BMW History

BMW Mobile Tradition.

BMW began making its mark on history almost 90 years ago. Aircraft engines were the first thing to be produced followed by motorcycles and then automobiles - vehicles that have been setting milestones in the area of motorsport from the very start. BMW Mobile Tradition coordinates all activities that are connected with the company's varied and successful history covering everything from the historical archives, assortment of aeroplanes, communication, the museum and BMW's role in the international club scene. Find out more about the fascinating world of BMW Mobile Tradition.

The beginnings of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke.

Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) is founded on 7th March 1916 and incorporates Otto-Werke. BMW acquires the BFW plant in 1922, but Bayerische Motoren Werke continues to date its foundation from the founding of BFW.

BMW buys the Eisenach automobile plant, where the Austin Seven was successfully produced under the name 'Dixi 3/15 PS'. This vehicle is developed further, going on sale in 1929 as the BMW 3/15 PS DA 2 with a range of different bodyshells. A small car with a lot of appeal, its popularity helps the company to survive the lean years of the Depression.

Ernst Henne sets the two-wheeler world record in 1929, reaching a speed of 216 km/h. But just one year later he surpasses this as well: 221.539 km/h. Competing for the honours with English and Italian drivers, he repeatedly sets new world records over the next few years. The crowning moment arrives on 27th November 1937, clocking in at 279.5 km/h at 108 hp: a record that stands for the next fourteen years.

Having set the first absolute world speed record for BMW, Ernst Henne goes on to reach even faster speeds, competing for successive records with British and Italian drivers. Set on 27th November 1937, his record of 279.5 km/h remains unbroken for twelve years. Just as capable on four wheels, he wins the Eifelrennen in 1936 - his car is a two-litre BMW 328.

Already used to success, BMW motorcycles go one better with a compressor. Air is pumped into the combustion chambers, improving fuel consumption and so increasing power and performance. Ernst Henne becomes the fastest man on earth when it comes to two wheels when his supercharged BMW reaches a speed of 216 km/h.

BMW VI engines cross the Atlantic.

Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly the North Atlantic - from west to east. In 1930, Wolfgang von Gronau takes off from Warnemünde in the Dornier 'Wal' open flying boat in an attempt to become the first pilot to cross the North Atlantic in the opposite direction, i.e. against the wind. On 26th August 1930, after nine days in the air, his D-1422 lands safely in New York.

The first true BMW: the 3/20 PS

Adapting the 3/15 PS still further, the Eisenach plant creates the first automobile of its own with the 3/20 PS. The '3' in the model name refers to the car tax bracket, the '20' stands for the car's greater engine strength. The 782 cc engine is still based on the four-cylinder of the Austin Seven. A total of 7,215 vehicles were built between 1932 and 1934.

On 22nd July 1932, the aviation pioneer Wolfgang von Gronau leaves Friedrichshafen on the first stage of a round-the-world flight in an open Dornier 'Wal' powered by two BMW VIIa engines. A total flight time of 254 hours sees him cover 44,800 kilometres in a journey which takes in Greenland, North America, Japan, southern China, the Philippines, Burma, India, Persia, Athens and Rome.


Technological innovation and modern design since 1933. BMW vehicles incorporate not only six-cylinder engines and a compact body but also their trademark double grille - clear statements about the brand's developments. The BMW 303 is the first car with all of them, making it the true prototype of BMW automobile design.

BMW has a V12 direct fuel injection engine as early as 1933. It is a variation of the VI aircraft engine; BMW engineers experiment with this method of fuel processing to make sure that the cylinders are all filled with fuel to the same level. The BMW 132 F Direct nine-cylinder radial engine goes into production in 1937 and features direct fuel injection.

BMW unveils the 303 with the slogan 'The most perfect, high-performance German small car'. Cheap to run and low-maintenance, it is the last word in economy and outperforms the competition with its 1.2 litre six-cylinder engine. This, the patented tube frame and the double air intake grille at the front all signal the direction the brand's development will take.

In 1933, the BMW factory team Ernst Henne, Ludwig Kraus, Josef Mauer-
maier and Peppi Stelzer travel to Wales for the fifteenth International Six Days Trial - and bring the trophy to Germany for the first time. This, the prize for the best team in the long-distance competition, went to the riders from BMW factories again in 1934 and 1935.


