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BMW AG (an abbreviation for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, or in English, Bavarian Motor Works), is a German company and manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles. BMW is the parent company of the Mini and Rolls-Royce car brands, and, formerly, Rover.

In German, the acronym BMW is pronounced "b:eh - emm - v:eh". In North America and some other regions, BMW cars are referred to as "bimmers," and motorcycles referred as "beamers". The company's slogans in English are "The Ultimate Driving Machine" and "Sheer Driving Pleasure".



BMW was founded by Karl Friedrich Rapp in October 1913, originally as an aircraft engine manufacturer, Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke. The Milbertshofen district of Munich location was chosen because it was close to the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik site, a German aircraft manufacturer. The blue-and-white circular logo BMW still uses (illustrated above right) is a stylized spinning aircraft propeller, and dates from this period in the company's history. The design also alludes to the blue and white checkered flag of Bavaria.

  • United Bimmer - A growing BMW community offering tech support forums, a DIY (Do It Yourself) knowledge base, a wallpaper gallery, a Rate-My-Car system, and other resources for BMW enthusiasts.

In 1916 the company secured a contract to build V12 engines for Austria-Hungary. Needing extra financing, Rapp gained the support of Camillo Castiglioni and Max Friz, the company was reconstituted as the Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. Over-expansion caused difficulties; Rapp left and the company was taken over by the Austrian industrialist Franz Josef Popp in 1917, and named BMW AG in 1918.

After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles (1919) prohibited the production of aircraft in Germany. Otto closed his factory and BMW switched to manufacturing railway brakes.

In 1919 BMW designed their first motorcycle engine to be used in a model called the Victoria which was built by a company in Nuremburg.

In 1923 BMW built their first model motorcycle the R32. The R32 had notably a 500cc air-cooled horizontally-opposed engine. A feature that would resonate among their various models for decades to come... albeit with displacement increases and newer technology.

In 1927 the tiny Dixi, an Austin Seven produced under licence, began production in Eisenach. BMW bought the company the following year, and this became the company's first car, the BMW 3/15. By 1933 BMW were producing cars that could be called truly theirs, offering steadily more advanced inline 6-cylinder sports and saloon cars. The pre-war cars culminated in the beautiful 327 saloon and 328 roadster, fast 2-litre cars, both very advanced for their time.

World War II

BMW motorcycles, specifically the BMW R 12 and the BMW R 75 combination were used extensively by the Reconnaissance formations of German panzer and motorised divisions of the Heer, Waffen SS and Luftwaffe.

BMW was also a major supplier of engines to the Luftwaffe and of engines and vehicles, especially motorcyles, to the Wehrmacht. The aero-engines included the 801, one of the most powerful available. Over 30,000 were manufactured up to 1945. BMW also researched jet engines, producing the BMW 003, and rocket based weapons. BMW has admitted to using between 25,000 and 30,000 slave labourers during this period, consisting of both inmates of infamous concentration camps such as Dachau and prisoners of war.

The BMW works were heavily bombed towards the end of the war. Of its sites, those in eastern Germany (Eisenach, Dürrerhof, Basdorf and Zühlsdorf) were seized by the Soviets. The factory in Munich was largely destroyed.

Aftermath of WWII

After the war the Munich factory took some time to restart production in any volume. BMW was banned from manufacturing for three years by the Allies and did not produce a car model until 1952.

In the east, the company's factory at Eisenach was taken over by the state-owned Awtowelo group. That company offered "BMWs" for sale until 1951, when the Bavarian company prevented use of the trademarks: the name, the logo and the "double-kidney" radiator grille.

The cars were then branded EMW (Eisenacher Motoren Werke), production continuing until 1955.

In the west, the BAC, Bristol Aeroplane Company, inspected the factory, and returned to Britain with plans for the 326, 327 and 328 models. These plans, which became official war reparations, along with BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler allowed the newly formed Bristol Cars to produce a new, high-quality sports saloon, the 400 by 1947, a car so similar to the BMW 327 that it even kept the famous BMW grille.

Post-war history

In 1952, BMW produced its first passenger car since the war, but its attempts to get into the premium sector were not commercially successful; models such as the acclaimed BMW 507 were too expensive to build profitably and were low volume. By the late 1950s, it was making bubble cars such as the Isetta. In 1959 BMW's management suggested selling the whole concern to Daimler-Benz. Major shareholder, Herbert Quandt was close to agreeing such a deal, but changed his mind at the last minute because of opposition from the workforce and trade unions and advice from the board chairman, Kurt Golda. Instead Quandt increased his share in BMW to 50% against the advice of his bankers, and he was instrumental in turning the company around.

