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Car Reviews It’s not rocket science: How Alpina built the fastest four-door in the world

To some, it's just another old BMW. To people who know what that Alpina badge represents, it's a four-doored rocketship.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Andreas Bovensiepen’s business card indicates that he is the CEO and owner of a company that is in the business of manufacturing exclusive automobiles. That’s not accurate in the slightest. Instead, he builds leather-lined cruise missiles.

Here’s the latest rocket in the arsenal, the 2020 Alpina B7. Equipped with a twin-turbo 4.4L V-8, it produces some 600 horsepower, and is capable of a top speed of 330 kilometres an hour. That’s faster than any M- or AMG-badged sedan, making the B7 the fastest four-door in the world. But should you see one parked at the curb, you might stroll right past it.

“In Germany, there is a trend for understatement,” Bovensiepen says. “I’ve even seen an M3 with the badge of a 320 diesel. With the B7, the power is there, but nobody sees it.”

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Tuned more for reserves of torque rather than peaky top-end power, Alpina's take on BMW's twin-turbo V8 still produces 600 horsepower.

Brendan McAleer

The casual bystander sees only a BMW 7-series, perhaps noting that it’s wearing a set of fetching multispoke wheels. If told of the B7′s high-velocity prowess, eyebrows might raise, but the speed and power is only part of Alpina’s story. There’s far more going on here beneath the sheet metal.

Established in 1965 by Burkhard Bovensiepen, Andreas’s father, Alpina began improving BMW’s handiwork immediately. The red and blue crest of the company still bears a stylized carburettor and crankshaft, like those fitted to early BMW products to boost performance.

Customers weren’t the only ones impressed by Alpina’s operations. BMW officially approved Alpina upgrades, with so-equipped vehicles still receiving the full factory warranty. Further, Alpina went on to run BMW’s racing operations, with the pinnacle being the 1970 season, when they won the European Touring Car Championship, along with any number of rally, track, and hillclimb competitions and the Spa 24 Hours endurance race.

Multispoke wheels are an Alpina signature touch.

Brendan McAleer

But there are any number of European tuning and racing specialists out there. What makes Alpina so special is that it officially became a designated manufacturer. The German Ministry of Transportation certified Alpina in 1983, and the company began producing some of the most interesting road cars to ever come out of Bavaria. Which brings us back to the dark-green B7.

“We want to build a dream car you can use every day,” Bovensiepen says. “Not the sportscar you take for a special trip into the Alps, but a car that makes every day driving a dream.”

Thus, while the B7′s twin-turbo V-8 and BMW underpinnings might have you thinking M5, Alpina’s ethos is far from a track-focused machine. Think BMW’s version of a Bentley: a luxurious, hand-stitched leather interior, unique paint options and mineshaft-deep reserves of torque under the hood.

Despite carrying the BMW roundel on its nose, every Alpina has a unique VIN. The company is officially a manufacturer, not a tuner.

Brendan McAleer

Alpina still makes its own crankshafts, and tunes its engines for effortless performance. Peak power is great when you’re stitching corners together at high rpm, but the B7 builds its peak torque from 3000-5000 rpm, ideal for unlimited Autobahn scorching. The transmission is tuned to make the most of the added grunt for long-range efficiency at speed. It’s essentially an alternative to a private jet.

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“I personally hate understeer,” Bovensiepen says, “but if the car is too harsh, it will feel like it is jumping around. We try to make everything light and predictable, with a smooth linear throttle, and a comfortable air suspension.”

The B7 is tuned to produce neither lift nor drag, to effortlessly devour the miles at sustained speeds of 300km/h and above – which, if you’re taking notes, is about three times as fast as you can legally drive on Canadian highways.

The B10 features luxurious wood trim and multi-way power seats, but also a manual transmission to keep things interesting.

Brendan McAleer

That minor inconvenience, and the B7′s expected nearly $200,000 price tag, may have you wondering if an Alpina is something that gets lost in translation on this side of the Atlantic. For low-flying German executives looking to make time on flawless highways, the B7 makes plenty of sense. Here though, perhaps it’s simply a pointless indulgence for a moneyed few.

Except, of course, that Alpina’s been producing ultradesirable sedans for the past 30-odd years. Thanks to Canada’s reasonable 15-year grey market importation rules, that means you could park one of Bovensiepen’s ultraexclusive rocketships in your own garage.

Something like this: A 1991 Alpina B10 Biturbo, finished in the same deep green as its modern descendant. Prices are now on the rise, but a well-kept example of one of these is still attainable, and it’s one of the finest machines ever made.

The badging is subtle, but to those in the know it speaks volumes.

Brendan McAleer

It’s completely different to drive from a contemporary BMW M5. Instead of a screaming inline-six and a voracious appetite for corners, the B10 reaches out with 384 lb-ft of twin-turbo torque and presses you back in the seat with an iron palm in a velvet glove. It’s effortlessly quick, a Lear jet with a stick-shift transmission.

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When it was tested by Road & Track against the likes of the Ferrari Testarossa and the RUF CTR-1 “Yellowbird,” the B10 managed nearly 300km/h, making it the fastest sedan of the day. You don’t need to get anywhere near those speeds to feel how special it is.

In the classic market, there are all sorts of Alpina specials to covet, from the practical B3 Touring wagon, to the drop-dead gorgeous B12. Each one is subtly different to an ordinary BMW upon which it's based. Your neighbours will just assume you've bought a well-priced Bavarian executive sedan. Only you'll know what's really parked on the launch pad.

Andreas Bovensiepen is Alpina's current CEO, running the company founded by his father Burkhardt in 1965.

Brendan McAleer

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