Tuner Tuesday: 1991 Alpina RLE

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The first of the BMW Z1s to roll off the production line are now eligible for legal importation to the US, given they’ve crossed the 25 year old mark. None of the 8,000 produced over three years made their way stateside, but these roadsters with their funky downward retracting doors do have a cult following. Famed BMW tuner Alpina tried their hand at modifying the Z1, the result being the vehicle you see here: the RLE, or Roadster Limited Edition. Only 66 of these special Z1s were ever made, half going to Japan and half allocated for Europe.

Amongst the modifications was an inline-6 enlarged to 2.7 liters that bumped power to around 200 bhp, shorter front springs and trademark 17″ Alpina wheels. Along with the original 66 produced, a handful were also converted to Alpina spec from original Z1s. This RLE for sale at 4Star Classics is one of the original 66 and produced. It’s hard to imagine a Z1 being thought of as common, but this RLE takes exclusivity to another level.

Click for details: 1991 Alpina RLE at 4Star Classics

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Year: 1991
Model: Alpina RLE
Engine: 2.7 liter inline-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 18,668 mi
Price: £69,995 (~ $108,068 USD)

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The Alpina RLE, or Roadster Limited Edition, was based on the BMW Z1 and was introduced in 1987. Originally costing 116,000 D-Mark, it was probably the most exclusive car on the German market at the time.

The Z in Z1 stood for Zukunft (German for future), and both the Z1 and RLE certainly felt every bit the ‘future’ when they were released, with the doors retracting vertically down into the car’s body instead of swinging outward or upward. With the high sills offering crash protection independent of the doors, the vehicle could be driven legally and safely with them up or down. These cars also introduced many other innovative features such as removable body panels, continuously zinc welded seams, Z-axle rear suspension, and a composite under tray that is entirely flat. The whole body was in fact made from plastic and could be removed completely from the chassis.

The BMW Z1 used a 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine but was considered by many to be underpowered. Alpina resolved the issue by replacing the engine with the 2.7-litre engine from the B3. Consequently the power was increased from 170hp to 200hp. As a result of the already decent chassis on the standard Z1, as well as its advanced rear axle, the only Alpina modification to the suspension was the fitment of shorter springs at the front. Together with the 17-inch Alpina wheels, the RLE looked sportier and more aggressive.

The standard BMW Z1 was not a common car with only 8,000 units produced, however the RLE was limited to only 66 cars in total. Half of the production was sold in Japan and only 33 cars remained in Europe. Each RLE is individually numbered, featuring its unique 1-66 designation on a plaque in the centre console, steering wheel, and on each wheel centre cap.

Electric doors, Electric windows, Electric mirrors, Digital clock, Cigarette lighter, Ash tray, Spare wheel, BMW first aid kit, BMW toolkit, Spare key.

Finished in the timeless Dream Black metallic, the paintwork on this Z1 is near flawless and boasts a wonderfully deep colouring. With absolutely no unsightly scuffs or scratches to note, every panel is perfectly straight, just as the factory intended. In true Alpina style both sides are boldly adorned with a fresh set of gold decals.

On close inspection there is no corrosion around the car, and virtually no chips to the front bumper or leading edge of the bonnet. All lenses and glass around the car appear in good order; even the rear window remains clear with virtually no imperfections to behold. Aside from a minute repair to the rear panel, the black soft top presents remarkably well too.

Unsurprisingly the interior of the RLE is in great shape. The dark grey Nubuck and camouflage leather upholstery is the most resilient interior to feature in the RLE and certainly appears to have stood the test of time in this example. With little or no wear to the bolsters, the seats remain tight and perfectly supportive.

The hand-stitched leather Momo steering wheel and handbrake lever retain a good texture, as does the Alpina gearknob. The leather trimmed dash shows no signs of distortion or sun damage and the high door sills also present well, with only very minimal wear to a small area on the driver’s side. The Nubuck-trimmed centre console features the RLE’s numbered plaque, which in this example is number 54 of 66. The steering wheel centre is also numbered.

The under-bonnet of this Alpina is consistent with a car that has been used sparingly. Having covered less than 19k miles it is not surprising that all the plastic components display a healthy shine and many of the mechanical parts still retain their factory lacquer coating.

Looking further, there is no corrosion in the engine bay at all. The 2.7-litre engine itself presents very well indeed, and following a full mechanical inspection by our team of technicians is in fine fettle.

Effortlessly filling the arches of this RLE, the 17-inch Alpina alloys on which the car sits are almost 100% blemish-free. The centre caps too present perfectly, each one proudly displaying the ‘Limited 54/66 Edition’ Alpina badge.

The wheels are shod in a matching set of Yokohoma tyres, each showing minimal signs of wear.

This rare Alpina was first registered in 1991 and has since covered less than 19k miles. Since arriving in the UK all duties and taxes have been paid.

Present in the history file is the original embossed Alpina leather document wallet. Complete with a service history confirming the car’s low mileage, the original Owner’s Handbook, and dealer-supplied service booklet are also present, along with the spare key.


Even though its for sale in the UK, all Z1s except for the final example produced were left-hand drive. The standard Z1 was not a cheap vehicle when it was new, with prices that hovered in the low €40,000 territory, or about $45,000 USD. If you can find one in the US, you can expect to pay somewhere in the $35,000 to $50,000 range, depending on condition and mileage. At over $100,000, this is certainly a steep ask in Z1 terms, but I have never seen one of these RLEs for sale before. The Z1 was a car that introduced a number of new technologies that led to new patents for BMW. If you add the Alpina label and a low production number into the mix, I would not be surprised if this car found a new home in short order.


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  1. Now these guys know how to advertise a car. Great pic and excellent write ups. The M3 Evo is awesome.

  2. Man wish I had the $$$$ such a good buy that will only go up with time…M1 , Z8 new & old , E30 M3 EVO & 2002 Turbo , serious BMW investment collection…

  3. Nice car. The alcantara seat facings can wear ferociously fast on Z1s and it’s either NLA or supremely expensive. This one appears to be in good shape. It also has 4 stud Alpina wheels like an E30, rather than 5 stud making them very expensive to replace.

    If it’s Alpina blue 1 then it probably looks better in sunshine that the photos suggest.

  4. Apparently it’s black. Looks blue to me.

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