That same year, BMW launched the 700, a small car with an air-cooled, rear-mounted 697 cubic cm boxer engine from the R67 motorcycle. Its bodywork was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and the 2+2 model had a sporty look. There was also a more powerful RS model for racing. Competition successes in the 700 began to secure BMW's reputation for sports sedans.

At the Frankfurt show in 1961, BMW launched the 1500, a powerful compact sedan, with front disc brakes and four-wheel independent suspension. This modern specification further cemented BMW's reputation for sporting cars. It was the first BMW to officially feature the "Hofmeister kink", the rear window line that has been the hallmark of all BMWs since then.

The "New Class" 1500 was developed into 1600 and 1800 models. In 1966, the two-door version of the 1600 was launched, along with a convertible in 1967. These models were called the '02' series—the 2002 being the most famous—and began the bloodline that later developed into the BMW 3 Series.

In 1968, BMW launched its large "New Six" sedans, the 2500, 2800, and American Bavaria, and coupés, the 2.5 CS and 2800 CS.

By the 1970s, BMW was commercially successful and in December 1971, moved in to its present HQ in Munich, architecturally modelled after four cylinders.

In 1972, the 5 Series was launched to replace the New Class sedans, with a body styled by Marcello Gandini. The New Class coupes were replaced by the 3 Series in 1975, and the New Six became the 7 Series in 1977. Thus the three-tier sports sedan range was formed, and BMW essentially followed this formula into the 1990s. Other cars, like the 6 Series coupés that replaced the CS and the M1, were also added to the mix as the market demanded.

"The English Patient"

Between 1994 and 2000, under the leadership of Bernd Pischetsrieder, BMW owned the Rover Group in an attempt to get into mass market production, buying it from British Aerospace. This brought the Rover, Mini, Land Rover and Triumph brands under BMW ownership.

The venture was not successful. For years, Rover tried to rival BMW, if not in product, then in market positioning and "snob appeal". BMW found it difficult to reposition the English automaker alongside its own products and the Rover division was faced with endless changes in its marketing strategy. In the six years under BMW, Rover was positioned as a premium automaker, a mass-market automaker, a division of BMW and an independent unit.

BMW was more successful with the Mini and Land Rover brands, which did not have parallels in its own range at the time.

In 2000, BMW disposed of Rover after years of losses, with Rover cars going to the Phoenix Consortium for a nominal £10 and Land Rover going to the Ford Motor Company. In the press, many years of under-investment by Rover before BMW's ownership were mainly blamed for the debacle; productivity and industrial relations were generally good during this period. The German press ridiculed the English firm as "The English Patient", after a film at the time. BMW itself, protected by its product range's image, was largely spared the blame — even though it was the serious marketing issues that brought Rover down. Even the British press was not particularly sympathetic toward Rover.

BMW retained the Mini and Triumph marques. Mini has been a highly successful business, though the Triumph name has not been used.

File:BMW logo.png
The BMW logo is a circle (known as a roundel) divided into quadrants of alternating white and light blue colour. This is a stylized representation of an aircraft propeller. The colours of the logo are those of the flag of Bavaria.

Redesign Controversy

In the early part of the 2000s, BMW undertook another of its periodic cycles of redoing the styling design of its various series of vehicles, under the auspices of newly promoted design chief Christopher Bangle. These designs, which were much curvier and 'swoopier' -- a design cue called "flame surfacing" by Bangle -- did not rest well at all with BMW enthusiasts or the automotive press which referred to the new designs as "Bangled" or "Bangle-ized". While Bangle did not pen all of these designs, and has indeed been promoted within the company, some question what long term effect the disaffection of BMW traditionalists for these designs will have on sales, and on the company's future. Despite the controversy, BMW sales have increased year after year, showing the buying public's embrace of the new design philosophy.

What is not well known, however is that Bangle was indeed responsible for many 'conservative' BMW designs and has worked at BMW for almost a decade. The first X5 sketches (which highly resembled the production car), were designed by him, and under his tenure the E46 came to be.

Production outside Germany

BMW started producing automobiles at its Spartanburg, South Carolina plant in 1994. Today, the plant manufactures the BMW X5 and BMW Z4 Roadster.

