The BMW company started out as a business entity called Bayerische Motorenwerke in 1916. It was formed from three other companies: Rapp Motoren Werke, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFw) and Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach.
The latter was acquired at a later date, and each of the companies was specialized in building engines or vehicles for various applications. The Rapp Motorenwerke used to create aircraft engines, and the company was restructured in 1917 after the departure of Karl Rapp, the company’s founder. BFw was a company that made airplanes in Munchen and that eventually produced the Messerschmitt planes.
Meanwhile, Automobilwerk Eisenach was Germany’s third company that specialized in making cars, established in 1896. Initially, they made bicycles and guns, but they eventually built cars under license. The three companies were successfully merged under one roof, and that eventually became BMW AG.
However, BMW's story is not all glamor and shine, as the company struggled to stay profitable and was almost bought by their current rivals at Daimler AG at some point. Fortunately, that did not happen, as German industrialist Herbert Quandt purchased a controlling interest in BMW and invested in the company’s future. The tycoon also owned the AFA battery factory that became Varta, a brand we believe you may have heard about. The heirs of Mr. Quandt still hold a substantial stake in BMW AG, and their fortune is estimated at over several billion euros.
However, the first car made by BMW came in 1928, mainly an Austin 7 built under license under the name of Dixi. Eventually, the company decided to change the name from Dixi to DA-1 3/15 PS.
Dixi - The Car That Started It All
People still call this car the BMW Dixi, but the company changed its name to DA-1 3/15PS. The DA meant German Version (in German, naturally) while 3/15 specified taxation class and horsepower rating. The vehicle was identical to the Austin 7 excepting the fact that it used metric fasteners and left-hand drive.
The essential part about the Dixi and the Austin 7 it was based on is that this model was the first car to feature the control layout that’s considered conventional on modern vehicles. This is not the first car ever to feature foot-operated clutch, brake, and gas pedals, but it was among the first mass-market vehicles with this configuration.
328 - Sports Car With Straight-Six Engine, Need We Say More?
This vehicle weighed just 830 kg (1,830 lb.) and produced 80 HP, enough for a decent power/weight ratio today, let alone in the mid-1930s. It was capable of reaching 155 km/h (96 MPH), which made it one of the fastest cars on the road at that time.
The ideas found in the BMW 328 influenced future vehicles made by this brand, as they all tried to reach a combination of engine power and suspension technology to grasp at a well-balanced mix that made them faster than their rivals.
501/502 - Baroque Angels
The 502 is the first German car made after WW2 with a V8 engine. This made it the fastest passenger sedan in regular production in Germany at the time of launch. The 100 HP 2.58-liter engine propelled the 502 to a speed of 160 km/h (99 MPH). Unfortunately, its price was high, and it was not a sales success because of this.
The BMW 501/502 also marked an important step in passive safety, as it had a robust chassis with enhanced side impact protection. The fuel tank was placed above the rear axle to reduce fire risk in the event of an impact from the rear.
Furthermore, the 501/502 BMWs inspired other important models from this brand, like the 503 Coupe, 507 Roadster, and 3200 CS. All of these were developed using components first prepared for the 501 and 502.
Isetta - The Refrigerator Microcar
The Isetta was designed by the Italians at Iso, a company that made small three-wheeled trucks, motor scooters, and refrigerators. The name means little Iso in Italian and the model that bears it caused a sensation when it was first showcased, in November 1953.
If you are curious why all Isettas have a canvas sunroof, it was there for the driver and passenger to be able to exit in the case of a crash. The handle on the door was similar to the one you would get from a refrigerator (but with a lock) made by the same company.
BMW made several versions of the Isetta, and all were reengineered to such lengths that parts from a BMW Isetta and an Iso Isetta are not interchangeable. The German company made a total of 161,000 Isettas.What’s so special about this model? Well, it is credited for saving the German company from bankruptcy.
The first car of the New Class was 1500, a four-door executive car fitted with the then-new M10 engine. The power plant was called M115 at the time, and versions of it were made until the late 1980s. That is impressive for an engine launched in 1962.
The M10 engine was build in over 3.5 million units, and the block was the basis for the Brabham-BMW Formula 1 single seater. That particular version of the M10 engine was called the M12 and developed 1,500 HP in qualification spec and around 1,200 HP in race configuration.
M1 - Only Collaboration with Lamborghini
BMW’s M1 coupe was handbuilt and was designed by Giugiaro. This model should have been built in cooperation with Lamborghini so that BMW could reach the production number required for homologation, but financial problems for the Italian company eventually broke the deal. A group of ex-Lamborghini engineers started a company (Italengineering) that completed the M1’s design.
While it was not sold in large numbers, its legacy still marks the German company, and the remaining examples are worth serious money today.
M3 E30 - Touring Car Legend
The M3 E30 had a different body than the standard 3 Series Coupe, a different suspension, steering system, braking system, and driveline. The engine the first M3 used was called S14, and later models developed almost 385 HP in full-race trim. Road versions of the M3 E30 secured between 192 and 238 HP.
This model’s value is on the rise for some years now, as the company only made a total of 16,202 cars. While this is not the most powerful car you can buy today for its average asking price for attended examples, the value of M3 E30s could rise even higher in the coming years.
X5 - First of Many
Today, thanks to this first-generation X5, BMW has a broad range of SUVs and crossovers. And thanks to these, the German company is the world’s best-selling premium carmaker. Not to mention that they helped popularize the company's xDrive all-wheel-drive systems on most of its models. The X5 even has an M-version to suit the taste of those old-school Bimmer fans.
2 Series Active Tourer - New Horizons
Moreover, the 2 Series Active Tourer and its bigger brother, the Gran Tourer, are the first ever production BMWs to enter the MPV/minivan market. Their main reasons for existence are the popularity of premium compact MPVs such as the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, which is a direct rival and the best-sold people carrier in Germany.
i8 - Modern Heart of BMW
The i8 is a plug-in hybrid vehicle from BMW that delivers supercar looks and handling with an unmatched level of efficiency. It also has a chassis made of carbon fiber and is also the first BMW with butterfly doors.
As you have seen, BMW has evolved immensely in the last century, and we can only dream of what they will do for the next 100 years.