We ran out of room on the way out of Munich, managing ‘only’ 177mph between trucks, so turned around and headed back. The traffic was lighter going the other way. Good. Onto the throttle again. Smooth shifts from the six-speed auto. At 170mph, the autobahn emptied into a long straight stretch, with only two well-separated lorries trundling along it.
Now or never. A slight whistling started from somewhere around the screen at 180mph, and the car suddenly hit a wall, almost as if I’d breathed on the brakes. This was the air resistance doubling every few seconds.
But still the Alpina engine pulled, straining to the last, not willing to give in to the laws of physics, and the needle crept higher. And higher. Was there any more? Unlikely — a quick glance confirmed 190mph. Hang on, it’s still creeping up. Make that 193mph. At this speed, we were covering almost the length of a football pitch every second, but it was important to hold it. Verify it. Past the trucks, boom, boom, past another, boom, under a bridge, boom. What a sight it must have been from the roadside.
Alpina calibrates its speedos to read true, so for a big barge with a blunt face we weren’t doing badly. I held 193mph for as long as I dared, the two-lane road reduced to about half a lane in my head, traffic miles in the dim distance taking on huge significance.
The engine was thundering away, but not loudly so, with a deep V8 rumble and a throaty exhaust boom, wind-noise prominent but not overwhelming. Yes, the car would cruise at 190mph all day without fuss. Time to ease back to a ridiculously slow-feeling 120mph cruise and take stock.
Alpina is an independent company that has nothing to do with BMW, other than the fact that Alpina cars are based on BMWs and assembled on BMW lines. BMW is a big fan, insisting that blue and white badges appear on the cars, then leaving Alpina alone to do what it does best – tune and test. In the case of the B7 – as with all Alpinas – three long years of development have gone into the car to get it right.
Alpina engineers pound the roads around the Buchloe HQ near Munich, and carry out hot- and cold-weather testing all over the world, applying enormous amounts of skill and experience to each car and making quick, informed decisions. Engine, suspension, drivetrain, wheels, tyres, and a lot of the interior are Alpina, and the company is proud of its ability to get things right.
Kris Odwarka tells a story that perfectly illustrates Alpina’s philosophy. The boss, Andreas Bovensiepen, son of Alpina’s founder Burkard Bovensiepen and a former touring car racer, was on an autobahn testing the soon-to-be-released Alpina Z4 Roadster S.
He had the cruise control set at 150mph, and was trying different bits of padding under his bum. Once he’d found the bit that best insulated him from the harsh joins in the motorway, he authorised its inclusion on the Alpina Z4 seat, at a cost of £50 per unit. A bigger company couldn’t contemplate such a cost. Alpina couldn’t contemplate not doing it. These fine details abound on every car and define the Alpina brand.
And so to the B7. Clearly it’s based on the 7-series, but there are significant changes throughout, from the front and rear wings designed to eliminate lift at 193mph, to the chrome kick-plates beneath the doors, to the suspension, wheels and drivetrain, to the wood on the dash.
The engine features a large nautilus-type supercharger developed by Alpina. It uses a planetary gear set which allows the turbine to spin at 100,000rpm, and has a second throttle plate upstream of the supercharger that can open or close as needed, allowing the unit to keep spinning. There’s a patent on this supercharger, and it’s an exceptional piece of kit.