The Spartanburg plant is open six days a week, producing automobiles approximately 110 hours a week. It employs about 4,700 people and manufactures over 500 vehicles daily.

After a period of local assembly, BMW's Rosslyn, South Africa plant now manufactures cars, with over 70 percent of its output destined for export. In the mid-1990s, BMW invested R1 billion to make Rosslyn a world-class facility. The plant now exports over 50,000 3 Series cars a year, mostly to the USA, Japan, Australia, Africa and the Middle East.

Starting from October 2003, BMWs are produced in Shenyang, China. BMW has established a joint venture with Chinese manufacturer Brilliance to build BMW 3 Series and 5 Series vehicles for the local market.


In the early 1990s, BMW and Rolls-Royce Motors began a joint venture that would see the new Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph and Bentley Arnage adopt BMW engines.

In 1998, both BMW and Volkswagen tried to purchase Rolls-Royce Motors. Volkswagen outbid BMW and bought the company for £430 million, but BMW outflanked its German rival. Although VW had bought rights to the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot and the shape of the radiator grille, it lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name. The Rolls-Royce aero-engine business had retained the rights over the Rolls-Royce trademark and wished to strengthen its existing business partnership with BMW. Consequently BMW were allowed to acquire the rights to the grille and mascot, and licensed the name and "RR" logo after 2003 for £40m. Volkswagen was permitted to build Rolls-Royces at its Crewe factory only until 2003, but quickly shifted its emphasis to the Bentley brand.

In the meantime, BMW was faced with the need to build a new factory and develop a new model. The new factory at Goodwood produced the new Rolls-Royce Phantom, unveiled on January 2, 2003, and officially launched at the Detroit Auto Show on January 5, 2003.


Current and near future products

The current BMW model line-up is split into what they call "Series", traditionally identified by a single digit - e.g. the 3 Series.

In 2004 BMW announced plans to make odd-numbered models sedans and estates or wagons (BMW calls its estates/wagons Touring models), while even-numbered models will be two-door coupes and cabriolets. This convention started informally in 1976 with the introduction of the 6 Series and later continued in 1989 with the 8 Series, but died off when the latter was discontinued in 1999. This practice was revived as the Z4 replaced the aging Z3 roadster in 2003 and continues as the new 6 Series augments the existing BMW 5 Series.

Coupe versions of the 3 Series sedans have always been named 3 Series vehicles, as well. The company had considered renaming future 2-door derivatives of the 3 Series as 4 Series cars, but this plan has reportedly been shelved.

File:95 318ti.jpg
The 1995 BMW 3 Series Compact

The M letter was used prior to the shift to Series-named cars to designate special "Motorsport" models, beginning with the M1 supercar. Later the M letter was used as a prefix to top-of-the-range models which had received special treatment by the BMW Motorsport division. The first such car was the M535i of 1979. As these models started gaining popularity the Motorsport division was split into a separate company. BMW M GmbH now makes sporty models based on the production cars with very extensive chassis and engine upgrades. The M3 and M5 are based respectively on the 3 and 5 Series and are recognised by enthusiasts all over the world as truly excellent sports cars while retaining the practicality of the models they extend.

With the advent of the SUV, BMW also added the X5 - and in 2004 the X3 - to their model range to capitalise on this growing market. BMW calls its SUV models Sports Activity Vehicles. A possible future V Series will offer MPV practicality for large families, similar to the Renault Scenic.

