The history of BMW dates back to 1916 with the establishment of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, an aircraft producer. There were a couple of company mergers and the corporate name became Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) in 1922. They manufactured their first motorcycle in 1923 and became an auto manufacturer in 1928 as a result of buying a company called Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach. Before World War II, BMW’s main products were aircraft engines, motorcycles, and cars.
The BMW plants were heavily bombed by the Allies during the war, and BMW was restricted from making airplane engines or vehicles immediately after the war. By 1948, motorcycles were again being produced and car manufacturing returned in 1952.
Financially a difficult time for the company, BMW was almost taken over by Daimler-Benz until the company received a very large investment by half-brothers Herbert and Harald Quandt. Their father, Gunther, who joined the Nazi party in 1933, made a ton of money during the war with some of his businesses being acquired cheaply or free from Jewish owners and using as many as 50,000 slave laborers. It is reported that one of his battery factories even had their own on-site concentration camp including gallows.
After the war, the Soviets acquired at least three plants in East Germany and built cars and motorcycles, some with the BMW logo attached. Since Germany was not allowed to produce cars or motorcycles immediately after the war, BMW used almost any material they could get to make bicycles, pots, pans and other kitchen equipment. During the 1950s, BMW made some interesting cars including the front entry Isetta from 1955 to 1964, but it was a low-profit car despite good sales.
These were some pretty tough times for BMW. In 1959, the company was in debt and losing money. Ironically, American Motors and the English Rootes Group both tried to buy BMW. The chairman of the BMW supervisory board suggested at a meeting in December of that year that BMW merge with Daimler-Benz. Small shareholders and dealers protested, and the Quandt half-brothers increased their ownership so that by the end of November they owned two-thirds of the company, keeping it independent. Starting in 1960, the company began to develop new models called the “Neue Klasse” (New Class) four-door sedans which had front disc brakes and four-wheel independent suspension. BMW’s reputation for building sporting cars had begun.
This issue’s featured car is very unusual. It’s a very aerodynamic 1980 BMW M1 that has been owned by Alamo resident Dick Glass for 20 years. BMW formed the M1 division, a performance division, in 1978 and built its first midengine sports car. The plan was to coordinate this project with Lamborghini, but Lamborghini was having financial problems and went bankrupt so BMW proceeded alone.
According to the December 1981 “Car and Driver” magazine, “M” represents all of BMW’s important engineering projects a “1” stands for the project’s importance in the company’s engineering history. BMW M1 cars were built from 1978 to 1980 and never legally imported to the U.S., so Glass’s car is a “gray market” vehicle.
“There were 453 of these cars built, and 399 of them are street cars,” he said, “the balance were race cars.”
Glass, a retired mechanical engineer, bought this two-seater street car for $70,000.
“It’s a comfortable car. It has air conditioning and power windows, but it does not have power steering. It’s a midengine car which makes it good for racing,” he said.
The owner drives this car about 1,000 miles a year.
“It’s so rare that I want to take it to various shows. I don’t know how many people have come to me and said ‘I’ve never seen a M1,’ so that’s kind of fun.”
The car stands only 45 inches high and is 6 feet wide. It’s a hand-built car with a spectacular finish and interior. It has a 3.5-liter in-line six-cylinder engine rated at 277 horsepower teamed with a five-speed gear box. It’s a light car with a fiberglass body weighing only about 2,800 pounds and has a top speed of 150 mph. One unusual feature is that the classic three-spoke steering wheel has a thumb-operated horn button on each spoke.
He has no plans to sell the car, “but if I sell it, I would like to sell it to someone in this area who would still show it. It’s a stewardship thing.”
Glass is an admitted “car nut” and still has some toy cars made of rubber from his childhood. BMW is clearly his car of choice, though.
“I bought my first one in 2002, a 1970 sedan, and ever since then I have 10 or more BMWs.
OK, now a quiz. Without looking at the beginning of this column, can you remember the name of the aircraft producer who started BMW in 1916? Me neither, and I wrote it.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected]. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.