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The BMW Story

Mar 30, 2024
BMW has been manufacturing vehicles in one form or another for 100 years. They have followed many directions, but have found their niche in creating luxury sports cars. Yes, there have been some hiccups along the way, but it's their relentless desire to be the best that has gotten them there, and I know from personal experience having worked for one of their many suppliers. For customers this means a wide range of reliable cars that continue to improve. You may remember that Steve Saxty produced a series of award-winning books exploring Ford design. He has now focused his attention on BMW with a new series of three books.
the bmw story
They are packed with stories and designs from the vaults – BMW has given you unprecedented access. So if you want to know more about BMW hi

story

from a design perspective, maybe check them out - there's a link in the description. So what were those obstacles on BMW's path to dominance and how did they come to dominate the luxury market? This is the

story

of BMW. The first product of the BMW brand was the BMW IIIa aircraft engine, produced in the middle of the First World War. But after the war, Germany was banned from producing aircraft, which meant the company had to change course.
the bmw story

More Interesting Facts About,

the bmw story...

The natural next step was to make motorcycle engines. Despite bankruptcy in 1918, the company persevered and worked as a brake manufacturer to pay the bills. The first BMW motorcycle, the R32, was launched in 1923. The company's finances improved and in 1928 they bought a car company already manufacturing British Austin under license. Thus, the first BMW automobile ever produced was the BMW 3/15, a version of the Austin 7. In 1932, BMW produced its first automobile: the 3/20. It may have been a BMW design, but underneath it there were still plenty of influences from the Austin 7. A year later, the BMW 303 appeared with the company's new 6-cylinder engine.
the bmw story
It was also the first BMW car to feature the now-familiar kidney grille, and if you're frustrated with the recent trend of comically large grilles, just take a look at this one! In recent years, BMW positioned itself as “the ultimate driving machine,” but the original “3 Series” was criticized for being underpowered, with a top speed of just 56 mph (90 km/h) and handling like a dog. But at least it was good value for money. The 303 would have increasingly larger engines and would also appear as a roadster, but BMW's next car, the 326 saloon, would do away with all that horrible handling.
the bmw story
Its roadster brother, the 328, won at the Nürburgring and earned more than 100 victories in its class. Several other versions of the car would be produced through the late 1930s as the company flourished. Of course, any story about a German company will have to talk about the rise of the Nazi party and its impact. BMW had originally produced aircraft engines, and the war effort required them in large quantities. Automobile production would end in 1941 as war broke out and all of Germany's limited resources were directed toward defeating both the Allies and the Russians. BMW aircraft engines, like the 003 jet engine, would be produced using forced labor in the nearby Dachau concentration camp.
After the war, the BMW car factories in Eisenach fell into the Soviet-controlled zone that would become East Germany. The Soviets seized the assets and restarted production of the 326 BMW-badged derivative cars. In 1949 they released the BMW 340, which was advertised as a new car, but underneath it was mainly the existing BMW 326. Meanwhile, the BMW company that had manufactured airplane engines was in the American-controlled city of Munich, and production was difficult after its factories had been destroyed. been heavily bombed. There was no market for aircraft engines and the Allies had prohibited them from producing cars or motorcycles. They survived by making pots and pans.
At the time, the BMW name was being used by two different companies, and the BMW pots and pans company was being asked to handle warranty claims for BMW cars in whose production it was not involved. Something had to give, and a West German court ruled that if East German BMW wanted to continue to have access to the West German German mark, it had to give up the BMW name. BMW of East Germany became EMW, Eisenacher Motorenwerk, after the city in which they were located. This company would produce the Wartburg, which was sold until the 1990s. The Soviets were not the only ones to produce a car based on the BMW 326.
After the war, representatives of the British Bristol Airplane Company accepted the plans, as they owned them. from a company that already had a license to produce BMW cars. In turn, they would produce the Bristol 400, a car that was largely based on the BMW 326. BMW in Munich needed to produce more than just pots and pans. The Allies relaxed restrictions and BMW returned to manufacturing motorcycles. But his eyes were firmly set on making cars again. But what kind of car? They considered the idea of ​​producing Ford or Simca cars under license, but their ultimate goal, of course, was to recreate their own cars.
