What can be said about BMW that hasn’t been said before?
The German luxury carmaker, which celebrated its 100th birthday this year, has for its entire history released a seemingly never-ending stream of breathtaking, record-setting, and smile-inducing machines that have consistently beguiled the automotively inclined.
The essence of BMW boils down to its uncanny ability to produce successful new ideas while remaining faithful to its heritage.
And that heritage, by the way, includes innumerable victories in motorsport — on two wheels and four.
Here is the story of 100 years of BMW, one of the best brands around.
The Bavarian Motor Works story begins with aircraft engines. Their IIIa radial engine quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best and most reliable of its time. Orders from the German government flooded in, overwhelming the small factory.
Now about that logo: While it is widely known as the 'propeller,' the blue and white center was meant to represent the Bavarian flag. It was designed by the brother of Karl Rapp, who founded BMW predecessor company Rapp Motorenwerke.
After the company was barred from building military-aircraft engines following World War I, BMW produced its first motorcycle, the R32, in 1923. It was very innovative.
While they are rarely sold, recent prices for R32s at auction include $163,000 for a 1924 model in 2009 and a $139,000 in 2011 for a 1925 model.
BMW built its first production car in 1928, the 3/15. It was a licensed copy of the British-designed Austin 7.
Investing in car manufacturing was fuelled by BMW's failure to find significant profit in making civilian aircraft engines. This was despite the fact that its engines, such as the 132 Hornet, were excellent.
The BMW 303 was also a significant first for the company: It is the origin of the famous kidney grille, which is still featured on all of their cars today.
The first six-cylinder car from BMW was the 328. It began an immensely successful racing tradition ...
... which included an overall win by the 328 at the 1940 Mille Miglia -- one of only three wins by a non-Italian make in the epic race's 30-year history.
Once the Nazis came to power, BMW again began producing military equipment. Forced laborers built machines that fuelled the German war effort; most were prisoners of war or inmates of the nearby Dachau concentration camp.
After the Allies triumphed, BMW's plant was left in ruin, and the company spent the next decade on the verge of collapse.
The Isetta, designed by Italian refrigerator company Iso, was licence-built by BMW from 1955 to 1962. The single-cylinder car saw only moderate success, but it was enough to get the ball rolling again.
BMW returned to developing their immensely powerful supercharged motorcycles after the war. Wilhelm Noll and Fritz Crohn won the Sidecar World Championship (which remains to this day an actual thing) on a BMW RS54 in 1954 and 1956.
What was the big deal with BMW motorcycles? It's all about the way the engine was mounted. Positioning the cylinders transversely (or sticking out of the sides) meant better cooling and allowed for a more compact bike. The 'boxer' layout remains to this day on BMW motorcycles.
Since the very beginning, BMW motorcycles have also used a drive shaft rather than a chain or belt.
Stunning as it is, the BMW 507 was a spectacular commercial flop. After production costs skyrocketed, BMW had to pull the plug before the program dragged the entire company into bankruptcy. Only 252 were ever built.
But don't feel sorry for the lovely 507: The surviving cars will fetch $2 million to $3 million at auction today, while the car has lived on in spirit in the more than 75 years of BMW roadsters that followed it.
Introduced in 1961, the BMW 1500 was the first of the 'New Class,' a trifecta of models that definitively secured BMW's financial success as a carmaker. Many of the styling cues on this model inspired the next 55 years of their design language.
From the New Class came the 02 series, which included the 2002 turbo, to this day one of the most beloved BMWs ever.
Another great BMW: the 3.0 CSL. This is a racing variant and one of BMWs famous 'art cars.' American sculptor Alexander Calder painted this one.
A Bavarian Tesla? This 1972 BMW 1602 is indeed fully electric. But without the battery technology of today, the 1602 used nearly 800 pounds of traditional lead-acid car batteries packed under the hood.
Though even the company's current 'i' line is seeing only limited success, BMW has toyed with fully electric cars for a long, long time.
In 1975 BMW launched the 3 Series, and in the 41 years and five generations since, the car remains just about the quintessential luxurious, sporty set of wheels.
The M1: BMW's first mid-engine car and their only supercar to date -- 453 were built from 1978 to 1981.
In 1986, BMW put the engine from the M1 into their E28 5 Series sedan (left). Thus the 'M' car -- and the entire concept of the 'businessman's express,' or high-performance sedan -- was born. To this day the M5 is widely praised as being the best of its type.
The E30 M3, from the late 80's, just drips coolness. It's an automotive cult classic. Good luck finding a decent one for less than $50,000.
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Bond in a Bimmer: For a three-movie stretch in the 1990s, James Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) drove a BMW Z3, this Z8, and a massive, V12 powered 750iL.
The Z8, designed by Henrik Fisker, was heavily inspired by the great 507 roadster.
In 1994, BMW acquired the British Rover group, which included the MINI brand. In 2001, they launched a redesigned Cooper, which would be followed by ...
... a growing lineup of cars, including the Clubman, Countryman, Paceman, and many versions of the classic Mini Cooper.
BMW has made several attempts at success in Formula One -- the best period being in the early 2000s with the Williams F1 team.
... and the range-topping 7-Series sedan, which is a luxuriously appointed living-room-on-wheels and a runner-up for BI's 2015 Car of the Year ...
... and the i3, an all-electric city car and the smallest of BMW's young 'i' line of electric or electric-hybrid cars. It is so far the third-best-selling electric car on the market, behind only the Tesla Model S and the Nissan Leaf.
At the top end of the 'i' range is the i8, a hybrid sports car that looks like a futuristic version of M1. Business Insider loved it.
BMW has an uncommon ability to create the automotive style and technology of the future while remaining linked to its own decorated past. This is their 328 Hommage concept.
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