Herbert Quandt: The Man Who Saved BMW

The post-war era was especially hard for the German automotive industry. One of the most troubled car companies was BMW, which suffered from a weak line-up of morally old and stylistically out-of-date models. Even though the so-called "Baroque Angels" 502 sedans were still very much technically competent and the 507 roadster had been a huge success as a halo model, BMW was still on the down low. The main problem was that the 502 line of models were beautiful but they looked too pre-war, while the 507's success on the other hand didn't help it stop losing money on each and every car sold.

The only cars still keeping the company alive in the late fifties were the Isetta crossover midget and the sporty 700. BMW engineers and designers already had some new models on the drawing board but unfortunately BMW was losing money. Fast. So fast, that when 1959 came, the Bavarians were close to declare bankruptcy. Few people know that Daimler-Benz, which at the time was the largest German automotive company, wanted to acquire the ailing Bavarian Motor Works. It wasn't about killing the competition though, BMW had nothing on Daimler in those years. The plan consisted of BMW to be converted into a supplier of car bodies for Mercedes-Benz cars.

The head of the BMW management board at the time, Hans Feith, came one day at the end of that faithful year and presented a proposition to the board. Did we say proposition? It was more like an ultimatum. It was either they would declare bankruptcy or let the company be bought/eaten alive by their future arch-enemies, Daimler-Benz. Mr. Feith was also a representative of the Deutsche Bank, which by chance was one of BMW's principal creditors. Also by chance, Deutsche Bank was one of the greatest supporters for the company buy-out by Daimler. Some would say that by pure luck, other thanks to the talent and wisdom of one man, BMW escaped both the acquisition AND the bankruptcy.

On a meeting which took place on the 9th of December 1959, the acquisition by Daimler-Benz had almost won the vote of the BMW board. A few disgruntled shareholders managed to adjourn the meeting just before the board could make the final decision. One of those shareholders was Herbert Quandt. Initially in favor of the Daimler-Benz takeover, Quandt thought about the trade unions and workers who were opposing such a measure, thus creating instability in the factories. After some careful thinking and against ALL advice from its bankers, BMW's white knight started to quietly increase his stake in the company. After his number of shares rose to almost 50% he secured an agreement with the state of Bavaria that would allow him to purchase BMW.

The models which were already on the drawing board started to come alive thanks to BMW's newly found financial independence. The “Neue Klasse” (New Class) designs were actually the basis that would form the modern BMW cars. The car that actually started the BMW revolution was the small but feisty 1500, launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961, not even two years after the collapse-that-almost-happened.

Herbert Werner Quandt had been born on the 22nd of June, 1910, in Pritzwalk, a small town that is currently the modern federal state of Brandenburg. His father was a business man who had built a considerable fortune as a supplier to the Wehrmacht in the first World War and then had increased his wealth buying major stakes or acquiring several companies. Herbert didn't have quite a happy childhood while growing up, developing a retina disease that almost left him blind and his mother dying when he was eight.

This didn't stop BMW's future hero to establish himself as an even better businessman than his father, increasing the family wealth over the years to include stakes in a lot of major factories in several European countries. When his father died in 1954, the keys to the empire were shared by him and his younger brother, with Herbert emphasizing on the automotive part of the family investments.

After the 1959 close-call, BMW started to rise and Quandt helped paving the way for its ascent. Two years from the 1961 launch of the soon-to-be-successful 1500, the 1800 model appeared, transforming BMW into a manufacturer that kept up with the times. In the meantime, Quandt was still the power behind the machine, but he believed in decentralized authority, so he left the running of BMW to others around him until 1969. That's when he made his second most brilliant choice (after saving BMW) when he appointed Eberhard von Kunheim as managing director.

von Kunheim was the man who transformed BMW from a regular brand into a premium one that would challenge Mercedes-Benz itself in a not-too-distant future. Herbert Quandt died on the 2nd of June, 1982, less than three weeks before his 72nd birthday. Apart from the huge wealth shared by his children now, his legacy is a company that probably has one of the largest fan-base around the world. He is the man to which any M3 or M5 driver should be thankful to.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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