BMW Corporate headquarters in Munich. The bowl-shaped building in the foreground is the museum.
Aeroplane engines, motorcycles and cars – BMW has made them all. If you love automobiles, love engineering, and have a penchant for history, the BMW Welt and Museum should definitely be on your list of things to do if you ever visit Munich.
I had the pleasure of being invited to BMW Welt, (which also includes the Museum and original plant, all within the same complex), and had a guided tour of the facilities. I’ve always admired BMW, with its combination of luxury and sporting pedigree that successfully makes even an everyday sedan into a seductive temptress.
There’s much to see and do here, but I would particularly recommend the Museum. The exhibits are superb, and the multi-lingual tour guides are thorough in their subject.
Here are some of BMW’s more iconic models, covering various facets of the company’s history, including its early models, its competition successes, the birth of its sporting ‘M Division’ and some concept cars which have turned to reality. Of course, they’re in no particular order, and one must never make the cardinal sin of thinking one is better or more significant than the other.
Since this exhibition is exhaustive, I’ve decided to compile this story in two parts.
So, without further ado, here’s a sampling of some of the delectable motors within the must-see BMW Museum in Munich.
The year was 1928, just before first global recession or the ‘1930s Depression’ as we refer to it now. BMW purchased a small company called Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach in Thuringia, about 400 km north of Munich, in the heart of the country. This company made small cars and military equipment, including a version of the popular Austin Seven under license, called the Dixi 3/15. The following year, BMW made some modifications to the car, which included a foot brake acting on all four wheels (the Dixi version braked the rear wheels only), and bigger wheels and tyres. The BMW 3/15 DA-2 as it was then known became a popular car in Germany. It was the first passenger car to wear the BMW logo, and was available in sedan, convertible and van body styles.
BMW did begin with manufacturing aircraft engines at the turn of the 20th century. However, after the First World War had ended, the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from manufacturing any aircraft or aircraft components. To remain in business, BMW took to manufacturing engines for industrial applications, and also produced motorcycle engines under contract for Victoria Werke AG in Nuremberg. However, in later years, BMW acquired another Germany motorcycle company called Bayerische Fleugzeugwerke, which produced a motorcycle called the Helios. This motorbike however was condemned by BMW Design Director Max Fritz, who felt it had too many flaws. One particular problem with the Helios was the over-heating problem for the rear cylinder. Fritz made two major decisions which continue to shape BMW Motorrad even today: the first was the adoption of a horizontally-opposed or ‘boxer’ engine layout utilizing a shaft final drive and the other was the adoption of wet sump lubrication. These technical enhancements made the R32 among the most technically advanced motorcycles of its time. The boxer engine and shaft final drive remain BMW hallmarks even today.
Sporting pedigree is commonly associated with BMW, but it is this car which set the tone for BMW’s competitive nature. The 328 was produced from 1936 to 1940, and secured notable competition victories for the company. The first among them was victory in the 2.0-litre class at the iconic Nurburgring circuit in 1936, but 1938 was by far the BMW 328’s most successful year, in which it won the Mille Miglia, the RAC Rally, the Alpine Rally, and it won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2011, BMW previewed a new concept car, also called the 328, which is a modern reinterpretation of this iconic car.
The 328’s influence was so emphatic, that it made the final shortlist of 26 cars for the “Car of the Century” title, ultimately awarded to the Ford Model T in 1999.
The BMW Turbo was a concept car, which previewed a host of innovations from this company that are commonplace today, not just in BMWs, but in motorcars all over. Chief among these are the dashboard, which is angled towards the driver, and special foam-filled doors, front and rear sections to help absorb forces in the event of an impact, similar to what you’ll find in a good crash helmet. Special paint with bright orange front and rear sections to aid visibility, and radar controlled braking were other cool concepts pioneered by the BMW Turbo. Designed by Paul Bracq, the Turbo had gullwing doors too, though it cannot claim to be the first. The Turbo did have a significant influence on the design of the BMW M1 supercar though, as is clearly visible.
