BMW Codenames Explained: Part 2

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Back in the early days of BMW, the company was specialized in making only a handful of models. In the early 30s and 40s, the company was actually building only one or two models, with different engines. From those different powerplants came the different names they would get.
However, as time went by, things changed, along with the market. People started wanting more and more models to fit their specific needs. That’s how various segments and niches started popping up. The company had to adapt.

By the 1960s, the BMW roundel found its way on a couple of new models that started to look different from each other and that were set apart by more than just their power output or displacement. That’s when the Germans had to invent a way to differentiate them.

They did so by using a word and a number. The word was ‘Entwicklung’ and it means ‘Development’ in English. It was the same for around 50 years and it was always combined with a different number. That’s how BMW codenames were invented.

The thing you should know about them is that they were used not only to help engineers and everyone working in Bavarian plants differentiate the cars between them but also to point out the advancements recorded in newer models.

Now, you might’ve heard those codenames over and over again throughout the years but up until now, you didn’t know exactly what they defined. Well, we’re here to explain them to you in chronological order and put a car next to the codename you didn’t know.

BMW 7 Series

The first one to use these codes was the BMW E3 saloon, back in 1968. It was also called BMW New Six and, as the name suggests, it defined what BMW called a new era in the auto world. It was actually the first 7 Series ever made, even though that name wasn’t used back then. It was a full-size luxury sedan fitted with a wide variety of inline 6-cylinder engines. It was built between 1968 and 1977 and was joined by the E9, the Coupe alternative to the sedan shape of the E3. The E9 was the grandpa of the 8 Series that would later be introduced. The complete codenames of BMW’s flagship 7 Series, that expand over 6 generations go as follows:

  • 1968 - 1977 BMW E3 7 Series
  • 1977 - 1986 BMW E23 7 Series
  • 1986 - 1994 BMW E32 7 Series
  • 1994 - 2001 BMW E38 7 Series
  • 2001 - 2008 BMW E65 7 Series
  • 2008 - Present BMW F01 7 Series

BMW 5 Series

Right after that, the need for a slightly smaller, cheaper and lighter model arose from the demands of the market. It was time for the 5 Series to show up. The 5 Series was soon to become one of the most popular models the company ever made, today reaching its sixth generation. The codenames for the 5 Series go like this:

  • 1972 - 1981 BMW E12 5 Series
  • 1981 - 1988 BMW E28 5 Series
  • 1987 - 1996 BMW E34 5 Series
  • 1996 - 2004 BMW E39 5 Series
  • 2004 - 2011 BMW E60 5 Series, BMW E61 5 Series Touring
  • 2011 - Present: BMW F10 5 Series Sedan, F11 5 Series Touring, F07 5 Series Gran Turismo

BMW 6 Series

In 1976, BMW wanted a coupe alternative to the 5 Series that was still wearing the E21 codename back then. In the same way the E9 was a coupe version of the E3 7 Series almost a decade before, the 6 Series came to life, wearing the E24 codename. It was manufactured for 13 years with various updates and then retired for 24 years until the new generation surfaced in the 21st century. The codenames for the 6 Series go as follows:

  • 1976 - 1989 E24 6 Series
  • 2003 - 2010 E63 6 Series Convertible and E64 6 Series Coupe
  • 2010 - Present F12 6 Series Convertible, F13 6 Series Coupe and F06 6 Series Gran Coupe

BMW 3 Series

After the success of the E12 mid-sized sedan (or the 5 Series as we’d come to know it later on), BMW wanted an even smaller car. Only 3 years after the original 5er was launched, the 3 Series was unveiled. It was wearing the E21 codename. Six generations later, the 3 Series is the most successful model ever made by BMW, blowing all sales figures out of the water. The complete codenames for the 3 Series go as follows:

  • 1975 - 1983 BMW E21 3 Series
  • 1983 - 1991 BMW E30 3 Series
  • 1991 - 1998 BMW E36 3 Series
  • 1998 - 2005 BMW E46 3 Series
  • 2006 - 2012 BMW E90 3 Series Sedan
  • 2006 - 2012 BMW E91 3 Series Touring
  • 2007 - 2012 BMW E92 3 Series Coupe
  • 2007 - 2012 BMW E93 3 Series Convertible

We should mention that in 2006, BMW considered introducing the new 4 Series but dropped the plans at the last moment. That’s why the E9x models were differentiated by codenames, unlike all previous 3 Series models.

BMW 8 Series

In 1989, the 8 Series was properly introduced to the world. This time, unlike with its predecessor, the E9, the car was presented as what it was, a Coupe alternative to the 7 Series. It was built between 1989 and 1999 and wore the E31 codename. To this day, aficionados are still waiting for a new version.

BMW Z Series

By the late 80s, BMW wanted to enter a new segment, the one populated by roadsters. That’s how Z models came into view. The first one was the BMW Z1, just to be joined by the Z3, Z8 and Z4 later on. The first two models didn’t have a codename because the Z in their name used to stand for Zukunft which is German for ‘Future’. However, they did use the E30 and E36 platforms. The last two wore codenames as BMW wanted to point out that they were developed from the ground up. Between 2002 and 2008 the E85 BMW Z4 Roadster was built and the E86 BMW Z4 Coupe while the BMW E52 Z8 was manufactured between 1999 and 2003. The current BMW Z4 model, that has been in production since 2008 is wearing the E89 codename.


The first attempt of the Bavarians to make an SUV took the shape of the initial BMW X5. It was followed by two more versions that wore different codenames, of course:

  • 1999 - 2006 BMW E53 X5
  • 2006 - 2013 BMW E70 X5
  • 2013 - Present BMW F15 X5

Being built on the same platform, when the X6 was launched it used the E71 codename to show the similitudes between it and the X5.


After the success of the first premium SUV became undeniable, BMW decided to make yet another one, this time a bit smaller and cheaper to buy. That’s how the two generations of the X3 showed up:

  • 2003 - 2010 BMW E83 X3
  • 2010 - Present BMW F25 X3

BMW 1 Series

In 2004, the 1 Series was unveiled by BMW and the world stopped for a second. It was the first hatchback developed by the Bavarian brand and most people were reluctant as to what it meant. The car was available in 3 different body types:

  • The E82 1 Series was the Coupe of the line-up, built between 2007 and 2013
  • The E87 1 Series was the 5-door hatchback model, built between 2004 and 2011
  • The E81 1 Series was the 3-door hatchback version, built between 2004 and 2011
  • The E88 1 Series was the 2-door convertible, built between 2007 and 2013
The hatchbacks were replaced by the F20/F21 5-door/3-door hatchback models in 2011 and the F22 2 Series Coupe in 2013. However, the same platform was used, believe it or not, for the 2009 BMW X1. Therefore, the compact crossover is using the E84 codename.

Those are all the BMW codenames that start with the letter ‘E’, explained by models and years. However, with time, the Germans ran out of combinations of the same letter and double digits. Therefore, they went on and started giving cars codenames with the letter ‘F’ in front.
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