2003 Alpina B10 V8 E39
You might not believe it but Stephen Horscroft’s B10 V8 has covered over 185,000-miles. However, with a fastidious approach to maintenance and curatorship, it’s more willing to play than ever… Words & Photography: Dan Bevis.
The Mile High Club B10 is this the most desirable E39?
“I gave it a right pasting on the way home.” When this message from Stephen Horscroft pops up on our WhatsApp the evening after the photoshoot, we can’t help but smile. He’s a chap who really, really adores the pure hedonistic thrill of a high-octane drive, just man and machine, and it’s obvious that the vagaries of lockdown have created a certain pent-up frustration. Our shoot, taking place in mid-February, is the first time the car has been out of the garage in 2021, and two things were immediately obvious when Stephen arrived at our meeting point: firstly, that leaving the car unused for this amount of time was an extremely unusual state of affairs, and secondly that having a legitimate excuse to leave the house and give the Alpina a bit of welly was exactly the tonic his psyche needed.
As medicinal remedies go, he’s certainly got a potent solution bubbling away in the garage. The E39-generation 5 Series represented a golden age for BMW’s long-running big saloon – the Bavarian supremos were on top of their game in terms of design, quality, engineering, performance, all the stars were neatly aligned. The model was instantly heralded as one of the very best cars available to buy back in 1995 (citation needed? Ah, if you know, you know), and it still represents a cracking buy today. It’s fairly universally agreed among aficionados and insiders that the E39 was a high water mark: tastefully designed, intelligently appointed, solidly built, and impressive value thanks to the quality and abundance of the specification.
“I gave it a right pasting.” Damn straight. And you can be sure the car appreciated it.
Now, as you’ve probably deduced, we’re not here to blow the trumpet of the M5. That wellworn path leads to an astounding machine, no doubt, but there’s always an alternative – and in this instance, it’s a massively appealing one. Alpina’s modern classic B10 doesn’t shout as loudly as an M car, but it packs just as big a punch; driving this car, those who recognise the badge will mark you out as a true connoisseur. You see, the position of Alpina has always been to present a sort of bon viveur’s alternative to BMW’s own M cars.
The firm – Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH & Co. KG – was first established in 1965 as a marque-specific BMW tuning concern, winning a lot of hearts in motorsport through the late-1960s and early ’70s, and since the late-seventies the name has been synonymous with road cars which offer a certain stylistic and performance-oriented enthusiasm. Often recognisable by their trademark pinstripes (although, as you can see, not always) and 20-spoke alloys, they enjoy the distinction of being products of a respected automobile manufacturer rather than an aftermarket tuner.
In the 1980s, if the likes of the M5 and E24 M635CSi seemed too raucous or uncouth, Alpina could offer a tasteful alternative. The C1 and C2 amped up the 3 Series, the E34-generation 5 Series enjoyed various differently-engine versions of the B10, and when the E39-generation 5 Series arrived Alpina had really got into its stride: buyers could spec a B10 of this era with a variety of six-cylinder or V8 engines, each variant engineered to combine fast-road thrills with trademark BMW refinement.
The car we’re poring over today is a 1997 B10 V8, and you may be surprised to learn that it’s recently ticked over 185,500-miles – and very few of those have been gentle and cosseting ones. This ballistic gentlemen’s express was designed to be grabbed by the scruff of its neck, and that’s precisely the sort of life it’s always enjoyed. Not that it’s been thrashed or abused, of course – you can tell by the way that it’s presented that this is very much a beloved and cherished possession; no, it’s simply a case of allowing the car to fulfil its destiny.