BMW buys the Eisenach automobile plant, where the Austin Seven was successfully produced under the name 'Dixi 3/15 PS'. This vehicle is developed further, going on sale in 1929 as the BMW 3/15 PS DA 2 with a range of different bodyshells. A small car with a lot of appeal, its popularity helps the company to survive the lean years of the Depression.

From 1933 onwards, the government support for aircraft production increases massively. In 1934 BMW AG separates its aircraft engine production off into BMW Flugmotoren GmbH. Two years later both AG and GmbH found Flugmotorenfabrik Eisenach GmbH together; the initials BMW are included in its name in 1939. Max Friz becomes head of the company in summer 1937.


The notion 'sheer driving pleasure' means more than comfortable travelling. It stands for agility and at the same time, for safety. The R 12 and R 17 motorcycles are the first in the world to have hydraulic suspension telescopic forks. They not only minimise the impact of uneven road surfaces but also ensure the front wheel negotiates the road with precision, increasing stability and road-holding.

Inadequate motorcycle suspension is now a thing of the past: in 1935, BMW launches the R 12 and R 17, fitted with the world's first hydraulically damped telescopic forks. These not only attenuate bumps from uneven surfaces, but also ensure that the wheel remains in ground contact, thereby greatly increasing rider safety. In the same year, the number of motorcycles built by BMW exceeds 10,000 for the first time.


The BMW 328 celebrates its premiere with unique style: at the Nürburgring, Ernst Henne wins gold in the fastest standard-production 2-litre sports car. Winning over 120 other races between 1936 and 1940, only 464 vehicles are ever built. To this day, the supple aesthetics of the 328 continue to appeal to motorsports fans all the world over.

A brand new BMW 328 sports car carries Ernst Henne to victory on the Nürburgring in 1936. An impressive series of wins follows: 1938 at the 1,000-mile Mille Miglia in Italy, 1939 at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in 1940 another 1,000-mile win at Brescia with special roadster and coupé modifications undertaken by the Milanese firm Carrozzeria Touring.

BMW AG and BMW Flugmotorenbau GmbH found the Flugmotorenfabrik Allach GmbH cojointly, and sell their holdings to the Luftfahrtkontor GmbH Berlin just one year later. This Berlin-based aviation firm arranges for covert state subventions for the Allach plant near Munich, which is greatly enlarged to facilitate the mass-production of aircraft engines.


BMW starts experimenting with streamlined design from 1937 onwards. Wind tunnel tests prove how important a square tail is for this: it encourages the air to flow off better than rounded tails do. Experimental and rally cars are built based on the BMW 328 and 335, displaying long bodies with low fronts and roofs that run all the way to the tail.


In the 500 cc class, Georg Meier is unstoppable on his supercharged BMW. Not only does he win the German championships, but he also finishes first in its recently-established European equivalent. BMW motorcycles outshine their rivals in further championship competitions in Holland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Guatemala and Brazil.


Having started out as a policeman, Georg 'Schorsch' Meier joins the BMW factory team; in 1939 he is the first foreigner to drive a foreign-made motorcycle to victory in the legendary Senior Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man. Meier continues his sporting career after WWII and wins several more trophies for BMW.

A powerful and comfortable long-distance car, the 335 sedan and convertible are created in 1939. The first top-of-the-range cars from BMW, they possess a 3.5-litre engine with 90 hp, and feature torsion bar rear axle suspension. Only 400 cars are built, ceasing in 1941 as WWII forces production changes.

Georg 'Schorsch' Meier makes the headlines worldwide on his 138 kg, 55 hp supercharged BMW. He is the first non-British rider to take a foreign-made motorcycle to victory in the legendary Senior Tourist Trophy, the most demanding race in Britain. The course is 430 km long and has more than two thousand curves and twists to negotiate.

Formerly Siemens Apparate- und Maschinenbau GmbH, Brandenburgische Motorenwerke GmbH (Bramo) in Spandau and BMW join forces to develop an air-cooled aircraft engine. One year later, shortly before the outbreak of WWII, BMW absorbs Bramo and incorporates the Spandau plant into BMW AG, calling it BMW Flugmotorenwerke Brandenburg GmbH.


