History of BMW

BMW, an acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke in German, or Bavarian Motor Works in English, is a leading German automaker of luxury cars and motorbikes. It is worth noting that in its early days, the company also produced aircraft engines until 1945.

Founded in 1916, BMW is headquartered in Munich, Bavaria. With a global presence, it has production plants in Germany, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2022, BMW ranked as the world’s third largest automotive company by revenue, with around 23 billion euros in turnover.

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The Quandt family, meanwhile, holds the largest shareholding in the company with almost 46% of the company’s shares, with the remainder of the company’s ownership in the hands of investment funds and private and institutional investors.

The brand markets its vehicles under the BMW (including the BMW M sub-brands for high-performance models and BMW i for electric vehicles), Mini and Rolls-Royce brands. Motorbikes are marketed under the BMW Motorrad brand.

BMW also has a strong history in motorsport, particularly in passenger cars, Formula 1, sports cars and the Isle of Man TT.

View list of all BMWs produced

BMW History 1916-1923: Production of aircraft engines

BMW aircraft engines

BMW traces its origins to three separate German companies: Rapp Motorenwerke, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke and Automobilwerk Eisenach. The history of the name itself begins with Rapp Motorenwerke, a manufacturer of aircraft engines. In April 1917, after the departure of founder Karl Friedrich Rapp, the company was renamed Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW). BMW’s first product was the BMW IIIa aircraft engine, known for its good fuel economy and high-altitude performance. The resulting orders for the IIIa engines from the German army caused a rapid expansion for BMW.

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After the end of World War I in 1918, BMW was forced to cease aircraft production due to the terms of the Armistice Treaty of Versailles; to stay in business, BMW produced agricultural equipment, household goods and railway brakes. In 1922, former major shareholder Camillo Castiglioni bought the rights to the BMW name, which led to the descendant of Rapp Motorenwerke being renamed Süddeutsche Bremse AG (known today as Knorr-Bremse). Castiglioni was also an investor in another aircraft company, called “Bayerische Flugzeugwerke”, which he renamed BMW.

BMW history 1923-1939: production of motorbikes and automobiles

As the restrictions of the Armistice Treaty began to be lifted, BMW began motorbike production in 1923, with the R32 model.

BMW’s automobile production began in 1928, when the company bought the automobile company Automobilwerk Eisenach. Automobilwerk Eisenach’s current model was the Dixi 3/15, a licensed copy of the Austin 7 which had begun production in 1927. After the takeover, the Dixi 3/15 became the BMW 3/15, BMW’s first production car.

In 1932, the BMW 3/20 became the first BMW car designed entirely by BMW. It was powered by a four-cylinder engine, which BMW designed on the basis of the Austin 7 engine.

BMW’s first inline six-cylinder engine was launched in 1933, in the BMW 303. Throughout the 1930s, BMW expanded its model range to include sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars.

BMW History 1939-1945: World War II

With German rearmament in the 1930s, the company again began producing aircraft engines for the Luftwaffe. The Munich factory made extensive use of forced labour: foreign civilians, prisoners of war and inmates of the Dachau concentration camp. Among its successful World War II engine designs were the air-cooled BMW 132 and BMW 801 radial engines, and the pioneering BMW 003 axial-flow turbojet, which powered the small jet-powered fighter of 1944-1945, the Heinkel He 162 Spatz. The BMW 003 jet engine was first tested on the first Messerschmitt Me 262 prototype, the Me 262 V1, but in 1942 the BMW engine tests failed on take-off.

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The few test examples of the Me 262 A-1b built used the more developed version of the 003 engine, recording an official top speed of 800 km/h (497 mph). The first four-engined jet aircraft ever used was the sixth and eighth prototypes of the Ar 234 reconnaissance bomber, which used the BMW 003 engines.

Messerschmit-Me 262 equipped with BMW engine

BMW History 1945-1959: Post-war Reconstruction

During World War II, many BMW production facilities had been heavily bombed. BMW’s East German facilities were seized by the Soviet Union and the remaining facilities were banned by the Allies from producing motorbikes or automobiles. During this ban, BMW used basic second-hand and salvaged equipment to make pots and pans, and then expanded into other kitchen supplies and bicycles.

In 1947, BMW received permission to resume motorbike production and its first post-war motorbike, the R24, was launched in 1948. BMW was still banned from automobile production. However, the Bristol Airplane Company (BAC) produced cars in England based on BMW’s pre-war models, with plans that BAC had taken from BMW’s German offices.

