Life Cycle The family-owned life of Germany’s oldest-known 1969 BMW Alpina 2002ti. The life story of an Alpina 2002ti Racer, rally car, daily-driver, family heirloom – this remarkable BMW has been all of these things at the same time. Its two family owners tells its tale Words Sam Dawson. Photography Jörg Wellmann.
Germany’s oldest Alpina is a family car that ruled the Nürburgring – find out how.
Alpina BMW A one-family life
1969 – Gisbert Nitzsche orders a new BMW
‘I had a BMW 1800 Neue Klasse at the time, and I wanted something more sporty,’ said Gisbert Nitzsche of the car he ordered on 9 January 1969. ‘The ti was the most powerful 2002 in 1969, with 120bhp and less weight than the 1800, and I wanted to go on the racetrack with it as well as on driving holidays with the family, so I ordered it with the five-speed gearbox and limited-slip differential.
‘It should have been delivered to my local BMW dealer, Reichert, in Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, but in March BMW AG wrote to me telling me it would not be possible to deliver the car until May. It got to May, and the car still wasn’t at the dealer – I was really angry by now. BMW said it would not be possible to supply cars with five-speed gearboxes and limited-slip differentials until September.
1971: Gisbert’s daughter decides between transportation modes on holiday in the Swabian Alps.
‘It was around this time that I started corresponding with Alpina in Buchloe, which was offering this specification among its catalogue options. So I decided to take a four-speed 2002ti with a standard differential from the factory in Munich on 12 June, and have the gearbox and differential delivered to Reichert by Alpina. The car was first registered on 16 June.
‘I had written to Alpina to request all the stuff they did for ’02s, and after registration I brought it to Buchloe, where the car was fitted with Scheel racing seats, Alpina steering wheel and rack, and adjustable anti-roll bars front and rear, but not Alpina wheels. Alpina’s largest wheels were only six inches wide, and my ‘enemies’ on track with their Ford Capris and Opel Kadetts already had wheels eight or nine inches wide. So I ordered some seven-inch-wide, 13-inch wheels from Ronal instead – the widest you could legally put on an ’02 at the time. I ordered two sets – I thought it could be good to have some more if one got broken on the track. But they never did.
‘And of course, I ordered the best engine Alpina built for the 2002 at that time – the A3, with 165bhp, although in 1999 when the car was dyno-tested, it was revealed to actually have 173bhp!’
Few cars wear a Nürburgring boot badge as legitimately as this Alpina. The 2002 is now enjoying a hardearned period of respite while the next generation of potential owners navigate their formative years. Today, the 2002 wears its original Ronal wheels and the replacement grille and splitter supplied by Kittel in 1981.
And so, the dual-role life of this BMW began. ‘I won one cup after another at weekends, but for the first 15 years of its life I had no other car,’ explains Gisbert. ‘On all the other days of the week, I went to work in it, and on holiday too.’ Gisbert also kept a logbook with the car, writing down details of every trip and noting the fuel consumption. ‘The car needs 14 litres of Super for 100km,’ he wrote. ‘Except on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where it needs over 20 litres, of course’! The BMW’s competition career met with immediate success. Gisbert entered three BMW Club sprint races in the remainder of 1969, and won the first two – at Backnang and Böblingen. Most of Gisbert’s races were local sprints and slaloms, but there was one place he kept returning to on a much higher level – the Internationaler Fahrerlehrgang (international driving course) at the Nürburgring, where Gisbert would attempt to set ever-faster laps of the Nordschleife.
Gisbert’s packed programme of sprints and Stadtmeisterschaften (City Championships) throughout 1969-1973 resulted in 72 podium finishes, 42 of which saw him on the top step. However, from 1974 he concentrated his efforts on the annual Internationaler Fahrerlehrgang Nürburgring.
‘My teachers at the ’Ring were Hans Stuck and his son Hans-Joachim. Those were my most memorable drives in the ’02. I covered thousands of kilometres there. Race on Sunday, work on Monday, all with the same car.’ From 1974-1977, Gisbert finished in either first or second place at all his events at the Nürburgring. But after 1980, he was lucky to drive the car again. ‘On 19 June 1980, I was at the Nordschleife for a driving course,’ he explains. ‘It was like this – you first walk the track in groups of 10-12 people, while your instructor explains where to brake and find the ideal racing line, before the group goes back to their cars to try and transpose what they’ve just learnt.
