Rare Rides: The Ultimate 8 Series BMW Is the Alpina B12 of 1992

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the ultimate 8 series bmw is the alpina b12 of 1992

Rare Rides featured an Alpina once before: the performance tuner’s take on the late-Eighties 6 Series — the B7. Today’s Alpina is a B12, which is literally five more. And more is better, right?

There is, of course, a brand new edition of the 8 Series for sale right now, but BMW’s present styling language means it’s a hot mess of gigantic grilles and styling cues already employed by other brands. Today’s Rare Ride is based upon the much better looking O.G. 8 Series, which BMW nerds call the E31.

BMW started working on the 8 Series in the early Eighties as a replacement for the 6 Series touring coupe. Ever the social climber, the 8 was designed to be more than the 6, reaching further into the back pockets of the stock brokers who bought BMW coupes.

The Roundel brand spent a considerable chunk of time and money on the 8 Series project — $9 billion, adjusted for inflation. BMW graced its big coupe with eight- or 12-cylinder engines, and even gave wealthy enthusiasts the option of 12 cylinders paired to a six-speed manual transmission. The other transmission choices were automatics, in either four- or five-speed guise, depending on year.

The all-new 8 Series went on sale for 1990, which was just in time for the Gulf War and a serious recession. BMW’s coupe plans were in shambles. The automaker cancelled its plan for a performance M8, and the existing coupe was off the market in North America by 1997 (and the rest of the globe in 1999). It sold just over 30,000 8 Series cars.

Just because BMW had bad timing and cancelled its M8 plans didn’t stop Alpina from giving performance variants a go. The company developed its B12 alongside BMW, starting production in 1990. Differences from the standard car included a heavy engine rework with new cylinders, camshafts, and pistons. Tuning changes added 49 horsepower to the 5.0-liter V12, pushing output to 345 hp. The additional power was accompanied by a reworked suspension to keep things on the level.

Never a brand to shy away from visual modifications, someone at Alpina must’ve felt subdued the day the B12 was considered. The interior isn’t wacky, the gold pinstriping isn’t in your face, and the body kit isn’t all that noticeable.

The first B12 5.0 was available between 1990 and 1994, overlapping with the even hotter B12 5.7 of 1992-1996. The larger engine in the uplevel B12 produced 410 horsepower once Alpina engineers finished with it. A total of 97 5.0-liter coupes were made — a considerable number compared to the 57 units of the 5.7.

Today’s Rare Ride was for sold earlier this month via the Sotheby’s Youngtimer Collection (how droll!) for $116,379.

[Images: RM Sotheby’s]

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4 of 18 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Apr 23, 2019

    Did I read that right: BMW spent today's equivalent of $9 billion to sell only 30k 8s? That's $300k investment per car! A beautiful car, but a real money loser it seems.

    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 23, 2019

      I don't believe that figure for a second, even adjusted for inflation. The e31 8-series and e-38 7-series are largely the same car under the bodywork, and use the same engines and electrical architecture - and it's all pretty similar to the e-39 5-series too. Not quite a platform in the modern sense, but pretty close. $9B equivalent in '80s money to develop the whole family, I believe, but not JUST the e31. That said, I doubt they made much profit on the coupes. Of course, manufacturing accounting is a slippery business, maybe they charged it all to the coupe and wrote it off their taxes for a decade or two.

  • NeilM NeilM on Apr 25, 2019

    Corey Lewis writes: "Alpina...the in-house performance tuner" While it does enjoy a close relationship with BMW, Alpina is an independently owned company, not BMW's in-house tuner. (That would arguably be the role of BMW's M division.)

    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Apr 25, 2019

      Yeah, you're right. I was thinking when I wrote that about AMG instead. They started out as an independent and then were purchased by MB.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.