Driven: 2011 BMW Alpina B7

Don Sherman

From typewriters to 21-inch wheels.

Burkard Bovensiepen was not enthralled by his father's typewriter manufacturing business located in the shadows of the Bavarian Alps. So, in 1961, he began fiddling with twin carburetors for BMW's 1500 in one of the factory's outbuildings. The enterprise thrived, and in 1965, the Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen company was established in Kaufbeuren, a small town fifty or so miles west of Munich.

Instead of discouraging Alpina's modifications, BMW supported the budding tuner by blessing its products with a full factory warranty.

For a decade, beginning in 1968, Alpina raced BMWs in Europe's Touring Car series. The list of luminaries on the payroll included Derek Bell, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda, and Hans Stuck. In 1970, Alpina BMWs won three German championships, the 24 Hours of Spa, and the European Touring Car championship. Somehow, Bovensiepen also found time to relocate his factory to Buchloe that year.

Alpina's classic twenty-spoke wheel design, still in use, was created in 1971 for a special lightweight version of BMW's 3.0CS coupe.

In 1978, Bovensiepen's crew began cramming six-cylinder engines under BMW 3-series hoods and turbocharging BMW 5- and 6-series models. In 1989, Alpina's B10 sedan was fitted with twin turbochargers.

During the 1990s, Alpina delved into electronic control of clutches and automatic transmissions with some of the first applications of steering-wheel-mounted shift buttons. In 1999, BMW and Alpina collaborated on the development of twin-turbo diesel engines.

Alpina's first U.S. import was the 2002 BMW Z8 roadster equipped with a push-button-shifted automatic transmission.

Today Alpina focuses on 7-series sedans for the U.S., although the company also offers an ambitious assortment of gas and diesel 3- and 6-series cars in other markets. A few Alpina B7 sedans were imported here during 2007 and 2008. After a two-year hiatus, the twenty-spoke wheels - now 21 inches in diameter - and the refined Alpina design distinctions are back for another go on the fifth-generation BMW 7-series.

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