Some felt BMW should go after the luxury market, others an entry-level mass-market car like the Beetle. After all, the Germans didn't have much money, so cheap transportation surely made sense. The BMW 531 prototype was built using its 750 cc motorcycle engine. In a sense this type of car made sense, but a mass market car requires a mass market factory and that costs a lot of money. Furthermore, there were more profits in the luxury sector and there were many people in Europe who had not been able to spend during the war and were willing to splurge. Thus, BMW created the 501 that was presented at the 1951 Frankfurt Motor Show.
It was less expensive than the Mercedes-Benz 220, but not as good. Production problems plagued the company, but were masked by weak sales of the “baroque angel,” as some cruelly called it. However, sales increased once they lowered the price and added a V8 engine. New models like the 503 coupe and the beautiful 507 convertible should have improved finances, but they ended up costing twice as much as expected and didn't sell in any quantity. It is evident that BMW needed another car to avoid bankruptcy. They revisited the idea of ​​building a licensed car and offering an entry-level car. Germans could afford motorcycles but wanted to be protected from the elements, so BMW licensed the three-wheeled Isetta bubble car from Italian company Iso and added its own motorcycle engine.
It was launched in 1955, and in 1957 a larger four-wheeled, four-seat model, the BMW 600, appeared. There was even a British version produced by Dunsfold Tools. The Isetta was designed with the driver seated on the left; the engine was placed on the opposite side as a counterweight. That didn't work in the UK, so when the steering wheel was placed on the opposite side, a 60 lb (27 kg) counterweight had to be added to the other side, making the car slower. To make matters worse, the German electrician was replaced by Lucas, the prince of darkness. Understandably, it didn't sell very well. The bubble car craze of the 1950s would end up being a bubble, and soon consumers wanted a real car, not something Noddy drove.
But the Isetta kept the lights on at BMW's Munich factory, as the company regrouped to design its next car. It would arrive in 1959: the BMW 700. Fortunately, it looked like a normal car and, also, modern and elegant, thanks to Giovanni Michelotti. The 25,000 orders at its launch were music to BMW's ears: finances were so bad that its own board had recommended selling the company to Daimler-Benz. The 700 was the car that saved BMW as an independent company. It also helped finance a much more important vehicle. It was tempting to continue producing small cars with their range of small motorcycle engines, but it didn't make economic sense.
BMW decided to leave the entry-level cars behind and produce another luxury car with higher profit margins. This time they wouldn't look back. In 1961, a prototype of a car called Neue Klasse or New Class was presented. Designed by Wilhelm Hofmeister, it had a small kink in the rear window that was always known as the Hofmeister kink and is now a BMW design feature. The look is immediately recognizable as a BMW, showing how influential this car has been for the brand. It was designed to fit between the entry level 700 and the 501 which was updated as the 3200 CS. It featured a new 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that was surprisingly lively.
It would eventually grow to 2.0 liters and was so good that it would last in one form or another until the late '80s. And like the pre-war BMW 327, the handling matched the looks, especially when The coupé arrived in 1965. The public loved them and BMW came out on top again. BMW's marketers had identified that the world was crying out for a compact executive saloon, so it made sense to produce a new car based on a shortened New Class. It appeared in 1966 as the 02 series which started with a 1.6L engine but soon used a 2.0L engine, sporting the futuristic number “2002” on the trunk.
It came out like something out of a shovel. BMW had identified that customers associated BMW with the racing winners of the 1930s, so they took advantage of this and produced fast versions of their cars. The 2002ti used fuel injection to make it a lot of fun. In 1973 it was turbocharged. In 1966, BMW absorbed the Hans Glas automobile company, mainly because of his highly qualified personnel who could help speed up the development of new BMW models, although his experience in timing belts and overhead cams was also an advantage. Existing Hans Glas cars gained BMW engines and BMW badges for a few years until they were removed in 1969.
