Munich Masterpieces: 18 Highlights from the BMW Museum

If a trip to Munich doesn’t make you want to buy a BMW, it’s possible you’re just overloaded with schnitzel and weissbier. The entire city breathes BMW. The white gates of BMW’s first factory are just minutes from the city center, and a quick ride in a taxi (most likely a Mercedes) whisks you to BMW’s quad-cylindrical headquarters and its adjacent museum, which both opened in 1973. The main bowl is a spiraling, all-white ramp in the Guggenheim style that’s reserved for special exhibits, while the rotating permanent collection lives in the lower building, an airy, modern addition finished in 2008. There’s nearly 54,000 square feet of space housing some 120 cars, and there’s no better time to visit than during BMW’s centenary year. Come along as we pick some of our favorites, then get thee to München.BMW’s love for smooth-humming inline-six-cylinder engines dates to 1917, when the roundel was first stamped on the IIIa engine used in the Fokker D VII biplane. During World War I, Daimler-Benz was a primary engine supplier but was usurped when engineer Max Friz left the company for the upstart Bayerische Motoren Werke, where he devised a high-compression, low-choke carburetor setup that proved more powerful at higher altitudes. The 19-liter engine developed 180 horsepower and used aluminum pistons, a first among aircraft engines. The revised BMW IV, shown here, was built despite the post–World War I ban on German aircraft production and the temporary shutdown of the German air force. Bored and stroked by 10 mm, the IV produced 230 horsepower and carried pilot Franz Diemer to an astounding 9760 meters (32,021 feet) in a Deutsche Flugzeug-Werke F37/III—without supplementary oxygen for the flyer. This world record was never recognized by anyone outside BMW, because the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the governing body for such air records, also had banned Germany.After realizing its aircraft accomplishments were fruitless, BMW moved to motorcycle engines in 1920 with the M2B15, also known as the Bayern Kleinmotor. The 500-cc opposed-two-cylinder engine was another smooth operator. It was fitted to several German motorcycles until BMW built its own bike, the R32, in 1923. In contrast to the practice with most early motorcycles, BMW mounted its 8.5-horsepower engine transversely and fitted a driveshaft in place of a belt or chain. The R32’s attention to detail, particularly in how BMW designed the steel frame around the engine rather than just shoving an engine onto a bicycle chassis, made it the most expensive motorcycle in Germany.BMW’s first automobile didn’t arrive until 1928, and it wasn’t so much a BMW as it was a badge-engineered Austin Seven made by the fledgling German manufacturer Dixi. When Dixi died out, BMW bought the factory—Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, the third-oldest automaker at the time after Daimler and Benz—and all the parts. Only in 1929 did the Austin Seven/Dixi get re-re-branded as a BMW. By 1932, nearly 16,000 cars had been sold with a mighty 15-hp four-cylinder. At this time, BMW engineers built their own car, the 3/20 PS AM1, yet by that time it was quite underpowered compared to competitors. The gray truck pictured above is a 1930 3/15 PS once used for BMW’s roadside service.See the twin kidney grilles? The 303 model was the first BMW to carry this now-iconic design in 1933, although back then it was seen simply as the best means to ingest as much air as possible to cool the 1.2-liter inline-six. The Great Depression, starting in 1929, had shaken the whole world. Big luxury cars had ruled in the late 1920s, but now economical operation became a priority. The 303 had a light tubular frame and rack-and-pinion steering, which gave this little runabout agility and speed. It became a roadgoing analogue to the stellar aircraft engines BMW was building again.When BMW began taking over production for the Dixi 3/15 PS in 1928, the company also bought the rights to build radial aircraft engines designed by Pratt & Whitney. Nine-cylinder engines like the Type 132 didn’t need the heavy water-cooling jackets of earlier inline and V-shaped aero engines; plus, they were more compact. With a supercharger, they generated up to 1200 horsepower. In 1933, Lufthansa bought the first batch of Type 132 engines for the Junkers Ju 52. The technological leap was quite amazing. In just 16 years since BMW’s first aircraft engine, horsepower had jumped nearly sevenfold.Other than the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, few cars in this era prioritized aerodynamics, lightweight construction, and a swept-back body style like the 1936 BMW 328—all attributes that wouldn’t take hold in the mass market until well after World War II. The 328, in our view, is the most beautiful BMW (with the 507 roadster a close second). BMW debuted the roadster at the 1936 Eifelrennen race at the Nürburgring and promptly won its class. The 2.0-liter inline-six-cylinder produced 80 horsepower and benefited from an aluminum cylinder head. Combined with integrated headlamps and a slippery aluminum body, the 328 could top 93 mph.  