The concept of having 3 cars isn’t something I planned on. In my mind it is an expensive luxury and life is busy enough so the main car(s) should be the ones I enjoy.
However when the choice of at least one of your cars is as good as, made for you. Like in my case were I have three children, and therefore I have to have a big car, read MPV, read seven-seater. Then some of my original ethos is worn away.
The story begins around six years ago, life was relatively simple. My wife (Sue) and I both had busy jobs and worked all over the place.
Sue had a company car (BMW 523i SE) and I had a personal car
(Golf Vr6) .
This worked well until the taxman decided to clamp down on company car drivers, making us question Sue’s cars.
Also about this time I started working predominantly in London and so we didn’t actually need two cars during the week and at the weekend we were generally
together so didn’t need two then either.
We were eyeing up a SLK 320 and a Porsche Boxster but given we were thinking of starting a family we decided on something a little more practical –
and ended up plumping for an
ALPINA B10 3.3 .
A fantastic car that did everything we wanted and coped admirably when my twin daughters were born and later on my son.
So good was this arrangement that three and half years later we decided to upscale from the ALPINA to a
This worked for a while (c. 15 months) until my job stopped being in London. This started to be an issue as we again needed two cars;
we also started to notice the wear and tear the kids had on the M5.
It was at this point the “more practical car” conversation started (up until this point I’d dismissed the expectation that I needed a MPV as I had 3 children). I started to think about swapping the M5 for a practical car and a silly car. I was sold on the idea and we soon went through with the idea. Buying a brand new
Grand Espace 2.0T Privilege
with a healthy discount from Sunwin Renault and my friend’s Subaru Impreza Sti  which among many things had appeavcred in EVO magazine and was to put it blunty FQ as the people from Mitsubishi would say.
Unfortunately, as you may have read elsewhere on this site the ownership experience of the Impreza wasn’t all plain sailing and when after 9 months the engine decided to melt on me we found ourselves in the awkward situation of needing two cars and having only one functioning one. Fortunately, we were able to stretch financially to buy another car and we went down a slightly different route and bought a
MINI Cooper S Works
. We were now in a position I never intended in being of having three cars, albeit only two of them actually worked.
Later on the Subaru was fixed and we now had three functioning cars. Every day I now faced a dilemma of which car to use. This tended to be based on my mood and whilst is was good fun I couldn’t help thinking that having three cars was a luxury. I tried to rationalise this with the decision to make the Subaru my track toy. Again a luxury, but at least to my mind each car now had a purpose! Disaster struck again when the Subaru decided to melt its pistons again, great timing as I’d only just finished the sinful running in process. By this stage I’d had enough and as soon as it was fixed again I sold the car. 
We were back to two cars again and I had no issues with this. I’d got the really silly car out of my system and now started appreciating the MINI for the car it was. Sure it’s not really a family car and those back seats have next to no legroom, but it’s great to drive, faster than many give it credit for and crucially makes me smile whenever I look at it.
So why then have I just bought another car? Well, it all stems from my ALPINA fixation. Not long after I bought the B10 3.3 I started the ALPINA register, first as a sub-section of FastSaloons.com and then as it grew, I moved it to its own domain – theALPINAregister.com. For the last three years we’ve been organising events, meets, shows, visits and all through this I haven’t actually owned an ALPINA. I’ve wanted to, but always been in a dilemma as to what ALPINA to buy. The new-car line up didn’t have an obvious replacement for the Espace (which it needed to replace) and after the Subaru I didn’t really want to stomach running an older car every day.
Another dilemma then, in March 2006, I got wind that ALPINA were planning to build a car based on the next generation X5. This was, if we factor out the price, the car I’d been waiting for: a 5-7 seater ALPINA. I started day-dreaming about the car as most of us do. But as more information came to light it became obvious that the ALPINA X5 wouldn’t be available until late 2007, and worst still the earliest I could expect to get a UK car would be March 2008. A truly long time to wait.
[EDIT] ALPINA has since announced that they will not be producing a ALPINA version of the new X5.
Around this time my wife started hinting that she was working too hard and that we hadn’t really treated ourselves for ages. Who was I to argue? Coincidently it was about this time that Alun Parry, an ALPINA enthusiast, approached my about his
that he was thinking about selling. I tried hard to not make a mental leap between these two events, but when he began telling me about the car, my interest was well and truly stirred.
Alun’s car was a very low mileage (26k miles) Saloon that had been meticulously cared for by Alun and the two German owners who’d owned the car before him. The car for example had only been used in good weather, never really in the rain and certainly not during the winter. My wife was open to the idea and given the B8 is one of my favourite all-time ALPINAs, I had to go and see the car.
Andy kindly accompanied me to look at the car and we both couldn’t believe the car’s condition. Everything was as Alun had described and it wasn’t long before we’d had agreed a price and the car was mine .
That was back at the end of November (2006) so my story reaches the final chapter. Since I got the car, I’ve done a paltry 200 miles in it. The timing of my purchase was certainly not ideal. I am however planning lots of excuses throughout 2007 to drive the car. This includes a visit to the factory in Buchloe.
For those of you unfamiliar with what a B8 is, and maybe even what an ALPINA is, then let me briefly explain. ALPINA is a motor manufacturer in its own right. All ALPINA cars are based on BMW models. This is down to an extremely close two-way relationship between the two companies. The process works by allowing ALPINA to design, specify and test its cars alongside the similar BMW cars.
My summation of an ALPINA is a car that has all the performance of an M car, without any shouting and fuss. The cars are brutally fast, but are packaged as subtly and completely, in that the car really is more than the sum of its parts. For more information take a look at Andy’s article about the history of ALPINA and my article on what happens at ALPINA today.
On to what is a B8? Well it is based on an e36 BMW (that is not the current 3 Series (the e90), not the one before it (the e46) but the one before that). When the B8 was new it was a very expensive car, costing £63k, or put another way £20k more than the equivalent M3. However, apart from the cost its biggest claim to fame is what is under the bonnet. Squeezed underneath is a 4.6-Litre engine which conservatively produces 333bhp and 347lb ft. Offiically 0-60mph is 5.5secs, 0-100mph is 12.5secs and the top speed is 175mph.
On the rarity stakes a total of 221 B8 4.6s were produced between 1995 and 1998. The B8 was produced in every body style with 93 Saloons, 78 Coupes, 27 tourings and 23 Cabrios. The B8 was never officially import into the UK and as a result the car is only available in left hand drive. The exact number of B8s in the UK is hard to tell but I would estimate there are at least 10 cars.
In terms of my experience with the car, it is still very early days, but it reminds me a lot of my e39 M5 albeit with better steering and a smaller feel when you’re driving it. It is very torquey and therefore has a lot of grunt in any gear. Of course if you choose to use the gears it is truly bonkers. In its days it competed with Porsche 911s and even today, twelve years after it was made, it still has few rivals.
My adoption of left hand drive has so far been pretty painless. I was expecting to find things very weird driving the wrong side of the car. But to be honest I’ve hardly noticed, apart from the embarrassment of trying to get into the passenger side of the car when I’ve come back to the car in car parks, a couple of times.
I’ll end with another insight into the B8… Around the time I bought my B8, two of
members bought a B8 coupe. The reactions from each of them comprised of an email full of ‘Ha Ha He He’ off the first and a posting on the forum stating ‘this car is a f’ing rocket’ off the other.
Roll on 2007, Roll on 3 cars, it may be a luxury but I no longer care!