When it comes to cars, most enthusiasts have their childhood heroes. Something about particular cars grabs our attention and ignites our imagination. Of course as youngsters we could only look longingly at pictures and articles of these automobiles, imagining in our heads what they might be like to sit in and what they would be like to drive. And sometimes they spark a lifelong pursuit of them, setting us down a course of making those dreams a reality.
Some enthusiasts get closer to realizing their ideal car ownership than others, either through luck, or more often than not hard work and dedication. Chris Kohler of Phoenix, Arizona seems to have had a combination of luck and hard work that led to the ownership of his 1985 Alpina B7, an Eighties super sedan that boasted world class performance in its day. Thanks to an engine that produced 296-hp and 370 lb/ft of stump-pulling torque, this beast from Buchloe took on the best from companies like Ferrari and Porsche in the power and speed wars. The combination of power, a highly tuned suspension and larger brakes, wheels and tires made the B7 a sedan like no other.
Even as kid, the B7’s prowess was not lost on Kohler, who read about it in car magazines. German magazine Auto Motor und Sport accomplished a 0-62 mph in 6.1 seconds and when U.S. pubications Road & Track got behind the wheel they called the B7 “The Fastest Sedan in the World.” Only 278 E28-chassis based B7s were made, of which a small fraction of which were imported to the North America.
In 2011, after spotting it for sale on mye28.com, Kohler was lucky enough to become the owner of one of the few B7’s that was imported and federalized for U.S. use. “It was a non-runner, having sat in a warehouse for three years after the seller rescued it from the backyard of the previous owner,” he tells us. #00083’s rough state didn’t deter him though, especially considering how complete the car was. In fact, the only thing that did discourage him was the assumption that it would be beyond his reach financially. Once Kohler emailed the owner about the asking price, he was amazed to discover that yes indeed he could afford it. “Here was a car that I had read about and seen in photos figuring that I would never get to drive one, let alone actually own one,” he says.” Even factoring in the high cost and sheer amount of time it would take to restore the BMW, he knew he was looking at a once in a lifetime opportunity.
After arranging a short-term family loan, Kohler was the owner of a B7. “The car was essentially complete minus the front spoiler,” he says. “All of the critical components were there.” That encompassed the interior- with its Alpina-specific green stripes- thin-spoke Alpina wheels, serial numbered dash plaque and original instrumentation. The larger front spoiler that Alpina had added to the car when new was missing but the rear trunk spoiler was present.
Most importantly, everything under the hood was accounted for, so the vintage car still boasted the performance it did when new. The B7’s bespoke engine was based around the rare BMW M106 block, originally used on the South African market turbocharged E23 745i. “It’s designed for boost pressure and also has oil squirters in the block for additional lubrication. Alpina used there own their own manifold and mounted a KKK K27 turbo to it,” says Kohler. There was also engine an upgraded cylinder head, lighter Mahle pistons and a bespoke camshaft. There is also an intercooler mounted in front of the radiator to lower the temperature of incoming air. In its day, Alpina limited the B7’s boost setting to .7 bar, limiting power to no more than 300-hp. “The intake manifold is a custom Alpina design that utilizes dual resonance chambers,” says Kohler.
Before the car could be driven, both of the fuel tanks were removed and cleaned and all of the soft lines replaced. A single Walbro fuel pump replaced the original dual fuel pumps Alpina had used. In order to ensure that the fuel pump conversion was a success, Kohler enlisted the help of Paul Muskopf of Moosehead Engineering. Muskopf designed and fabricated a coupler that connects the 8-mm outlet on the pump to the 12-mm feed pipe on the fuel pickup unit. “This unit was Alpina-specific to work with the auxiliary fuel tank, so I didn’t want to damage it,” Kohler explains. The B7’s cooling and ignition system were renewed, the oil changed and finally he had a running and driving B7.
The incorrect exhaust that the car had has been replaced with a custom stainledd steel system by Kent Porter of Precision Chassis Works. “He built me a gorgeous, 3-inch, stainless steel system from the downpipe back to the muffler with V-band clamps,” says Kohler. “It looks and sounds fantastic. It’s almost a crime to keep it hidden under the car.”