BMW develops a 'commando' for the 801 aircraft engine. Depending on the position of the fuel lever, this new invention controls all the engine's functions automatically. A precursor of today's intelligent engine electronics, the commando unit took a lot of pressure off the aircraft pilot - a partial autopilot and a visionary innovation long before microchips and computers.

Following on from the BMW 132 and the Bramo engines, series production of the BMW 801 aircraft engine starts in 1940. By the end of the war, over 20,000 of these 14-cylinder double radial engines will have been built in Munich, Allach, Berlin and Dürrerhof, all of which are fitted with a type of mechanical computer for automatic tuning.


Production of civilian motorcycles is suspended in 1941 to make way for the 420 kg, 750 cc BMW R 75 military motorcycle and sidecar, with seven forward and two reverse gears, sidecar drive with differential lock and joint hydraulic brakes for sidecar and rear wheel. In the following year, manufacturing operations are transferred from Munich to Eisenach.


To satisfy wartime demand, the production of rocket engines begins in the Basdorf and Zühlsdorf plants in Berlin in 1942. Although only a small number of these engines are used, rocket construction is one of the reasons why, in 1945, Bayerische Motoren Werke are closed and later dismantled.


BMW works simultaneously on the groundbreaking 003 jet engine and on the largest ever aircraft piston engine, the BMW 803. A 28-cylinder, four row radial engine, the BMW 803 basic strength of 4,000 hp at 85.5 l displacement; the 003 jet engine has a diesel-powered gas turbine. Its maiden flight is in October 1943 in a Ju 88.

In the early 1940s, BMW develops the 28-cylinder, four-speed 803 engine with two contrarotating propellers and also starts work on jet engines. Tests on the 003 engine begin in October 1943 followed, on 4th February 1944, by the maiden flight of the Arado 234 V long-distance reconnaissance plane with four BMW 003 engines.


Air raids destroy the Munich plant in 1944, but the Allach plant is virtually unharmed at the end of the war. In mid-1945 BMW receives permission to start repairing US army automobiles in Allach. It can also make spare parts for farming machinery and bicycles. Motorcycles can also be made again, but BMW is initially not in a position to do so.

Initially using spare parts, the Eisenach plant continues to build BMW cars for Soviet use, but in 1951 the brand name Eisenacher Motorenwerke (EMW) is introduced. A Soviet joint-stock company called Awtowelo is set up as backer. The factory is nationalised in 1952, and from 1955 it starts production of the 'Wartburg' car brand.

In October 1945 the US military orders the dismantling of the BMW plants in Munich and Allach. This deprives BMW of its control over its possessions in Munich until 1949 - US control lasted until 1955 in Allach. Almost all intact machinery is removed and shipped as reparations all over the world, hitting the Milbertshofen plant in Munich especially hard.


The war ends, and the R 24 makes sure that BMW is soon in the spotlight once again. Demand is high for the four-gear, single-cylinder model with a 247 cc, 12 HP engine. 1950 sees the launch of the R 25 with rear-wheel suspension, followed three years later by the R 25/3, which, until the late 1990s, remains the most popular BMW motorcycle, with sales figures of some 47,700.

Construction designs for the first post-war BMW motorcycle are ready by summer 1947, and the first R 24 is raffled to the employees shortly before Christmas 1948. The first standard-production model sells spectacularly in a country long-deprived because of war and its after-effects. In addition, some 18 per cent of all BMW machines are exported abroad as early as 1950.


Automobile design engineer Alfred Böning works on BMW motorcycles in the 1930s and played a major role in the construction of the R 12, R 5 and the German army's R 75, a motorcycle with a sidecar drive. Involved in the development of the BMW 501 after 1945, he leaves his mark on the BMW brand's production concepts from the BMW 700 to the New Class vehicles.

A spacious sedan to match the highest expectations, the curvy, full-bodied design of the BMW 501 earns it the nickname of 'Baroque angel'. With the Eisenach plant now under Soviet control, it is also the first BMW automobile to be built completely in Munich. From 1954 onwards, it is joined by the 502, which possesses the world's first V8 light-alloy engine.

