Top Gear Was Wrong About the Alpina BMW Z8

The Alpina V8 Roadster has a bad reputation among diehard car nerds. The strut towers made the news for buckling under load, and Clarkson trashed the car on Top Gear back in the day, saying that how it drove didn’t match how it looked. These cars are so expensive, and so rare, that nobody ever really gets a chance for a rebuttal. So when I heard BMW had one at its Performance Driving Center at Spartanburg, South Carolina, I jumped.

So did everyone else. The pulse of everyone around picked up anytime the Alpina that was kindly lent to us for driving and filming started moving. These were hideously expensive cars when new (nearly $140,000 in the early 2000s) and have only gotten more precious. It’s not hard to find Z8s trading for a quarter or a third of a million dollars.


Again, what Clarkson claimed on Top Gear back when was that the car was neither comfortable enough to be a grand tourer, nor sharp enough to be a sports car. He was halfway right and somehow all the way wrong. Not only is the car genuinely comfy, but it’s unexpectedly, almost unbelievably good to drive.

It’s not a sports car. That is for sure. I actually found myself driving a pair of tuned BMW E30 M3s just before getting behind the wheel of BMW’s Alpina V8 Roadster. Those E30s were so direct, so quick, so nimble. They felt like they were about to tear themselves apart every time you ran out to redline.


The Alpina roared where the E30s screamed. It lunged where they darted. But it never felt like a boat. It never wallowed around, even standing on stilts of 20-inch wheels.

It wanted to be pushed harder and harder. The engine, too, was so much more wonderful than I ever imagined it’d be. In going from a regular Z8 to an Alpina, the car went from having a BMW M5 engine, a high-strung 4.9-liter S62 V8, to a 4.8-liter stroked M62 V8, losing about 20 horsepower and gaining about as much torque. I thought it’d be lazy. It wasn’t. It bellowed and revved and popped on the overrun. This wasn’t a muscle car. This was a full-on GT, comfortable but composed.

I understand why the Z8, the Alpina in particular, is treated with such trepidation among hardcore car enthusiasts. It looks so good. It has neon taillights! It’s impossible to think that the way it drives lives up to its Fisker styling.

But it does, even after spending a day with it on track.

Now I’m pissed. After I saw this car get hosed on Top Gear I didn’t mind that these cars were too expensive for me to ever own. I didn’t want one, or the lifestyle it implied. Now I do, and I’m back to being screwed.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.


Bo Darville

I had a friend with one several years ago. He went Alpina because he had a bad hip and needed an automatic. I just loved being near the thing, and it did sound amazing. Never drove it, but he thought it was pretty great.

At that time I was driving another car that Clarkson got wrong - a 1st gen X3. Mine had a stick. It’s still one of my favorite cars I’ve owned.

I still find Clarkson enormously entertaining, but I don’t listen to his advice on cars.