In August of 2014, Scott Glace found his 1985 Alpina C1 2.3 sitting in a field outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The car was dirty and mechanically questionable. However, all the ingredients of a truly special car remained — so he bought it. The previous owner, George Mitchell, is an avid BMW collector and enthusiast. Mitchell imported the car from Japan back in 2013, however the C1 got lost in the shuffle of a large collection and after he decided it wasn’t worth his time, the car was relegated to the field outside of his warehouse.
Glace, who also happens to be my uncle, went back and forth with Mitchell — conflicted about the purchase as he had recently finished a five year restoration and rehabilitation of his 1986 Alfa Romeo Spyder Veloce.
Once the decision was made, there was no turning back — he picked up the car, concerned whether he just found the proverbial Cobra in the Barn or if he just bought the next time bomb headed for Craigslist.
After a thorough detail, fresh fluids, and a of couple Italian tune-ups, the car was running well — a few vacuum leaks and a possible clogged catalytic converter continue to starve a bit of power, but those remain on the to-do list.
The C1 2.3 is a special car. Overshadowed by the mighty E30 M3 and not quite understood by many enthusiasts, the C series cars are known for their low-end grunt and off-line performance. Based on the euro 323i M60 motor, the 2.3 features a ported and polished head, Alpina specific Cams and a few other goodies. Whereas the B series cars, such as the B6, are a bit more drastic in terms of tuning, the C series uses many of BMW’s internals.
Only 35 E30 C1 2.3s were produced in 1984 and 1985 — Glace has production number 161 (we’re not sure why they aren’t number logically either). Only two C1 2.3s have made their way to the United States, many are in Japan and throughout Europe but expect to see an influx of non-U.S. spec Alpinas enter the States as dealers and collectors become more comfortable with 25 year importation measures.
Behind the wheel, the C1 is thoroughly foreign — all the gauges, stickers, and tags are a mix of German and Japanese. The signature Alpina interior hosts a classic Momo steering wheel, wooden shift knob, and light blue Recaro buckets up front. Sitting still, the staggered-width 16 inch Alpina wheels, lower front valance, and rear decklid spoiler tells you this isn’t your college girlfriends 318i.
Much like Glace’s Alfa Spyder, the Alpina is a work in progress and has already undergone a few tasteful and driver-centric upgrades that include an E46 330i ZHP steering rack and E39 M5 linkage — common upgrades for the E30. The car has good paint and signature Alpina graphics to make for a thoroughly ‘80s entrance — cocaine not included.
Most importantly, this car has a unique character: It is rare enough to force you to look twice, but shares enough common ground with standard E30s to make ownership significantly less stressful. That balance of attainability and rarity is what makes this car so special.
Patrick Glace is a life-long car enthusiast and founder of The Driver’s Syndicate (thedriversyndicate.com), an automotive blog dedicated to the enthusiast community. He drives a 1993 Saab 900 Turbo Convertible because his 2013 GTI was too boring and his only claim to fame is playing tag with an Aston Martin One-77 while leaving the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Follow him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/driversyndicate) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/thedriversyndicate/) for more car stories, opinion, and event coverage.