It remained competitive through the 1950s, winning more than 200 races well after the 464-car production run stopped in 1940. A modified 328 coupe built by Italian coachbuilder Touring won the 1940 Mille Miglia, while a custom roadster variant pulled in sixth. If you ever see one of these cars run in person, prepare to be stunned.After World War II, Germany again found itself stripped of economic and manufacturing prowess. BMW didn’t restart motorcycle and car production until 1948 and 1951, respectively (until then, it was restricted to making pots and pans). Curiously, the BMW Museum displayed no examples of its 501 or 502 sedans—the latter had BMW’s first automotive V-8 engine—when we visited. The 503 coupe and convertible, which preceded the 507 roadster seen here, was also missing. But none of those cars gained BMW the notoriety the 328 had enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s. The 507 filled that void, despite retailing in 1956 for the astronomical sum of DM 26,500 (then equivalent to $55,000). Austria-born New York car importer Max Hoffman, who just two years earlier had convinced Mercedes-Benz to sell a roadgoing version of the 300SL race car, disliked the 503 and wanted something truly elegant. He sold the 507 in the U.S. at a delivered price of $8,500. Only 251 roadsters were made through 1959 (Elvis bought one), all with a 3.2-liter 148-horsepower V-8 and a 137-mph top speed. While the 300SL was a far superior car in construction, power, and otherwise outright racing victories, the 507’s beauty is unmatched by the Benz and even by the 2000 Z8 roadster. Fetching one now would run at least $1.5 million.BMW’s lineup in the mid-1950s had no middle ground. You either spent a fortune on a big sedan or dropped relative pennies on a microcar. BMW’s only entry-level car from 1955 to 1958 was the Isetta, an three-wheeler designed in Italy that Iso also licensed to two manufacturers in Brazil and France. What should have been total embarrassment turned into success; through its end in 1962, BMW sold more than 161,000. BMW swapped out the Iso’s two-stroker with a four-stroke two-cylinder from the R25/2 motorcycle in either 250-cc or 300-cc guise. Some versions only had one cylinder. The 770-pound Isetta was dangerous, of course, as it only can be when the door, hood, and windshield are all the same part. BMW restyled the body somewhat for 1956, labeling it the Isetta Export. The Isetta will always be the most ridiculous car to ever wear a BMW badge.Behold, a small BMW with four wheels! The rear-engined 700 was a dramatic step up from the 600, which was essentially a stretched Isetta, and it carried the company’s first unibody construction. Two two-door body styles were offered between 1959 and 1965: a coupe (pictured here as a 1964 model) and a sedan with a higher roof. A 30-hp opposed-twin-cylinder did the pushing. Sales hit 188,000 cars. Without the twin-kidney grille, the 700’s plain design seems better suited to the East German Trabant marque than to BMW. But while the 700 may look forgettable, it pulled the company away from the brink of financial ruin the first year it launched. Daimler-Benz stood ready to buy BMW in case it went over the brink. Had the Isetta been BMW’s only compact offering that year, just think of all the praise we’d never have written.The 02 series, known as the Neue Klasse, was not only a design revolution that would inspire BMWs to this very day; it created the luxury compact sport-sedan category that every brand has since copied. The slant-jawed 1500 debuted in 1962 with the first Hofmeister kink, the short, inward notch in the rear door glass brilliantly penned by designer Wilhelm Hofmeister. Fresh blood pumped underneath, with an 80-hp 1.5-liter inline-four that would expand several times throughout the sedan’s life span (1600, 1800, 2000) and among the coupes, which were first launched in 1966 (1502, 1602, 1802, and 2002). These cars were known for exemplary handling and quality construction. When the fuel-injected 130-hp 2002tii came out in 1971, the Neue Klasse  had peaked. BMW had built 339,000 regular 2002 models between 1968 and 1975 and just under 39,000 of the tii model that was considered a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While the orange 2002ti the museum displayed made do with one or two carburetors, each Neue Klasse model—including an electric version made for the 1972 Olympics in Munich—would define BMW’s success for the coming decades.In 1965, BMW introduced a larger, plusher coupe that combined its now trademark style of four round headlamps flanking the double kidneys. The 2000C and 2000CS had large custom glass housings for the headlamps in Europe, although U.S. laws required exposed round units. The Euro-spec car was polarizing, even though the basic body proportions were spot on. It wasn’t until the 1971 3.0 CS and CSi that BMW’s grand coupes matured into perfection. Just look at this sky-blue CSi, with its thin chrome strips and a fuel-injected 3.0-liter straight-six good for 200 horsepower (the U.S. only had the CS carbureted version, sadly). A three-speed automatic was optional, but the four-speed manual was divine. Production ended in 1975. The modern 435i has this car to thank.Just as the 02-series went racing, so too did the 3.0 in the form of the CSL, affectionately known as the Batmobile for its giant rear wing. BMW Motorsport was founded in 1972, and the factory racing team quickly racked up an enviable record of achievement. Between 1973 and 1979, the 3.0 CSL won six European touring car championships, and in 1975, BMW entered the U.S. IMSA series and clinched the manufacturer’s title that same year. The engine: A larger 3.5-liter six, with four valves per cylinder for the first time, hit 370 horsepower at 8000 rpm. Later,  turbocharged versions spooled up to 750 hp. The tricolor livery over white looks menacing, especially with side exhaust pipes and front