Showing BMW the way. Racing and Alpina went hand in hand, as poacher turned gamekeeper. Words Jack Phillips. Photography Alpina/Motorsport Images.
MADE IN MOTORSPORT
How Alpina built its reputation on track
Things escalated quickly on the track for Alpina. When BMW scaled back its racing exploits in 1970 amid dropping sales, privateers were left to uphold its honour in the European Touring Car Championship – and Alpina stepped willingly up and into the tin-top void.
Wary of tuning rival Schnitzer’s increasing reputation for racing BMWs, Alpina had already ramped up its presence from race-preparer to ‘works’ entrant in 1969. It had dipped its toes in the water the season before: an Alpina-entered 1600/2 lined up for the 1968 Nürburgring 6 Hours and Brno 4 Hours, finishing fourth in the former and failing to finish the latter. A year later, Günther Huber and Jürgen Neuhaus began a full works season by winning Division 2 at the opening Monza 4 Hours in a 2002. Alpina gave the 2800 CS its international racing debut, too, scoring a ninth place at the 1969 Spa 24 Hours – eating its way through 10 sets of tyres.
In 1970, just two years after going racing, Alpina could count Helmuts Kelleners and Marko among its drivers – the former a podium finisher at Le Mans and the latter a year away from La Sarthe’s top step. By July that same year, up-and-coming Austrian Niki Lauda was wringing a 1600’s neck, Dieter Quester a 2800 CS.
More importantly, Kelleners and Huber had announced Alpina’s arrival by claiming victory in the Spa 24 Hours, driving a 2800 CS with wide arches and Alpina’s innovative fuel injection, but otherwise little changed from the road car. Still, at the end of the season, Alpina had etched BMW into the ETCC’s manufacturer trophy. By now a quasi-works team, the Alpina-BMW bond was solidified for ever.
What followed was a partnership that was both iconic and cult. Big-name drivers such as (deep breath…) Hans-Joachim Stuck, Gérard Larrousse, Willi Kauhsen, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jacky Ickx, Toine Hezemans, Gijs van Lennep, Brian Muir, Walter Brun, Gunnar Nilsson, Vittorio Brambilla, Tom Walkinshaw, James Hunt, John Miles and Derek Bell all found their names plastered on the doors of Alpina BMWs. So, famously, did Jägermeister (below).
The cars also became stars. The ‘Batmobile’ CSL was suggested by and stripped out by Alpina, the fuel injection was worked on at Buchloe among other developments, ditto the switching in of a ZF ’box. By ’1973, the six-cylinder in Alpina’s CSL was creeping towards 3.6 litres and BMW was regularly being defeated.
Alpina was unbeaten around the Nürburgring at its 24-hour race between 1971 and 1973, with Lauda taking a CSL to victory that final year to wrap up the hat-trick. Alpina would beat the works cars at Silverstone’s Tourist Trophy, too, with Derek Bell – on his tin-top debut! – and Harald Ertl coming out on top in the two-heat race. But BMW now wanted the motorsport arena to itself, withdrawing much of its funding and pulling the rug from beneath a company that had served it so well.
Four years later, Alpina returned to claim the 1977 ETCC title with Quester and the ageing CSL, only to pull back once more to focus on production. The following year would bring the release of the first Alpina-badged road cars. Much like BMW’s own will-they-won’t-they-where- did-they-go love affair with motorsport, Alpina has only briefly been racing since.
Andreas Bovensiepen, son of marque creator Burkard, led the company into DTM with an M3 in the Group A era. His three top-10 finishes were bettered by Fabien Giroix and Ellen Lohr, the former winning at Diepholz. A year and two Christian Danner wins later, and Alpina’s focus was back on road cars for two further decades, ended only by brief outings in GT3 in the 2010s.
Alpina’s competitive itch is – probably, finally – scratched. Check back in 20 years…