• A handbuilt rarity, this Alpina C2 is one of just 74 made.
  • It's a little more powerful than a contemporary 325i, but the real story is in all the little details and the extreme care taken in building the engine.
  • With four days to go until the auction ends on May 12, bidding is at $81,500 on the Bring a Trailer auction site.

If the 1980s were a golden age for BMW, then Alpina was all about burnishing that gold to lustrous desirability.

This week's auction pick at Bring a Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—is one of the rarest E30-chassis 3-series BMWs ever made. Serial number 002 of 74 made, it is obviously collectible, but it is also the kind of car that just begs to be driven.

Beginning in 1962 as a BMW tuning specialist, Alpina established itself on the racing circuit with the likes of the 3.0CSL "Batmobile." The company's crest still wears a carburetor and a crankshaft insignia proudly, though modern Alpinas are more luxury oriented (and thoroughly high-tech). If you're interested in the current B7, you're looking for a high-speed executive tourer that's more refined than a BMW M or Mercedes-AMG product.

1986 bmw alpina

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However, if you were shopping Alpinas in 1986, then you probably kept a set of leather driving gloves handy. This C2 was emphatically not the buzzy homologation-special M3 that also debuted for the 1986 model year, but a handbuilt special with an inline-six barking out an authoritative 182 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.

An Alpina Is Special

It's worth noting here that Alpina wasn't just in the business of fine-tuning BMWs; it was recognized as an actual manufacturer in its own right. The C2's 2.5-liter inline-six makes more power and torque than the contemporary 325i, but the numbers don't really tell the whole story. An Alpina is a boutique item, as tightly and carefully assembled as a Swiss watch, then sprinkled with some signature goodies.

The stripes are an acquired taste, but they contrast beautifully with the deep Lapis Blue paint. The 16-inch 20-spoke wheels are an Alpina icon. The cloth seats and cleanly executed interior are an all-business riposte to the touchscreen clutter of modern cars.

1986 bmw alpina

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'Correctly European' but Made for Japan

This example was originally delivered to Japan, though it is left-hand drive. This is a common feature of German performance cars of the period in Japan: despite driving on the left, Japanese customers wanted their cars to be "correctly European." Pretty much every BMW M, AMG, and Audi RS sold in Japan was left-hand drive into the mid-2000s.

1986 bmw alpina

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The E30 BMW 3-series is still beloved by enthusiasts young and old, simple, durable, and faithful to BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine" reputation. This is as good as a 3-series sedan ever got. It's the kind of car you could park in a garage full of Ferraris and Alfa Romeos and it would still be the one most often picked for a weekend drive. With 43,000 miles on the odometer, it won't hurt the collector value much to do so.

With just four days to go, bidding is already at $81,500. That's pretty steep for a 3-series BMW from the 1980s. But then, this is no BMW. This is an Alpina.

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Contributing Editor

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.

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