Is This Alpina Wagon the Perfect Mix of a Sleeper and a Unicorn?

By Staff Writer
Apr 20, 2022 | BMW, wagon, Alpina | Posted in Features | From the Aug. 2020 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Dirk De Jager

Story by Johan Dillen

You expect stripes, but there aren’t any. You expect exclusivity, but you don’t detect that, either. But for some time, this unassuming creation was the fastest wagon available on the market. Full stop. 

Ohne is the German word for without. It appears a few times on the order form of this 1994 Alpina B10 4.6 Touring: ohne decorative stripes, ohne badges on the tailgate, ohne the Alpina name tag. 

As sleepers go, this one very much sets the standard. If you saw it parked on the street, you’d walk straight past it. But then, out of the corner of your eye, you’d notice how the wheels were protruding a bit more than you’d expect from a standard 535i. 

Yes, it has the Alpina wheels, but you’ve seen those on a 525i as well, haven’t you? But then, at the front, the spoiler takes away your last doubts. Wait a minute, there is something going on here, isn’t there? 

There sure is. If you purchased this car in 1994, you had just bought the fastest wagon on the market—a privilege only 19 people got to enjoy. And this owner did everything he could to outwardly conceal that fact.

Born From Typewriters

Today, the Alpina name is inseparable from BMW lore. Credit goes to Burkard Bovensiepen, who started tinkering with the brand’s cars in 1962. 

His first product was a dual Weber carburetor setup for the then-new BMW 1500. Impressed, BMW covered the part under the factory warranty. Alpina, founded by Bovensiepen’s father in 1952 as a typewriter company, was now officially part of motorsports. 

Racing success came soon: Alpina won the 1970 European Touring Car Championship and fielded powerhouse efforts through 1977. Legends on the team roster included Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Derek Bell. 

Perhaps this one ticks all the boxes: a super-rare, V8-powered BMW wagon from a firm long associated with motorsports—like, one that was there during the heyday of touring car competition. And all this while keeping things on the D.L.

Once out of racing, Alpina refocused its efforts on road cars, producing powerful yet luxurious BMWs. That last part was where Alpina differed from BMW’s own M division: Alpina could cover all bases. In 1983, Alpina became an officially registered automobile manufacturer. 

Alpina also didn’t have to play by the established rules. Take the E34-chassis M5 as an example: By the end of the model’s lifecycle, its 3.7-liter inline-six pushed out 335 horsepower, enough to propel it to 60 mph in less than 5.9 seconds. Bound by a handshake with the other German manufacturers, top speed was limited to 155 mph.

Alpina didn’t see itself as beholden to this agreement.

The company gladly grabbed the opportunity to offer a faster version of the E34. The twin-turbo Alpina sedan–dubbed the B10–posted 360 horsepower, enough to propel the car to 60 mph before the clock struck 5.6 seconds. Top speed, as recorded by Road & Track, was 179.2 mph. 

World’s Fastest Estate

Alpina would eventually apply that magic to the E34-chassis wagon. But this one took a different route to the showroom. 

BMW first released an M5 wagon for European markets in 1991, and Alpina waited until 1993 to come up with an answer: the B10 estate. By that time, however, BMW had retired the M30 inline-six engine that Alpina had been using. And the engine found in the M5 could not be mated to an automatic transmission. 

So Alpina turned to the 4-liter V8 that BMW offered in the 540i. The tuner version was known as the Alpina B10 4.0 and was available with 315 horsepower—slower than the M5, but also less expensive. Basically, the B10 4.0 became the sole option for an Alpina wagon. 

Eventually, though, Alpina pulled some strings at BMW to get the desired result: the B10 4.6. Thanks to the coatings found on the cylinder walls of the 4.0-liter engine, Alpina couldn’t just bore out the displacement. So, BMW agreed to cast a special 4.6-liter V8 engine specifically for Alpina’s use. This new engine even received its own BMW type number: F2. 

See those buttons on the steering wheel? They allow manual control of the automatic gearbox. Like the cell phone, it was trick stuff at the time.

Mahle then engineered pistons that could cope with the increased compression ratio, while Bosch developed a specific Motronic ECU. This normally aspirated V8 pushed out 340 horsepower at 5700 rpm, an impressive number for the times and 44 more than the standard 540i.

The transmission was unique, too: Alpina’s Switch-Tronic, a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic that could be manually shifted via buttons on the steering wheel. Alpina applied for this patent in 1992 and brought it to market the following year. Porsche’s Tiptronic S delivered a similar setup to the masses in 1994.

Even though Alpina’s wagon was outsprinted to 60 mph by the M5 Touring—the B10 4.6 needed almost 6.3 seconds—it claimed a higher top speed of 169 mph. The German magazine Auto, Motor & Sport, however, clocked it at 172 mph, handing it the title of world’s fastest estate in 1994. In Germany, with the unrestricted portions of the Autobahn, this mattered. For the price of this Alpina wagon in 1994, however, someone could have bought two standard 540i models.

Meeting One of 19

Alpina released this B10 4.6 toward the end of the E34’s career. Only 27 sedans were built with this engine, and just 19 wagons. This car is number three of those 19, finished in Arktissilber (Arctic Silver). 

This car now shows just a little more than 53,000 miles on the clock. The previous owner in Hamburg, Germany, kept every document regarding his car, including the detailed report on the sole accident the wagon was ever involved in: While it was parked, another driver hit the Alpina’s front license plate holder. Matters were resolved through insurance; the invoice for the new holder is found in the file.

