The beginning of the history of BMW as a car manufacturer dates back to 1928, when there were 25 companies producing vehicles in Germany. Only seven managed to survive to this day. These seven companies managed to survive two world wars and the various post-war crises. All the way up to the turn of the millennium, BMW produced almost everything: from kitchen accessories to aircraft engines. Surviving in many difficult situations was very difficult, but today, BMW, along with Porsche and Daimler-Benz, symbolizes the high-quality products of the German automotive industry.
The exact date of appearance and the moment the company was founded is still the subject of controversy between automotive historians. Officially the industrial company BMW was registered on July 20, 1917, but long before that, in the same city of Munich, there were many companies and associations also involved in the development and production of aircraft engines. Therefore, in order to finally see the roots of BMW, you must go back to the last century, on the territory of the German Democratic Republic that existed not so long ago. It was there that on December 3, 1886, the involvement of today’s BMW in the automotive business was “spotlighted”. The city of Eisenach, from 1928 to 1939, was the headquarters of the company.
One of the local attractions of Eisenach became the reason for the appearance of the name of the first car (“Wartburg”), which saw the light in 1898 after the company created a number of 3- and 4-wheel prototypes. The Wartburg was a horseless wagon equipped with a 0.5-liter 3.5-hp engine. There were no allusions to the presence of front and rear suspensions. Such a simplified design became a good incentive for more progressive work of local engineers and designers, who a year later created a car that accelerated up to 60 km/h. Moreover, in 1902 the Wartburg appeared with a 3.1-liter engine and a 5-speed gearbox, which were enough to win a race in Frankfurt the same year.
A very important moment in the history of BMW and the Eisenach plant was the year 1904, when the Dixie cars were exhibited at the Frankfurt Motor Show, indicating a good development of the enterprise and a new level of production. In total there were two models, the “S6” and the “S12”, the numbers in the designation of which indicated the amount of horsepower. (By the way, the S12 model was not discontinued until 1925.)
At the beginning of the 1920s, two influential businessmen appeared in the history of BMW, Gotaer and Shapiro, to whom the company fell, falling into the abyss of debts and losses. The main cause of the crisis was the underdevelopment of its own automobile production, along with which the enterprise, by the way, was engaged in the production of aircraft engines. And since the latter, unlike cars, brought the bulk of the means of subsistence and development, BMW was in an unenviable position. Medicine was invented by Shapiro, who was on a strange footing with the British car manufacturer Herbert Austin and was able to negotiate with him about starting mass production of the Austin cars in Eisenach. Moreover, the production of these machines was put on the conveyor belt, which by that time only Daimler-Benz could boast of.
The first 100 licensed Austins, which were incredibly successful in Britain, left the assembly line in Germany with right-hand drive, which was new to the Germans. Later, the design of the machine was changed in accordance with local requirements, and the machines were produced under the name “Dixie”. By 1928, more than 15,000 Dixies (read Austins) were made, which played a decisive role in the revival of BMW. For the first time this became noticeable in 1925, when Shapiro became interested in the possibility of producing cars of his own design and began to negotiate with the famous designer and designer Vunibald Kamm. As a result, an agreement was reached, and another talented person was involved in the development of the now famous automobile brand. Kamm developed new components and assemblies for BMW for several years.
Meanwhile, positively for BMW, the issue of approving the brand name was resolved. Dixies in various variations were still in production and continued to diverge among the Germans. Gradually they modernized and improved, along with which the change that took place on November 16, 1928 became very important. From that day on, Dixy ceased to exist as a trademark – it was replaced by BMW.
Based on the fact that Daimler-Benz and BMW produced similar cars, and the companies often included the same people, the chances for cooperation between the two companies arose. Indeed, an agreement was reached on the release of BMW cars with bodies from Daimler-Benz.
On April 1, 1932, the premiere of the first “real” BMW was scheduled, which subsequently earned the recognition of the automotive press and became the starting point for the release of a car of its own design. The same car, with its well-thought-out bodywork, was a combination of new ideas and developments with the well-known and used on Dixie models. The engine power was 20 hp, which was enough to drive at a speed of 80 km/h. A very successful development was the four-speed gearbox, which was not offered on any model until 1934.
Today, BMW offers in each series various powertrain options, among which a six-cylinder is necessarily present. This is perceived as an absolutely normal and familiar phenomenon. Then, in 1933, the appearance of a six-cylinder engine on the BMW-303 model, which made its debut at the Berlin Automobile Exhibition, became a real sensation. This in-line “six” with a working volume of 1.2 liters allowed the car to move at a speed of 90 km/h and became the basis for many subsequent BMW sports car projects. Moreover, it was used on the new “303” model, which became the first in the history of the company on which a radiator grille with the famous corporate design was installed, which was expressed in the presence of two elongated ovals. The “303rd” model was designed at a factory in Eisenach and was distinguished primarily by a tubular frame, an independent front suspension and good handling characteristics that resembled sports cars.