  • 1 Series: a new, small car designed to compete with the VW Golf, launched in autumn 2004 in Europe; autumn 2006 in the USA
  • 2 Series: a coupe/convertible based on the 1 Series platform
  • 3 Series: the successor to the 2002; a compact, entry-level, luxury sedan, now in its fifth generation (E90). The E90 line (starting with the 2006 model year) is available now in the United States. The E90 is currently available in the 325i (with a detuned 3.0 litre in-line 6 engine producing 215bhp) and the 330i (with a 3.0 litre in-line 6 engine producing 255bhp). Currently the 3 series coupe is only available in the fourth generation E46 body style (with a 2.5 litre in-line 6 producing 184bhp for the 325ci and a 3.0 litre in-line 6 producing 225bhp for the 330ci) until the middle of 2006 when the E90 coupes will be available. Also available in the middle of 2006 will be the all wheel drive touring (wagon) model, the 325xi. Other models, including diesel models, are available outside of the United States.
    • M3: The motorsport division's race-inspired version of the 3 Series. Currently available only in the fourth generation E46 body style and with a 3.2 litre engine producing 333bhp. A new revision is expected in 2007.
    • X3: a small SUV with emphasis on practicality and affordability
    • Z4: a two-seater roadster that succeeded the Z3. Available in 2.5 litre and 3.0 litre models.
  • 5 Series: a mid-size sports/luxury sedan. This series has is available with three different engines: the 525i with the same engine as the 325i, the 530i with the same engine as the 330i, and the 545i with a 4.4 litre V8 producing 325bhp. For the 2007 model year, the 545i will be phased out in favour of the 550i, with a 4.8 litre V8 producing 360bhp. Other models, including diesel models, are available outside of the United States.
    • M5: The motorsport division's version of the 5 Series. The new M5 (E60) is powered a F1-inspired V10 engine producing 507bhp and mated with a 7-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) transmission.
    • X5: BMW's first SUV (called SAV or Sports Activity Vehicle by BMW) competing against the Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes M-Class.
  • 6 Series: The coupe verson of the 5 series, the 6 series is currently available only in the 645i version with a 4.4 litre V8 producing 325bhp. For the 2007 model year, the 630i (with the same engine as the 530i) and the 650i (with the same engine as the 550i) will be available.
    • M6: A high performance version of the 6 Series. Developed by BMW's M Division, it powered by the same 5.0 L V10 507bhp engine seen in the BMW M5.
  • 7 Series: a full-size, executive-class, luxury car competing with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, and Jaguar XJ. The 7 series comes in the 750i and 750li with the same engine as the 550i, and in the 760i and 760li, with a 6.0 litre V12 producing 438bhp. The 760li is also made in a bulletproof version for clients who need the extra protection.

Out of production

  • M1: a 1970s mid-engine sports car, designed in conjunction with Lamborghini
  • Z3: a compact two-seater roadster.
    • M coupé and roadster: high-performance hard-top and soft-top versions of the Z3, very popular with enthusiasts
  • 8 Series: a fast, high-technology coupe of the 1990s meant to replace the older 6 Series.
  • Z1: a late 1980s two-seater with innovative modular construction; only 8,000 were made.
  • Z8: flagship sports car; design based on the classic 507 roadster from the 1950s. Only 5000 were built, the last 500 being a special edition built by Alpina but sold directly from BMW.


BMW made many cars over the years which had great impact on the world of motoring.

  • Dixi, 3/20, 303, 309, 315, 319, 320, 321, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 335
  • Isetta, 600, 700
  • 501, 502, 503, 507
  • 3200 CS, 2000 CS
  • New Sixes (2500/2800/Bavaria/2.5/2.8/3.0/3.3) - Predecessor to today's 7 Series
  • New Class (1500/1502/1600/1800/1802/2000/2002) - Acknowledged as the first modern sports saloon and the predecessor to BMW's core product, the 3 Series

Series Generations

Internally, BMW associates an "e-code" for each generation of a series ("E" stands for Entwicklung, German for development or evolution). These "chassis codes" only change to signify a major redesign of a series, or the introduction of a new series.

  • BMW E3 - (1968-1977) 2.5, 2.8, 3.0, 3.3 "New Six" sedans
  • BMW E9 - (1969-1975) 2800CS, 3.0CS, 3.0CSL "New Six" coupés
  • BMW E12 - (1972-1981) 5 Series
  • BMW E21 - (1975-1985) 3 Series
  • BMW E23 - (1977-1986) 7 Series
  • BMW E24 - (1976-1989) 6 Series
  • BMW E26 - (1978-1981) M1
  • BMW E28 - (1981-1988) 5 Series
  • BMW E30 - (1984-1991) 3 Series
  • BMW E31 - (1990-1999) 8 Series
  • BMW E32 - (1986-1994) 7 Series
  • BMW E34 - (1988-1995) 5 Series
  • BMW E36 - (1992-1999) 3 Series/Z3 (as E36/7) (1999 model as M3 only)
  • BMW E38 - (1994-2001) 7 Series
  • BMW E39 - (1997-2003) 5 Series
  • BMW E46 - (1999-2005) 3 Series
  • BMW E52 - (2000-2004) Z8
  • BMW E53 - (2000-present) X5
  • BMW E60 - (2004-present) 5 Series
  • BMW E63 - (2004-present) 6 Series coupe
  • BMW E64 - (2004-present) 6 Series convertible
  • BMW E65 - (2002-present) 7 Series short wheel base
  • BMW E66 - (2002-present) 7 Series long wheel base
  • BMW E70 - future X5
  • BMW E83 - (2004-present) X3
  • BMW E85 - (2003-present) Z4
  • BMW E87 - (2004-present) 1 Series
  • BMW E90 - (2005-present) 3 Series
  • BMW E91 - (2005-present) 3 Series Wagon