As long as it stands still, this B10 can hide its game quite well. But when it starts, the game is up. 

“No way this is a tuned 525,” you think. The whoarp at the twist of the key piques your brain instantly. 

This is not a V8 you will immediately identify—especially since the second that it stabilizes the revs, it at once reclaims its position as a symbol of discretion. 

Don’t expect to be immediately blown away behind the wheel, either. The sound is fairly distant at first, and the automatic gearbox stems from an era when light speed was interpreted differently from nowadays. 

But don’t be disappointed. You just need some time to get to know the B10. The five-speed automatic is geared incredibly long and will always shift to higher gears as soon as possible, leaving a creamy spread of torque between 2000 and 3000 rpm—nice, but nothing too spectacular. 

This one was built to go—and go quickly. Where BMW limited the standard M5 to a top speed of 155 mph, this one could top 170.

Pushing the gas pedal will only result in a slow climbing of the tach needle. But when the throttle is really buried—and we mean smashed to the floor—the Alpina delivers on its promises. 

It needs revs. It craves revs. Once the torque convertor has allowed the engine to translate its hum into drive, things start to change. 

The 4.6 needs 4500 rpm to come into its stride. Only then does it deal a serious blow accompanied by the sound of anger. Ah, so this the quickest wagon we were talking about. It is hold-onto-the-edge-of-your-seat fast as it flashes past 5000 rpm, easily climbs to 6000 rpm and even licks at 6500 rpm in the red before the next gear is engaged. 

Time to try the manual shifting, with the buttons so prominent on the beautifully finished steering wheel. On the left-hand side of the wheel, you find an arrow pointing down: the arrow in blue with the border stitched in green, both of which are Alpina’s colors. On the right, the arrow points up. 

Now, this is 1994 technology, so you should redefine your expectations a bit. The shifting times don’t match today’s manually controlled automatics, and the downshifts feel downright brutal. But the feature allows the Alpina’s V8 to stay in the meat of the powerband, meaning the tach needle can be kept right up against the red zone. 

This is no turbo; this is all about displacement. BMW delivered some of the finest engines during this time period. Alpina took that and kicked it to a higher level. What a powerhouse.

The biggest difference from an M is in the dynamics. Alpina puts comfort on the same level as driving dynamics. Sitting low on its 17-inch rims, the B10 feels a little bit sturdy, yet it moves along with every undulation in the road, making this a most comfortable missile. The two gigantic mobile phones found in the cockpit look utterly comical nowadays, but they help form the character of this car. 

This is why the Germans invented the Autobahn: Speed limits are for other countries.

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350z247 Reader
2/15/21 1:47 p.m.

I absolutely love BMW, but Alpina has just never appealed to me. This is definitely a great wagon, but I'd much rather have an M5.

edwardyork New Reader
2/16/21 8:02 a.m.

Tool kits are indispensable for any canoe owner. Sooner or later, you will need to use a wrench or a ratchet. Besides, you can save money if you fix your canoe. With a decent range of tools, any repair task is feasible. No more frustration due to a bolt you cannot reach. So, what makes the best canoe tool kit?

AaronT Reader
2/16/21 8:47 a.m.

In reply to edwardyork :

I do find that a nice set of tools is invaluable when converting my autocross car into a canoe!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/16/21 5:48 p.m.

In reply to AaronT :

And that account's been disabled. But funny post.

So, kinda related, yesterday I saw an E39 "M5 estate" that's a friend's shop recently sold. I shouldn't see those kinds of things.

Slippery (Forum Supporter)
Slippery (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/16/21 6:02 p.m.
350z247 said:

I absolutely love BMW, but Alpina has just never appealed to me. This is definitely a great wagon, but I'd much rather have an M5.

I really like old school Alpinas ... anything before and including e30s, I lust for. 

I actually have all the parts to convert my e30 to a C1 Alpina clone. Most of the parts are nla, luckily I bought everything 10 or so years ago, including the stripe kit. I need to get my stuff together and install it. 


Slippery (Forum Supporter)
Slippery (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/16/21 6:05 p.m.

This to me is beautiful:

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/16/21 6:16 p.m.

To answer the original question: "Is This Alpina Wagon the Perfect Mix of a Sleeper and a Unicorn?"

I think a strong case could be made. Practical, fast, invisible and oh-so-rare.

I agree that the existence of Alpina is a bit odd given the strength of BMW's M division especially in the 80's and 90's. But hey, this wagon floats my boat.

350z247 Reader
2/16/21 6:43 p.m.

It's like Ruf vs the GT cars. I'm happy that Ruf exists, but I'd rather have a GT3.

Slippery (Forum Supporter)
Slippery (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/16/21 6:44 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Alpina in Germany is one of the few companies that is considered a manufacturer. They assign their own VIN given that they would completely rework the car. 

They have an extensive racing history stretching back to the 60's. Some people chose them instead of an M as there really were no Ms until the mid to late 80s other than an M1. For example, I would much rather have an Alpina B3, or even a C2 2.7, than an e30 M3. 

In the late 90s they started doing more cosmetic upgrades and maybe going into the dme for power instead of reworking the engine internally. 

Slippery (Forum Supporter)
Slippery (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/16/21 6:57 p.m.
350z247 said:

It's like Ruf vs the GT cars. I'm happy that Ruf exists, but I'd rather have a GT3.

But back in the 80s or early 90s when this wagon came out ... there was no 911 GTanything. 

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