It is 1950, the 250 cc limit imposed by the Allies has been lifted. BMW is once again producing two-cylinder boxer motorcycles, starting with the 500 cc R 51/2. This is followed in 1951 by the R 51/3 and the R 67, with variants /2 and /3 boasting 600 cc engines. With demand far outweighing supply, these motorcycles are a roaring sales success.


Between 1952 and 1954, BMW produces the exceptionally fast BMW R 68, capable of doing some 160 km/h in top gear. This 600 cc motorcycle with 35 hp, it sets a new standard for international motorcycle makers. Selling at 4,000 DM, exclusivity is also part and parcel of this motorcycle as well, as only 1,452 were ever built.

After WWII, BMW 502 saloon cars and BMW 507 Touring sports cars are entered in mountain road races. Proud Isetta drivers and BMW 600 owners, too, leap at the opportunity to enter their coupés in racetrack events and even rallies - including Monte Carlo and the Mille Miglia. And Hans 'King of the Mountain' Stuck wins his last title behind the wheel of a BMW 700.


Three years after BMW resumed car production, the world's first all-aluminium V8 engine goes into production in Munich in 1954. This smooth-running piece of machinery combines strength and silence; it initially produces 100 hp and can propel the BMW 502 to a speed of 160 km/h. The BMW 507 can later even reach up to 220 km/h.

In 1954, BMW establishes a research facility for engine construction in the Allach plant, which survived the war undamaged. In 1957, this becomes BMW Triebwerkbau GmbH. The company MAN buys 50% of the firm in 1960. Under license from Lycoming, the firm starts production with a 264 horsepower six cylinder boxer engine. It also develops a small gas turbine for light aircraft, and for stationary use.

Experience history: the BMW Museum.

The past has to be preserved - especially when a company has such a fascinating history as BMW. But the past also has to be made accessible. Opened in 1973, the BMW Museum fulfils both of these criteria. Multimedia presentations and scores of historical exhibits bring the development and growth of BMW to life.

Driving duo Wilhelm Noll and Fritz Cron win BMW's first world title in the sidecar series in 1954. In the coming years, the company teams win a unique place in motorsports history: 20 team and 19 driver championship titles in the years leading up to 1974.


Critics love BMW's V8 sedans and sports cars; it is the BMW Isetta that won the hearts of the public. Just 2.29 m long, the company obtains the licence to build the motocoupé from ISO in Italy. Powered by a 12 or 13 hp BMW motorcycle engine, over 160,000 people buy an Isetta in the Fifties, making it the best-selling BMW of the decade and a symbol for the boom years after the war.

The full swing-arm suspension on the R 50, R 60 and R 69 takes the market by storm. Sliding swing-arm front-wheel suspension and long-arm rear-wheel suspension afford BMW motorcycles previously unattained levels of stability. But the motorcycle bubble appears to have burst: the number of BMW motorcycles produced slumps from 30,000 in 1954 to a mere 5,400 in 1957.

Wilhelm Noll sets a new world record at 280.2 km/h. From a standing start, he reaches 139 km/h after one kilometre and 166 km/h after one mile. His average speed after five miles clocks in at 266 km/h. BMW claims a number of sidecar records ranging from one kilometre to 24-hour categories.


Designed in less than a year by Albrecht Goertz, the BMW 507 is a very exclusive sports car: only a total of 252 are built. Most of the work is carried out by hand, customised to meet each buyer's wishes. Its timeless good looks, with a sleek silhouette, supple curves and expansive bonnet, guarantee that it remains the embodiment of the dream car to this day.

Along with Schorsch Meier, Walter Zeller is the top BMW driver in the early fifties. He wins the German championship for the first time in 1951 and repeats this success in 1954 and 1955. In 1956 he just misses out on the world title: after the last race (in his home country, no less) he is in second position overall, just two points behind the victor.


Financier Herbert Quandt acquires a large number of BMW shares and subsequently initiates the reorganisation of the company, leading to its independence. The majority shareholder, Quandt is first a member of the advisory board and later sits on the supervisory board, thus contributing greatly to BMW's rise as a company of global importance.

