Can you imagine BMW making a car like the Z1 today? There isn’t even a snowball’s chance in hell that BMW would even entertain the idea of creating a unique vehicle, something that wasn’t already predetermined by focus groups to sell eight billion units a year. The BMW of today and the BMW of yesterday are two very different companies, though, because the BMW of yesterday took weird swings and one of them was a hilarious, wonderful roadster with doors that slid down. The BMW Z1 was a rare car, even in its day, but do you know that there was an even rarer version? Well there was. The ALPINA Roadster Limited Edition (RLE).
When the BMW Z1 first debuted, it was a small, lightweight roadster with modest power and a focus on handling. Its E30 BMW 325i-derived powertrain gave it a 2.5-liter inline-six with 170 horsepower, a five-speed manual, and rear-wheel drive. However, ALPINA wasn’t happy with the Z1’s power, so it bumped up the displacement to 2.7-liters, which increased output to 200 horsepower and 193 lb-ft (261 Nm) of torque.
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According to an Auto Motor und Sport review from 1987, the ALPINA RLE was capable of 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 7.1 seconds, which was a massive improvement over the standard Z1’s 8.4 seconds. It also had a top speed of 136 mph (219 km/h), which isn’t fast by today’s standards but was quite good for a little roadster with such a short wheelbase back in the ’80s.
Surprisingly, ALPINA barely changed the suspension of the Z1, something that it normally does. However, because the Z1’s rear suspension was quite sophisticated, all ALPINA did was shorten the front springs.
ALPINA only build 66 RLEs, half of which went to Japan and half stayed in Europe. That makes them incredibly rare and among the rarest ALPINA models ever made. At the time of its release, the then-owner of ALPINA Burkard Bovensiepen said that it was an instant collector’s car, one that should be stored away immediately. To be frank with Mr. Bovensiepen, I hate that sort of talk. No good driver’s car—no matter how rare or how valuable—should be stored away. Don’t make it good to drive if no one should drive it.
Unfortunately, all ALPINA RLE owners took Bovensiepen’s advice, so most RLEs are still locked away in collections. Shockingly, when the do come out, when their owners decided they wanna cash in on their investment, they don’t sell for terribly large sums of money. One sold at auction back in 2019 for $106,400, which is a lot for a small roadster but not when you look at the crazy figures of most cars being sold today.
Regardless of value or rarity, it’s so enjoyable to remember a time when BMW—and, in turn, ALPINA—made took big swings and tried new things. There’s absolutely zero of that today. No risk taking, no innovation, no new ideas. Just pure, profit-guaranteed products, approved by focus groups and board members, that make enthusiasts fall asleep. So let’s all go back and remember a cool time when cars like the BMW Z1 and ALPINA RLE existed.