Car production resumed in 1952, with the BMW 501 large sedan. During the 1950s, BMW expanded its model range with sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars. In 1954, the BMW 502 was the first BMW to use a V8 engine. To provide an affordable model, BMW began production of the Isetta microcar (under licence from Iso) in 1955. Two years later, the four-seat BMW 600 was based on a stretched version of the Isetta design. In 1959, the BMW 600 was replaced by the larger BMW 700 coupé/sedan.

BMW 501

History of BMW 1959-1968: near bankruptcy and New Class

By 1959, BMW was in debt and losing money. The Isetta was selling well, but with small profit margins, its 501-based luxury sedans were not selling well enough to be profitable and were becoming increasingly obsolete. On the other hand, the 503 coupe and 507 roadster were too expensive to be profitable. Their 600, a four-seater based on the Isetta, was selling poorly. The motorbike market imploded in the mid-1950s with more affluence driving Germans away from motorbikes and towards cars.

At BMW’s annual general meeting on 9 December 1959, Dr. Hans Feith, chairman of the BMW supervisory board, proposed a merger with Daimler-Benz. The dealers and small shareholders opposed this suggestion and rallied around a counter-proposal by Dr. Friedrich Mathern, which gained enough support to stop the merger. At that time, the Quandt Group, led by the brothers Herbert and Harald Quandt, had recently increased its holdings in BMW and had become the largest shareholders. In 1960, the development programme began for a new model range, called the “Neue Klasse” (New Class) project. The resulting New Class four-door sedans, introduced in 1962, were characterised by the company’s financial savings and the establishment of BMW’s identity as a producer of sports sedans.

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In 1965, the New Class range was extended with the 2000 C and 2000 CS luxury coupés. The range was further expanded in 1966 with the iconic BMW 02 series compact coupés.

BMW acquired the Hans Glas company based in Dingolfing, Germany, in 1966. The Glas vehicles were briefly christened BMW until the company was fully absorbed. The impression was that the acquisition was mainly due to access to Glas’ timing belt development. However, this factory was outmoded and BMW’s biggest immediate gain was, according to the company itself, a stock of highly qualified engineers. The Glas factories continued to build a limited number of their existing models for some time.

BMW 2000

History of BMW 1968-1978: New Six, 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series

In 1968, BMW began production of its first inline six-cylinder engine since World War II. This engine coincided with the launch of the New Six large sedans (the predecessor of the 7 Series) and the new CS coupés (the predecessor of the 6 Series).

The first 5 Series midsize sedans were introduced in 1972 to replace the New Class sedans. The 5 Series platform was also used for the 6 Series coupes, which were introduced in 1976. In 1975, the first 3 Series compact sedan/coupe model was introduced. The large 7 Series sedans were introduced in 1978.

BMW Serie 5

BMW History 1978-1989: The M Division

The 1978 BMW M1 was BMW’s first mid-engined sports car and was developed in conjunction with Lamborghini. It was also the first car produced by BMW’s motorsport division BMW M. In 1980, the M division produced its first model based on a regular production vehicle, the E12 M535i. The M535i is the predecessor of the BMW M5, which was introduced in 1985 based on the E28 platform.

In 1983, BMW introduced its first diesel engine, the M21. The first all-wheel drive BMW, the E30 325iX, went into production in 1985.

The 1986 E32 750i was BMW’s first V12 model. The E32 was also the first sedan available with a long wheelbase body style (with “iL” or “Li” lettering).

The BMW M3 was introduced in 1985, based on the E30 platform.

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History of BMW 1989-1994: 8 Series, Hatchbacks

The 8 Series large coupé range was introduced in 1989 and in 1992 was the first application of BMW’s first V8 engine in 25 years, the M60. It was also the first BMW to use a multi-link rear suspension, a design that was implemented for mass production in the 1990 E36 3 Series.

The E34 5-series, introduced in 1988, was the first 5-series to be produced with all-wheel drive.

In 1989, the limited-production Z1 began BMW’s line of two-seat convertible Z-series models.

In 1993, the BMW 3 Series Compact was BMW’s first hatchback model (except for the limited-production 02 series “Touring” models). These hatchback models formed a new entry-level model range below the other 3 Series models.

In 1992, BMW acquired a large stake in the California-based industrial design studio Designworks USA, which they fully acquired in 1995.

The 1993 McLaren F1 is powered by a BMW V12 engine.