The ingredients were absolutely right from day one. Rather than going the obvious route and using the M5 as a base for the B10, Alpina instead started off with a 540i and worked upward from there. (For the sake of historical accuracy, it’s also worth pointing out that the M5 didn’t actually hit the showrooms until late ’98, so the B10 was more of a preemptive strike…) Examples of the 540i were specifically prepped on BMW’s Dingolfing line before being delivered to Buchloe for the reimagining as bona fide Alpina products. The M62 motor was bored and stroked out to 4,619cc, running Alpina-spec cams, custom-ground crank, balanced sintered con-rods and Mahle pistons; at the top end, the heads were treated to a thorough porting and polishing with new valve seats, and the compression ratio was raised to 10.5:1. A Bosch Motronic M5.2.1 ECU knocked it all into shape, and the mighty lump exhaled through a bespoke Alpina exhaust system. The upshot of all this was 340bhp at 5,700rpm, with the howling bent-eight revving out to 6,700rpm – huge lungs and improbable revs that characterise a pure driver’s machine. The automatic transmission was heavily modified to Alpina’s Switchtronic spec, with gears selectable via buttons on the steering wheel. This was thoroughly advanced stuff. Oh, and there was no speed limiter – 170mph was just an unrestricted autobahn stretch away. And yet this wasn’t simply a ballistic missile; the interior was tastefully retrimmed to be cosseting and refined. Whereas other sporting marques may splash around the carbon fibre and strip equipment out, here you find quality wood trim and plenty of soundproofing. Externally it’s the 20-spoke wheels that give the game away (the B10 V8 received 18” Softlines from the factory), but again everything was tasteful and refined. As with Stephen’s example, it was possible to delete the pinstripes too, for ultimate stealth wafting.
So it’s a supremely desirable machine, very well-specced from new, and impressively the car entered Stephen’s orbit way back in 2003 when it was just six years old. It wasn’t Stephen himself inking his name on the V5 however – it was actually his dad who bought it back then; in his early-fifties at the time, Horscroft Senior was the car’s third owner, and he immediately pressed it into daily service as a commuter. “He initially struggled to insure it,” Stephen recalls. “Alpinas weren’t as wellknown among insurers back then, people just didn’t know what it was!” Times change of course, and while certain folk among us may have it hard-wired into our brains that 2003 really wasn’t that long ago, it’s worth reminding ourselves that anyone born in that year would now be reaching voting age. And the B10 clearly struck a chord with Stephen’s dad, as he kept it for fourteen years in regular (and enthusiastic) use.
“It took all that time to finally prise the keys out of his hands,” laughs its current curator, casting a doting eye over his pride-and-joy. His boundless enthusiasm for the car is well founded – it’s not simply the fact that the B10 V8 was such a stellar creation from the factory, or that he’s taken on his dad’s car and continued enjoying it in all-in-the-family style; no, there’s significant investment in time and money at play here. You see, Stephen is something of a perfectionist, and he wanted the car’s condition to belie its miles. Furthermore, he loves driving the car hard and wishes to continue to do so pretty much indefinitely, so the B10 wants for nothing – every job carried out is done to the highest standard, with all-new parts wherever possible. Everything has to be correct and original Alpina spec too, save for one or two choice upgrades. First in the crosshairs for the makeover was the bodywork – which was by no means rough, but any true-blue enthusiasts will relate to how easy it is to become carried away with the pursuit for excellence. “I was initially envisaging around £4,000 of work, but it was more like £7,000 by the time it was all done,” laughs Stephen, with the chippedgranite gaze of a man who’s been through a few things and come out the other side.
Having a trustworthy and high-end bodyshop on side helps immeasurably here, and it was Uckfield’s Impact Bodywork who did the business. Stephen shows us a substantial gallery of photos in his phone of the B10 in various states of undress, the bodyshop keeping him constantly in the loop and discussing methods to refine the metalwork. In the end, the work entailed new rear arches, jacking points, addressing the inside-out rust where the inner and outer sills meet – all done with the utmost sympathy, retaining as much original metal as possible and refitting everything with new seals and rubbers. The works were carried out to the fullest extent, yet at the same time as little as possible was done to diminish originality. It’s a beautifully balanced effort.
