Originally known as Rapp Motoren Werke, the Munich-based builder of aircraft engines became BMW AG in 1918. In 1923 it introduced a boxer-engine motorcyle, foreshadowing a design trend that continues to this day. The company introduced its first automobile in 1928. The car, dubbed Dixi, was built under license from an English manufacturer, Austin. The 1930s saw considerable engineering and design progress with the introduction of an inline six-cylinder engine in 1933--a configuration that has long distinguished the brand--and the launch of the renowned 328 Roadster in 1936, a sleek, stylish machine that earned numerous racing victories, including the 1940 Mille Miglia.
- Founded : March 7, 1916
- Founder : Franz Josef Popp, Karl Rapp, Camillo Castiglioni
- Headquarters : Munich, Bavaria, Germany
- Website : BMW Automobiles
By 1949 BMW was back in the motorcycle business, and the first post-war BMW automobile, the big and sturdy 501, made its appearance in 1951. The 502, equipped with an aluminum V-8, joined the lineup in 1952, and the 500 series continued in production until 1964. The most noteworthy machine in the 500 range was the 507, an alloy-bodied V-8-powered sports car built at the urging of U.S. importer Max Hoffman--the same entrepreneur who talked Mercedes into building the 300SL. In 1955 BMW obtained a license to build an Italian-engineered three-wheeler. The BMW version was sold as Isetta. With its motorcycle engine, the little machine provided cheap and entertaining transportation.
Sales of the Isetta couldn't make up for the market failures of the 500 models, and by 1959 BMW was on the verge of failure. A merger with Daimler-Benz was on the table, but the workforce and management pleaded with major shareholder, Herbert Quandt, to give them time to turn things around. He relented, and in 1961 the sporty and stylish 1500 sedan set the stage for a resurgence of the brand. In 1969, the fuel-injected 2000tii upped the ante again, and BMW was once again a commercial success.
Other winning designs followed: the 5 Series, the 2002, and its successor, the 3 Series. By the late 1970s, BMW was back in the luxury business with the 6 and 7 Series. The M versions of these cars were scalding performers, driving home BMW's performance reputation. The 286-horsepower M5, for example, was said to be the world's fastest production sedan.
Today, the 400-horsepower 7 series, with its muscular curves, is a strong contender in the luxury sports category, the 3- and 5-series are class leaders in their respective sports sedan categories, and theZ4 sports car, with 255 horsepower pouring into a six-speed manual gearbox, is capable of stirring the soul. In the words of the U.S. ad campaign, BMW is "the ultimate driving machine," and it wears that title proudly.