BMW famously advertises itself as “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and it would be difficult to argue with the tagline. Today, many of us know BMW for the sporty and luxurious cars we see on the road. And while we would love to get behind the wheel of a Bimmer (not a Beamer or Beemer - that’s motorcycles) and simply ride in style to our destination, one can still appreciate the company’s place in the world of transportation. BMW has a rich history of innovation that stretches back to before the first World War. Read on for a few things you should know about BMW from its beginnings to now.
1. BMW made a little bit of everything
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (or Bavarian Motor Works) was founded in Germany in March 1916 and refounded as BMW in 1922. As with many modern car manufacturers, their beginnings did not immediately involve making what you see on the road today. The company’s first products were high-quality fighter aircraft engines. After the Treaty of Versailles forbade the construction of aircraft in Germany after World War I, BMW began producing everything from motorcycle and bus engines and farm equipment to household items and railway brakes. Even today, BMW still enjoys a long history of motorcycle manufacturing and designs airplane and passenger train interiors.
2. BMW produced its first car in 1928
Automobilwerk Eisenach was a German car manufacturer founded in 1896. Beginning in 1904, they began producing a brand of cars called Dixi, specifically the Dixi DA-1. Enter BMW, which had set its sights on automobile production after making motorcycles and other miscellanies for several years. BMW acquired Automobilwerk Eisenach in 1928 and, thus, the rights to manufacture the pre-designed Dixi. The first car manufactured by BMW was called the Dixi, but BMW abandoned the name a year later when they upgraded the model to the more widely known BMW 3/15 DA-2.
3. The logo is not quite what you think.
A propellor, right? It’s a nod to their roots in aircraft manufacturing, right? Not exactly. The BMW logo features the white and blue of the Bavarian flag, a simple tribute to its hometown. Once, however, in 1929, a BMW advertisement showed the logo layered over the propellor of an airplane to promote a new aircraft engine. The enduring myth was born thanks to a clever advertiser. The company never expressly refuted the connection, so the misconception lives on.
4. BMW almost became Mercedes
Fast forward to the 1950s, and BMW has fallen on rocky times. In a board meeting, the head of BMW management delivered an ultimatum - declare bankruptcy or allow a future competitor to buy up the BMW brand and operation. Daimler-Benz (later Mercedes-Benz) was the competitor in question. BMW was saved by a board member named Herbert Quandt, who, against the advice of his bankers, began to raise his stake in the company to the point where he could secure an agreement allowing him to purchase the company himself. To this day, members of the Quandt family still own stock in the company.
5. BMW owns a few famous car brands
In a half-century turnaround, BMW went from the brink of bankruptcy to pursuing other manufacturers. In 1994 BMW purchased the British Rover Group and now produces vehicles like Mini Cooper, Land Rover, and Rover MG. BMW modified the Mini Cooper to its own high standards and even utilized some Mini concepts to design its compact BMW Series One vehicles. In 1998, BMW purchased Rolls-Royce, furthering its pursuit of acquiring prominent English car brands. (Want to know what makes Rolls-Royce so exceptional? Check out our previous post!).
6. BMW has been building electric cars since 1972
BMW's first foray into electric vehicles was the 1602e, and although it wasn’t ready for consumers, it was a landmark step in the company’s history of innovation. The 1602e used 12 12-volt batteries (totaling nearly 800 lbs) and could only travel roughly 40 miles on one charge. Although not considered a success, the 1602e paced the long-distance runners at the 1972 Munich Olympics - a better option than exhaust fume-producing alternatives. Since then, BMW has continued to test and iterate over the years, all building to the luxury consumer electric cars of today and beyond. The company expects electric vehicles to make up 25% of its sales by 2026.
7. BMW built a Lamborghini
Making further moves in 1972, BMW had set its sights on not only entering the world of motorsports but did so with the express desire of crushing their rivals at Porsche. BMW knew the vehicle had to be a mid-engine concept but lacked the time and resources to develop a car worthy of competition. Instead, they struck an agreement with Lamborghini, who had designed and prototyped a vehicle for the occasion (Back to the Future fans might recognize another of the designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s, famous cars: the DMC Delorean). However, Lamborghini’s financial situation became uncertain at that time, and they could not complete the project. BMW opted to finish building the car primarily by itself, and the BMW M1 was born. While not exactly blowing Porsche out of the water, the model brought a variety of successes and accolades to BMW.
8. The BMW headquarters is shaped like a four-cylinder engine.
Located in Munich, Germany, the engine-shaped BMW headquarters is widely considered one of the city's most revolutionary examples of modern architecture. The original plans consisted of 22 floors of offices, boardrooms, and a basement, altogether reaching around 330 feet into the sky. Four vertical cylinders in the shape of BMW’s famed engine stand grouped, divided horizontally in its center by a mold in the facade. Even though the highest-performing BMW cars feature six cylinders, much of the company’s legacy rests on their building of four-cylinder engines. The building took four years to construct and was completed just in time for the Munich Olympic Games in 1972.
Finally, we’ll leave you with a few BMW bonus facts for your next trivia night:
The signature BMW grille is called the Kidney Grille and first debuted on the BMW 303 in 1933.
The nicknames “Beamer” or “Beemer” refer to BMW motorcycles, while “Bimmer” refers to automobiles.
BMW still manufactures many authentic parts for its vehicles and motorcycles dating back to pre-WWII.
BMW once built the world’s fastest motorcycle in 1937, which went 137.7 miles per hour.
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