The classic body form of BMW cars is mounted on a weighty, rigid perimeter frame. With its creation of the BMW 700, the company has built a small car which is the first vehicle to have a unitary body: floor, side walls and roof are welded to the occupant cell.

BMW comes close to being bought, but is saved by a nimble small car, the BMW 700. Of Italian design, the car possesses a unitary construction and BMW motorcycle engine (initially 30 hp, later 32 or 40 hp) in the back. Named 'the lion-hearted weasel', it is immensely popular with the car-buying public and as race car. BMW regains its rightful position and embarks on fresh projects with renewed confidence.

BMW comes close to being bought but is saved by a nimble small car, the BMW 700. Of Italian design, the car possesses a unitary construction and BMW motorcycle engine (initially 32 hp, later 32 or 40 hp) in the back. Named 'the lion-hearted weasel', it is immensely popular with the car-buying public and as race car. BMW regains its rightful position and embarks on fresh projects with renewed confidence.


From 1960 onwards, the top BMW motorcycle is the R 69, with 42 HP. Production of this model goes on for nine years, although the low demand for motorcycles at this time means that only limited numbers are manufactured. Production is terminated in Munich on 13th May 1969 and transferred to the former aircraft engine plant in Spandau, Berlin.

After BMW withdraws from track racing, the company turns its attention to collecting a plethora of cross-country victories and titles in the sixties. The results: twelve German championship wins between 1960 and 1966, no less than five of them by Sebastian Nachtmann and four going to the team efforts of Ibscher/Hintermaier and Ibscher/Rettschlag.


As head of bodyshell development, Wilhelm Hofmeister's contribution to the shape and looks of BMW cars over the years cannot be understated. In the Sixties he introduces the forward curve at the base of the C column: this feature today bears his name. Along with the front air grille, it is one of the unmistakable characteristics that define BMW automobiles.

Two years after the turning point in BMW's post-war history, Paul G. Hahnemann joins the BMW board of directors. The talented head of the sales department introduces professional marketing strategies at BMW and restructures the company's product range to appeal to promising market niches. Under his leadership, BMW undertakes systematic expansion into markets outside Germany.

A compact, dynamic car for everyone brings BMW its greatest success. The BMW 1500 is the first New Class car and is followed by the BMW 1800 in 1963, ten horsepower stronger. Almost 145,000 BMW 1800s are built; the company's plants turn out some 140,000 BMW 2000 cars after its launch in 1966. The 1800 TI is created in 1964 and goes on to savour wins on the race track.

Collective memory: BMW Historical Archives.

Every document and item of information pertaining to BMW's past is evaluated and stored in the Historical Archives, possessing not only 200,000 images, 4,000 advertisements and 2,000 owner's manuals but also scores of files and letters. Information from BMW's beginnings until 1945 is available online for research.

In summer 1960, MAN purchases half of the under-capitalised BMW Triebwerkbau GmbH, which is then contracted by the German Ministry of Defence to produce Starfighter jet engines under license of General Electrics. The first engine is assembled in 1961 in Allach - and the fusion of the BMW and MAN affiliates is now only a matter of time.


Alexander von Falkenhausen, a motorcycle design engineer at BMW from the mid-Thirties on, founds the motorsport brand AFM after WWII. Upon his return to BMW, he develops the engine of the New Class, unveiled in 1962. Later, as head of BMW engine development, he is the man behind BMW engine's legendary successes in the world of Formula Two racing.


The New Class sets BMW off on the road to fresh sporting triumphs. The 1800 TI driven by Hubert Hahne sets a new Nürburgring record. In 1964, Hahne and Rauno Aaltonen win at the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours; in 1965 Langlois and Ickx win the same contest in a BMW 1800 TI, with Hahne/Ickx romp home to victory the following year in a BMW 2000 TI.


In 1965, the preliminary contract of purchase for the Allach plant, concluded five years earlier by MAN, comes into effect and BMW Triebwerkbau GmbH is passed over to its new owner. BMW withdraws from jet engine construction for 25 years, focussing instead on car and motorcycle production.


