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Hands of God

October 8, 2017

Although the car was authenticated by Alpina, I assumed the worst – that the engine was not an actual Alpina lump. Yeah, the shell was touched by the Hands of God, but the previous owner who piped-up on BaT said an unethical mechanic pilfered many of the precious parts. I feared the motor suffered that fate.

When the car was finally in my hands, I looked for the four-digit hand-stamped numbers in the block and head. I found nothing, not knowing where to look. My fear of the worst grew, but I knew I’d be able to really inspect it once I pulled it out of the body, and I’d figure it out from the serial number on the block.

Every project – at least every project I’ve done – has a pace, a rhythm; it’s own timing. But taking the engine out stalled. Removing a 2002 motor is easy, especially on a carbureted car. A 323i is a bit more complicated and, frankly, I was intimidated as I couldn’t find an English-language manual. The physically bigger motor, the unfamiliar Bosch K-Jet fuel injection, the lack of instruction on how to go about removing it, and my old-man status making me reluctant to lie on the garage floor under a car – it all added up to a lot of inertia. Motivation was also lacking because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with the motor: rebuild it stock or take advantage of advances made since Alpina built it in 1982.

After months of hoping the motor will remove itself, I decided I had to actually get going. Late nights in the garage, disconnecting this or that, finally gave way to actually hooking up the cherry-picker and pulling the motor out. My 16-year-old son helped, much as he did with the Inka 2002 touring, almost ten years earlier.

Once the lump was out of the car, I looked all over the block for a serial number – Alpina or otherwise. But I couldn’t find one. Then I asked my friend google where to look, and came upon some stamping below the distributor housing area: “+ C1 +” with a barely legible hand stamped four-digit serial number under it (3568). No one had to tell me this was not a BMW number; I knew who stamped + C1 + on a block and who used those four-digit numbers. The dance around the car, screaming “yes” and “it’s a real Alpina motor, touched by the Hands of God” was so much fun I forgot to check the head. When I finally did, I couldn’t find any numbers, but admittedly had no idea where to look (google wasn’t much help for that).

After a week of wondering if I had a genuine Alpina block but not head, a very helpful fellow C1 owner sent me a picture of the stamping on both head and block (thanks Don!) and I found the Alpina serial number on the head. Confirmed, both head and block are original from Alpina.

So, I have a motor, touched by the Hands of God, sitting in my garage, probably with a blown head gasket. What to do with that? I don’t want to modify the Alpina block or head, so do I undertake a “stock” Alpina rebuild it and put it back? Store it and build a new block into something bigger, better, and more powerful? Decisions, decisions.

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