The story of the German car manufacturer told through some of its most iconic models.

The prestigious automobile and motorcycle brand, BMW (Bayerische MotorenWerke, that is, Bavarian Motor Factory), has always stood out for a series of technical decisions and highly interesting components that have conquered legions of faithful followers. Also entranced by the very particular aesthetic choices that range from the most classic and low-key style to the most innovative. And it has a first-class technical staff. A long and interesting story which also involves considerable Italian influence. From the very beginning. In fact, on 13th August 1918, Camillo Castiglioni, entrepreneur, raider, wheeler-dealer, patron and much, much more, entered BMW, which, after having changed its name and management from the initial Rapp MotorenWerke GmbH, had since become a joint stock company, with a capital of 4 million Marks at the time, one third of the total, thus becoming the owner since he had also owned important shares in Rapp since 1917. Castiglioni invested resources into the new BMW throughout the Twenties, saving it from bankruptcy – also thanks to his ability and that of designers such as Franz Josep Popp, technical managers of such calibre as Ferdinand Porsche and mechanical engineers like Max Fritz – by going from one type of engine to another without any loss in quality. And so, alongside airplane and airship engines, there were also those for cars, trucks, boats and motorcycles. In a constant flow of solutions adopted for one type and then transferred to the others. During the Second World War, with civil production limited due to reconverting factories for military use and the industrial crisis of the early years following the war, BMW, despite financial difficulties and company reconstruction problems, due also to the German territory being divided because of the Cold War, still managed to carve out more and more space for itself thanks to the style, quality and recognized reliability so highly appreciated by innumerable loyal customers and even its competitors.

Besides BMW’s two-wheeled vehicles, with models such as the 1923 R32, designed by Max Fritz and the incredible, powerful and fast RS255 Kompress, one of the first models was the 3/15, initially publicized as the so-called Dixi. It was a small car whose pleasant lines, competitive price, low running costs and satisfactory performances made it very popular. Fitted with a 748cc, 4-cylinder engine, it had capacity of 15cv. A success followed by the D3 in 1930, a sporty, roadster-style version.

The 328 is considered as the Bavarian company’s first big success. The roadster, designed by Fritz Fiedler, became the most interesting example of BMW’s sport style. It was the car that best demonstrated the company’s inclination for sport and it underwent significant aerodynamic studies. A 1971cc, 6-cylinder engine and 80cv.

At the end of World War II, when industry recovered and the desire for mobility rose once more, BMW essentially began to produce motorcycles and cars were only taken into consideration at a later date. The first model was the 501, followed in 1952 by its “twin” 502 with a V8 engine. Unfortunately, sales did not take off enough to allow the company with the spiral symbol to sail through calm seas. Quite the contrary. The need to offer new models clashed with tight budgets for research and development.

The grandmother of city smart cars. And the car that marked the re-birth of the Bavarian brand. The Isetta – a small, transformable, two-seater mini-vehicle, produced in Italy by Iso, on BMW licence, from 1955 to 1962. A single-cylinder, like many cars of the time used by an extremely vast public, it was compact with futuristic lines and consumed very little (3l/100km). A two-seater, the front, including the steering wheel, hinged open entirely for easy access. An external folding luggage rack also made trips out of the city possible.

Sports luxury. These were the guidelines used in creating the BMW 503 coupe, fitted with a 3168cc, V8 engine with 140cv and a maximum speed of 190km/h. Destined for a limited circle of high-range drivers, it was the right car at the wrong moment, in other words, it aimed at a rather too restricted sector of the market at a moment when the European economy was not yet in full boom and there was also exceptional competition, for example, the legendary Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, which had killed the market.

With its small, square and Teutonic lines, even though the designer, Giovanni Michelotti, was Italian, the 700 came in three different versions: sedan, coupe and cabriolet in order to ‘capture’ the maximum number of customers. A car in the economy range, it marked the German brand’s revival and led to the chance of dedicating itself to more luxurious models. The bodywork was made of light but resistant metal, it had a 697cc boxer engine and a capacity of 30cv deriving from a motorcycle engine and a maximum speed of 120km/h.

The early 1980s were the years of the company’s regeneration. One of the best models of the period was the 1500 which inaugurated the Neue Klasse. Destined for medium-high range customers, the bodywork was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and Wilhelm Hofmeister with the characteristic sombre and serious look and only 80cv that were, however, still able to power the car to 148km/h.

The sports side was represented in the ‘70s by a large number of models including the E12, the predecessor of the series 5 and produced to target the high-end of the market. At the time of the launch, the model 520, with 1990cc, 4-cylinder carburettor and 115 cv, and a more aggressive version, the 502i with Kugelfisher mechanical injection and 130 cv, were available.

The next step between the end of the 1970s and beginning of the ‘80s, was to focus on supercars. The first one was the brilliant M1 with its fibreglass bodywork designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro that totally broke away from the aesthetic philosophy followed up until then. Fitted with a 3453cc, 6-cylinder engine, it had a capacity of 277cv and maximum speed of 262km/h, going from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.6 seconds.

Considered as one of the best civil sports cars of the time, the E30- M3, released in 1985, marked a further change of style in BMW’s aesthetics. Squared and with more decisive lines, it was brilliant and appealing thanks to a 2302cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve engine with 195cv in the normal version and 200cv in the catalysed model. Maximum speed was 235km/h, a performance that is still interesting today, more than thirty years since its debut.

The Z8, which came out in 1999, was the natural heir of a luxury model created in 1952. A stylish roadster with extremely soft and sleek lines, it was highly aggressive thanks to a 4.9-litre, V8 engine with over 400cv and a maximum speed of 235km/h. Acceleration went from 0 to 100 Km/h in 5.3 seconds and it took 9.4 seconds to go from 70 to 120 km/h in fourth gear.

Eco-friendly but powerful, the BMWi8 is one of the brand’s top cars. Released onto the market in 2015, also in the roadster version – a slightly modified version followed in 2018 – it is a high-range vehicle with a sporty heart. The power unit consists of a 131cv synchronous electric engine with 250Nm torque combined with a three-cylinder, 1500cm³, TwinPower turbo-charged engine with a capacity of 231cv and 320 Nm torque for a total of 362cv. A 15-kilowatt alternator helps to remove any lag that may occur when the combustion engine sets in. The electric engine powers the front axle, the rear part is a mixture of combustion and electric engine. At low speeds, the engine is aided by a small, 20cv electric engine. Together, this power ensures a maximum speed of 250km/h and acceleration from 0 to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds. (Fabio Schiavo)