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    Classic Alpina Superb #BMW E30 C2 2.7 fully-restored by #Alpina-GB . Vitamin C A glorious E30 Alpina C2 2.7 fully restored by Alpina GB. Top dog in the non-M E30 line-up was the sublime Alpina C2 2.7 and this glorious example that has been painstakingly restored by Alpina GB must be one of the best in the world. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Dave Smith.

    There’s something about the E30 that’s just so right – it’s one of the icons of BMW’s past and it seems almost impossible that it’s now nigh-on 23 years since the last examples rolled off the production line. No BMW fan worth their salt can argue against it being a turning point for the company – it moved the game on significantly from the E21 and became a virtual blueprint for what we expect of a modern era BMW. Back in the mid- to late-’80s it was the darling of the red-braced, Filofax-clutching, oversized mobile phone wielding yuppie, but even this didn’t seem to put folk off yearning to own one.

    No matter which version you’re talking about the E30 has an intrinsic quality that flows from its every pore; from the way the electric window switches operate to the silky smooth steering column stalks, it exudes a wonderfully engineered feel. Each and every one of the major controls, from the clutch to the brake pedal to the well-balanced throttle to the steering, all have that same engineered feel and operate as if they are perfectly lubricated. As an exercise in tactility the E30 is just about perfect.

    Over the years the E30 has also become the darling of the modified BMW enthusiast and just about every BMW engine you care to name, from the humble M50 through to the more exotic S50 to the outrageous S85 V10, has found its way under the car’s delicately sculpted bonnets with varying degrees of success. These days, though, the E30 is also being dragged by its rusty scuttle panel into the realm of the classic car world. And with good reason. It doesn’t matter which version you covet, two- or four-door, Convertible or Touring, they’re all sublime machines and have a strong following these days. Obviously the bonkers nature of the classic car bubble has made the motorsport icon that is the E30 M3 into an obscenely overpriced irrelevance for all but the very well-heeled or those who were lucky enough to hold onto them when they were just a secondhand 3 Series but there are still plenty of other E30s worth coveting.

    If you’ve not had a look at used values of E30s recently then you could be in for a bit of a shock when you go looking, as they’re definitely on an upward spiral with the larger-engined machinery now fetching pretty good money. While you’d have thought that the ultimate E30 is the M3, many actually prefer the way the six-cylinder cars drive, with their torquey six-cylinder engines providing a less frenetic experience than the all-or-nothing S14 in the M3 which doesn’t really do all that much below 4000rpm. Fine for when you’re chasing apices, but less relaxing when you’re simply cruising. And of the six-cylinder variants it’s the Alpina models that are perhaps the most coveted. After all, BMW made thousands and thousands of 325is but Alpina only made a few of its take on the ultimate E30.

    But which one of Alpina’s E30s was the best? Its model line-up ranged from the C1 2.3, through the C2 models to the larger-engine B6 2.8- and 3.5-litre examples, with the ultimate incarnation perhaps being the B6 3.5S based on the E30 M3 and packing 260hp of straight-six goodness. That latter car is ultrarare though – just 62 were built – and all were lefthand drive. A better bet would be one of the less extreme models – still desirable, made in small numbers, and perhaps most crucially, offering something a little extra in the way of performance than what was available at the time from BMW itself. While the Alpina 2.3- and 2.5-litre machines were pretty decent they didn’t offer a huge amount over the 323i or 325i so in the middle ground of the Alpina E30 range are the 2.7-litre machines, initially badged as C2s in both Germany and the UK before the German market machines took on the B3 moniker in the latter part of 1987.


    No matter which version of the C2 (or B3) 2.7 you talk about, all shared the same basic engine architecture using BMW’s small-block six-cylinder M20 engine as a base. The block used was the same as the 2.7-litre ‘eta’ engine used in the E28 525e which shared the 325i’s 84mm bore but had a longer stroke at 81mm, but the magic came from Alpina specific changes such as Mahle pistons and a reworked head, along with a tubular manifold and a reprogrammed Motronic system. These extensive revisions completely changed the character of the unit from the low-powered, torque-rich eta to a much higher-revving sporting unit. Power was up to 210hp at 5800rpm while torque was rated at 197lb ft at 4500rpm – gains of roughly 25 and 20 per cent respectively over a contemporary 325i. Alpina claimed a 0-62mph time of 6.9 seconds which looks to be just about spot on as Autocar tested the first UK example built and found its 0-60mph time to be 6.6 seconds.


