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HomePick of the DayPick of the Day: 1979 BMW 323i (E21) C1 2.3 Alpina

Pick of the Day: 1979 BMW 323i (E21) C1 2.3 Alpina

An Alpina with many original parts

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From the late 1970s through the 1980s many European car manufacturers were designing cars to create a visible impression of wealth. The people who owned and drove those cars considered them akin to a Rolex watch. They were a mobile display to the whole world that they had “made it”.

I think about cars such as the Mercedes 450/380/560SL, the E24 6 series, any car wearing a Porsche nameplate, and how they seemed to signify you had reached the top of the heap in the quest for money and/or fame. Even the entry level cars from the European brands, such as the Mercedes 190e, the BMW E21 320i and the Porsche 924 and 944, were seen as the cars that marked you as moving up the ladder to wealth and success.

This worked in a large part due to the manufacturer’s strong marketing, well defined branding, and seeming exclusivity. I know I was easily sucked into this idea and many of the cars I have bought over the years tend to reflect that this clever marketing worked quite well.

Case in point: I’ve had no fewer than 28 Porsches, 12 BMWs, and many other cars in that genre pass through my garage. I wanted a car to display the idea of having made it, regardless of how well, or in some cases how poorly it might have been built.

One of the things this created was a sort of pecking order in the world of exclusive cars. If you had done well in your career you might treat yourself to a nice BMW 633i or a Mercedes 380SL. If you were a serious car guy in the era you might want something rarer and more exclusive, something not officially imported to the U.S., say the AMG Mercedes or the BMW 745i.

The reason for wanting an unofficial import in that era was due to the development of more stringent American emissions laws in the 70s. Tougher emission laws led to U.S. consumers only being offered the lowest performance versions of many European cars that could pass U.S. smog laws.

1979 BMW 323i (E21) C1 2.3 Alpina
1979 BMW 323i (E21) C1 2.3 Alpina

The Germans, French, and British got the really hot examples. This desire for exclusivity and performance opened up a whole new market for cars, called at the time the Grey Market. The Grey Market is where private import groups would bring in special models of various European cars, get them certified for sale in the U.S. and then sell them to high-end buyers who were seeking the ultimate in a given car model.

The Pick of the Day is a car that in the 1980s would have been ideal for the Grey Market, a 1979 BMW 323i (E21) C1 2.3 Alpina.

While in the U.S. we only got the standard 320i with it’s 2.0 liter engine, or in later years the 1.8-liter inline-four, but Europeans could get the same car with the BMW inline-six. If you wanted to go further than that you went for an Alpina 3 series.

Alpina is an automobile manufacturing company based in the Ostallgäu district of Bavaria. It basically hotrods existing BMW cars and provides owners with all kinds of highly crafted and designed specialty parts to improve the performance of their cars. Since the mid-1980s BMW has their own version of this idea in their M cars, but in the 1970s and early 80s the only M product was the M1. Alpina filled the gap for those that wanted more from BMW standard cars. Alpina is still in business today and closely tied to the BMW factory, due to their many great ideas, achievements and builds of numerous BMW road cars.

According to the Langeskov, Denmark dealer offering this C1 2.3 Alpina, it was built to the highest standard under prior ownership. It features many original Alpina parts, including the front and rear spoilers, rims, and Recaro seats with the iconic Alpina upholstery featuring the green and blue stripe.

The car has a Getrag five-speed manual transmission, a limited-slip differential, ventilated front disc brakes, and a 100-liter fuel tank. The car also has a sunroof, and opening rear windows.

These days, getting a 1970-80s Alpina BMW is a lot less hassle than it was in the 70s and 80s, due to the age of these cars. Unless you live in California importing this car should not be much of a hassle and the selling dealer is able to walk you through the process.

The best part is when you show up at Legends of the Autobahn during Monterey Car Week with this Alpina you will be one of the stars of the show. People will ignore newer BMW M cars to get a better look at your vintage Alpina. These cars were mythic in their time and continue to draw a crowd among those who understand just how rare they are here in the U.S.

The asking price for this BMW Alpina 3 series is $36,700 or best offer. That price offers Bavarian exclusivity that is hard to compete with at the cost.

 

Hagerty
Andy Reid
Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

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