Die BMW Dit Was Nie’n BMW*

We all know our BMWs, don’t we? 

(c) 3bp blogspot com

This car, especially from the angle shown above, looks at first glance to be an ‘E3’ BMW 2500-3.3Li, but is nothing of the sort. In fact, it did not even start life as a BMW. In the mid-60s, Praetor Monteerders, the South African BMW importer – was in discussions with Munich, the aim being to be allowed to produce BMW vehicles in South Africa. Although BMW was not dismissive of the suggestion, they were not wholly convinced that the local inexperienced workforce would be capable of screwing together the recently introduced Neue Klasse 1800 with the quality of workmanship required.

A solution to this problem presented itself upon the acquisition by BMW of troubled carmaker, Glas in 1966. The carrozzeria Frua-styled Glas 1700 sedan was (together with a few other Glas models) at first absorbed into the model range, rebadged as a BMW but otherwise virtually unchanged. It was no secret that BMW planned to phase out the 1700 sooner rather than later as it was an unwanted competitor to the Neue Klasse models, and they indeed did so before the end of 1967.

The less complex 1700 however was deemed to be a suitable candidate for the South African enterprise. Body dies and other necessary equipment were shipped to Pretoria and in April of 1968 the BMW 1800 and 2000 SA rolled off the assembly line.

Outwardly, these first South-African produced BMWs appeared mostly unchanged when compared to the Glas/BMW 1700; the only visible alteration was a slightly different luggage compartment lid. A fortuitous aspect of the styling was that the 1700 already featured something in its DLO very similar to the famous Hofmeister kink which no doubt helped to add credibility to the car being perceived as a BMW product.

Under the skin, an important change was that the Glas engine was replaced by a genuine BMW M10 engine of 1800 or 2000cc capacity depending on the model. By the way, these cars were also produced in very small numbers as CKD kits in Rhodesia – current day Zimbabwe – where it was named BMW Cheetah.

Perhaps not wholly unexpected, the quality of these first South African BMWs left somewhat to be desired. Even if it was simpler than the Neue Klasse, any car is still a complex item with a myriad of parts that need to be put together just so if it is to function properly. Munich sent over specialists to help Praetor Monteerders out, and in 1971 instructed Frua to restyle the car in order to align it stylistically with the then current real BMW models.

The result of Frua’s efforts was successful when seen from some angles, but less so from others. The Italians had dived into BMWs parts bin: the grille and front turn indicators came from the CS coupé, the headlights and
taillights – the latter mounted upside down – from the E12 5 series.

The renamed 1804 and 2004 SA, introduced during 1973, looked quite convincing from the front as can be seen in the photos. In side view, even though the faux Hofmeister kink helps, it can only partly hide its Glas origins. The rear aspect is the least successful: the upside down mounted 5-series taillights together with the squarish bootlid make the car look more like a W114/115 Mercedes than a product of Bayerische Motoren Werke.

Inside, the instrument cluster now featured round instruments in order to conform to the BMW style. BMW had by then also purchased Praetor Monteerders’ factory and now operated under the name BMW SA (PTY) Ltd as it does to this day.

One careful owner.  (c) Cheetah Classiccarsinrhodesia

Even all these efforts initially did not result in substantial quality improvement, nor succesful sales figures: the Glas base dated back to 1963 which did not help matters of course. Exact production numbers are not available, but sales data points to about 570 1804SA models and 1280 2004 SA’s sold. It was therefore decided to phase out the 1804/2004 SA in mid-1974, to be replaced by the E12 520.

BMW still had to spend considerable time, money and manpower but in time the quality of the South African built 5-Series became as good as those assembled in the Heimat.

Praetor’s old plant is still in operation today, and produces (and exports to several countries including the USA) the 3-series. In Dingolfing, Germany, Glas’ erstwhile factory is also fully owned by BMW and remains – not counting the surviving cars – the only physical remnant of once so promising Glas which failed by confusing its ambitions with its abilities- but that is another story.

* Afrikaans for “The BMW that wasn’t a BMW”.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

22 thoughts on “Die BMW Dit Was Nie’n BMW*”

  1. Good morning Bruno. A great story, thank you! I’m endlessly fascinated by ‘mutant’ cars such as this. It looks pretty convincing from the front and side, but falls apart at the rear. That offset BMW rounded, yikes!

    It reminds me of the Brazilian FNM Alfa Romeo 2300 Rio, a car that looked like the Alfetta, but was based on the older 1900 mechanicals:

    The 2300 was covered on DTW back in 2016:


    1. Hello Daniel,
      Glad you like it. I too am a fan of the out-of-the-ordinary cars; I can tell you this article will not be my last on this subject!