    Interestingly the example tested by Autocar was actually the very first C2 2.7 produced, lovingly assembled by Alpina GB’s technicians from parts supplied by Alpina in Buchloe. Naturally enough the transformation to full C2 2.7-spec involved more than just an engine swap, with the new car receiving specially tuned springs, Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and Alpina’s aerodynamic addenda. There were the trademark 20-spoke 16-inch alloys – initially seven inches wide all-round, but as on the example we have here today a staggered set was generally fitted with wider eight-inch rears. Inside there was an Alpina steering wheel and wooden gear knob and the production plaque but after that it was up to the individual customer to decide how far they wanted to go with their interior embellishments.

    So what about the stunning example you can see here? It’s one of the UK-built examples produced at Sytner Nottingham, home of Alpina GB, and was built when it was new by its top technician, Mark Adkin, who assembled the best part of 250 Alpinas during his tenure there between 1983-1989. This particular C2 must now be one of the best in the world as it’s been subject to a full restoration and is absolutely gorgeous. Having been brought up on this generation of machinery when I worked in the dealer network back in the late 1980s this C2 brings the memories flooding back and I’m almost expecting that new car smell when I unlock the driver’s door and slip into the cockpit. It’s not actually that far off – thanks to the recently trimmed leather cockpit – and twisting the key and hearing the straight-six erupting into life with its familiar burble keeps me firmly planted in the 1980s. But before we get onto how this remarkable example drives we should really have a quick look at its journey towards being one of the finest C2s on the planet.


    It’s probably fair to say the story started almost two years ago when Alpina GB recreated an E21 (the first generation 3 Series) C1 2.3 which attracted a huge amount of interest, not only from marque fans but from paying customers, too, with Alpina turning down some pretty substantial offers for the car. With the continued growth of the classic car market the folk at Alpina wondered whether there was actually a business case for buying older Alpinas in need of refurbishment, restoring them back to as-new condition and then selling them, and the C2 was the first of these projects. And the icing on the cake was that Alpina managed to secure the services of its former employee, Mark Adkin, who had originally built the cars when they were new. Who better to restore a 1980s UK-built Alpina that the man who had originally created the car?


    Since he left Alpina Mark has been involved in many automotive projects, from working for Porsche to restoring super-rare rally cars of the 1980s to building F3 engines, so he really was the ideal person to tackle the restoration. Once the car had been sourced Mark set about stripping it down in Alpina GB’s workshops and despite the reputation the E30 has garnered for being a little rust prone he was amazed at the overall condition of the shell, as he explains: “It was very good with virtually no rust – it just needed a little bit of welding around the front jacking points, which is a common place for E30s to rust. The rest of the car was absolutely fantastic. We did a full strip on it, everything came off – engine, gearbox, all the brake pipes, all the fuel pipes, fuel tank – everything was taken off it and I undersealed it all and put it back to what it should be. It was absolutely immaculate. I was rather surprised quite how good it was – one of the best ones I’ve seen.”

    Part of the reason for its excellent overall condition was its low mileage – it was still showing less than 70k miles when we tested it – and the fact that it had been dry stored since 1998. Quite often when taking on this sort of restoration one can find that parts availability is a problem but Mark was able to source everything he needed from BMW – including new brake pipes that he painstakingly bent and fitted (they come from BMW in straight lengths), but he was adamant about using OE parts as he reckoned that if you make them yourself they never look original or quite right. Just about the only part he was concerned about was the tubular exhaust manifold, as Mark explains: “I think the only thing we were worried about was the exhaust manifold as they’re like finding hen’s teeth new these days but this one was in reasonable condition so we sent it away to a company called Zircotec. I’ve used it several times in the past for coating and it does a brilliant job. The coating keeps 50 per cent more heat inside the manifold so you get less heat in the engine bay, too.”

    Mark was expecting to need to rebuild the engine, but when he took it out and inspected it he was amazed by its condition: “I had a look inside the engine when I got that out and it looked perfect. It was the same with the camshaft; the compressions on it were good and the cylinder leakage test on it was unbelievable. I think the worst was six per cent out, which is fine – especially when you consider you expect four to six per cent on a new engine!”


    Naturally enough Mark completely refreshed the suspension with new springs, Bilstein dampers and new bushes where required, the steering rack was checked and thoroughly cleaned, the propshaft was removed and sent for specialist examination and returned with a clean bill of health… by now you should be getting the picture that if it could be removed and checked it was! The brakes also came in for attention. “I took the callipers off, totally stripped them down, put them in a blaster, cleaned up the pistons, fitted new seals and they’re now absolutely like brand-new… basically it’s a brand-new car, or as good as you’re going to get!” Mark says with a grin. As I mentioned earlier the interior has also been given a refresh; air conditioning has been retrofitted and the leather has been redone, too. Mark explains how this happened back in the day: “The basic car that arrived with us was just a bog-standard, steelwheeled, standard suspension, plastic steering wheeled, cloth interiored 325i. If the customer wanted the Alpina interior we had a local guy who used to do the retrimming for us – he actually did the interior on this car even though he’s semi-retired now. He did it when it was new and has now done it again for us, which is a nice touch. Basically whatever the customer wanted we built it for them so virtually every one I built was slightly different.”