1972: family holiday in the Black Forest
‘Of course, when the track walk is in session, the circuit is closed to all cars. However, at 11:25am – I’ll never forget the time – we were stood at the wall at Breitscheid, the lowest part of the track, while our instructor Winfried Voigt was talking us through the corner. Suddenly, a BMW M1 E26 driven by Hans-Georg Bürger came down the hill at race speed, saw the people, and panic-braked. He lost control, hit my right leg right under the knee, and cut it off. No-one else was injured, and he missed my left leg entirely. An army helicopter brought me to a military hospital, but they couldn’t do anything for my leg. The first person to visit me was a priest! I said “What do you want? I am NOT here to die – go and get a doctor!” At the scene, Bürger had promised to visit me in hospital, but sadly he died four weeks later in a Formula 2 race.
‘Giving up doesn’t exist for me. I got a prosthesis – which was very heavy compared to those of today – and tried to get back on the road first on my motorbike, because you don’t need to use your right leg on that. This was in September. In October, my BMW club held its last slalom race of the year. I drove withmy prosthesis and finished in second place.
‘In January 1981, I had a little frontal crash that damaged the headlamps and radiator grille. I replaced the whole front grille with a ‘mask’ from Kittel Autosport, which contains four headlamps from a BMW E3 saloon. Unfortunately it was designed for the later ’02s with their wider kidney grilles, so the look of the car isn’t quite as it was originally.
1975: at the Dienten am Hochkönig ski resort in Austria.
‘But it was still my only car, until 1984, when I bought an E28 528i. I kept the 2002 in the garage and put the 528 outside. This was unusual at the time – 15-year-old cars either no longer existed, or were the ones left outside to give garage space to new cars. But I decided early on, in 1969, to preserve this car forever.’ The car was pampered but only received limited use, with Internationaler Fahrerlehrgangen at the Österreichring in 1984 and the Salzburgring in 1985 being highlights. But it was at this point when Carsten Nitzsche, Gisbert’s nephew, Örst encountered the car.
‘I was 12, and took a train to Stuttgart in the summer holidays to visit my cousin,’ he recalls. ‘Gisbert picked me up at the central station in that car, and it was the Örst time in my life I saw, heard and felt such an amazing car, with its sound, driving behaviour and acceleration! Over the next few years, I saw Gisbert about two or three times a year at family gatherings, but he didn’t bring the ’02. It was a fun car for him by that time, no longer a daily, and too loud for his wife over long distances. But when I did see it, we’d go for a drive in it, and I always said, “If you ever think about selling it, please ask me Örst.”’
‘A priest came to visit. I said, “What do you want? I’m not here to die – get me a doctor!”’
1999 – Gisbert keeps his promise to Carsten
‘In September 1998, Gisbert called me up and asked me whether I’d like the car,’ recalls Carsten. ‘He was moving from Fellbach to Northern Germany, and said he was buying a new Alpina B3 – well of course I wanted it! We had to wait until after the winter, when there was no more salt on the road, before I could drive it the 450 kilometers back to my home. The Örst day without salt was 13 March 1999, and the trip took all day.
‘I decided to change the ownership papers exactly on the car’s 30th birthday – 16 June 1999. People in Germany like to keep these special anniversaries. At German classic car meetings you’ll Önd owners pointing out their paperwork, with dates maintained throughout its ownership. It helped that I needed to go to the government office to get the car’s ‘H-plates’ (Historische – special numberplates identifying the car as a classic), for which it became eligible at 30 years old and not one day younger. A second reason for waiting until the 16th!
2006: at the Hamburger Stadtpark-Revival regularity rally. 2005: meeting Florian and Andreas Boevensiepen, sons of Alpina founder Burkhard. 2006: passing over the Alps during the Bavaria Tour.