The BMW-303 was perfectly suited for the autobahns which were actively under construction then in Germany. Immediately after the performance, it was run across the whole country, and in this action the car proved itself well. People were willing to pay the price set by the manufacturer for this car. Moreover, wealthy BMW fans chose the 303rd model with a sports two-seater roadster.
For two years of production of the BMW-303, the company managed to sell 2,300 of these cars, which were later followed by their “brothers” distinguished by more powerful engines and designations of “309” and “315”.
These became the first models for the logical development of the BMW model naming system. With the example of these machines, we note that the number “3” denoted a series, and 0.9 and 1.5 the cubic volume of engines. The notation system that appeared then successfully exists to this day, with the only difference being that it has been replenished with such numbers as “525”, “530”, “650”, “745”, “840”, etc.
The BMW-315 was far from the last in a series of outwardly similar cars, since the most striking and noteworthy among them were the BMW-319 and BMW-329, more sports cars. The maximum speed of the first, for example, was 130 km/h.
Along with all previous cars, the 326 model, which appeared at the Berlin Automobile Exhibition in 1936, simply looked gorgeous. This four-door car was far from the world of sports, and its rounded design already belonged to the direction that came into force in the 50s. An open top, good quality, a chic interior and a large number of new changes and additions put the 326 model on a par with Mercedes-Benz cars, whose buyers were stereotypically very wealthy people.
With a mass of 1125 kg, the BMW-326 model accelerated to 115 km/h and at the same time consumed only 12.5 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers. With similar characteristics and with its appearance, the car was one of the best models of the company and was produced until 1941, when BMW’s production volume amounted to almost 16,000 units. With so many cars produced and sold, BMW-326 was widely regarded as the best pre-war model.
Logically, after such a resounding success of the 326 model, the next logical step in 1937 should have been the appearance of a sports trim. However, the leadership of the German company took a slightly different path, and the German manufacturer released a sports car in 1936.
The two-door, two-seat, truly sports BMW-328 was equipped with a six-cylinder engine and accelerated to 150 km/h. This model allowed the company to take part in many pre-war races and gain recognition in a new quality. With the 328 model, BMW became so famous in the second half of the 30s that all subsequent cars with the famous two-color mark were perceived by the public as a symbol of high quality, reliability and beauty.
World War II caused huge damage to German car manufacturers, and BMW was no exception. The plant in Milbertshofen was bombed, and the plant in Eisenach turned out to be in Russian-controlled territory. Therefore, the equipment was partially exported to Russia as repatriations, and what was left was used to produce the BMW 321 and BMW 340 models, which were also sent to the USSR.
The only more or less habitable factories were two plants in the city of Munich, around which BMW shareholders concentrated their main efforts. The support of the German National Bank came, and thanks to it, the company brought back to life the concept of the BMW-328 in the period from 1948 to 1953.
But what is most surprising is the idea which was ripe in the minds of BMW designers and designers. They decided to release a luxury model, which was surprising since in the post-war period most people had no ability to think about such cars.
The company was not in the best position, but in 1951 it introduced a prototype of the future BMW 501 car, which featured a large four-door sedan, drum brakes, and a 65-horsepower engine, which had a working volume of 1971 cc. The novelty was perceived in two ways – with interest and surprise. The second, most likely, was caused by the fact that the company couldn’t even finance the mass production of the 501 model, and therefore in 1952 only 49 cars were assembled. By 1954, production reached 3410 copies, bought only by wealthy supporters of the BMW brand.
In the same post-war years, BMW thought about the lack of necessary engines. This was especially evident after the presence of weak and low-torque engines began to affect the sales of cars. As a result, the designers developed a long-term project for the release of a new eight-cylinder power unit. The first samples appeared in 1954 and had a volume of 2.6 liters and a power of 95 hp, increased to 100 hp in the 60s.
Simultaneously with the installation of an eight-cylinder on the BMW 501, the appearance of the car also changed slightly: side chrome moldings appeared, adding elegance to the car. Equipped with a new engine, the 501 could accelerate to a maximum of 160 km/h. Naturally, the fuel consumption of a car with an eight-cylinder engine was significantly different from the pre-war performance, but this was of least concern to BMW management.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1955, the BMW Isetta became the exact opposite of the then-produced models. The tiny BMW Isetta looked like a bubble with small attached headlights and side mirrors. It was possible to get into the car only through a single door, which at the same time was the front of the car. The rear sprocket was much smaller than the front. The model was equipped with a single-cylinder engine of 0.3 liters. With a power of 13 hp the Isetta accelerated to a maximum of 80 km/h. This motor vehicle was produced for only six years starting in 1959.