After researching paint and body shops, Kohler handed the sedan over to Mike Elliston and Kustom Colors in Phoenix, AZ for a full respray in the B7’s original shade of Polaris Silver. “I had the car stripped down in a few hours and Mike had a guy pick it up from me on a trailer,” says Kohler. “He had the car for nearly three months.” A set of Polaris Silver doors were installed, as well as a new hood, sunroof and tail panel before the car was finally fully repainted. Kohler also sourced a new Alpina front spoiler from Germany. “I acquired all new trim and weatherstripping for the car, even the long-NLA (No Longer Available) hood seal,” he adds. “Every piece on the car is new.”
The exterior restoration was completed refinished 16x7-inch and 16x8-inches Alpina wheels, new lights and a new, road-rash free windshield. Lastly, Kohler spent many hours painstakingly applying the B7’s trademark graphics to the BMW’s silver bodywork. Inside, the B7 is largely original, including the Recaro sports seats, four-spoke Alpina wheel and wood shift knob. Kohler installed a new headliner as well as a crack-free dash. The cloth on the door panels was replaced with new fabric that looks like the original material that Alpina used.
“The driving experience is remarkable,” says Chris of the finished car. “What’s most amazing to me is the subtlety of the engineering that Alpina put into the car. The chassis tuning is superb. In fact, I don’t believe there is a better suspension for this chassis. The B7 Turbo uses a different front spring than they offered for other E28s,” adds Chris. “They didn't really make any other changes, but I have to say, what they did do helped enhance the driving experience. This is a car that rides well but you can easily toss into a corner and it also doesn't squat excessively under acceleration. It's almost something I never thought possible. Even in the twisties, the handling is very predictable. I think between these parts and the wheel and tire combination, it's a system that works.”
As opposed to the somewhat awkard look of the large U.S.-spec bumpers that we’re used to seeing on most E28s, the chrome Euro bumpers completely alter the looks of this boxy, E28-based B7. When we climb inside for a brief drive we’re greeted by a commanding, upright driving position and generous outward visibility. The Recaros LS seats are firm but more comfortable than standard E28 sport seats. The speedo reads to 300-kph and there is a very cool digital readout mounted in one of the center dash vents that provides the engine oil and differential temperatures, boost pressure and oil pressure.
“I love the way the car feels when you’re in it,” says Chris. “With the Recaros and the dead pedal, it changes the experience enough to feel special. I love the gauges in the air vent. Not only are they useful but they’re a perfect example of 1980s technology.” At idle, the turbo straight-6 emits a muted growl through its custom exhaust without drawing undue attention. The clutch is an Alpina-specific item made by Sachs and as such is on the heavy side. The Getrag 265/5 slots into gear easily and precisely and we’re off. Off boost, the BMW drives similar to a normal E28, though the engine revs quicker and is more responsive than any stock M30 thanks to the reworked internals. Once the turbo starts boosting though, the B7 bolts towards the horizon, a subtle whoosh coming from the engine as the turbo breathes deep.
While it’s not the fastest thing around, it is extremely entertaining to run the BMW up through the first few gears, feeling the turbo powered engine slingshot the car down the road. It’s pretty quick as it is, and I can only imagine how impressive it must feel with the boost cranked up to max. The chassis is not too pointy when I crank it into a corner, but there is plenty of grip and adjustability once the car takes a set. It also rides very nicely, shrugging off bumps and surface irregularities with aplomb. With more time and familiarity, I can easily see how this car would be an absolute blast on a deserted back road.
Since he’s finished restoring the Alpina, Chris has not hesitated to use the sedan regularly even though he’s had several BMW enthusiasts admonish him for not trailering it to events. “I believe that goes against the purpose of having the car,” he says. “It has a couple of chips in the paint, but it’s a car that’s been driven, looks nice and I’m not going to sweat it. I own the car to drive it, not keep it in a climate-controlled bubble.” Chris has driven the BMW to San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey and even Portland, Oregon.
An award from the 2013 5erWest show for “Best E28” and “Best in Show” is proof positive that show-worthy BMWs really should be driven to car shows rather than trailered, when possible of course. He also snagged Best 5 Series at the 2013 SoCal Vintage Meet. “I love the E28,” he says. “But with this car, it is essentially the ultimate version of the E28. Everywhere you turn on this car, you can see and feel that it is special.