The factory where they were produced was modernized and is now BMW's largest European factory. If you can shorten the New Class chassis, surely you can also stretch it? BMW developed a larger 6-cylinder engine, loosely based on the 4-cylinder engine that fit in the largest car: the New Six. This pioneering exercise in platform repurposing was less visionary and more an effort to utilize the limited funds they had. The new car featured twin headlights that would become another distinctive BMW feature. There was both a saloon and a coupe, and the new 6-cylinder engine proved to be no slouch and won the European Touring Car Championship.
No wonder, then, that the UK's motorway police bought some to catch speeding drivers. It was a car exclusively for the driver, to the point that the saloon had reduced space for the rear passengers. BMW cars may not yet be seen in the same league as Mercedes-Benz, but they were quickly approaching quality luxury cars aimed at those who loved to drive and, more importantly, they were doing well in the large North American market. BMW was based in Munich, where the 1972 Olympic Games would be held, so it was clear that it had to do something special. His first electric car prototype was the 1602 Elektro.
Performance-wise, it was less a new-class tourer winner and more milk floater on steroids. Many automotive companies at the time were experimenting with electric power, but the battery and motor technology of the time meant that these cars were dead ends. The New Class was replaced in 1972 by a BMW car called the 5 Series, you may have heard of it! The numbering of BMW cars would now be coordinated: the first number was the size of the car, followed by two digits for the engine size and a letter "i" if it used fuel injection. At launch there were only 4-cylinder engines, but the 6-cylinder would soon make an appearance.
The reception by the press was generally good, but some criticized it for its unpredictable handling and excessive body roll. We're not quite up to the time of the introduction of the M5, but in 1974 BMW offered motorsport models that featured sporty improvements throughout. The 02 series was replaced by the 3 series in 1975, using the same family look as the 5 series, although it was sold exclusively as a two-door model. The dashboard set the tone for cars to come: a center console and dashboard angled toward the driver. After all, this was a driver's car. There was no turbo version like the previous car, but the car still had respectable performance.
There was even a convertible. The Series 3 was the company's best-selling car, outselling the Poplar 02 Series it replaced. A year later, BMW replaced the new Six coupe with the 6 Series. With sales booming, BMW contracted the first 6 Series bodies to coachbuilder Karmann. faithful toits name, the 6 Series would only be powered by BMW's 6-cylinder engine. In 1977, the 7 Series replaced the New Six saloon. Luxury was upgraded with leather and wood, heated front seats, reclining rear seats, and power mirrors. It would be one of the first cars to have an on-board computer and, unlike the cutting-edge Aston Martin Lagonda, it was reliable.
Another car shown at the 1972 Olympics was the BMW Turbo concept. That gull-winged beauty was a pipe dream, but BMW would revisit the idea as a homologation special to fight archrival Porsche. They struck a deal with Lamborghini to produce a sports car, but the Italian manufacturer's poor finances caused the deal to collapse. BMW launched it themselves as the mid-engined M1. The high-performance 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine was completely new and used a fiberglass body to save weight. The BMW interior added a bit of luxury, but some parts of this track car couldn't be hidden, like the fixed driver's seat.
Only 453 would be made, making it one of BMW's rarest cars. New versions of the 3, 5 and 7 series were produced in the 1980s. Sales grew as BMW cars were seen in the same way as Mercedes-Benz. The M1 led BMW to offer the M535i in 1980 and soon the M5 was born, joined by the M3. The 3 Series had four doors, a coupe, an estate and a diesel engine, if that was your thing. It would even have all-wheel drive. The new 7 Series has adaptive suspension and new 5.0-litre V8 and V12 engines to help it compete with the Mercedes S-Class. McLaren chose BMW's V12 for its 1990s F1 supercar – high praise!
By now, even large cars like the 7 Series, which had historically sold in small numbers, were selling more than 300,000 cars in their lifetime. The third generation of the 5 Series appeared in 1987, with all-wheel drive and the V8 engine from the 7 Series, and for the first time there was a station wagon. The 6 Series ended production, but BMW produced a new convertible top, the Z1 which was based on the 3 series. I have a full video on that car, so if you want to know more, click the link above. The Series 8 was not seen as a replacement for the Series 6 even though it looked similar.