There was a lot more to this than bodywork too. “The suspension replacement cost over £3,000, a full nut-and-bolt job,” Stephen explains. “The model-specific parts cost a lot, there’s no getting around that, but there was no point doing it half-arsed – I replaced the shocks, knuckles, every last washer, everything bar the springs which were in good condition.”
This care and attention extends to the running gear too – in the summer of 2019 the engine had its timing chains renewed, and Stephen stalked through the motor with ninja force, replacing everything in his path with new genuine bits: pulleys, belts, con-rod bearings, nuts and bolts, the lot. (Don’t ask him how much the new radiator cost, it’s a surprisingly massive number!) The engine and transmission are absolutely tip-top. Which they have to be, as this fella likes to give them some stick. BMR Performance are the experts who keep the mechanicals sweet for Stephen, and he’s keen to point out that their expertise is unparalleled.
There’s an interesting twist to the tale beneath the arches too. Anyone who’s had a pop at v-maxing a car on the unrestricted segments of the autobahn will know the uniquely unsettling experience of having some slow-moving object trundle into your path, forcing you to leap on the anchors PDQ. It’s a test of the mettle as much as the hardware, and this precise happenstance turned out to be an instrumental factor in the evolution of Stephen’s B10 project. The squeak was narrow and the trousers brown, but thankfully no-one was hurt and no damage done. However, the expanses of stopping distance more than gave him pause for thought, and the first order of business on arriving back in Blighty was to investigate a front brake upgrade. A variety of options were mulled over, both aftermarket and OEM+, before the decision was made to swap in the setup you see today: they’re six-pot BMW Brembos, as found on the E9x 335i and 135i – the stopping power they offer is remarkable, and well beyond that which was standard spec on the B10. “I love the colour of the callipers too,” he says. “Originally I chewed it over with some friends and we’d all loosely agreed that they should be the usual Alpina colour, but I was struck by the inspiration to finish them in Phoenix Yellow – it turned out really well! A proper BMW shade, but also a signal to those in the know that something’s happened here.” They sit behind a set of sparkling 19” Alpina Classics – the standardissue 18” Softlines safely tucked away in the garage.
The cabin is a supremely cosseting womb, far removed from the underbonnet hysteria; the super-rare Buffalo extended leather is what Alpina refers to as the ‘Edition’ interior, and it’s all original and surprisingly un-worn here. The equally rare rear window blinds are all present and, brilliantly, still functional. It makes for a pleasant atmosphere when Stephen’s tearing through the Alps, exhaust note popping and burbling and reverberating off the mountains. After the last Alpine trip, he headed straight for the rolling road at SRD Developments where the B10 registered a very healthy 351hp. This number, and all it represents, characterises the approach which he’s taken with this car: build number 128 (of 490 saloons), it’s been in the family for most of its life, and in his own tenure Stephen’s taken it to impressive – and costly – new levels. A machine impeccably maintained and fastidiously looked after, to ensure it can keep having the very life wrung from it whenever he feels like it. Just as Alpina would have intended.
“The suspension replacement cost over £3,000, a full nut and- bolt job,”
Buffalo extended leather makes the cabin a lovely place to reside…
The B10 clearly struck a chord with Stephen’s dad, he kept it for fourteen years in regular use.
2003 BMW B10 V8 E39
- ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 4,619cc M62 (F3) V8, Alpina cams, Mahle pistons, Alpina crank, ported and polished head, Alpina exhaust system, Alpina Switchtronic ZF 5-speed auto
- CAPACITY: 19” Alpina Classic wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyres, Alpina suspension, E9x 335i/135i 6-pot BMW/ Brembo front brakes, Hel stainless brake lines front and rear
- EXTERIOR: Individual Blau II Metallic, Alpina front and rear spoilers, M5 chrome grilles, facelift halos
- INTERIOR: Buffalo extended leather ‘Edition’ Alpina trim
- THANKS: BMR Performance (bmrperformance.co.uk), Impact Bodywork (impactbodywork.co.uk)