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We were somewhere around the incorrectly named Regency Park in Adelaide when the smell began to take hold. It was a mouse-in-the-toaster smell.

(Readers and members of animal rights groups be comforted that I have not knowingly put a mouse into a toaster to see what it smelt like, but some years ago one did find its way into our Sunbeam Radiant Control when it was on and I will never forget the look of surprise on my mother’s face and the very unmother-like words she uttered when little Mickey was ejected with the cooked bread.)

Anyway, after our success in this year’s classic Adelaide Rally, Michael McMichael (the state’s greatest BMW technician, aka mechanic) and I decided to take our tarmac champion 1990 BMW 318 with a 328 Alpina engine to South Australia’s Mallala raceway to show the locals a thing or two. You need to understand that a normal three-series Bimmer had a 74kw four-cylinder engine, which, while very reliable, was slower than a Trabi full of elephants going up Malt Street, Brisbane. On the other hand, the Alpina six cylinder puts out 240kw, or about 300 times more power.

Alpina is owned and run by 81-year-old Burkard Bovenspien with his sons Andreas and Florian. Burkey’s father, Rudolf, started in the typewriter caper in 1951.

He made only portables, which were better designed than most cars of the time, particularly the AMC model that features as standard a nylon carriage return lever, the toggle type tab set-clear lever on the right of the keyboard and the M-R key in line with the upper row of keys. Who wouldn’t want one of these?

Like most kids, Burkey rejected his parents’ typewriter business but did convince father Rudolf (see how I am not going there with the reindeer jokes) to let him use a small shed to start modifying cars.

He made over his own BMW 1500. While the 1959 700 series saved BMW from bankruptcy it was the 1500 that made the ­company the object of German ­middle-class fantasies.

Like the AMC typewriter, the Michelotti-designed 1500 looked good, but with only one puny Solex carburettor even the Alfas left it behind when the policeman gave the hand signal to go.

Of course, Burkey fitted dual Webers and did some other tricks and he knocks three seconds off the little car’s 0 to 100km/h time. BMW thought this was pretty cool and Alpina has been their go-to factory for hot engines and the ­occasional typewriter ever since.

Now, I’m not suggesting that even Burkey may have had problems dropping his engine into a car built for something with four cylinders and one third the grunt but perhaps driving it in peak hour traffic wasn’t one of our finest ideas. Of course, the temperature gauge had peaked 15 minutes before we smelt the Mickey odour coming from Burkey’s engine but Michael’s theory was the Germans are great at engines but terrible at gauges.

The next big sign of trouble was that the car just stopped in the middle of the road near Mawson Lakes, a suburb named after Dougie Mawson, who had some similar problems himself 105 years prior to our expedition to Mallala. Michael appeared upset when I asked him that, given they were both Adelaide boys, were he and Doug mates at the time.

After pushing the BMW to the side of the truck lane and letting the engine cool, Michael decided to open the radiator to find the problem. Unfortunately the new radiator is built in the manner of a mouse trap so when he put his hand down it slammed shut, nearly cutting the tops of his fingers off. Once I had recovered I rushed to the Shell servo for medical supplies. I took a few Panadol with a large Coke and felt a lot better. Then I remembered Michael’s fingers were spouting blood like an old Jag spouts oil on the garage floor. I negotiated to buy two Band-Aids rather than a whole box and after two coffees and a Krispy Kreme, back I went to the patient.

By the time I arrived the ambulance had taken the new Burkey to the local hospital, the tow truck had taken the car back to the workshop so I hitched a lift out to Mallala and had a great time driving other people’s cars.

Meanwhile back at Shannon’s Summer Sale in Sydney this week numberplates were the stars of the show. In fact, $2.3 million of them.


This is a shortened version of the original article. Read the rest at the Australian by following this link:  ‘Tales of mice and men in a 1990 BMW 318, with 328 Alpina engine’



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