The first BMW produced, the BMW 3/15
The BMW 3/15 was the first car produced by BMW, in its first version as “Dixi” between 1927 and 1929 and then, from October 1928, in three subsequent versions as BMW from July 1929 until March 1932, when BMW relinquished the licence. This is its history.
Today, BMW is one of the world’s great luxury and sports car manufacturers, but its beginnings were humbler.
It all goes back to 1896 when Heinrich Erhard founded the company ‘Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach’ in Eisenach, Thuringia. His original plan was to make weapons for the imperial army, but later, because he saw economic possibilities in the fledgling automobile industry, he bought the licence to build the French Decauville car and sold it under the name ‘Wartburg’. In 1903, Erhard left the company, which was renamed DIXI-Werke.
Under the new technical management of Willy Seck, the company gained a reputation for reliable cars and, after World War I, the company was bought by the ‘Gothaer Waggonfabrik’.
Economically, the 1920s were a turbulent decade in Germany. Phases of rapid economic growth were followed by phases of recession and hyperinflation, yet the market for small, cheap cars was growing in Germany, and between 1926 and 1929 the number of registered cars doubled. So the DIXI company decided to build a small car to get its share of this rapidly growing market, but instead of developing a new car, it was decided to build the Austin Seven under licence.
The Austin, which can be considered the ‘European Ford Model T’ was manufactured under licence in the various markets in which it was present, in Germany it was built as DIXI, in France as Rosengart, in the USA as Bantam and even in Japan it was manufactured under the name Datsun. In 1928 the DIXI company began production of the car as the DIXI 3/15 hp. with minor changes to the original design, including a change of the steering to the left and a switch to metric.
After the First World War, the situation for BMW, which was founded as an aircraft engine manufacturer, became difficult, because the Treaty of Versailles severely restricted aircraft manufacturing in Germany and the company had to look for other fields of business (see full history of BMW). So BMW turned to the manufacture of truck and boat engines, motorbikes and later, when DIXI went bankrupt, took the opportunity to buy the Austin licence and the Eisenach factory and for the first few months, production continued as BMW 3/15 HP DA1.
But BMW wanted to build the car with a more modern steel body instead of the original Austin / DIXI body, so in April 1929 production began on the modernised 3/15 HP DA2 with a steel body, heavily influenced by the French Rosengart version. The engine, transmission and suspension remained unchanged, designing a convertible, sedan, coupé and touring car.
Production lasted until 1932 when the Austin licence expired, being replaced by the 3/20 and in 1933 with the 303 model and around 20,000 DIXI/BMW 3/15 hp were built.
Characteristics of the BMW 3/15:
- 747 cc, 15 hp (11 kW) engine
3-speed manual transmission
Wheelbase 1,905 mm
Weight approx. 400 kg
Top speed: 75 km/h (45 mph)
Acceleration 8 to 40 km/h: 10 seconds
Fuel consumption: approx. 5.5 L / 100 km (5.5 l / 100 km)