In the 1970s, BMW and Lamborghini had an agreement to jointly develop, build and homologate a sports car. Lamborghini however was in a financial mess, and so BMW took the entire project in-house. Less than 500 examples of the M1 were finally produced, making it amongst the rarest BMWs of all time. Clearly inspired by the BMW Turbo, the M1 was signed off by noted car designer Giugiaro. The gullwing doors from the Turbo however did not make it to production on the M1.
It featured a mid-mounted 3.5-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine, driving the rear wheels. This engine produced approximately 275 PS, but turbocharged racing versions were said to have in excess of 800 PS.
The M1 formed the basis of a one-make BMW M1 Procar championship, with Formula 1 drivers competing against each other in identical cars. The Series ran for two years, and while the 1979 edition was won by Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet triumphed in 1980.
Brabham BMW BT52
BMW supplied engines to the Brabham Formula 1 team, and in 1983 Nelson Piquet in the Brabham BMW BT52 became the first driver to win the F1 World Championship in a turbocharged car, although Brabham finished third in the Constructors battle. The BMW M12/13 engine displaced just 1.5-litres, but this four-cylinder engine put out a thumping 850 horsepower in qualifying trim. The car in these pictures is the very car that Piquet raced to 3 wins in 1983.
BMW 3.0 CSL
If racing stripes, big tail spoiler and side-exiting exhausts don’t get your juices flowing, nothing will. There is no better exponent of the super saloon than the 3.0 CSL, homologated for racing in the European Touring Car Championship. Of course, a road going version was also made, as required by FIA homologation rules. The BMW 3.0 CSL won the ETCC 6 times in 1973, ’75, ’76, ’77, ’78 and 1979, truly establishing BMW’s dominance in touring car racing, and further burnishing the brand’s image as the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’.
BMW Isetta ‘Bubble Car’
Originally an Italian design from 1953, BMW acquired the rights and tooling to the Isetta in 1954. In typical fashion, BMW re-engineered the car substantially, modifying the transmission and using different single-cylinder motorcycle engine of its own design. This ‘bubble car’ as it is popularly known was originally designed and engineered by Italian company Iso SpA. The name ‘Isetta’ is the Italian derivative meaning ‘little Iso’. Iso also made scooters and refrigerators, among other things, and the single front opening door was likely inspired by a fridge!
BMW made three versions of the Isetta – the Isetta 250, Isetta 350 and Isetta 600, with the numeric figure denoting the cubic capacity. In total, the company sold over 161,000 units of this little car between 1955 and 1962. The Isetta was also made in Italy, Spain and France, but competition from more conventional small cars of the time, notably the Fiat 500 and Volkswagen Beetle, rendered it uncompetitive.
The Isetta’s fabric sunroof served a dual purpose; it provided ventilation while on the move, and was also an ‘emergency exit’ in the event of an accident!
BMW Car Features
Since a BMW 3.0 CSL painted by Alexander Calder lined up for the Le Mans 24-hour race exactly 40 years ago, the BMW Art Car Collection has fascinated both art and design enthusiasts as well as car and technology fans all around the world.
First unveiled at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, the BMW 3 Series has since developed into both the brand most successful model range and an international bestseller. Among the key milestones along the way has been its success in pioneering a new category of vehicle and becoming the world top-selling premium car. The BMW 3 Series was launched to replace the already legendary BMW 02, and is now set to enter its sixth generation.
- Formula 1
- Volvo Car Corporation
- Audi R18
- Auto Expo
- Car care tips
- FIA WEC
- Land Rover
- Maruti Suzuki
- Nico Rosberg
- Tata Motors
- Volvo Technology
- 'diesel tax'
- Audi R18 e-tron quattro
- Audi R18 LMP1
- Audi India
- Audi Driving Experience
- Audi A8
- Anti-lock Braking System
- Anti-lock Brakes
- Andre Schürrle
- Alto 800
- Allgäu-Orient Rally
- Active Safety Test Area AB
- Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose
- 24 Hours of Le Mans
- 1956 MG Magnette ZA
- 1933 Humber
- 1932 Ford V8 DeLuxe Phaeton
- 1926 Auburn Tourer
- 1925 Fiat Tipo 103
- 1924 Rolls-Royce 20 HP Barker Tourer (GLK 21)
- 1906 Renault Freres
- 14th Maruti Suzuki Raid-de-Himalaya