Like Dirty Harry, Brave Pill doesn't play favourites, especially when it comes to those who offer the riskier automotive delights we try to celebrate. But clicking on the stocklist for the Lancashire dealer selling last week's XK8 also threw up a Pill candidate that was too good to be resisted: a 500hp super-saloon with full 'five spanner' scores in the all-important categories of rareness, value, and courage required to contemplate ownership.
The last of these not down to any obvious faults, rather one of the highest mileages to ever feature in the column. This Alpina B5 has covered 193,000 miles since 2006. We've had higher odometer scores before, but none has accumulated so much distance so quickly. Full respect to the two owners who chose such a potent beast for what such a duty cycle. Yes, the well-worn phrase "motorway miles" is used in the advert - with no reason to doubt it - but the mileage still represents a serious investment in fuel and maintenance, especially as the service book is exclusively filled with stamps from BMW dealers. The most recent of these was applied as recently as last December.
Alpina has long been one of the strange anomalies of the German motor industry, a company separate from BMW but which gets officially sanctioned access to the larger outfit's new products to create its own, which are line-built alongside their mainstream sisters. This despite making cars that, like the B5, end up being very close on both price and performance to BMW's own M-badged models. While Alpina's mission is more about effortless high-speed progress than apex-clipping dynamism, it's still fair to say there are some striking similarities between this B5 and the contemporary E60 M5, including near-identical 500hp power outputs.
The two cars had completely different characters, though. The E60 M5 used a high-revving naturally aspirated V10 and the B5 got a hand-built Valvetronic-equipped 4.4-litre V8 forged crank and Mahle pistons as well as the assistance of a compact supercharger. The M5 got a single-clutch automated gearbox while the Alpina stuck with a retuned version of the six-speed ZF auto. Perhaps the best indication of their opposing philosophies came with torque outputs, the M5's 383lb-ft coming at 6100rpm, the B5's 516lb-ft all present by 4250rpm. Indeed the B5's effortless motor was producing more twist than the M5's peak before it passed 2500rpm.
The supercharger was particularly clever as well, a compact centrifugal compressor which added assistance almost invisibly and with minimal drama, lacking the distinctive whine that normally comes with bigger 'chargers. It was impressively efficient as well, requiring just 20hp to spin at the 105,000rpm it achieved under full boost, compared to around 100hp to power the Rootes-type supercharger of a contemporary Jaguar XKR.
Both B and M pricing in the UK was close to identical - the B5's £62,850 at launch being less than £1000 higher than the M5. Yet despite Alpina's greater rarity and the novelty of a 195mph top speed - while the BMW was officially limited to 155mph - most of the era's gung-ho road testers reckoned that the M-car was the better bet. The Alpina couldn't match the athleticism of the M5, nor deliver the same level of connection under the sort of doorhandle-scraping progress that the BMW positively encouraged, the Alpina's lack of a limited-slip differential becoming obvious in tighter turns. The B5 also stuck with the lower geared steering of the regular 5-Series in place of the M5's much sharper-reacting helm.
The truth was that the B5 was far closer in both spirit and execution to the contemporary Mercedes E55 AMG than it was to its BMW half sister. It was hugely composed and relaxed when asked to deliver the sort of high-speed cruising it excelled at, better suited to a derestricted autobahn than pretty much anything else at the time. But it was also capable of creating face-squishing accelerative forces. A 4.6-second 0-62mph was a tenth quicker than the M5, while a 9.5-second 0-100mph time was nearly a second inside the BMW. It was a depleted uranium fist inside a velvet glove.
Hindsight has also turned the M5 versus B5 argument onto its head. The V10 engined car has developed a well-earned reputation for the sort of hugely expensive mechanical maladies that see fortnights in the Maldives downgraded to weeks in Butlins at Minehead, with both engine and SMG gearbox prone to stop the roulette wheel on 'aargh!'. While some early B5 buyedid suffer supercharger failures, and were doubtless glad of the coverage offered by the three-year BMW warranty, its modern reputation for durability is vastly better. In Germany, where it's a fair bet any example of the B5 will have been used as its creators intended, there is plenty of evidence of the ability to shrug off serious use. The best-known German classifieds website currently has 15 examples of the E60 B5 and B5S with more than 160,000km, with one example having covered 287,000km - that's 178K miles, close to our Pill's odo score. That car also carries a €20,900 pricetag that translates to £18,200 at current exchange rates.
Few British buyers were tempted in period. Alpina planned to sell up to 150 examples of the B5 a year in the UK when the car was launched, but never got close - just 80 saloons and four Tourings made it here. The later, turned-up B5S was even rarer - there are just 12 saloons and one estate. That isn't a huge amount of evidence to base valuation on, but less than £12,000 for so much performance does seem entirely fair, especially given a comprehensive service history and what seems to be pretty much every options box ticked. The vendor reports it has had recent discs and pads, new suspension front arms and a partial respray to get rid of stone chips. The MOT advisories report nothing beyond a steady consumption of brakes and tyres. It really does look like no expense has been spared.
One other thing - whoever ordered the car originally did so without the pinstripes that Alpina often uses to designate its models. While you might regard that as being a missed opportunity if you still pine for the 1970s, it does mean that this B5 is about as undercover as anything so potent can be. It's certainly well suited to these buttoned-down times.
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