It offered much greater performance, with those V8 and V12 engines. The 8 Series also showed the lessons BMW had learned in aerodynamics, achieving a drag coefficient of 0.29. The global recession hurt sales and an M8 version that would have been a Ferrari competitor was cancelled, but Alpina, which had a good business upgrading BMW stock, gave even more impetus to the already lively 8 Series. The Z1 and 8 Series They were the first disappointments since 501 40 years earlier. The 8 Series would have no successor, but the Z1 would lead to the Z3 convertible, based on the 3 Series platform and targeting the market held by the Mazda MX-5.
It was also the first BMW produced entirely outside of Germany, in its new factory in the United States. Later it was equipped with a 6-cylinder engine and transformed into a coupe. There was even a V12 prototype! The next generation would be called Z4. BMW also created a high-end roadster, the Z8 in 1998, designed to evoke the classic 507 that sold so poorly in the 1950s. To promote the car to collectors, BMW stockpiled 50 years of spare parts. BMWs continued to sell well. So well, in fact, that the money was burning a hole in their pockets. In the 1990s, the three-way fight between BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen/Audi was intensifying.
No matter what one did, the others had to win. Volkswagen produced increasingly better luxury cars through Audi, but they also had cars for the mass market. Mercedes was looking to enter the mass market with the A-Class, which by the way I have also covered, and would go further by merging with Chrysler. New car designs were becoming more expensive and had greater safety and quality considerations, so car companies shared platforms across their range. Profit making from luxury cars was also getting worse due to the emergence of new competitors such as Lexus. BMW had to up their game and lower their prices.
They had taken small steps towards the mass market with the compact 3 Series, they had created the Z11, E2, Z13 and Z15 prototypes, but they could find themselves outmaneuvered by their rivals. Perhaps it was BMW's link to the most British film franchise, James Bond, but they went straight into the mass market by purchasing the British car manufacturer Rover, the company that had created the first car BMW produced, the Austin 7. Rovers were effectively committed to Honda at the time, so that messy relationship had to fall apart, like two partners splitting their CD collection. That proved manageable, but what BMW couldn't achieve was turn around Rover's fortunes.
BMW invested a lot of money to create a new version of the Mini, a new luxury sedan: the Rover 75 and work began on a new smaller sedan, but the ink on the balance sheet was blood red and Rover's malaise was beginning to affect the BMWs. final result too. It all ended with a quick divorce, leaving BMW financially worse off and Rover with little future, wishing they had ended up marrying Honda. One of the bright spots of the Rover acquisition was gaining control of Land Rover, maker of the Range Rover. That would also cost a lot to fix and would end up being sold to Ford, but the technology and parts from the Range Rover were used for BMW's first foray into the lucrative luxury SUV market, the X5, another car I've made a video about . .
It broke all the SUV rules by ditching the traditional ladder-frame chassis that gave SUVs such good off-road abilities but made for horrible on-road handling, and that would never make for “the ultimate driving machine.” Instead, BMW opted for a family car with plenty of space and a commanding driving position. After all, that is why most customers bought this type of car. The success of the X5 meant that it was joined in 2003 by the smaller from receiving the award for Canadian SUV car of the year in 2005. Although it could have won awards, the X3 was criticized for its harsh ride and austere interior.
However, customers didn't seem to mind and BMW caught the public mood for taller vehicles at just the right time. BMW had acquired the Rolls-Royce brand in 1998 after Volkswagen was left out. They had purchased the Rolls Royce factory and the Bentley name, but had not acquired the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand. BMW's first automobile was the Rolls-Royce Phantom, produced at a brand new facility near Goodwood in the United Kingdom. Like previous Rolls Royces, it used the BMW V12 engine. Of course, BMW had not given up on the mass market. They kept the Mini from the Rover debacle and in 2004 launched the tiny 1 Series.
It used the X3 platform that the upcoming fifth-generation 3 Series would also share. There was talk of adapting the bodywork to make a coupe, a saloon, a family car and even a small convertible. Reviewers found the car to be great to drive, but expensive and not all that practical with the large base 1.6L engine mounted longitudinally, which meant half the car was the bonnet, a bit like Mercedes' small car concept 1980. BMW was diversifying in all new directions: in 2000 it produced the innovative C1 motorcycle, but it did not forget the sedans that made it so successful. The 2001 7 Series showcased a new design direction, along with the introduction of the iDrive spinning wheel of doom.
