This Alpina E21 Restomod captures the essence of the incredibly rare original car while enhancing it with a host of special individual touches, and it’s simply glorious.

While the BMW E30 might have cemented its place as the classic 3 Series, it wouldn’t exist if not for its predecessor, the E21. The E30 might be considered by many enthusiasts to be a better car overall, but the E21 walked so that the E30 could run. While there is plenty of appreciation for the E21, the fact of the matter is that it’s much easier to buy an E30. E21s are harder to come by, especially in good condition, and when it comes to modding, it’s fair to say that the car modifications available for the E30 are more plentiful than for the first-gen 3 Series offering. For Shane Moriarty, however, none of these things mattered. His first E21 experience came about purely by chance, and he’s been hooked ever since.

front on shot of alpina e21 restomod

Catching the BMW E21 hook

For you see, 38-year-old Shane, who works as a mechanic and carries out paintwork at a bodyshop, owned an E21 as both his first BMW and his first car. “I left school at 14 and started working at the Skopos Motor Museum in Batley, though it’s closed down now,” Shane tells us as we chat. “One day, I saw a Henna red E21 316 parked on the side of the road. It was up for sale at an odd price, exactly £525. I had a few quid saved up, so I got it and took it to the museum warehouse,” he says, and with that, his classic 3 Series journey began.

“I restored it, did welding on it, fixed the distributor, it had problems with the Pierburg carb, so I put a 2002 tii inlet manifold on it and some Weber 40 DCOE carbs, and I took it to a few shows. Then I decided to take it to a meet, and it got written off by a stolen car,” laments Shane. “I wanted another E21 and spent ages looking, and then I found this,” he tells us, but it didn’t exactly make the best impression.

side profile shot of alpina e21 restomod

The Alpina E21 restomod project begins

“It was a non-runner – it only had one wheel, no interior, and a mouse was living in the dash, but it did have its original engine,” Shane says. “It had been sat for 13 years; the uncle of the guy selling it had been the owner, and when he passed away, it was just abandoned,” he explains. For most people, that probably wouldn’t have been quite enough to seal the deal, but Shane managed to look past all of the flaws and see the potential in this E21. “My dad Michael and I bought it, and we did a lot of work on it together. My dad has since passed away, but I kept the car,” says Shane, and it’s been through quite some changes since they first bought it.

“It was quite a rough car paint-wise,” says Shane, “so I rattle-canned it green, welded the diff, put a cage in it and a 320 M20 engine, and I used to race it at Santa Pod with nitrous,” he says, which might sound like sacrilege, but there is a reason for that. “I always thought it was an Alpina replica,” Shane explains, which is understandable considering how it had been left. “I spoke to the guy we bought it from, and it turned out to be genuine – it’s one of 11 right-hand-drive TWR cars, as TWR assembled the cars for Alpina in the UK,” Shane says, and that must have been quite the revelation. “After that, I decided to try and bring it back to as close to original as possible,” but he’s added plenty of personal touches and upgrades along the way.

engine in alpina e21 restomod

Alpina E21 Restomod engine tuning

Shane has done a lot of work on this Alpina E21 restomod, but the engine is probably the most impressive part of the project. “I built a 2.7 stroker ETA for the car,” he tells us. “It has an E28 M20B27 block and crank, with M20 2.0-litre con rods and early E30 325i pistons as the compression ratio is higher. It’s got a gas-flowed 885 head with new valve guides, titanium valve springs, and a 292° Schrick cam, which is a little bit too aggressive for the road,” chuckles Shane. “I’ve also fitted a Kent Cams vernier pulley. The pistons are slightly shorter than the ETA ones, and the block has been decked by 2mm, which has increased the compression ratio, and the timing was out, so the vernier pulley allows 2° of timing advance.

“My friend and I made the custom inlet manifold – we cut across the ports, took two Ford Pinto engine manifolds and welded them to the manifold to fit triple DCOE Weber 45 carbs. I got a six-branch exhaust manifold and cut it at the V-band, and it’s now got two 2.5” pipes that go into a Y-section and into one 3” pipe that just misses the propshaft,” explains Shane. “Originally, it had asymmetrical exhaust pipework leading to the rear boxes, but this always bothered me. So I changed it so it now has two equal-length pipes, which go into two 2.5” back boxes, though I want to change them for 3” ones because I like a racket,” chuckles Shane. “It spits flames on the overrun and blows the baffles to bits,” he adds with a grin.

alpina gearlever


While Shane does have the dogleg transmission the car came with, he hasn’t fitted it and instead, the gearbox is a ZF five-speed with a 3.45 LSD. What’s interesting is that the flywheel has had the casting from the inside removed to lighten it, and that’s because of how the engine has been built. “The pistons and rods were attached to the crank and then balanced, and metal was removed from the crankshaft webs to lighten it. Then the flywheel was lightened to balance that. It’s like blueprinting or balancing, it’s a very old-fashioned way of building race engines,” explains Shane and thanks to that, the engine revs more freely.

interior shot of alpina e21 restomod

Attention to detail

The engine bay has also been treated to a few visual enhancements. “The rocker cover is from an E30 325i,” explains Shane, “and I got the Alpina font off the internet. Then I engraved it by hand using a Dremel,” which is some impressive dedication and skill as well. The TWR plate, meanwhile, was pressed, and Shane mounted it where the support for the M20 intake manifold would normally go, and it’s a lovely little extra touch to the engine bay.

