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The First Car: BMW 3/15 PS

2004 marks a very special anniversary: 75 years of BMW automobiles. Hardly another car manufacturer can look back on a more multifaceted and exciting past. From the simplest driving machine to high-caliber sports cars, and from small delivery vehicles to luxury limousines, these 75 years have seen BMW offer virtually every category of vehicle on four wheels.

Records show that the first BMW car, a small saloon badged as the 3/15 PS and featuring a modern all-steel body, came off the assembly line in Berlin on 22nd March 1929. It was a licensed version of the world’s most popular small car of the time, the Austin Seven. This first BMW four-wheeler began production in March 1929 at a rented factory in Berlin Johannisthal. A little later, series production of a range of variants was launched in Eisenach.
BMW 3/15 PS

This BMW 3/15 PS was the first series-produced car to be launched by BMW.

In 1932 these early BMW small cars were replaced by new models no longer based on the Austin license. The BMW 3/20 PS developed in Munich had an appreciably larger body that accommodated four adults and an engine that generated 20 horsepower.

At the same time, BMW was working on an all-new model. The BMW 303, which went on sale in 1933, was fitted with a small six-cylinder that drew 30 horsepower from a displacement capacity of 1.2 liters. It was the first BMW to sport the trademark “kidney grille”, which still adorns the front end of BMW models to this day. Needless to say, BMW also delivered a new sports car.

BMW 2 Litre Sport

Brochure for the BMW 2 Litre Sport of 1936.

The BMW 315/1 launched in 1934 produced 40 bhp and weighed in at just 750 kg, making it a force to reckoned with as a basic model for motor sport activities. When a 1.9-litre version with 55 bhp appeared not long afterwards, the foundation was laid for a new success story in BMW motor racing.
Even more popular was the new two-liter sports car introduced in 1936 - the BMW 328. No lesser person than BMW motorcycle world record-holder, Ernst Jakob Henne, presented the new lightweight roadster with its 80 bhp engine at the Nürburgring on 14th June, going on to win the two-liter class.

The last BMW model to be built before the outbreak of the Second World War was the 335, BMW’s first luxury-class saloon.

After the war, BMW could not even remotely think of returning to automobile production as it did not have permission from the occupying forces, and the BMW plants had either been lost to the East or were largely in ruins. The factory in Eisenach was under Soviet administration, and at the partly destroyed Munich plant the production facilities were being dismantled by way of war reparations.

After initial, modest experiments with small cars, which rarely went beyond the drawing board, thoughts focused on BMW’s reputation for building sporty, elegant cars, and it was decided to revive this tradition.

BMW 502

BMW 502, the luxury-class sibling of the legendary 501.

At the first Frankfurt Motor Show of 1951, BMW took the wraps off its secret project to reveal an as yet unfinished prototype of the BMW 501.

Popularly dubbed the “Baroque Angel”, the first post-1951 BMW swiftly became a symbol of Germany’s economic miracle. Then in 1954 it was decided to build the 507 sports car. Created by New York-based industrial designer Albrecht Graf Goertz and marking its debut at motor shows in 1955, this BMW created an international stir. At the same time, a bold step was taken in the very opposite direction.

BMW Isetta

Cary Grant in a BMW Isetta 300 in the late 1950s.

In 1954, while searching for an urgently needed, affordable small car, BMW engineers came across the “Isetta” made by the Milan company Iso. BMW acquired the licence for this microcar and further developed it for its Munich production launch in spring of 1955. More than 160,000 units of this lovable “bubble car” were built - it was a resounding success story.

In 1959, the commitment of the Quandt family paved the way for the company’s future survival.

The launch of the four-door BMW 1500 saloon in 1961, which would subsequently make history as the “New Class”, signalled a radical realignment of BMW’s model policy. 1966 saw the appearance of a new range of particularly compact and sporty two-door saloons, which would attain iconic status as the 02 Series.

With the market launch of the first 5 Series in the early 1970s, BMW began a model offensive that was unprecedented in the company’s history. Three years after the first 5 Series, the highly successful 02 Series was also replaced by models in the new mould. By the time the first BMW 3 Series was phased out in 1983, it had soundly broken all of BMW’s previous car sales records. Year on year, further model series were launched, starting with the large coupés of the 6 Series and, finally, in 1977, the 7 Series that capped the company’s model range. But the most extraordinary car of that particular era in BMW’s past was the now legendary mid-engine M1 sports car. Following a limited production run of street models, the M1 story soon came to an end in 1981, but the spectacular race track appearances of the M1 Procars remain unforgotten to this day. In the mid-1980s, BMW presented some extremely high-performance variants of the then 5 and 3 Series generations in the shape of the M3 and, shortly afterwards, the M5. The M3 became the basis of an exceptional success story in touring car racing.

BMW 1800

The BMW 1800, successor to the 1500 that launched the “ New Class”.

BMW 3.0 CSi

The BMW 3.0 CSi: in 1968 BMW began building large saloons and coupés once more.

In 1986, BMW took the motoring world by surprise with a concept car in the form of an open two-seater with a plastic body and retractable doors. Though it was designed merely to provide food for thought and as a test bed for innovations, interest among BMW’s sportier customers was so great that the model went into production in 1988 as the BMW Z1. It was not the only sensation of 1986: also at the Frankfurt Show was a car with an engine that had not been seen in Europe since the 1930s -a twelve-cylinder. This V12 derived 300 bhp from a displacement of some 5 litres, making the BMW 750i Germany’s most exclusive saloon. But anyone who thought BMW had now reached the apex of exclusivity had a surprise in store when the new BMW 850i luxury coupé appeared in 1989. The present and future are fashioned by an expanding brand portfolio and the development of innovative technologies: the X models, the new 6 Series and the forthcoming 1 Series are today’s visions that will write tomorrow’s history.

BMW 6 Series Perpetuating a long success story: the latest 6 Series is an impressive continuation of BMW’s large coupé tradition.
  The worlds greatest classic car show is held annually in  Essen, Germany. Known as the Techno Classica, BMW's main display in 2003 was entitled "7 decades of BMW Cabrios".

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