I spent a fascinating few days late last week in Buchloe, Bavaria, the home town of a large dairy, a kitchen equipment manufacturer and Alpina, producer of exclusive, fast BMWs.
This small family firm is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and it had closed its factory for a week and built a sizeable marquee for a string of lavish dinners with 400 guests every time. Car clubs, including the UK’s Alpina Register, were due to turn up the the day after the international hacks had left.
A lavish book (available direct from Alpina, for about £50) has been produced to detail the first 50 years of the company. It provides some fascinating insight into how the firm has flirted with other mainstream manufacturers beyond BMW.
Indeed, the company founder, Burkard Bovensiepen, has clearly been a bit of a political animal over the years. During a spell in the early 1970s when a certain Bob Lutz was making life difficult between BMW and Alpina, Bovensiepen fired across a letter to a few key BMW execs floating the idea of his firm producing cars based not only on their models but also Opels. Sure enough, a revised BMW contract was issued within a couple of weeks.
Then in the late 1970s Ferdinand Piech suggested to Burkard that Alpina would be the ideal development base for the fledgling Audi Quattro rally project. Bovensiepen - a man who once pulled his cars into the pits near the end of an endurance race just to wash them - said that rallying just wasn’t his cup of tea. Piech - not a man used to hearing the word no - headhunted a senior Alpina bod to be Audi’s chief engine technician instead.
Most intriguingly of all, though, the book reveals that just after he left BMW to join Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, Wolfgang Reitzle asked Bovensiepen to come to London for a meeting. He reckoned that Alpina would be the ideal division to develop performance Jaguars - so he offered 200 million Deutschmarks to buy the company outright.
Bovensiepen again declined - and as he points out today, Reitzle’s short-lived spell at Jaguar probably meant that it was the right decision. Still, looking around the awesome collection of rapid, exclusive classic cars at the 50th birthday party, I couldn’t stop myself wondering what Jaguar Alpinas could have looked like during the noughties.