Along with the little Isetta, BMW introduced two luxury coupes, the 503 and 507, based on the 5 Series sedan. Both cars at that time were quite sporty, although they had a civilian appearance. For example, the maximum speed of the 507 varied somewhere between 190 and 210 km/h. A similar result was achieved thanks to the 3.2-liter engine with a compression ratio of 7.8: 1, with a maximum power of 150 hp at 5000 rpm and 237 Nm at 4000 rpm. Servo-driven drum brakes were on all wheels, and the average fuel consumption per 100 km was 17 liters.
Models belonging to the 5 series did not improve the position of BMW in the 50s. On the contrary, debts began to grow rapidly while sales decreased. To remedy this situation, the bank, which assisted BMW and was one of the largest shareholders of Daimler-Benz, proposed building a small and not very expensive Mercedes-Benz car at the factories in Munich. This jeopardized the existence of BMW as an independent company producing original cars with its own name and brand. Small BMW shareholders and dealerships throughout Germany actively opposed this proposal. Together, an amount of money was collected that was required to develop and launch the release of the new middle-class BMW model, which was supposed to significantly improve the company’s position in the 60s.
The middle class car was supposed to become a family car for the average Germans. As the most suitable option, a small four-door sedan body with a 1.5-liter engine and independent front and rear suspensions, which at that time were not present in all cars, was considered.
Launching the car in production by 1961 and then presenting it at the Frankfurt Motor Show was almost impossible: there was simply not enough time. Therefore, under the pressure of the sales department, several prototypes designed to attract future customers were urgently prepared for the exhibition. The bet was made and in many respects paid off. During the exhibition and over the next few weeks … about 20,000 orders for the BMW 1500 were made! Try to imagine the situation in which the company found itself, releasing only 2,000 cars in 1962! The total production numbers of the 1500 model for the entire time of its existence on the conveyor was 23,000 cars.
At the height of the production of the 1500 model, small engineering firms began to refine the car and increase the engine power, which, of course, did not please the BMW leadership. The response was the release of the 1800 model with a 1.8-liter engine. Moreover, a little later, the 1800 TI version appeared, a Gran Turismo class car which accelerated to 186 km/h. Outwardly, it was not very different from the basic version, but, nevertheless, it became a worthy addition to an already replenished family.
The BMW 1800 TI, although only 200 machines were made, still became an extremely popular model. By 1966, on the basis of the machine, the designers created a worthy follower. The BMW 2000, which today is perceived as the ancestor of the 3 Series, was a coupe with a 2-liter engine and 100-120 horses hidden under the hood.
In fact, the BMW 2000 (in the base and other versions) refers to one of the most successful models in the history of BMW. It takes a lot of time to count the number of options for bodies and engines of various capacities and with different maximum speeds. Together, they formed a series that received the designation “02”. Its representatives could satisfy the demands of almost all motorists who were offered a choice from the simplest and most modest coupes to tricked-out high-speed convertibles with alloy wheels, automatic boxes and motors of 170 hp.
Four-cylinder engines were installed on almost all models whichbrought the carmaker so much popularity in the 60s. However, BMW management still remembered powerful and reliable units, the revival of which was intended to be launched by 1968 at the same time as the release of the new model, the BMW 2500. The inline six-cylinder used in it, which was constantly undergoing modernization, was produced over the next 14 years and managed to become the basis for the equally reliable and more powerful 2.8-liter engine. Together with the latter, the four-door sedan moved into a number of sports cars, as only a few production vehicles with standard options could exceed the speed mark of 200 km/h.
After the production of the 2500 model and its main followers, which happened in the 70s, the next significant event for BMW was the appearance of the 6 Series, the first of which in 1978 was the luxurious 635 CSI coupe. It’s 3.5-liter engine became a new symbol of technical excellence and even began to be installed on vehicles of the 5 Series. Equipped with such an engine (with a power of 218 hp), these cars received the designation “M”, confirming the exclusivity and sportiness of the car. Moreover, this motor really showed itself in the second generation of the 5 Series, on the so-called transitional models that first saw the light in 1983.
A consistent update and expansion of the company’s lineup is associated with the same period. In 1977, the 7th series debuted. At first, engines with volumes of 2.8, 3.0, 3.2, 3.3 and 3.5 liters were offered for the machine. The most popular of all – 4.5-liter – appeared some time later, transferring the “seven” to the category of not only expensive, prestigious, but also high-speed cars, as evidenced by the acceleration of the car from zero to 100 km/h in 8 seconds.
The history of BMW has developed so that all cars manufactured by the company to this day and produced now are a symbol of solid vehicles for wealthy enthusiasts. Like any good thing, they require timely attention, proper care, the price of which is reliability and excellent service for the benefit of the owner.