Visiting Alpina: For the love of detail

We recently took a closer look at the Audi Sport factory at Böllinger Höfe. This time we look behind the scenes of a traditional company that started as a simple tuner – and over the decades has become one of the most renowned luxury manufacturers in the world: Alpina.

The story officially begins in early 1965, but founder Burkard Bovensiepen was already working on engine tuning kits earlier. The most important criterion right from the start: quality. That stuff has to hold up.

What it means when this is not the case, the car enthusiast has to experience for himself early on, when his Fiat 1500, which has been performance-optimized by the Nardi company, is already struggling on the return journey from the tuner in Italy.
Bovensiepen follows the principle that was said to apply to Ferruccio Lamborghini around the same time: If you don’t like what’s on the market, you simply make it better yourself.
Alpina factory visit

Three steel cabinets full of self-adhesive motorsport history. The stickers are mostly from the early 80’s.

The first project is a multiple carburettor system for the then new BMW 1500. Background: Many 1500 customers from the very beginning are upset when BMW launches the much more powerful 1600 and 1800 models a short time later.

What to do? Buy a new car right away? Bovensiepen has a better solution. His system increases the performance of the 1.5-liter four-cylinder to 90 hp – for 980 DM including installation. And since the conversion kit is of good quality, BMW gives its blessing.

In 1983, Alpina became a registered manufacturer

Shortly thereafter, Alpina made a name for itself in motorsport, winning the 24-hour race at Spa in 1970 and the European Touring Car Championship three years later. At the end of the 1970s, the focus finally shifted to in-house vehicle models for end customers.

The logical step follows in 1983: Alpina becomes a registered manufacturer. The rest is history.

Alpina factory visit

Ten people once worked here on the engine innards. Today maintenance is the main business.

Until then, let’s take a look around the halls in Buchloe: These are located more in a residential area than in an industrial area and have been significantly expanded over the years. Workshops, office building, development center and of course the large glass building as a representative sales area.

We start in the historic wing. There, where it all began – where the conversions were done by hand, cast parts are reworked and lathes from 1965 are still standing today. Alpina still works to some extent as it did 40 years ago.

No robotic assembly line

Why not? If you have to make individual adjustments in small series, you don’t need a robot-supported production line. A car needs a bracket for the exhaust system? No problem. A cylinder head from a historic model needs an overhaul?

Nothing easier than that: After all, the colleague at this station hasn’t done anything else for ages; knows his subject like the proverbial back pocket. And on the wall are pictures of the E30 and Z1.
Alpina factory visit

It takes about three days from the first lamination to the finish of an apron.

Ten people used to work here when the business still consisted of generating power by optimizing such components. Today, the engines come straight from the factory, and their innards are manufactured so precisely that not much can be extracted.

By 2010, Alpina had built around 20,000 engines here. It was this engine construction that caused Alpina to become a manufacturer. The engines were too powerful to simply install them in series bodies. Better chassis and stronger brakes were needed. The step to the complete vehicle was therefore logical.

Remarkably clean

What is striking: The equipment, the tiles, the whole ambience are a journey back in time to the 1970s and 1980s, but it is clean here – remarkably clean. The senior boss has always attached great importance to this, says the PR expert

Angelika Jörg-Kane, who has worked at Alpina herself for decades. The many long-standing employees can tell stories from times when icons such as Derek Bell, Niki Lauda or Dieter Quester drove for Alpina. But Alpina also trains – the old hands pass on their experience to the next generation.

Alpina factory visit

Each steering wheel is sewn together by hand in six and a half hours.

To this day, the finishing of the interiors is done entirely on site. Long before the big manufacturers themselves began to adapt the vehicles to the taste of the buyer with their high-priced individual departments, this was already a core competence of Alpina. There is hardly a leather colour, contrasting seam or combination that cannot be implemented.

A customer from Japan once put together his interior from seven different colors. Whether you like it or not – everything can be done by hand. If you want something particularly classy, ​​choose Alpina’s Lavalina leather.

Pay special attention to the steering wheel

A vegetable tanned material of the highest quality that is precisely cut using CNC technology. Minimum leather thickness: 0.3 millimeters. This makes even the finest details possible. One customer even wanted the air vents of the nozzles to be covered with leather.

Alpina pays special attention to the steering wheels, after all, the driver always has them in his hand. It takes a total of six and a half hours to complete one. “I sew a little guardian angel into every steering wheel,” says Isolde Klöck, who, with her dexterity and experience, turns every steering wheel into a small work of art.

Alpina factory visit

A short farewell chat, then we’ll be off with the XD4. The future? Carefree for Alpina.

A complete interior fitting takes between 90 and 120 hours of work, depending on the size of the vehicle and the effort involved. The ultimate goal is the longevity of the materials. And here Alpina benefits from decades of experience. At the end there is quality control, in which every single visible part is examined separately.

The Alpina-specific parts such as rims or dampers are also tested here again. The former for smooth running, with the dampers, the characteristic curve is randomly checked. Incidentally, initially the basic cars from BMW arrived as complete vehicles.

In Buchloe, the parts that needed optimization were then removed and most of them disposed of. Only wearing parts such as shock absorbers or exhaust systems were kept. At some point, the cars were then ordered without a passenger seat – BMW gave a small credit note for this.

All add-on parts are manufactured in the in-house workshop

Gradually, more parts were “negotiated away”. So far, until some cars arrive at Alpina as completely stripped bodies.

All attachments are made of fiberglass and are manufactured in the in-house workshop. The molds of all models ever built are still available, and aprons can be reproduced if required.

In 2008, Alpina once again invested heavily in the development department and built a new test center with five engine test benches. There is also an exhaust gas test bench on which the current WLTP cycles can be run in-house.

If an Alpina engine is touched and undergoes revisions, for example on pistons, bearings or the exhaust system, a complete test scenario can be unwound here, including endurance testing. In addition, there are external development orders as a further business area. Even more important in the future than before.

In the final production, the refinements are finally mounted. Wheel-tire combinations, add-on parts and of course the characteristic decorative strips, which are precisely glued by hand with an auxiliary line. Then the individualized treasures are ready for delivery or collection.

If they wish, customers can receive their Alpina directly at the factory and see for themselves how unique cars are made here with a lot of passion and attention to detail – a bit like we did.

Because company boss Andreas Bovensiepen, who now runs Alpina with his brother Florian, gave us the key to our new XD4 long-term test car on this occasion.

You read the opening report in the last issue, in the future we will report regularly on how the 394 hp diesel SUV performs in everyday life.

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