‘I tried to learn as much as I could about the car’s driving style on that Örst run home. Once it was registered in my name, I took a road trip through Germany with a friend of mine with a 100bhp Volkswagen Beetle, stopping in a different town every evening, gradually learning how the car steered, how to use its brakes properly. It’s still amazing how well it accelerates for a 1969 car. With 950kg and 173bhp, it can do 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds – I get a lot of funny looks from drivers of modern cars. The 75 percent limited-slip differential helps too – you can drive it very hard into curves. The car talks to you.
‘There wasn’t much I needed to do to it when I got it. Gisbert had looked after it very well, so no paintwork was needed, and the sills had been replaced in 1987. The lower doors needed a rust repair, but that was it in terms of bodywork. There was a slight oil leak from the engine, so I dismantled it and rebuilt it with new seals. They’re still Öne, 20 years later.
Registration document shows transference into Carsten’s name exactly 30 years on. 2006: taking in the sights on the Bavaria tour. Carsten and family with some of the Alpina’s trophies.
‘When the weather was good, in the Örst few years of my ownership, and with no children back then, I used to drive it 20km to work – a bit of fun to start my day. But not in winter, not with salt on the roads.
‘The car was unknown on the old BMW scene. Gisbert wasn’t in any clubs so people had no idea it existed’
‘By 2001, I started to take it to Oldtimer regularity rallies, and was surprised how good my wife and I became at these – we got a lot of trophies too!’ Carsten also contested rallies with it for the next ten years. ‘I also took it to big classic-car meetings,’ Carsten adds. ‘The car was unknown on the old BMW scene, because Gisbert wasn’t a member of any classic BMW or Alpina clubs – people had no idea it existed. Which made for a surprise when I joined the Alpina Club and realised mine was its oldest car! We were invited to Alpina’s 40th birthday celebrations at Buchloe in 2005, partly because Andreas Boevensiepen, son of founder Burkhard, wanted his photo taken with it. The Alpina Club only accepts you as a member when you can prove your car was originally owned by Alpina when it was built. Because Alpina carried out its modifications before the car was registered, my car’s paperwork confirms it as an Alpina, rather than a BMW.
‘Every four years the 02 Club holds its five-day Bavaria Tour. The first of these we did was in 2002, the second in 2006 – the 40th anniversary of the 02-series. By the time the next round of anniversary rallies came around, we had children and were too busy.’ But before the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, the 2002 set off on its most arduous adventures.
‘In 2007 and 2008, I contested the 2000km durch Deutschland – an eight-day, Sunday-to-Sunday rally that covers the whole of Germany,’ says Carsten. ‘In 2007, the starting point was in Dresden. We took the car to the scrutineering bay ahead of the start, and the left-side driveshaft broke. I went to the nearest BMW dealership and said, “I’m in a rally and I need this part so I can start tomorrow!” – BMW Classic sent the part overnight, it arrived by 7:30am, and by 8am I was on the start line. That dealership was owned by racing driver and constructor Heinz Melkus, who showed me around his collection while the driveshaft was being fitted.
‘In 2008 it happened again, at exactly the same point in the rally, but it was the right-hand driveshaft this time! This time, the rally started in Ingolstadt. Once again, I went into the nearest BMW dealership, explained the problem, and they said, “It’s not possible.” I said, “Yes it is, and you’re in Audi’s hometown – you have to show what BMW can do!” – reluctantly, they called BMW Classic and sure enough, I was on the start line for eight o’clock the next morning.’ Carsten won his class on the 2008 2000km durch Deutschland, and finished third overall.
Gisbert in familiar Surroundings. Gisbert and Carsten toast to the Alpina’s past and future.
‘I don’t really use it at the moment,’ Carsten admits. ‘I have two children, aged four and six. They like my old cars – I also have a BMW 2500 E3 saloon – but their child seats won’t fit in the back of the 2002. I don’t do rallies in it any more either, just classic car shows. It’s only covered 800km in the last two years.
‘In future though, I can see it being used much more often, once the kids have grown up. They’re often asking, “When can we have a go in the orange car?” – hopefully it won’t be too long.’