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BMW History 1994-1999: Purchase of Rover, BMW Z3

In 1994, BMW bought the British Rover Group (which at the time consisted of the Rover, Land Rover, Mini and MG brands, as well as the rights to defunct brands, including Austin and Morris), and acquired it for six years. In 2000, Rover was incurring heavy losses and BMW decided to sell several of the brands. The MG and Rover brands were sold to the Phoenix consortium to form MG Rover, while Land Rover took over Ford. BMW, meanwhile, retained the rights to build the new Mini, which was launched in 2001.

In 1995, the E38 725tds was the first 7 Series to use a diesel engine. The E39 5 Series was also introduced in 1995, and was the first 5 Series to use rack-and-pinion steering and a significant number of suspension parts made from lightweight aluminium.

The BMW Z3 convertible and two-seat coupé models were introduced in 1995. These were the first models manufactured exclusively outside Germany (in the USA).

In 1998, the E46 3 Series was introduced, with the M3 model featuring BMW’s most powerful non-turbocharged engine to date.


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BMW History 1999-2006: SUV models, BMW buys Rolls-Royce

BMW’s first SUV, the BMW X5 (E53), was introduced in 1999. The X5 was a major departure from BMW’s image of sporty “sports cars”, yet it was a great success and led to the introduction of other BMW X Series. The smaller BMW X3 was launched in 2003.

The 2001 E65 7 was the first BMW model to use a 6-speed automatic transmission.

In 2002, the Z4 two-seat coupé / convertible replaced the Z3. In 2004, the 1-series hatchbacks replaced the compact 3-series models as BMW’s entry-level models.

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The 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom was the first Rolls-Royce vehicle produced under BMW ownership. This was the end result of complicated contractual negotiations that began in 1998 when Rolls-Royce licensed the use of the Rolls-Royce name and logo to BMW, but Vickers sold the remaining elements of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars to Volkswagen. In addition, BMW had supplied Rolls-Royce engines since 1998 for use in the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.

In 2005, BMW’s first V10 engine was introduced in the E60 M5. The E60 platform is also used for the E63/E64, which reintroduced the 6 Series models after a 14-year hiatus.


BMW History 2006-2013: Turbocharged Engines

BMW’s first mass-production turbocharged petrol engine was the six-cylinder N54, which debuted in the 2006 E92 335i. In 2011, the F30 3 Series was launched, with turbocharged engines being used in all models. This shift to turbocharging and smaller engines was a reflection of general trends in the automotive industry. The M3 model based on the F30 platform is the first M3 to use a turbocharged engine.

BMW’s first turbocharged V8 engine, the BMW N63, was introduced in 2008. Despite the downsizing trend, in 2008 BMW began production of its first turbocharged V12 engine, the BMW N74. In 2011, the F10 M5 became the first M5 model to use a turbocharged engine.

In 2007, BMW acquired the production rights to Husqvarna Motorcycles for 93 million euros.

The X6 SUV was introduced in 2008. The X6 attracted controversy for its unusual combination of coupé and SUV design.

In 2009, the BMW X1 compact SUV was introduced. The fastback body style of the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo was also introduced in 2009, based on the 5 Series platform.

Controversial designer Chris Bangle announced his departure from BMW in February 2009, after working on the design team for almost seventeen years.

BMW’s first hybrid car, the F01 ActiveHybrid 7, was introduced in 2010.

BMW F10 M5

BMW News 2013-present: electric/hybrid power

BMW launched its first electric car, the BMW i3, in 2013. The i3 is also the first mass-produced car to have a structure made primarily of carbon fibre. BMW’s first hybrid sports car (and its first mid-engined car since the M1) is called the BMW i8 and was introduced in 2014. The i8 is also the first car to use BMW’s first inline engine, the BMW B38.

In 2013, the BMW 4 Series replaced the 3 Series coupe and convertible models. Many elements of the 4 Series remained shared with the equivalent 3 Series model. Similarly, the BMW 2 Series replaced the 1 Series coupe and convertible models in 2013. The 2 Series was produced in coupé (F22), five-seat MPV (F45) and seven-seat MPV (F46). The latter two body styles are the first front-wheel drive vehicles produced by BMW. The F48 X1 also includes some front-wheel drive models.

The BMW X4 compact SUV was introduced in 2014.

The 2016 G11 740e and F30 / F31 330e are the first plug-in hybrid versions of the 7 Series and 3 Series, respectively.

In summer 2018, the new version of the 8 Series is introduced and goes on sale in autumn 2018.

BMW F10 M5