Aerodynamics Matter: The 88 MPG, 1981 Alpina BMW

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1981 Alpina BMW 3-Series built for Shell Kilometer Marathon

1981 Alpina BMW 3-Series built for Shell Kilometer Marathon

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The Detroit Auto Show last month marked the debut of the a car with the lowest coefficient of drag of any production car--just 0.23.

That car was the Mercedes-Benz CLA, a small sport sedan powered by a gasoline engine. Efficiency figures haven't yet been released, but we can imagine it being quite frugal at highway speeds.

If you've ever doubted the benefits of aerodynamics, then another German sedan from an earlier era demonstrates them pretty effectively.

Jalopnik uncovered pictures of this 1981 Alpina BMW, built for a Shell Kilometer Marathon.

Alpina is best known for its tuning work on regular BMWs, turning them into luxurious, high-performance sedans, with little heed paid to fuel efficiency.

The Shell vehicle was different, though. Based on a contemporary E21-generation BMW 318i, the normally boxy sedan had its styling transformed with a huge aero appendage at the front--complete with BMW kidney grille.

It's not the prettiest thing we've ever seen, but there's no doubt it was effective--the Alpina 318i managed to win its class with a startling 88 miles per gallon--breaking the 100 mpg mark, in imperial gallons.

Jalopnik speculates that the engine may have been detuned, but the rest of the car looks standard--there are no wheel spats, aerodynamic hubcaps or even lower ride heights here.

One wonders what might have been possible with a boat-tail appendage, too--as any aeromodder knows, the air coming off the car is as important as the air hitting it.

There's no chance that new Mercedes will reach the heady heights of 88 mpg, even if it's offered with a diesel engine. But as the Alpina shows, good aerodynamics can make a heck of a difference...


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Comments (7)
  1. 1976 2002 with Alpina front fascha and side panels, back then the care was getting 44 MPH with the add's, could not believe it, yep, regret ever having gotten ride of that car.

  2. Hi Ed, you might want to reread your comment before posting next time...many spelling errors. That 2002 sounds great btw.

  3. Great article. I hope auto manufacturers strive for better aerodynamics n worry less about looks. I trust more will be like me n prefer much better fuel economy as energy prices rise vs a slightly less eye catching vehicle.

    It will be interesting to see what car makers come up w/ to further improve fuel efficiency while maintaining top safety scores well.

  4. I think the Mercedes has both the looks and the aero in a way that a Prius can only dream of.

  5. "I hope auto manufacturers strive for better aerodynamics n worry less about looks."

    I most certainly hope not! It is sickening to watch all that "design vomit" run around on our roads today -- bland "econoboxes" designed by committees -- vehicles without a soul, an eyesore. Horrible, horrible, the dark age of automotive design.

  6. It just needs the huge wing on the decklid to balance the look. Oops, sorry, that would make it a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona or 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird wannabe. Tough to sell one for daily transportation though.

  7. This is not very aerodynamic - the front almost doesn't matter to overall drag; despite what you might guess. A smooth front is good; but the "pointiness" only helps above 250MPH.

    It is the back that matters the most. Look at the Schlörwagen, or Maybach Stromlinienkarosserie, or Dave Cloud's Dolphin for low drag cars.


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