Considering Shane’s description of this E21 when he first got it, looking at it now it’s clear he’s put in an incredible amount of work to get it so immaculate. “The boot spoiler is genuine, I paid £900 for that a long time ago,” he tells us. “The front splitter is also genuine and I bought new bumpers for it, which are no longer available. I also got a new grille and bought a new bonnet years ago. I had angel eye headlights on the car, and I couldn’t get original E21 lights so these are actually from a Mk3 Capri 2.8 Laser – the lenses are the same, only the brackets are different,” Shane explains.

rear shot of alpina e21 restomod

Respraying the car in its original color

“I resprayed the car in its original Alpine white, and it’s 2K paint, so there’s no lacquer, apart from on the bonnet, because I got tired of polishing it,” he adds with a laugh. This E21 looks factory fresh, and the work Shane has done to restore it to its former glory is amazing. But there’s so much more to this 3 Series than meets the eye.

“I etched the Alpina text onto the door handles myself, then I sprayed them black,” says Shane. This is where we get into those individual touches he’s added that look so good that unless you’re an absolute Alpina aficionado you won’t even notice. “I had the stripes re-made as you can’t buy them anymore,” Shane continues, “and I put a boot badge on the splitter to match the one at the back. The doors would have originally had the Alpina text in black, but I’ve had it done to look like the badge and the splitter, and the mirrors and sills should be black,” explains Shane, but we love what he’s done. And, on his parcel shelf sits a model of an E21 C1 Alpina, and it also has white sills and mirrors, so they’re a perfect match.

alpina e21 restomod steering wheel

Alina E21 restomod interior

Heading inside, it’s clear that Shane has been just as busy with the interior as he has with the rest of the car. “I’ve fitted E21 Recaros retrimmed in beige leather, which is considered to be sacrilege because they should be finished in brown cloth with the Alpina stripes,” he chuckles. “The door cards were black, but I trimmed them to match the seats, though I wish I’d left them alone as they were more original,” he sighs.

Even though the leather is not original, the interior looks fantastic, and there are still plenty of original features in here. “I’ve got the original Alpina gear knob with the badge showing a side-draft injection throttle body and the original Momo Alpina steering wheel, with the horn button with the dual carb and cam on it,” says Shane. He also found an original Blaupunkt head unit, speakers and covers for the interior. The handbrake, meanwhile, is another of Shane’s own creations, with the Alpina text etched into the handle, and it’s painted black like the door handles.

alpina wheels

Alpina E21 chassis and wheels

This Alpina E21 restomod sits beautifully on those iconic multi-spoke 15s, and Shane has done plenty of work beneath the surface to ensure this 3 Series handles properly. “The wheels are original Alpina ones, and they’ve been finished in BMW Bright silver with diamond-cut lips. I’m also running the wider 7” rears all-round, as, normally, the fronts would be 6” wide,” he explains.

On the suspension front, he’s fitted Spax adjustable dampers along with uprated springs, and that combo has given this E21 a drop of 60mm up front and 40mm at the rear. He’s also fitted a front strut brace, which has been enhanced with the addition of an Alpina boot badge, and there’s a rear strut brace as well. The brakes, meanwhile, are an interesting combo, but it delivers plenty of stopping power. “Up front, I’ve got a set of 1975 Volvo 240 Girling four-pot calipers, and at the rear, I’ve got E30 325i calipers, and I’m running EBC discs and Redstuff pads all-round,” Shane says.

rear 3/4 shot of alpina e21 restomod

“I’ve had it too long,” chuckles Shane, “nearly 20 years as I was 19 when I bought it,” and this Alpina E21 restomod project has been a real labor of love. “My favorite part of the car is probably all the different little mods I’ve done. Like the Webers that match the steering wheel badge, the diamond-cut lips, the TWR badge, the stance,

I love all these things that make it stand out,” he smiles. “It’s OEM, but the mods have been done tastefully,” he adds, and we absolutely agree.

front 3/4 shot of Alpina E21 restomod

Future plans?

And while the styling and chassis are exactly how Shane wanted them, he’s got some different engine upgrades on his mind. “I was thinking about a 2.8 M20 build with an M52 crank, but I’m not sure it will happen,” he muses. “It’s a huge undertaking for another 100ccs – I’ve done it in the past, and I got halfway through one for this car, but then my dad passed away, and things changed. I was going to turbo it, but that takes the ’70s character away,” he adds. “It’s like an old racing setup as it is now – it has an attitude problem,” he laughs. “It misfires because it’s set up for high revs and keeps flooding when you’re driving it slowly, but it has personality like this,” he enthuses.

“As it is, it made 206hp on the dyno, but it needs an ECU and coil to advance the timing, and I could get more power that way,” says Shane, so we reckon he’ll be tweaking the engine before too long.

Everything about this Alpina E21 restomod is just glorious. It looks magnificent, it’s packed full of individual touches that really make it stand out, and Shane has put so much work into it over nearly two decades. As a restomod, a slice of sheer classic modded goodness, and a car that holds memories of his dad, it’s just a really special E21 all-round and an absolutely wonderful build