BMW: 100 Years of Road, Track, Autobahn

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 08/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

BMW is 100.

Heads have turned along those years: up as well as around.

Today’s Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) began in 1911 making quality aircraft engines, but because the Munich company became Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG March 7, 1916, this is considered the founding date.

However, that the familiar quartered blue-and-white logo, the BMW roundel, represents a spinning propeller against a blue-sky background is an urban myth, notes Dave Buchko, Corporate Communications manager – West, for BMW of North America, in Newbury Park, California.

BMW offered the IIIa aero-engine offered in 1917, an inline six-cylinder engine constructed of lightweight materials and incorporating innovative technology. In 1943, the company produced an early jet engine, too, as well as a radial unit pumping out 1,800 bhp. Innovation has always been a BMW theme.

Even before the company’s first auto was released, the first motorcycle appeared: the twin-cylinder, four-stroke BMW R 32, in September 1923 at the German Motor Show in Berlin.

That first car came five years later as the Dixi 3/15 PS, a licensed version of the British Austin Seven built at the recently purchased Eisenach vehicle plant. Four years later, in March 1932, the first in-house automobile design appeared: the BMW 3/20 PS with a new four-cylinder engine and a two-door all-steel body.

The company-landmark first six-cylinder, the BMW 303, followed a year later in February 1933 –– also the first model with the signature kidney-shaped radiator grille.

Then came the outstanding forward-looking BMW 328. After World War II, motorcycles were produced again, beginning with the single-cylinder BMW R 24.

In 1954, the BMW 502 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, the world’s first V-8 all-alloy engine in a volume-produced automobile. Coincidentally, that year the company began producing the two-seater motorcycled-powered microcar, the Isetta, which became BMW’s best-selling model that decade –– another forward-looking vehicle.

Neue Klasse and Alexander Calder

The Neue Klasse cars, starting with the four-cylinder BMW 1500 in 1961, were developed after the company had been purchased, and saved, by major shareholder, industrialist Herbert Quandt, in 1959. Further success came with the 1800 class in 1963 as well as the motorsport edition, the 1800 TI/SA.

The next decades brought continuing success as the now BMW Group expanded worldwide. In 1975, the first BMW Art Car, a BMW 3.0 CSL painted in a design by American artist, Alexander Calder, started at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and three years later, the collector-favorite BMW M1 was first shown at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris.

The next decade, in March 1987, the BMW 750i was seen at the Geneva Motor Show –– the first twelve-cylinder model from Germany since the end of World War II –– establishing the company as a global player in luxury cars. That year also saw the first BMW Z1 roadster, at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

The second generation of 3 Series, known as E30, produced from 1984 to 1993, was also significant. “This generation expanded the line -up of body styles, including two- and four-door sedans, a convertible and a wagon,” Buchko says. “It was also the basis for the first M3, one of the most successful touring race cars of all time.”

More recently, the company has also focused on electrics and hybrids, such as the BMW i3, the first premium electric vehicle on the road, and the BMW i8, the company’s first hybrid model.

“At the BMW Group, we are always on a quest to find a better solution. It’s simply part of our DNA,” says Harald Krüger, chairman of the Board of Management, BMW AG, noting the company’s Research and Innovation Centre as another example of forward-thinking in the first 100 years. “Moving ahead, we want to remain a driver of innovation –– because for us, it’s a tradition.”

Homage at the Munich Museum

The i8, in fact, is the most recent addition to the BMW Group Classic Collection and BMW Museum in Munich, Germany, which comprise 1,000-plus exhibits such as automobiles, motorcycles, boats and airplanes as well as engines and parts.

Started in the 1960s, the collection includes a Wartburg Motorwagen from 1898, a licensed model of the French Decauville manufactured by Heinrich Ehrhardt, founder of the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach (FFE), acquired by BMW in 1928.

Parts of the collection can be seen in BMW Museum (10 EUR entrance fee) and at the partially public BMW Group Classic facilities as well as at shows and events.

“We consider it the world’s largest collection in terms of BMW history,” says Manfred Grunert, who heads Archives, Collection and Classic Brand Management for BMW.

“In our perspective, it is outstanding to have vehicles dedicated to various purposes: the ones for racing, the ones for street runs, specially prepared vehicles for static display as well as preserved cars that stay in the shape we found these.”

