By on April 23, 2019

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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18 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Ultimate 8 Series BMW Is the Alpina B12 of 1992...”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Beautiful car and all, but it’s amazing to realize how escalated horsepower has become in the last 25 years. And with modern transmissions, teach of the new horses seem even bigger than the old ones.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Pop up headlights improve the looks just about any car.

  • avatar

    Once upon a time BMWs were good looking. Now, I give you the X7… yuck!

    • 0 avatar

      The newest 3-series is still good looking, and so is the 5. I just try not to look at the X cars at all.

      • 0 avatar

        The 2 is ill-proportioned. The new 3 looks bloated. The current 4 gran coupe is not bad. The 5 looks like an old 5 pre-Bangle. The 7 is trending in the direction of ugly. The Xs… I’ll just ignore that part of the showroom.

  • avatar

    I could do without the silly ‘Alpina’ stripe down the side, but those wheels are to die for.

  • avatar

    The M8 gave its engine to the McLaren F1, which needed to be protected from a cheaper all-BMW competitor so McLaren could sell seventy-one road cars in six years. What a different world it was to the current one ordered by global marxists, where seven figure performance cars have a better market than thirty-thousand dollar ones. If I could block out everything I know about E31 ownership, the one I’d buy would be the 850CSi. It combined some chassis upgrades with a bigger 372 HP V12 and a stick.

    • 0 avatar

      Based on the experience of my fellow BMW club homies, they are easier to own now than they were new. Because all the issues (and the fixes) are well known, and nobody expects to use them as daily drivers and pound 20K a year on them.

  • avatar

    Easily the sexiest and most powerful Ford Probe ever built.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.)

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