  2. Incidentally, is that a very early example of an integrated boot lid rear spoiler? I sonder if it was merely a design flourish or the result of aerodynamic analysis?

    1. The boot lid already looked this way when the car was still called Glas 1700

      It probably is just a design idea of Pietro Frua

  3. Glass in a manufacturer about which I know almost nothing. Looking for online information about the company, I came across this very pretty convertible:

    There was also a coupé version. Both were rebranded as BMWs, albeit without any metalwork changes, so the BMW kidneys looked a bit uncomfortable in the very shallow grille.

    1. Munich had more than one Uschi at that time:

      The Glas GT 1300 and 1700 started with Glas engines and leaf sprung rigid axles at the rear.

      It became the BMW 1600 GT with M10 engine in ti trim and BMW’s semi trailing arm rear suspension.

      The best aspect of any Glas surely is their wonderful dashboard

      And don’t forget the Glas V8 of which only a couple of hundred were made

    2. Thanks, Dave. That dashboard is lovely. I recognise the original 2002 tail lights on the BMW-ised car.

    3. Given the timelines, it’s probably coincidental, but am I alone in seeing a good deal of similarity in the canopy shape and roofline between Frua’s Glas GT and Butzi Porsche’s 901/911 – both of which debuted in 1963.

      Daniel, you may not learn much of value from either, but Glas was covered to some extent in these DTW articles….

    4. Hi Eóin. Thanks for the pointers. Your piece was, as always, very informative, but Sean’s alternative history was beautifully subversive! I loved the way the below-the-line commentariat played along gamely, especially Mr Herriot, who lauded the tremendous success of the Peugeot 604 and Talbot Tagora against their feeble German rivals.

      Bonkers, in a very good way!

  4. So much to enjoy here.

    I realise that apart from Goggomobils and one dual-identity BMW-Glas 3000 V8. I’ve never seen a Glas in real life. I must make amends.

    The German Borgwarders had their annual Treffen at Dingolfing in 2008. I wasn’t there, so I’m not sure if it was a gesture of solidarity with another carmaker fallen in the cause of BMW’s irresistible rise.

    As for the Glas 1700 being the new Isabella, I’m unconvinced. CFWB was so taken with the Frua’s small-series Lloyd coupe that Pietro was commissioned to do the Hansa 1300 – a flat four Goliath replacement – and the new Isabella.

    The Hansa did break cover – it’s oddly atypical of Frua’s oeuvre at the time:

    As Monica Borgward told Marius Venz, (q.v. Bob) the secrecy around the new Isabella was absolute. I’m not aware of even a drawing or model surviving. The Glas saloon looks more of the genre of the first Maserati Quattroporte – Frua tended to keep to one shape and manipulate it to fit – this was equally true of his more prominent rivals at the time.

    As for the new Isabella’s engine becoming the BMW M10, the timeline’s wrong, and I’ve been told by someone close to the matter that the two engines are unrelated, although the Borgward unit probably did have a central camshaft and opposed valves actuated by finger rockers (as used in the 600cc Lloyd twin). The ‘new’ Borgward engine was a new OHC cylinder head on the old three main bearing block, with a capacity increase to around 1600cc and an output in TS form of around 90bhp.

    1. Die BMW Dit Was Nie’n BMW – Afrikaans for “The BMW that wasn’t a BMW”.

      For a brief moment I thought brrruno was trying to write Geordie or Mackem…

    2. Hans Glas took considerable pride from the fact that he always payed for all investments in cash. The lack of money made Glas very inventive – when they needed a new painting facility for the Isar 700 they couldn’t afford conventional equipment so they invented and made their own, comprising rotating spray heads which was a complete novelty at the time.

      The Glas inline four and V8 engines were very unusual. The toothed cam belt had no tensioner or guide wheels and its tension was adjusted by inserting shims between the two layers of the head. Its rockers didn’t run on shafts but were held by bolts with ball ends, screwed upside down into the head. To prevent lateral movement of the rockers they used clips made from white plastic that sat on the valve stems and held the rockers in place.
      These engines were astonishingly powerful for the time at 85 PS from 1,300cc and 100 PS from 1,700cc but relatively unrefined and noisy.
      In the mid Seventies the elder brother of a guy I regularly worked with had a collection of about twenty Glas’ (does that make a bar?), including three V8s and a bunch of GTs. He used a 1700TS as a daily driver and tow car for his NSU TT/TTS hill climb racers, of which there also were more than a dozen.

