The Early Years
Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG was established on March 7, 1916, as the successor to aircraft manufacturer Gustav-Otto- Flugmaschinenfabrik. The lead office was at Lerchenauer Straße in Munich, Germany. By 1922, engine construction, the official company name, and the brand logo of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG were all transferred and combined into one company, which became the formal BMW AG consumers know and love today.
In 1919, test pilot Zeno Diemer reached a world record altitude of 32,021 feet in his Deutsche Flugzeugwerke aircraft, which was powered by a BMW IV inline six-cylinder engine.
The First BMW Motorcycle
Unveiled at the 1923 German Motor Show in Berlin, the R32 motorcycle was BMW’s first production motorcycle. It featured a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder, four-stroke boxer engine.
The First BMW Car
BMW started making cars in 1928 after taking over Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach. The BMW 3/15 was the company’s first offering; it was produced as a “Dixi” car between 1927 and 1929 and then as a BMW from July 1929 to March 1932. BMW gave up the manufacturing license soon afterward.
The BMW 303
BMW made the 303 coupe from 1933 to 1934. It was the first BMW with the now-famous kidney-shaped grille that is synonymous with the marque.
The Land Speed Record
BMW has a long history of racing and speed records. In 1937, BMW driver Ernst Henne set a world land speed record of 279.503 kph in a BMW one-off car.
Le Mans, 1939
The four-speed manual BMW 328 had only 60kW, and it averaged around 128km/h during racing laps, but in 1939 it placed first in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was considered a triumph and engineering and aerodynamic design for the German manufacturer at the time.
BMW made the 501 “luxury saloon” between 1952 and 1958. It was the first car BMW produced after WWII. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t fast. The four-speed cruiser had a heavy steel body that took 27 seconds to hit 100km/h. Top speed was 135km/h.
BMW debuted the famous little Isetta in 1955. The car, which had a single door that opened from the front, ran on a four-stroke single-cylinder engine. The car was designed by an Italian agency.
The King of Cool
Elvis Presley famously owned a second-hand white BMW 507. According to the dealer, Presley paid $3,750 for it in 1958 (approximately R455 000 in today’s money) after the German racing star Hans Stuck had finished with it.
The 1973 BMW R90S
BMW commissioned Hans Muth to design the R90S, the flagship form of the boxer-engined “/6” range. With a sporty two-tone paint job and novel styling, the bike was intended to make BMW motorcycles seem younger and more fun.
The BMW R80G/S
The R80G/S line was the first of a family of BMW GS specialized dual-sport bikes. They became wildly successful in the early 1980s, selling more than 50,000 models in a matter of years. G/S stands for Gelnde/Strasse, which means “offroad/road” in German.
Starting in the late 1960s, the BMW E9 platform—especially the 3.0 CSL Special editions from the early 1970s like the one shown here—helped establish BMW as a major racing power. The cars were extremely light, thanks to their thin steel bodies, absence of trimming and soundproofing, aluminum alloy doors, and Perspex windows.
BMW’s second-best selling model (after the 3-Series) started in 1972 as a mid-size luxury car and has at different times come in hatchback and touring forms. It’s currently in its 6th generation. Legend has it the car got its name by being the fifth of the “new series” of cars after the post-war V8s and Isetta era.
BMW made the original big 7-Series from 1977 to 1987. It was a full-size, four-door luxury sedan that, at varying times, came with a 4-speed manual, 5-speed manual, 3-speed automatic, or 4-speed automatic six-cylinder engine. Later years included a turbo-charged option. And it’s the car Bimmer uses to unleash its newest and best technological offerings.
The Art Cars
BMW has long commissioned famous artists to cover the exterior of select cars. Frank Stella created this BMW 3.0 CSL in 1976. Others who have created the cars include Frank Stella, Alexander Calder, and Jenny Holzer. Andy Warhol created a BMW M1 design in 1979 as his contribution to the BMW Art Cars project. BMW occasionally trots out the cars as major emblems of cultural significance and design. The most recent artist to join the program was Jeff Koons in 2010; he decorated a M3 GT2 that competed in the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans but did not finish.
BMW made the E21 (original 3-Series) from 1975 to 1983, released as 316, 318, and 320 models. Most of them were sold as four-speed manual two-door sedans. Early versions had a four-cylinder engine; later versions added a six-cylinder option.
The excellent BMW M6 is the high-performance version of BMW’s 6-Series coupe and convertible. It began production in 1983; the modern version with Competition Package achieves 447kW and can hit 100km/h in less than 4 seconds.
The First Big SUV
BMW debuted the X5 SUV in 1999 with a manual or automatic four-wheel drive. It shares many of the technology and engineering systems of the 5-Series sedan, but with a bigger body and unibody chassis. It is now in its third generation.
The First C-Segment Hatchback
When the 1-Series was launched, it took flack for a number of reasons. Its odd proportions and cramped interior garnered criticism. But the model went on to become a sales sensation.
The Electric Future
BMW made the i8 in 2014 with a plug-in hybrid motor/engine combination. The i8 was created as the halo car to hype BMW’s new electric division, which also included the tiny i3 city car.