BMW is one of the most recognizable car brands thanks to its rich history and heritage. From a once struggling company, it’s now a symbol of luxury recognized throughout the world. If you want to learn more about this brand, here are 15 amazing facts about its history.
It Started Out Making Airplane Engines
The BMW brand began over a hundred years ago, way back in 1916, as a merger between the Rapp Motor and Otto Werke corporations. However, they didn’t start out making the luxury vehicles we know and love today. They actually started out as an aircraft engine manufacturer for World War I-era Germany, since there was a large demand for this product at the time.
The plane engines BMW produced were actually not half bad. In fact, they were described by the “Red Baron” – considered to be the greatest fighter pilot in German history – as the greatest of the era largely thanks to their fuel efficiency and ability to perform well in high altitudes. A BMW engine-powered biplane even reached a height of 32,000 feet. This height may not impress you today, since it’s around the regular cruising altitude for an airliner, but this was easily a world record back in 1919.
BMW briefly stopped producing airplane engines after the war, but returned to business once the Second World War broke out. During this time, they made some of their best work, including the BMW 132 and BMW 801 engines. They continued to manufacture plane engines until 1945. Just imagine how amazing BMW-powered planes would perform if they continued on this trajectory over 70 years later.
The Treaty of Versailles Was the Reason They Made Their First Car
The first fact may have left you wondering when and why BMW started producing consumer vehicles. Believe it or not, the Treaty of Versailles was actually the primary reason for this. When the treaty officially brought the First World War to an end, it came with a clause that banned German companies from producing warplanes and the engines that run them. Remember when we told you that BMW briefly stopped producing airplane engines after World War I? This was that time.
They Didn’t Design Their First Car
During this hiatus, BMW began producing motorcycles, but shifted their attention to cars in 1929. This came a year after they purchased Automobilwerk Eisenach, which gave them the rights to the Dixi car. The first couple of automobiles BMW produced were actually badged with “BMW Dixi.” This means that BMW didn’t even design the first car they sold to consumers. However, the Dixi branding was quickly dropped when the updated BMW 3/15 DA-2 was introduced to the market.
They Own Some of the Biggest Brands in the Worl
Those were much simpler times for BMW. Now they own some of the biggest car brands in the world, including the British giants MINI and Rolls Royce. They took over the former by way of purchasing parent company British Rover Group back in 1994. This also gave them the rights to produce the Rover MG and Land Rover range of vehicles. On the other hand, they took over the latter brand when the acquired the rights to its parent company back in 2003. They show no signs of slowing down. They may even acquire another company soon.
BMW Almost Became a Part of Mercedes
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the German brand though. They hit a rough patch during the 1950’s, which included financial and creative difficulties. It didn’t help that the Cold War was at its peak during this time either. Worst of all, they almost became bankrupt by the time the end of the decade rolled around. When word of this got around, Daimler-Benz – the parent company of Mercedes – attempted a hostile takeover of BMW. Luckily, BMW was quick to fend off this attack by buying back crucial shares in the market. This is considered one of the starting points of the ongoing rivalry between the two largest automobile manufacturers in history.
They Built Their First Electric Car in 1972
In more recent BMW history, it’s also interesting to note that the company was ahead of the curve when it came to the manufacturing of electric vehicles. You may think that this came in the form of the i3 or even the i8, but in reality it came even sooner than that.
BMW actually produced their first electric car in 1972 – the BMW 1602e. This vehicle never made it to the market, since its charge only lasted for 20 minutes. It also only had half the power compared to BMW’s other vehicles, but it was a step in the right direction. Interest in electric powered cars died down around that time, but it was eventually restored once the 1990’s came along. Fortunately for BMW, they already had a strong foundation built into place for their electric cars; a head start, which they certainly took advantage of.
The M1 Supercar Was Originally a Collaboration with Lamborghini
That electric car wasn’t the only thing of note built by BMW in the 1970’s. Not a lot of people know about this, but they actually built a supercar in collaboration with Lamborghini during that time. This was a huge landmark since the project was a collaboration between a German and an Italian brand. Giorgetto Giugiaro, a legend in the automobile industry, actually designed this car. Previously, he has worked on iconic cars such as the Beretta U22 Neos, the VW Golf, as well as the DeLorean, which was made famous in the “Back to the Future” series of films.
BMW were originally supposed make the suspension and engine for the car, but because of financial reasons their Italian counterpart had to pull out. Because of this, BMW picked up the pieces of the project, which led them to hire the services of Baur, a private coachbuilder, to pick up where Lamborghini left off. This project eventually became the original BMW M1 supercar. Since then, BMW and Baur have partnered together multiple times to develop some highly sought-after BMW convertible vehicles.
BMW Has a Lengthy Involvement in Motorcycle Racing
By now you may have noticed a trend of BMW paying homage to certain parts of their history. If you remember correctly, they were once even in the motorcycle manufacturing business. Well, they’ve returned to that as well. The BMW brand has participated in a variety of motorcycle racing events, particularly sidecar motorcycle events. They even have a team of highly skilled drivers who represent them at such events.