Reviewers were surprised by the size of the kidney-shaped grille. Ah, what simpler times! The large 6 Series coupe again used the platform of the upcoming fifth-generation 5 Series. BMW also offered a convertible. But the smart money was on SUVs, sorry, Sport Activity Vehicles. With the sloping roof and the number 6 on the rear, was the X6 intended to be an off-road coupe? It offered poor rear passenger accommodation, as did their cars in the 1960s, but did not provide the driving excitement that those cars did. Sales were, shall we say, "niche", but BMW has continued to do so through three generations and counting.
Maybe the new tiny X1 would be better? It was certainly more practical and inside it looked like a reduced X5. But if we look a little closer, we'll discover that BMW had gone cheap with materials. They had also abandoned the idea of ​​it being an off-roader: the X1 was available with sDrive, which is BMW's marketing language for two-wheel drive. Regardless, the X1 graced the driveway of many proud owners. In 1972, BMW showed its vision of an electric car. They had dabbled in hydrogen power in 2001, but by the 2010s electric power was back and BMW wanted in on the game.
The problem with any electric vehicle was giving it a decent range without weighing it down with a ton of batteries that cost a small fortune. BMW's solution was the i3. It used an innovative carbon fiber platform and ultra-thin seats to help save weight and thus improve range, and they offered an optional 650cc engine and fuel tank to offer additional range if required. Instant electric power meant it could outrun an M3 to 30 mph (50 km/h) and hit 60 in just over 7 seconds. It looked like a good all-rounder and initially customers seemed to agree: it was the third best-selling EV in 2016.
But given that EV sales were small at the time, that wasn't saying much. BMW had a goal of 30,000 annual sales, but had to wait until 2017 for that to happen. Maybe it really wasn't such a practical car. The i3 had about the same range as a Nissan Leaf: 80 miles (129 km), and the small fuel tank meant the range extender only doubled that range. That's a lot of trips to a refill and/or a gas station for more than just a walk around town. And it had less interior space than a Ford Fiesta. Customer demand never grew much beyond 30,000 a year and BMW pulled the plug on the electric i3 in 2022.
BMW's second “i” model was very different, the i8 sports car. It used an electric motor in the front and a 3-cylinder MINI engine to drive the rear wheels, giving it better acceleration than a Porsche 911 Carrera S. Perhaps worried motorheads would complain about the lack of power. a V8, BMW presented an improved version of the The sound of the 3-cylinder engine could be heard through the speakers, but it really was not the same. As an electric vehicle alone, it had only a range of 35 km (22 mi), making it less of an electric vehicle and more of a plug-in hybrid.
But it had a high level of innovation and gave BMW experience in new technologies that it would exploit in the cars of the future. BMW had been transforming its sedans into coupes for decades, and did the same with the 1 series, calling it the 2 series. The old 3 Series coupe became the 4 Series and both cars would become convertibles. The 4 and 6 series also had a four-door “Gran Coupe” fastback style as an option. Then, of course, there were the obligatory M models. Just as the rest of the car industry was moving away from minivans, BMW introduced the 2 Series Active Tourer and the elongated 7-seater Gran Tourer.
These marked a change for BMW: they were its first front-wheel drive cars. There was a good reason for this: they used the MINI platform underneath. This meant they were nothing close to being a driver's car, but provided small car practicality with a bit of luxury. There really was already a BMW for all tastes. The German carmaker had a luxury range ranging from small luxury cars with green credentials to a luxury grand tourer or SUV. And that range grew even more with the X4 which launched in 2014. It was essentially a smaller version of the strange X6 off-road coupe.
Some might argue that it was simply a version of the X3 with an impractical body and no rear visibility. It seems that a lot of people wanted this kind of thing because in 2018 a second generation model appeared. The 2 Series had the Active Tourer and Gran Tourer, but there was no X version. This was corrected in 2018. After all, 1 in 3 cars BMW made had an X badge. Perhaps BMW's main motivation was to match its competition, it faced the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes GLA. Both the X4 and X2 may look sportier than the X1, but the base models relied on 3-cylinder engines to save fuel around town.