Related companies

  • Isetta
  • Glas
  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited: BMW subsidiary that owns the Rolls-Royce trademark.
  • Rover: briefly owned by BMW, which retained the Mini after selling off the rest of the company (see MG Rover Group).
  • Land Rover: sold to Ford; the current Range Rover was developed mostly by BMW during their ownership of the company and until recently was powered by their 4.4 L V8 petrol engine and continues to use the BMW 3.0 L straight six diesel engine
  • Mini: a small hatchback; inspired by the 1960s Mini, which was the British equivalent of the Beetle.
  • Weismann: A company making sporty 2-seater coupes for which BMW supplies the engines.


BMW has been engaged in motorsport activities since the dawn of the first BMW motorcycle. BMW has competed and won many of the most coveted and prestigious races and motoring events.

BMW Motorcycles

A modern BMW motorcycle

BMW motorcycles were first produced in 1923 and had an unusual "boxer twin" engine, with two air-cooled cylinders protruding from opposite sides of the machine, hence the lateral movement when one accelerates.

The R series currently designates machines with a boxer-twin engine, the K series has an inline 4-cylinder engine, and the F series has a single cylinder Rotax engine.

During WWII BMW produced the BMW R75 motorcycle with a sidecar attached. Unusually, the sidecar's wheel was also driven. Combined with a lockable differential, this made the vehicle very capable off-road, an equivalent in many ways to the Jeep.

BMW motorcycles tend to be relatively large and heavy, and relaxed and comfortable to ride. All BMW motorcycles except for the F series (which have a chain or belt drive) use shaft drive, a characteristic of BMW motorcycles since 1923.

BMW updated the traditional R design in 1993. These new bikes were principally oil-cooled (hence, called oilheads) and had 4 valves per cylinder. (Older Rs are principally air-cooled, and called airheads.) In 2004, BMW updated the oilhead boxer engine, adding double spark plugs per cylinder, a built-in balance shaft, an increased capacity to 1200 cc and enhanced performance to 100 hp (75 kW) for the R1200GS, compared to 85 hp (63 kW) of the previous oilhead s R1150GS.

In 2004, BMW introduced the new K1200S Sports Bike which marked a departure for BMW. It is both powerful (the engine is a 167bhp unit derived from the company's work with the Williams F1 team) and significantly lighter than previous K models. It was BMW's latest attempt to keep up with the pace of development of sports machines from the likes of Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki. Innovations include a unique electronically adjustable front and rear suspension, and a Hossack-type front fork BMW calls Duolever.

BMW was one of the earliest manufacturers to offer ABS on production motorcycles. BMW is an innovator in motorcycle suspension design. Most modern examples use single-sided rear swingarms. Their trademark front suspension design, called the Telelever, was first seen in the early 1990s. The Telelever significantly reduces dive under braking, and is sometimes criticized by sport riders as insulating the rider from road inputs, therefore reducing the rider's "feel" for the roadway.


BMW has also gained a reputation as part of an Internet prank, in that it is intentionally referred to erroneously as "British Motor Works" in order to get a charge out of newbies.

The term "beemer" started as a pronunciation of the acronym "BMW," adapted from the early-20th-Century British pronunciation of BSA (as "beeser" or "beezer"), whose motorcycles were often racing BMW's. Over time the term became closely associated with BMW motorcycles.

The term "bimmer" was later coined to refer (exclusively) to BMW automobiles. As such, use of the word "beemer" to refer a BMW automobile is frowned upon by BMW enthusiasts, because it is the term used for motorcycles, though the distinction is somewhat arbitrary.


BMW has always had a very tight and loyal community following. They're one of the few car makes that support driving their cars to their limits, suggesting "spirited driving" in certain operation manuals. In the summer of 2001, BMW even went as far as starting the BMW Films website, showcasing some sporty models being driven to extremes. These videos are very popular within the enthusiast community and have opened the eyes of many owners looking for a sporty/fun car. However, even with all this success, on October 21st, 2005, the BMW Films were taken offline.

See also

External links

Official corporate websites

Club and information websites

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