∙One of only 342 B3 3.2s made ∙Switchtronic auto ∙Brand new MoT ∙Very rare RHD coupé
If an M3 is too flash and a standard 3-Series a bit too ordinary, then Alpina has long since had the answer.
The Bavarian tuning firm, which has its HQ in Ostellbau, about 100km from BMW’s Munich head office, has enjoyed a semi-official relationship with the car maker since 1965.
Alpina BMWs are regarded as ‘performance-enhanced’ models to distinguish them from BMW’s own ‘M’ models, and are finished on a bespoke production line at Ostellbau, where they arrive as standard models.
The B3 name is given to Alpina variants of the 3-Series, the E36 B3 3.2 appearing in 1996, six months after BMW’s own M3.
Based on the 328i, the B3 was offered in all four 3-Series body styles – saloon, coupé, convertible or Touring estate, with the saloon and coupé being the most prevalent. Prevalent, though, does not mean common – there were just 342 B3 3.2s made in total.
Alpina started by increasing the engine size to 3.2-litres, adding lightweight pistons, a new breathing and cooling system and a handmade exhaust set-up, lifting the power to an impressive 256bhp.
As well as the engine enhancements, the B3 got an Alpina-developed ‘Switchtronic’ gearbox with a steering wheel-mounted push-button shift – a big novelty in its day.
Bilstein dampers all round and a bespoke, weight-optimised suspension set-up add further to the car’s unique appeal.
This car is a very special one indeed – a 1997 Coupé in original right-hand-drive. There are no official records of how many were made in each E36 body style nor where they were exported to, but with around 80 B3s believed to have been sold in the UK it’s a very rare beast indeed, and one of only two known to exist in this specification. The seller advises that according to the Alpina Register, only 33 coupes were made for the UK market.
The current owner of the B3 is a long-term BMW enthusiast and is selling this car reluctantly. During his ownership the car has spent most of its time in storage. Indeed, it has seen very little use over the past decade, having clocked up just 4,000 miles since 2010 according to the MoT history.
In order to sell the car he has got it out of storage and put a brand new MoT on it, along with a basic service.
Prior to that, it has had six other owners, two of whom owned the car for a long-term period. Their ownership is documented among the paperwork that comes with the car.
Speaking of which, there’s a hefty pile of bills and papers with the B3, right back to a pre-delivery inspection checklist back in 1997.
There are stacks of service bills, MoT certificates back to 2000 and a service book that is fully stamped up to 99,500 miles, just 3,000 miles ago. Many of the bills are from a well-known independent BMW specialist.
There’s also a certificate of installation for a Tracker, as well as instruction manuals and owners handbooks for the car and also for its Becker TrafficPro stereo sat nav – a fascinating artefact in itself and one that cost over £700 to install when new.
Inside, the B3 is in fine order, with bespoke pale grey leather and bright blue carpets set off smartly by grey Alpina floor mats, featuring the brand’s three-stripe trademark design.
The steering wheel is finished in hand-stitched leather, with the plus and minus buttons for the gear selectors embroidered into the fabric – a real hand-finished touch that marks it out as something pretty special.
The dash, gear selector and centre console feature walnut inserts, the trip computer works and the Becker TrafficPro sat nav head unit looks smart and well-integrated.
A build plaque on the dashboard confirms this to be B3 number 47, one of the first to come to the UK.
Any E36 looks amazing in Montreal Blue, which has to be one of the best BMW colours of the 1990s. But this one looks absolutely incredible – the stance of the Alpina suspension and smart 18-inch multi-spoke alloys really set off the richness of the bright blue hue.
Whichever angle you look at it from, this is a stunning car. A real looker, helped in no small part by those big alloys and the subtle Alpina body kit and boot spoiler.
It’s in great order, too. From 10 paces it looks absolutely sensational. Get up close and there are a couple of minor imperfections. There are some stone chips on the bonnet, a small scuff on the very bottom edge of the front chin spoiler and one of the headlight lenses is steamed up with condensation, though the vendor says he will try to fix this before the auction concludes.
Overall, though, it looks fabulous with no areas for any real concern, while the underneath appears to be solid, backed up by no previous corrosion advisories on its MoT history.
Fire up the Alpina-tuned 3.2, derived from BMW’s own 2.8-litre straight six, and it’s quite clear that this car is something special. The exhaust note is deeper, more guttural, and once you open it up it sounds even better.
A short test drive showed up no evidence of any problems with the engine, transmission or suspension, while the performance is fabulous – the 265bhp unit accelerates from 0-60mph in just 5.9 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, so there’s no shortage of power on tap.
What’s not to like? This is a fabulous example of a 1990s performance BMW and one of the most likeable of all the Alpina conversions, with a useful extra dose of power and some striking visual enhancements both inside and out.
It’s also an extremely rare car – one of just 342 made and of little more than a handful in the UK, while it’s also right-hand-drive.
You can try and find another if you want – but we doubt you will. This one has the provenance, the history and the quality to make it both a sensible future investment and a thoroughly enjoyable Nineties performance icon. If a modern classic BMW is your thing, it’s one not to be missed.
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