Born out of the aviation industry, BMW (or Bayerische Motoren Werke) started making cars in 1928, producing the Austin Seven under license under the Dixi name. Not long after, in 1932, the first true member of the BMW automobile family, the 3/20 PS, was introduced to the world.
Although it faced difficulties in the post-war years, the BMW marque quickly bounced back, establishing itself as one of the top manufacturers of sports saloons in Europe, with a reputation for quality engineering, reliability and fine dynamics as ‘the ultimate driving machine‘.
The future classic – i8
On styling alone, the i8 has the makings of a future classic. But it’s the forward-looking technology under the hood, together with how the motor industry develops over the next few years that will truly determine this car’s future classic status.
A plug-in hybrid sports car, that can cover the 0-60 mph dash in just 4.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 155 mph. Yet also returns 135mpg and planet-friendly 49g/km Co2, making it eligible for free road tax in the UK. Built around a carbon-fibre monocoque, the car bucks the hybrid trend of being, well a bit lardy. The i8 weighs in at 1490kg, about the same as a new Porsche 911S, which is very impressive.
At a whicker under £100,000, the i8’s cutting-edge looks and technology doesn’t come cheap. On the other hand, the i8 has no direct competitor right now and BMW have invested so much into their ‘i’ cars you have to wonder just how much profit they are making from them. If we had to pick one car from the current BMW range as a future classic it would be the i8. Time will tell if it turns out to be the car of the future too.
Buy one while you can – Z1
These days the Z1, the first of BMW’s ‘Z’ sports cars, is more famous for the way it’s doors opened than clever pioneering ideas.
Z stood for Zunkuft or ‘future’ in German and the Z1 was a car packed with clever future ideas. The thermoplastic body panels were easily changed, so a BMW technician could change the colour of a Z1 in a day, without going anywhere near a spraygun. Although based on the E30 3-series, the Z1 pioneered BMW’s multilink, Z axle rear suspension. While the flat under tray sucked the car towards the ground and kept the Z1’s pretty shape free from ungainly skirts and spoilers. Oh and the doors, opened with the press of a button, dropping down into the sills.
BMW only made 8,000 Z1’s between 1988 and 1991, most in Germany. The car wasn’t particularly well-received at the time. A high price put it up against more powerful sports car competition. A quarter of a century later, none of that matters one jot and the Z1 can be appreciated as a pretty, clever and rare BMW sports car. Whose value is now very much on the up.
The superstar – 3.0 CSL
Launched in 1971, the 3.0CSL or Batmobile, as it was known to BMW fans, was a homologated version of the 3.0CS, with BMW making 1000 cars so they were eligible to enter Group 2 European Touring Car Racing.
The “L” in CSL, stands for lightweight and in the transition from CS to road going track weapon, BMW put the standard car on a serious diet. The front bumper was deleted, the rear bumper replaced with one moulded from fibreglass. Then there were thinner body panels, plexiglass side windows, aluminium doors and bonnet. While wide, flared chromed arches, black go-faster stripes and, on only 37 left hand drive cars, that controversial Batmobile rear wing, prepared it for the track.
But it was on the racetrack the 3.0 CSL earned it’s superstar status. Winning six European Touring Car Championships through the 1970s, a class victory at Le Mans and remaining a motorsport frontrunner, long after the road car went out of production.
The game changer – 1500
When BMW faced financial trouble in the early 1960s it was the 1500 that turned things around and established the reputation as one of the most respected Marques in Europe. A reputation that has lasted far beyond the sixties.
The German middle-class expanded rapidly in the late fifties and early sixties. BMW, with a range made up of budget bubble cars and expensive saloons, didn’t really have a car for this Nueue Klasse to drive. They gambled the lot on the Michelotti designed 1500. Building a brand new factory and facing financial ruin if the car didn’t succeed.
Thankfully the gamble paid off. The 1500 was a game changer for BMW. Introducing engineering and styling themes that still exist to this day (the famous Hofmeister kink) and setting BMW on the prosperous journey that led to the mighty 3-series saloon.
The legend – E30 M3
Although not the first car to wear the famous ‘M’ badge (that honour belongs to the M1 super car of 1978), the 1986 ‘E30’ M3 made a name for itself on the track, becoming the most successful car ever in touring car racing, while playing a big part in defining BMW cars as ‘The Ultimate driving machine’.
First released in 1986, BMW had to make 5000 versions of the E30 M3 to homologate the car for Group A Touring Car Racing.
They did this by making the M3 road car, lighter, stiffer and sharper than the standard E30 saloon. Powering the car with a bespoke four cylinder 2.3L engine, engineered by BMW engine-guru Paul Rosche, responsible for the turbocharged Formula 1 engine that powered Nelson Piquet’s 1983 Formula One World Championship title.
Upon release, the M3 name quickly became motoring legend gold dust. Winning on the racetrack, while symbolising the ‘ultimate driving machine‘ ethos to the man in the street. Who started buying more humble 3-series models by the millions.
30 years, and five generations of BMW M3 later, little has changed and the E30 M3 remains one of the most desirable cars ever to wear the coveted M-badge.