    Other nice touches in the interior are the dials which now sport red needles. Mark fills us in on the background of this: “The painted needles on the dials were an optional extra – the customer could basically choose to have them or not. From what I can remember when the very first M3 came out Frank [Sytner] saw it and said, ‘oh, they’re got red needles; why don’t we paint ours red?’ We put the Alpina lettering on all of the dials and then if the customer wanted the needles painting red then I’d do that as well, stripping the dashboard down. It took about a day to do that. The worst thing was that if you didn’t let the paint dry properly before building it back up the speedo used to stick on the bottom stop. You’d be driving down the road registering zero miles per hour until you got to about 40mph when all of a sudden it would jump up! You had to be absolutely certain it was completely dry before building it back up and if you put too much paint on again it would affect it, with the speedo reading too low so you had to be very precise when painting those needles!”


    From talking to Mark it’s clear that this C2 has had a significant amount of time, love and affection – not to mention money – thrown at it over a seven or eight month period and it didn’t take long for it to find a new owner. A customer who was actually looking at buying a new car popped into the showroom and virtually bought it on the spot! Kindly he’s returned it to allow us to have a drive in it and as I mosey out of Sytner’s Nottingham HQ I think I’m actually more nervous about damaging this machine then virtually any other new BMW or Alpina I’ve driven recently. In the event I really shouldn’t have worried as the car is so easy and enjoyable to drive. The clutch bite point is perfect, the throttle response is silky smooth and the brake pedal has plenty of feel and just the right amount of travel. And, of course, compared to a modern car the E30 feels absolutely tiny so you always feel like there’s plenty of space around it.

    Threading it through traffic out of Nottingham is a joy and as confidence grows you almost start wanting to dive into gaps left by slower moving traffic – it just feels so wieldy and taut in its responses. Fortunately it doesn’t take long to get out of the city centre and as soon as I’m on more flowing, less congested country roads the C2 really comes into its own.


    The whole car feels completely solid as if it’s been hewn from a single piece of steel and finely honed, and now I can use a few more revs and explore the performance it’s easy to see why the motoring press of the day generally raved about the C2. Rapid progress is easily made without breaking into a sweat – there’s plenty of torque from the enlarged M20 unit and the engine feels hugely flexible and unburstable. Floor it at 60mph in fifth and it accelerates rather briskly thanks to its excellent spread of torque. Drop it down a cog or two and it really flies, and bearing in mind that as this machine is someone else’s pride and joy I was by no means using all the revs either.

    It’s not all about the car’s straight line go though as the chassis feels wonderfully balanced and seems to have perfect poise. On some pretty undulating and bumpy straights the suspension absorbs everything you can throw at it, even when the speed picks up, and compared to today’s stiffly-sprung BMWs there’s real compliance here, leading to an excellent ride quality yet without feeling soggy or under-damped. Add some faster sweeping corners into the mix and it again feels perfectly planted with just the right combination of body roll and grip. And while the standard E30 rack does call for a fair amount of arm twirling in the tighter corners you’re never in any doubt as to what the front wheels are doing thanks to the feelsome mechanical rack.

    In short it feels wonderful. Yes, I’m sure you’d be travelling much faster and far more economically in a 120d but you’ll be having much more fun in the Alpina, and with a classic it’s not about the speed but the enjoyment. And there are few more joyous ways of spending a day than punting around the Nottinghamshire back roads in this C2 2.7 – it’s a testament to the car’s original design and the man that both built and rebuilt it. Find another and we’re pretty sure he’d do it all again…

    A new Alpina exhaust came with the car and sounds absolutely glorious; period decals look wonderful.

    “Basically it’s a brand-new car, or as good as you’re going to get!”

    TECH DATA #1988 #BMW-E30 / #Alpina-C2-2.7 / #Alpina-C2-2.7-E30 / #Alpina-C2-E30 / #Alpina-E30 / #BMW-Alpina-C2-2.7 / #BMW-Alpina-C2-2.7-E30 / #BMW-E30-Alpina / #BMW-Alpina / #Alpina / #Alpina-C2

    ENGINE: #M20 Six-cylinder, SOHC 12-valve / #BMW-M20 / #M20B27 / #M20-Alpina
    CAPACITY: 2693cc
    MAX POWER: 210hp @ 5800rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 213lb ft @ 4500rpm
    0-62MPH: 6.9 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 143mph
    ECONOMY: Approx 22mpg
    WEIGHT: 1300kg
    PRICE: £27,000 (1988)

    There’s plenty of torque from the enlarged M20 unit and the engine feels hugely flexible and unburstable.
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