      The BMW M10 most certainly is not related to anything from Borgward or Glas. If there was one thing Alex von Falkenhausen didn’t need than it was somebody else’s engine designs.

    3. The basis for the story of the new 1.6 Isabella OHC engine being a precursor of sorts to the BMW M10 appears to stem from the notion it was largely designed by a group of ex-Borgward engineers*, however have read other stories claiming the BMW M10 was conceived initially as a 900cc 4-cylinder before growing from 900cc to 1300cc then 1500cc+ during its development.

      Had Borgward survived, if the New 1.6 Isabella OHC was derived from the existing Isabella engine that potentially leaves open the possibility of the Borgward P100 or at least updated Frua-styled version receiving a related 2.4-litre 6-cylinder version.

      Perhaps the exterior Frua styling of the Glas models was derived from some rejected Borgward proposals?

      Regarding the Glas OHC 4-cylinder / V8 engines, once wonders whether they were capable of being further enlarged from 1700cc to 2000cc and 3000cc to 4000cc respectively (sans 3.2-litre V8 prototype in case of latter).

      Worth noting as well as that Ford Germany designed a similar Glas-inspired 1.0-1.2-litre OHC engine for the Kadett A-sized front-engined RWD Ford NPX-C5 project before Ford US forced them them to abandon it in favour of Taunus P4, had it reached production it would have preceded the Glas OHC engine when makes on wonder whether a few ex-Ford Germany engineers made their way to Glas allowing them to develop a more polished version of the OHC engine.

      *- Meaning if true it would not necessarily be a direct relationship between the the New 1.6 Isabella OHC and BMW M10, being possibly more reminiscent of the relationship between the experimental 288 Kaiser-Frazer V8 and the later AMC V8 engines.

  5. On the subject of ashtrays . . . My first car was a BMW 1804. If you look carefully at my dashboard photograph featured in your article, you will see that I removed the ashtray and replaced it with a graphic equaliser.

    1. Hello Mike, and welcome to DTW! The odds against someone stumbling across a picture of their own car, especially one as obscure as yours, on our virtual backwater must be infinitesimally small. You might want to buy a lottery ticket this week!

  6. It is not really that weird that I found my photograph, as I was actually looking for information about Rhodesian made BMWs. Details about them are hard to find. There are some good sources about the South African ones, which often mention the Rhodesian ones in passing. On those occasions when looking for information about those BMWs assembled at the Willowvale factory in Rhodesia, I have often found material of my own. My old 1804 has had an Internet presence since the late 1990s, when personal webpages became common, and some of my pages have included information about things I am interested in, such as cars, especially BMWs. Content from these pages has filtered off to various corners of the Internet.

    My father had two of the Rhodesian BMWs. He bought the 1804 when I was just a little too young to get a license, but then after I started driving, it became my car. Before that, in 1971, he had bought an 1800 Cheetah. He sold both of them after not very long – the Cheetah in 1974 and the 1804 in 1982. Had he kept one or both of them they would certainly have become good collectors items.

    1. Hello Mike,
      Thank you for stopping by at DTW and providing some background information. I can confirm your mentioning of information on the Rhodesian BMWs being hard to come by- I had the same experience while researching for this article. If you or your father have any photographs of the 1804 and especially the Cheetah (I would really like to know for instance if that car was also actually badged “Cheetah” somewhere on the bodywork) I am confident all of us here on DTW would like to see them!
      Thanks again and best regards,
      Bruno Vijverman

  7. Bruno,

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs of the Cheetah, however there are some of an old and rusty one at:


    There is “CHEETAH” and a cheetah emblem on the boot lid along with a BMW badge and the model badge below the boot lid. I am sure that these badges are original, as that is how I remember them. The one in the picture there is a 2000, ours was an 1800. There is a BMW badge on the grille and I also remember there being BMW badges on the hubcaps, which are not seen in these online photographs. There was a BMW badge in the middle of the steering wheel in the South African models, but the Rhodesian ones had a Cheetah badge there.

    There are also some photographs of one at:


    The boot badges are missing on this one, but you can see the holes where they were.

    The 2000 in the first set of pictures has round instruments, while the car-from-uk has the unusual horizantal bar speedometer. The Cheetah we had also had this horizantal bar speedometer.

    There are a few pictures of my 1804 at:


    Another interesting point I have come across is that it seems that while the Neue Klasse BMW 2000 was assembled at the Willowvale plant and sold in Rhodesia, it was never produced at the Rosslyn plant in South Africa. Can anyone confirm that?

    The 2500, 2800 and 3.0s were also sold in Rhodesia.

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