1966 BMW 1602: Review

“BM-double-who?” In this transcription from a 1966 article, Archibald Vicar takes a close look at a questionable product from a struggling motor manufacturer from Bavaria. Can the 1602 really compete, asks a sceptical Vicar.


From “The Modern Motorist”, June 1966. Photographic Plates by Chester of Shipton-On-Stour, M. Phil (Oxon)

When Bayerische Motoren Werke invited us to a test drive near Munich we didn’t know what to expect. This obscure firm is still better known for their bubble cars than for ordinary family vehicles. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, BMW had a reputation for making fine motor cars before the second world war. Since then they have mostly made do with the manufacturing of Isettas under license.

“…time to spare…”

So, having received a telex from Herr Gerst, technical director, asking us to inspect their new car we immediately had visions of folding my 6 foot 8 inch frame into a ball of plastic on three wheels and careening around like a slow ping-pong ball. The invitation nearly went unanswered, but Triumph had again cancelled one of their jollies (more strikes!) so we had some time to spare this month.

We took a Lufthansa flight to Munich and had such a good time with the complimentary champagne we nearly forgot to get off at the other end. Our problems continued when we couldn’t find a public telephone to let Herr Gerst know we would be delayed. Still, we arrived in a few safe pieces at BMW’s sharply modern factory and were introduced to their new baby. It has four wheels! But it only has two doors and is called the 1602, hardly the snappiest of monikers, methinks. The “16” refers to the engine size and the 02 refers to the number of customers we expect this odd box will find in Her Majesty’s United Kingdom.

“Swabian noodles with creamy goulash”

Still, we shall try to overlook our scepticism. Over a hearty lunch of beers and Swabian noodles with creamy goulash (say what you like but the Jerries serve up fine nosh) we heard about the new car’s technical specification. The bit we can remember is that it is able to produce 80 hp and can propel the 1602 quite briskly. Out on the track and still the worse for the beers, we cantered around awhile. The snapper was so sozzled he managed to prang a car out on the second hairpin. I did rather better but still feel that driving with a few drinks is still the best way to test a car’s handling. You can learn a lot more by driving a car badly than driving like a maiden aunt, I say.


“…slowing down BMW´s little biscuit tin…”

The 1602 has a 4-cylinder engine driving the rear. How odd to launch a small car but still send the power hindmost. Front-wheel drive is certainly the future. With little effort the little vehicle could oversteer, requiring armfuls of opposite lock to point the nose onto the right course. The brakes are discs up front and drums at the rear and seem to be pretty good at slowing down BMW´s little biscuit tin.

Creatures accustomed to any comfort will find little inside the BMW to give them succour. Humber, Ford, Vauxhall and Rover provide similarly-priced but larger machines. All are fitted with more delightful upholstery and plenty of walnut slivers. The 1602 manages with some of BASF’s blackest plastic and not much else. The price list reveals that one must spend another eighteen pounds for the privilege of a radio. The 1602 does seem well assembled however, and nothing fell off during our 233-mile test-jaunt. The plastic ashtray is well placed, holding four packs-worth of Senior Service High-Tar Capstans (filterless).

Concluding Remarks

Back at the factory, Herr Gerst spoke optimistically about greater sales for BMW and he hoped that in due course the firm could again begin to pay dividends to its patient shareholders. Don’t hold your breath, Herr Quandt. Triumph have the sports car market well secured and will do so for a long time if BMW can’t offer more than this small crate with its few fittings, old-fashioned engineering, hard ride and curiously designed door frames. If you want something more exotic than the usual, then hurry to an Alfa Romeo or Lancia dealer for more interesting machines.

1964 BMW 1602

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “1966 BMW 1602: Review”

  1. It is funny how BMW up to this time were said to be looking at developing a BMW 700-based equivalent to the Simca 1000, powered either by 900-1300cc* 4-cylinder precursors to the BMW M10 engine or the Glas 1004-sourced 992cc OHC engine that powered the 700-based BMW 1000 prototype.

    Had BMW not been in a precarious position around this period, it would have been interesting seeing BMW produce a rear-engined 45-65+ hp 900-1300cc 2/4-door model below the BMW 02 Series yet above the superseded BMW 700.

    *- Helmut Werner Bönsch also seemed to have the idea of spawning various BMW 700-based proposals that even included developing a 1.2-2.0 Inline-6 version of the 900cc 4-cylinder precursor to the M10 unit.



    1. Thanks for stopping by this seldom-frequented page. How likely is it BMW would have tried a rear-engined saloon once they’d the Neue Klasse in production?

    2. Thanks – I know more now. This is why DTW is so nice: I have learned of the rear-engined 700. Fascinating (I hope my ignorance can be excused).

    3. It was the BMW 700 that ultimately helped the company survive and via many experimental prototypes (that were tested at speeds of around 105 mph or 170 km/h) aided in developing the rigidity of the BMW New Class.

      The following German language article was where I found reference to the Helmut Werner Bönsch proposal of developing a 1.2-2.0 Inline-6 unit to power a rear-engined 700-based mid-sized BMW (derived from the 0.9-1.3 4-cylinder BMW M10 precursor engine that was to power an updated BMW 700), before money became available to develop the BMW New Class. – http://www.auto.de/magazin/historie-und-histoerchen-ford-wollte-kleiner-bmw-groesser/

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