Buchko and Grunert recently spent some time with Highline Autos to focus in on some landmark, and favorite, vehicles:

BMW 328 –– Developed by engineer Fritz Fiedler, this famous model solidly placed the Munich company in the international motorsport scene, Buchko explains. On June 14, 1936, the two-litre BMW 328 sports car raced in the Eifel Race at Nürburgring, with Ernst Jakob Henne achieving a start-finish victory. The two- seater car, with a twin-nostril grille, was powered by a straight- six inclined-overhead-valve engine, with an aluminum head, developing a strong 80 bhp.

Four years later, on April 28, 1940, the final production year, Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer won the prestigious Mille Miglia in Italy, at an average speed of 103.6 mph, driving a special-bodied BMW 328 Touring Coupé. Later, the legendary Stirling Moss won the first of many races in a BMW 328.

The lines of the Jaguar XJ120, another great racer, introduced in 1948, were probably influenced by those on the BMW 328. Frazer Nash had brought the car into England just after the end of WWII when BMW production had been temporarily suspended. In all, 400 cars and 69 chassis were produced.

BMW 507 –– “If you are going to pick one BMW car from the 1950s, I may choose this one,” Buchko says. “It’s an iconic design.”

The completely new design came from designer Albrecht Graf Goertz, with the stunning drop top powered by a 3.2 liter V-8 developing 150 bph and capable of 127 mph. The roadster joyed those who first saw it Sept. 22, 1955, at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

“Elvis Presley bought one when he was stationed in Germany while he served in the Army,” Buchko says, noting that BMW restored the car back to its original Feather White and will show it at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Sunday, Aug. 21. “The King” had to paint it red to disguise and discourage red-lipstick messages from loving fans.

Expensive, the 507 did not sell well into the target American market, totaling just 252, most still around. That’s good news for the owners of the remaining cars, who get to enjoy them every day. Or offer them for sale.

BMW 2002 –– This year, BMW also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 2002, which introduced many U.S. carbuyers to BMW.

Into the 1960s, BMW no longer made airplane engines and was prospering as the third largest German carmarker, behind Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. The 2002 became an immediate success, with variations such as a convertible and, in 1973, Europe’s first production turbo.

That model, with its flared wheel arches and rear deck spoiler, was powered by a two-liter four-cylinder, overhead cam engine that could produce as high as 170 bph, topping at 130 mph and delivering 0−60 in just 6.6 seconds. Only 1,672 were built through 1974, making them also very collectible.

BMW 3.0 CSL –– This was the first race car developed by BMW Motorsport. In March 1975, BMW Motorsport won the 12 Hours of Sebring with one, just days after the establishment of BMW of North America as a subsidiary of BMW AG, Buchko explains.

BMW of North America owns that Sebring car and will again campaign it at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Monterey this year. “For the fourth year, it will be driven by Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW of North America,” Buchko says.

BMW M1 –– The BMW M1 debuted Oct. 5, 1978, at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris. The mid-engined (M) sports car was created by the great Giorgetto Giugiaro. It is powered by a twin overhead-cam straight six producing 277 horses.

The racing version appeared at the Procar Series in the supporting program for Formula 1 in Europe in 1979 and 1980. In 1981, it was retired, with only 450 produced, making it highly prized for collectors.

Z3 –– The first car launched in a Bond film, Goldeneye, 1995, this was also the first car built exclusively at BMW’s new plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which now produces nearly the full range of BMW Sports Activity Vehicles as the largest BMW production facility in the world. The plant also makes BMW the largest exporter of vehicles, by value, from the U.S., Buchko says.

The all-aluminum 24-valve straight six is good for 192 bph, 135 mph and 0−60 in 7.1 seconds.

The Z3, in all its variants, ended production in 2002 and was replaced by the first generation Z4 2003 through 2009. The current Z4 began in MY 2010 and is still in production.

BMW 2002 Hommage –– This concept car was unveiled at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in May and is a celebration and re-imagination of the 2002 turbo for contemporary car lovers.

Details such as large wheel arches and two single headlights recall the earlier car, while large 20-inch light-alloy bi-color wheels, large front spoilers and air intakes add today’s aerodynamic components.

“This compact coupe is one of the vehicles which made the brand what it is today,” explains Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president, BMW Group Design. “The 2002 sat at the top of the range and was the first series-produced car anywhere in Europe to come with turbo technology. That set the seal on the coupe as a genuine sports car.

“At the same time, the 2002 turbo was at the technological vanguard of engine development at BMW,” he adds. “The BMW 2002 Hommage is our way of raising a glass to all these achievements.”

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