slicks that are practically as wide as the rears. The roadgoing 3.0 CSL, of which only 1265 were made, relied on a lowered suspension and lightened components, such as aluminum hood and doors, a plastic rear bumper, thinner glass, and manual steering. Even the famed BMW tool kit went missing from the trunk.A precursor to the legendary M1, the gullwing-door 1972 Turbo concept was never intended to race. Just as the 1975 Bricklin SV-1 would do later, the Turbo declared that its mission was safety (including the traffic-cone-orange “safety colors” of the front and rear ends). But whereas  the M1 failed from a commercial standpoint, the Turbo concept employed several features that would end up on production models. Foam-filled bumpers with hydraulic dampers—similar to those on the SV-1—allowed them to withstand low-speed impacts without damage and previewed the modern “crash box” that isolates subframes from the body structure. The Turbo wouldn’t start until the driver fastened the seatbelt. Radar-based forward-collision alert did exactly what it does today (and sort of stopped the car automatically, with a fuel cutoff in place of braking). Anti-lock brakes and a lateral accelerometer were on board, the latter of which displayed a “red zone” as the vehicle approached its cornering limits. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, mounted amidships and borrowed from the 02 series, was turbocharged to 280 horsepower in the name of efficiency. Sounds an awful lot like a foreshadowing of today.You could say the Italians both blessed and cursed the M1. Giorgetto Giugiaro’s wedge-shaped design was dynamite. Lamborghini’s contract to build the car—which it never started, due to impending bankruptcy and accusations that it was funneling BMW’s money into its Cheetah project—was a disaster that delayed the project by two years. In 1979, BMW stringed together a few Italian suppliers to build most of the homologated road car, an effort that inflated the price more than 25 percent beyond that of the Porsche 911 Turbo. Sales were poor. For its track debut that year, the M1 failed in FIA Group 4, with DNFs at Le Mans and Watkins Glen and an underpowered showing in Group 5. BMW commissioned its own M1 spec-car series,  called Procar, for 1979 and 1980, but even with Niki Lauda at the wheel, it had no future, and BMW’s board shut the whole thing down. But BMW’s first exotic car was an experiment and, with 399 built, a rare one. Values have skyrocketed to more than $500,000 in the past three years. Can anyone really ding this hand-built classic, with a 3.5-liter inline-six derived from the 3.0 CSL race cars? As if the M1 wasn’t special enough, it wears not one but two BMW badges, one on each side of the tail.Everyone knows the BMW Three, up, down and sideways. In the “House of the Series” section of the BMW Museum, all generations of the 3-series show up except for the current F30, including the very 325iX Touring that one obsessed engineer built for himself before management greenlighted production. The first true “series” car was the 5-series in 1972. As the 02 successor, the 1975 3-series would cement BMW’s reputation for quick, sprightly, impeccable driver’s cars that would land on our 10Best list 22 times between 1992 and 2014. No other BMW model could break one million sales, a feat accomplished in 1981. BMW’s best-selling and most versatile car is still the brand’s core, even if we don’t like everything BMW has become. But you can’t ignore this car’s influence on the entire industry.This 840Ci in the museum’s special exhibit is only the base V-8 model of the most expensive car BMW sold between 1989 and 1999. The pillarless coupe went all-out on tech—windows that dropped from the frame when you open the door and electronic throttles were unheard of back then—including an M-tuned V-12 that made 380 horsepower in the stick-shift-only 850CSi (and became the basis for the McLaren F1’s monster engine). An M1-inspired nose and smooth, if not exciting, dynamics nonetheless had little impact over the Mercedes S-class coupe and SL roadsters. But it’s hard to argue against the 8’s sleek profile or the reality that no 8-series has existed since. Some 30,000 were made.BMW’s first electric prototype was a modified 1602 premiered for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, but its first dedicated EV was the 1991 E1. Weighing just 2200 pounds, the rear-motor E1 could hit 74 mph and 93 miles of range, though not simultaneously. A second version in 1993 could supposedly reach more than 150 miles. But sometime during development, an E1 caught fire during a recharge and burned part of a company building. It was never intended for market like today’s i3, but as the basis for an all-electric 3-series which only partially exists in the form of the 330e iPerformance.The main hall shows five immaculate roadsters from three decades: a white 1930 3/15 PS; a leather-strapped 1936 328; a 1989 Z1; and two James Bond specials, the 1995 Z3 and the 1999 Z8. The Z1 (1988–1991) is the strangest specimen, with doors that slide downward into the steel monocoque’s sills just for giggles. The Z3 has aged with grace, and the Z8, with its 507-derived shape, looks even more fabulous than it did on the big screen. We found no Z4, nor did we see any BMW penned by former design chief Chris Bangle on display in the museum. Make of that what you will.
from Car and Driver Blog http://www.caranddriver.com/flipbook/munich-masterpieces-18-highlights-from-the-bmw-museum

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