It was also less practical, with rear doors that made it harder for people or car seats to get in and out, and it cost more than theX1. Who was this car made for? The 8 Series returned in 2018 as a replacement for the 6 Series. It was essentially a coupe and convertible version of the 7 Series, designed to compete with the Mercedes S-Class coupe. Interestingly, critics who had criticized the iDrive Wheel of Doom when it was released were now happy that BMW had kept it, while Audi had ditched it in favor of just touchscreens. America in particular loved its large SUVs, so BMW needed something bigger than the X5.
They launched the X7 in 2019, something that could be compared to the Range Rover, a car that BMW had helped make in the 1990s. It had the same high-end luxury that BMW offered in its other premium cars. They even presented a pickup version as a concept. A BMW truck? Whats Next?!? In 2019, BMW shareholders once again began to question the company's direction. Profit margins were less than half what they were in 2011 despite record sales. BMW used to be the cool car company compared to the more serious Mercedes, but it wasn't BMW that kept winning Formula 1 titles, and Mercedes was now the trendier option.
BMW defended itself. Tesla was the luxury electric vehicle on everyone's lips, so BMW announced it would launch 25 new electric and hybrid vehicles by 2023. The first of these would be the iX3 in 2020, followed by the iX, the i4, the i7, the iX1 and the iX2. Most of these were existing models with the transmission and fuel tank replaced by a motor and batteries, but the iX was an exception: an all-new technology flagship the same size as the X5. It offered more interior space than the X5, as it was built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, using a new aluminum and carbon fiber platform that borrowed some tricks from the i3.
The front of the car used self-healing polyurethane to allow the sensors behind it to "see" even if the car was scratched, and BMW included heating elements in case it froze. It also included a stupidly large kidney grille! While the i8 enhanced the sound of its 3-cylinder engine through the speakers, the iX transmitted a symphonic sound created by Hans Zimmer, creator of soundtracks for films such as Gladiator and Dune. For BMW's next car, Citroën has kindly agreed to use the same name as one of its most iconic models: Citroën XM. The BMW XM was launched in 2022 and was a rare beast for the time: it had an internal combustion engine.
It was only the second car released by BMW's M division, the first being the M1 back in 1978. As such, it was intended to be a very fast, exclusive small volume. Like the i8, it combined internal combustion and batteries for even more power, but the XM had a choice of much larger 6- or 8-cylinder engines. This gave this big, heavy car a 0-100 time of under 4 seconds. Reviewers loved the luxury, but thought other M models provided more fun and cost much less. In 1972, BMW launched perhaps its most famous car, the 5 Series, and 50 years later it introduced the eighth version.
It had twin headlights, had a Hoffmeister curvature, had a kidney grille and had a range of 4 and 6 cylinder engines. But this car also had the option of a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or a full electric vehicle. What a difference 50 years can make! In fact, what a difference 100 years can make! The first motorcycle from the i5 and BMW are separated by a century and a world. The company has had problems along the way, but since the 1960s BMW has found a path to profit: producing luxury cars that people want. As living standards rose, its customer base grew and BMW, like its German rivals, managed to maintain its brand cachet while producing smaller, cheaper cars.
In the 1980s, customers rejected the Ford Granada because it had the same badging as the Fiesta. However, customers are happy paying £175,000 ($220,000, €204,000, AU$337,000) for an XM while rubbing shoulders in the showroom with someone buying a Series 1 for less than £30,000 ($36,000).USD , €34,000, AU$56,000). BMW has stopped making only cars for real drivers. Some still provide excitement, but are complicated by a plethora of settings on large touchscreens that take away from pure driving pleasure. Many models don't offer much fun, and in my experience, that includes cars like the entry-level 3 Series. You'll have to buy the M versions if you're a “real” motor enthusiast, and some cost the same as a house.
But maybe I'm being too hard on BMW. After all, their cars are very popular all over the world. BMW makes attractive cars that people want and a range to satisfy every desire. The Z1 was one of BMW's most innovative cars, with doors that slid to the floor. Look at its history on the right, or that of the BMW X5. And don't forget Steve's excellent book on how BMW has designed their beautiful cars. Thanks for watching and see you in the next video.

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