The BMW Rennsport RS54 and the drivers who used it were so great that they won 19 straight constructors titles from 1955 to 1973. During that time, they won all but two drivers’ championships. This feat still remains unmatched by any other engine, even in the modern era of motorcycle sidecar racing.
Throughout history, BMW were known to push the boundaries of the sport, even being criticized for what some people think is a ‘win at all cost’ attitude. If you follow motorcycle racing, you’d know that drivers often take advantage of the laws of aerodynamics by leaning away from their vehicles. This is to help them go around corners smoother and faster. BMW drivers were known to lean so far out that their faces almost skid across the asphalt while they were wearing nothing more than a pair of safety goggles. Of course, the sport’s health and safety regulations no longer allow this, but just imagine how thrilling that would have been to witness.
They Once Held the World Record for the Fastest Motorbike
A simple change in the rulebook hasn’t stopped BMW from dominating motorcycle racing, though. They just do it in a more straightforward manner nowadays – by building the fastest known motorbikes in the world. In fact, BMW once held the record for making the fastest motorcycle in the world back in 1937. This bike could reach speeds of over 170 miles per hour, which was extremely fast at the time.
Nowadays, BMW’s motorcycle division are still pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. They continue to develop highly desirable products in terms of power and aesthetic. By doing so, they have constantly increased their sales figures and even broke market records as recently as 2016.
They Were Involved in a Formula One World Championship Win
Another sport BMW have more than dabbled in in recent times is Formula One. They designed the engine that went into Nelson Piquet’s 1983 World Championship-winning Brabham car. Piquet’s car was powered by an M10 four-cylinder engine, which back in 1962 could only achieve a measly 75 horsepower. BMW engineers kept working on this engine though, and by the time Piquet won the F1 crown at the South African Grand Prix the engine could already dish out upwards of 1,400 horsepower.
They Continue to be at the Forefront of Aerodynamic Development
BMW’s design choices weren’t only done so their products would look cool. These of course have a more functional purpose. Since the 1940’s, the brand was at the forefront of aerodynamics, a fact that you may have figured out by now. They once completely removed the rear end of a car just to increase its straight line speed by 30%. You may think that that’s highly impractical, but in reality, that design choice has been lifted by other car manufacturers and is still used today. It’s known as the Kammback after the 328 Kamm Coupe released back in 1940.
BMW’s aerodynamic success has reached as far as the train industry and has even warranted a return to the aerospace trade. Over the past couple of years, the Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART system in San Francisco, California has begun replacing their old train interiors with BMW-designed ones. The German company also designs interiors for commercial airplanes such as the ones used for Singapore Airlines – an airliner which has been hailed as providing one of the most luxurious flying experiences money can buy.
BMW’s Slogan and Logo Have Their Own Backstory
By now you could tell that BMW has a rich history when it comes to its products, but did you know that even the company’s slogan and logo have something unique about themselves too? A lot of people mistake the latter for an airplane propeller, which would pay homage to the early 20th century roots of the company making engines for planes. However, that’s not the case.
In reality, the BMW roundel pays respect to the original logo of Rapp Motor Company. The colors were chosen since blue and white are the national colors of Bavaria. On the other hand, the company’s slogan of “the ultimate driving machine,” has lasted longer than three decades. It’s still being used to this day.
The BMW Offices Look Like Their Famed Engine Cylinders
It’s not only the company’s logo and that have a noteworthy background. Even their headquarters have an interesting aesthetic. Their head offices in Munich are actually designed like a four-cylinder BMW engine. This was to pay homage to the type of engine most BMW cars started out with. Nowadays; however, most BMW-produced cars run on six-cylinder engines. To reflect this, additional buildings were put in up just in time for the 1972 Olympics. This made the BMW building stand out against the sea of other infrastructure in the area. Passersby would automatically recognize the company and the products that resided in those towers.
The Iconic BMW Grille is over 80 Years Old
From the logo to the headquarters, you may think that the BMW Group of companies has run out of interesting design choices. However, even the grilles featured on the front of their cars are something unique to their brand. Some would even go as far as to say that these grilles are more iconic than the blue and white logo. These even have a name – the “kidney” grille. It was first introduced back in 1933 when it came with the BMW 303.
They Still Make Parts for Their World War II-era Cars
If all of this history has piqued your interest and you’d want to own a classic BMW vehicle, then you’re in luck. BMW is one of the few car manufacturers that still make genuine parts for their older vehicles. Some of the parts they make are compatible with their Second World War-era vehicles. To do so, they reopened one of their old factories in Munich, which was originally used to manufacture parts for motorcycles. You no longer have to track down a second-hand part hundreds of miles away just to fix your classic BMW.
There you have it – fifteen amazing facts about the history of BMW. From its somewhat tumultuous beginnings, which included a near takeover, to its success in recent times; we’re sure that you’ve learned something new and interesting about this brand, which you can share with your car-loving friends.