jackie Ickx going on to prove their worth with a raft of touring car victories during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Around the same time, BMW tasked Alpina with creating a version of its 3.0 CSL for touring car racing, the result being the legendary, lightweight ‘Batmobile’ that, as a homologation model, was supplied with a rear wing packed away in the boot – because using it on German roads was illegal.
Dozens of Alpina models have been created since, but we would tip the Roadster S as being the one to invest in. Available from 2004 to 2008, it was the last Alpina to have its engine – a 3.4-litre in-line six – hand built at the Buchloe factory before all mechanical work shifted to BMW’s Munich line (nowadays, only the final trimming is done at Alpina HQ).
Based on the Z4, the Roadster S offered 300bhp, 267lb ft, 165mph, significant suspension upgrades and the all-important manual gearbox. Subtle styling tweaks and special Alpina wheels also gave the car greater presence, while the interior got more leather.
Sytner, the UK’s sole BMW agent for Alpina in the UK since 1983, struggled to shift the first Roadster Ss and eventually dropped prices of both the standard and ‘Lux’ versions to below £40,000. Today they start from as little as £10,000. Rear-wheel drive, 300bhp, six-speed manual, up to 32mpg and only 167 made in right-hand drive. What are you waiting for?
BMW Z4 M Roadster
The ‘M’ version of this generation of Z4 arrived after the Alpina, in 2006. It has more power (338bhp), but is limited to 155mph and is less rare. Still good, though.
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG
5.5-litre V8, 355bhp. The hairdresser’s convertible becomes a hot-rod thanks to a big dose of AMG power.
Porsche Boxster S
Examples of Porsche’s 306bhp mid-engined sports car from the same era as the Alpina are generally cheaper and more plentiful, but have comparable performance.
Words: Simon de Burton/evo Magazine