Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – The third Alpina specialty car to arrive stateside, the ’11 B7, goes on sale this spring starting at $122,875 for a standard wheelbase model.

The long-wheelbase version will begin at $126,775. Both prices include an $875 destination and handling charge.

The ’11 B7, following the Roadster B8 in ’03 and the previous-generation B7 in ’07 and ’08, is based on the current-generation BMW 7-Series sedan.

The new model boasts 500 hp – 113 hp per liter – and 516 lb.-ft. (700 Nm) of torque, available from 3,000-4,750 rpm, from its twin-turbocharged 4.4L V-8 engine.

“Although the vehicle is more generously appointed, larger and heavier than the previous model, it’s two-tenths (of a second) faster from 0-60 mph (97 km/h),” says Kris Odwarka, sales director for specialty manufacturer Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH, here at the 2010 Chicago auto show.

“Zero to 60 in 4.5 (seconds) is not bad for a great big, honkin 7-Series sedan,” he says. The 4.4L V-8 in the B7 loosely is based on the BMW 750i’s engine.

Heavy engineering work was done to modify the mill, with bespoke Honeywell International Inc.’s Garrett turbochargers, different pistons and compression ratios, as well as stiffer alloy heads.

The B7 is electronically limited to 174 mph (280 km/h.), “and if you’re really, really on it, you can just be shifting into top gear at 174,” Odwarka says.

The car has an extensive array of cooling systems to cope with the wide temperature variations across the U.S., stop-and-go driving and “people crushing the gas (pedal),” he says.

The B7’s 6-speed transmission is based on the previous 760i’s ZF Friedrichshafen unit but upgraded with hardware and software.

The upgrades are necessary to handle the 500-hp rocket riding on 21-in. Michelin tires, larger than the tires on most competitive models, Odwarka says. “We don’t believe our customers want (smaller tires), and that’s where we get 0-60 in 4.5 seconds in something this heavy.”

The tires are mounted on Alpina’s signature 20-spoke wheels. The company, which has a 49-year association with BMW, claims to have invented 20-spoke wheels in the early 1970s for the best combination of lightweight and strength.

The B7 has the largest diameter brake discs in the BMW family at 14.7 ins. (37.4 cm) front and 14.6 ins. (37.0 cm) rear.

Dampers and springs are unique to the B7, but it uses the same electronic suspension as the 7-Series, with comfort and sport settings, but calibrated differently.

“When you create lateral (G-force) in the comfort mode, for example, the suspension stiffens within milliseconds, as it would in a 7-Series or some of the M products,” Odwarka says. “The difference is in comfort mode, (the suspension) stiffens less than it would in sport mode on a different calibration unique to the package.”

The interior of the B7 boasts the Alpina steering wheel, with middle-finger operated shift buttons on the backside; Alpina blue dials with red pointers; piano-black lacquer; brushed steel; and optional burled wood trim from cultivated groves of the Pacific laurel tree.

Unlike the previous B7, the new model, because it is debuting just after the current 7-Series launched, will feature the full range of exterior and interior colors of that model, plus the “Alpina Blue” exterior shade unique to the B7.

BMW’s plant in Dingolfing, Germany, which almost fully assembles the B7 barring some complex features, is limited to building five B7s per work day, or roughly 1,000 units per year.

“You won’t see yourself going down the road every day,” Odwarka says of the car’s exclusivity. He predicts U.S. ’11 B7 sales to be in the “high hundreds” range annually.

In its best sales year, Alpina sold 1,500 units worldwide across all the models, many of which won’t make it to the U.S. The upcoming Alpina version of the new 5-Series is one of them, due to volume constraints.

“We’re right at the limit with this,” Odwarka says of the B7.

Alpina has branched out from its traditional top markets of Germany, Japan and the U.K. to include the Middle East, Cyprus and Ireland in recent years. However, the fast-growing Chinese market has not been attempted largely because of the complexity of homologation and the fact most cars of the B7’s size are chauffer driven.

“(China is) the only country in the world where Audi (AG) and BMW build long-wheelbase 5-Series and A6s,” Odwarka says.

“(The B7) is not a car meant for a chauffeur-driven owner,” he adds. “It’s something we continue to look at. But we’re not planning on it as of today because of who we are.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com