Frameless side windows, two doors and smooth, unadorned surfaces: the hallmarks of the BMW 1600, unveiled on 9th March 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary of BMW. It is the first in a long line of successes, from the BMW 1602 to the supremely sporty BMW 2002 turbo: by 1977 a total of 860,000 have been sold.

Head of BMW Motors, Alexander von Falkenhausen, creates a new engine: based on the 2 litre engine of the BMW 2000 TI, the 16-valve powerplant produces 260 hp. Known as the Apfelbeck engine, it propels a modified Brabham Formula Two car through eight world records in 1966 alone. This engine is the Formula Two ticket for BMW and drivers such as Hubert Hahne, Dieter Quester, Jacky Ickx and Jo Siffert.

Between 1966 and 1983, BMW trumps its rivals thirteen times in the Euro-
pean touring car championships. The winner in 1966 is a BMW 200 TI; 1968 and '69 a BMW 202; 1973 and unbroken from 1975 to '79, a BMW 3.0 CSL. In 1980 a BMW 320 finishes first; a BMW 635CSi in 1981; a BMW 528i in 1982 and in 1983 a BMW 635CSi wins again. Dieter Quester and Helmut Kelleners are the top drivers with three victories apiece.


In the mid Sixties, the Munich plant reaches the limits of its production capacity. At first BMW plans to build an entirely new factory, but instead buys the crisis-ridden Hans Glas GmbH with its factories in Dingolfing and Landshut. Both plants are restructured, and over the coming decades the world's largest BMW plant takes shape in Dingolfing.


Starting in the mid-Sixties, Austrian racing driver Dieter Quester displays his skill at the wheel of the extraordinary BMW Bergspider Monti, and goes on to claim several spectacular victories with BMW engines in Formula Two racing. In addition, he wins the European touring car title three times: in 1968, 1969 and 1977.

New BMW sedans, the BMW 2500 and 2800, set new standards for the top-of-the-range cars. As early as 1971, the BMW 3.0 Si reaches the 200 km/h mark effortlessly. Six-cylinder engines are also incorporated in the new line of coupés. Continuing this development, the BMW 3.0 CSL light construction coupé causes a furore in 1971, when it debuts on the racetrack and the streets with 180 to 206 hp.


BMW follows up the 1600 TI and 2002 TI with the 2002 tii. The second 'i' stands for injection - more petrol and so even more power. The vehicle's 130 hp lend the 2002 tii temperament, which, combined with its elegant 02 body, enables it to reach a top speed of 190 km/h. In the realm of motor sport, the factory team's BMW 2002 tii can even reach 135 hp.

A mere 4,700 BMW motorcycles are produced this year. However, a comeback is on the cards. With perfect timing, BMW unveils the /5 Series, a brand-new product line comprising the R 50/5, R 60/5 and, for the first time since the war, a 750 cc model, the R 75/5. Produced at the plant in Spandau, Berlin, these models herald the return of motorcycling as a leisure pursuit.

Car production needs more space in the Munich plant, so in 1969 BMW transfers motorcycle production to Spandau in Berlin. This plant, where aircraft engines were made until 1945 and tool-making machinery afterwards, becomes the new home of BMW motorcycles. A move which puts a tiger in Berlin's tank.


Eberhard von Kuenheim is head of the BMW board of directors from 1970 until 1993. During this time, turnover increases 18-fold, car production quadruples and motorcycle production triples. In 1993 he took a seat in the BMW supervisory board, a committee he heads until the end of the Nineties. After stepping down from this position, he channels his energy into the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation.

Following the suggestion of major shareholder Herbert Quandt, the BMW supervisory board chooses a new chairman of the board: Eberhard von Kuenheim. Just 40 years old, he presides over the company's transformation from a national firm with a Europe-wide reputation into a global brand with international prestige. He remains chairman of the board until taking over the management of the BMW supervisory board in 1993.

To mark its major shareholder's 60th birthday, BMW creates the Herbert Quandt Foundation. Over time it gains worldwide fame for the role it plays in the trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas and expertise. After the end of the Cold War it also becomes an important platform for pan-European reconciliation as well as for improving East-West relationships.Source: BMW