1988 BMW 635CSI Alpina trim E24

1988 BMW 635CSI Alpina trim E24

This is not an Eighties car, I can hear the naysayers proclaim – and yes, the elegant E24 first edged its (shark)nose into public consciousness halfway through the Seventies. However, it’s here because it was the halo car for BMW’s Eighties ascent into the upper echelons of desirability. We have to strip back years of 2 Series Active Tourers and ratty 320Ds to uncover the BMW of old. The badge was a status symbol – king of the keyfobs at yuppie dinner parties. All the prestige of a Jaguar or high-spec Rover without the whiff of old-school England, and much sportier than a Mercedes-Benz. The BMW was engineered of the right stuff – its sharp, crisp lines a foil to British notions of luxury and prestige still predicated on more chrome, wood and leather than an MP’s secret cellar. BMWs were properly expensive too – sift through the price list of the era and the difference between a E24 635CSi Highline like the one seen here and the top-of-the-tree M635CSi E24 could swallow a semi-detached home in the Midlands. So E30 3 Series aside, Eighties BMWs were always a fairly rare sight; nowadays every third car seems to wear an ever-more gopping kidney grille.

After the 6 Series, no BMW would be this sharp. Even with the Highline bodykit this particular car wears, there’s a real sense of a car that lets its depth of engineering do the talking, leaving the Paul Bracq-penned aesthetics to simply bewitch.

The engineering depth begins with the M30 B34/5 straight six – a power unit that can trace its roots back to the late Sixties and one that stirs the soul just as much as any Italian-born motor. There’s the unmistakable high-pitched ‘chink’ noise as engine cranks into life, followed by a refined, smooth idle. Don’t be fooled, however – I bury my toes somewhere near the headlamp washers and the engine rasps into life, shrieking a warcry that only gives up at around 6000rpm when the four-speed ZF automatic gearbox calls time. Most 635CSis were specified this way – I’ve been lucky enough to try both manual options (H-pattern and sporty-upgrade dogleg) and they transform the car from comfortable cruiser to heavyweight, sporting bruiser. Don’t dismiss the automatics, however, because these make for cruising cars par excellence. A contemporary Mercedes-Benz coupé may have more in-gear heave, but they tend to have steering feel that’s so divorced from the wheels that your inputs feel as if they’re being delivered to the road via fax machine. The BMW is different – it’s still very much a GT, but there’s an innate sense of connectedness and balance that other grand tourers suppress. Inside this top-spec Highline there’s lashings of leather, a clearly laid-out but racy wrap-around dashboard and an onboard computer monitoring system that alternates between quaint and captivating.

It’s similarly tricky to peel my eyes away from the exterior, because this particular example is wearing aftermarket Alpina accoutrements. This was the era in which aesthetic modification really took off. Where once it was all about adding performance, the Eighties turned into a bodykit bonanza. It wasn’t enough to simply own a BMW or Mercedes-Benz – a set of Alpina or AMG rims allowed you to put your stamp on your executive motor.

Modification was previously the kind of on-your-drive tinkering carried out on Minis, fast Fords and the like – but from the Eighties onwards, if you had a wallet fat enough there was little to stop your imagination running wild. It was a modern take on vintage-era coachbuilding, only with glassfibre and the whiff of Drakkar Noir. Rust may have run equally wild in any prospective buy these days. Examine the sills, door bottoms, rear suspension towers, inner footwells, front wings and sunroof for grot. The straight-six is generally hardy, but check for a blocked radiator – left too long, this will cause a warped cylinder head due to overheating.

That said, the market for the 6 Series certainly isn’t overheating according to our price guide – £29k should get you into a top-of-the- market example. That’s remarkably good value, considering what you’d pay for a top-spec Porsche 928 in these times – and all for a car that represents the ethos of a brand that its current product planners and marketeers would seemingly prefer you’d forget. Luxurious, sporting, well-built, stylish, exclusive – the very definition of motivational motoring in the decade of aspiration.

Owning a BMW 635CSI E24

‘I love its classic looks,’ says owner Kishan Kanadia. ‘It also drives like a BMW should drive.’ He bought this car six years ago for £20,000 and has spent £3500 on the Alpina wheels and a suspension refresh, plus other bits and bobs. ‘I’m very fortunate that my father is a former BMW Master Technician, who worked on them when they were brand new so that keeps costs down – he rebuilt the cylinder head and fitted the suspension,’ he says. ‘It’s very reliable and has never let me down.’

Kishan likes its ability to keep up with modern cars. ‘It handles extremely well on Bilstein B4s and slightly lowered suspension,’ he adds. ‘The brakes are a bit spongy, however, and it doesn’t stop as well as a modern car. He says parts have been easy to replace, but are getting rarer, suggesting Classic Heroes and BMR Performance as good specialists.

TECHNICAL DATA 1988 BMW 635CSI Alpina trim E24

  • Engine M30B35 3430cc inline six cylinder, sohc, Bosch Motronic DME 3 fuel injection
  • Max Power 215bhp @ 5200rpm
  • Max Torque 229lb ft @ 4000rpm
  • Transmission ZF 4HP24 Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Power-assisted recirculating ball
  • Suspension Front: independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar Rear: independent,
  • semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
  • Brakes Ventilated discs front and rear, BOSCH ABS
  • Performance Top speed: 140mph
  • Acceleration 0-60mph: 6.9sec
  • Weight 1427kg (3146lb)
  • Fuel consumption 27mpg
  • Cost new £36,860 (1988)
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £8500-£29,500

1988 BMW 635CSI Alpina trim E24

Single-cam straight-six gives a silken punch. Wrap-around dash gives E24 a driver-focused feel. Rasp from BMW’s exhaust is intoxicating.

‘The straight six stirs the soul just as much as any Italian-born motor’
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