Half a century ago, BMW quietly launched its first 5 Series. The automotive world did not realise what a seminal car it would become.
The trio of German so-called ‘premium’ automakers like to represent themselves as operating at the cutting edge of automotive engineering, technology and design. Hence, instead of using whimsical or ephemeral names for their cars, they instead identify them with scientific precision, using alphabetic and/or numerical model designations that are entirely logical in their construction and impossible to confuse(1).
In earlier times, the business of model nomenclature was much more straightforward. Smaller cars had smaller engines and vise-versa, so the engine capacity alone was often enough to distinguish between different models. When BMW introduced its ‘Neue Klasse’ mid-sized saloon in 1962, it was simply called the 1500. Larger-engined versions followed and these were duly called 1600, 1800 and 2000. However, when BMW introduced a range of smaller saloons using the same engines, they had to replace the last zero with the number two to distinguish them from the existing models. Hence, the 2000 was a mid-sized four-door saloon with a two-litre engine, while the 2002 was a smaller two-door saloon with the same power unit, which was somewhat counter-intuitive.
The replacement for the Neue Klasse models was widely expected to carry the ‘04’ suffix. Scoop pictures of the car published in the July 1972 issue of Car Magazine dubbed the prototype ‘2004’. Back in Munich, however, BMW realised that this game of numerical leapfrog would soon run out of road, so they decided to start again. The new mid-line saloon would be known simply as the ‘5 Series’ and would be badged with a three-digit number, beginning with five and followed by the engine capacity expressed in decilitres. This was entirely logical and gave ample room either side of the 5 for future smaller or larger models. For many years to follow, the 3, 5 and 7 Series saloons would form the bedrock of the company’s range(2).
There is, however, a tragic twist to this tale. The first 5 Series, known internally as the E12-generation model, was launched in October 1972, in the wake of the Munich Olympic Games, which took place in August and September of that year. According to some reports, BMW had hoped to celebrate (and, no doubt, capitalise upon) what was expected to be a great local and national success and source of pride by applying the ‘Olympic’ suffix to the new model’s numerical designation. However, the massacre of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team and death of a West German policeman in a terrorist kidnapping by the Palestinian Black September group cast a pall over the games, so the idea was quietly dropped.
The design of the new 5 Series was attributed to Paul Bracq. However, as Christopher Butt points out in the comments below, Bracq arrived at BMW just two years before its launch, so it is likely to have been well advanced by then. In any event, the design was overseen by Wilhelm Hofmeister, with input from Bertone’s Marcello Gandini. It was less an evolution of the design theme of its decade-old predecessor, but more a downsizing of BMW’s 1968 E3-generation ‘New Six’ 2500 large saloon.
All the signature BMW elements were maintained: the shark-nose double-kidney grille with twin headlamps, the airy glasshouse and the Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar. A new and neat element was a lower bodyside rubbing strip that aligned with the wrap-around bumpers across the wheel arches, visually lowering and lengthening the car. The clamshell bonnet remained but, unlike the Neue Klasse, the boot lid was now of a conventional design. One slightly curious aspect of the front end was that the bottom of the BMW twin-kidney grille was hidden behind the front bumper, giving it a truncated appearance.
The interior featured a new style dashboard that would become a BMW hallmark. It had four dials (two large, flanked by two smaller ones for fuel and temperature) recessed under a cowl in front of the driver, and a vertical centre console(3). The white-on-black instruments were of exemplary clarity, but the 5 Series did not have a tachometer fitted as standard, the right-hand large dial being occupied by a quartz clock. The supportive seats were upholstered in hard-wearing velvet cloth and the interior trim was of high quality, if somewhat austere. It was enlivened by woodgrain(4) inserts in the dashboard and door cards.
While undoubtedly a handsome and distinguished looking car, some commentators expressed disappointment that the new 5 Series was not a more radical step forward, particularly after the Bertone 2200ti Garmisch Concept, a two-door mid-size coupé unveiled at the 1970 Geneva motor show. This was a razor-sharp design with faired-in twin rectangular headlights and a new, twin-hexagonal expression of the BMW kidney grille.
The new 5 Series had a wheelbase of 2,636mm (103¾”) and overall length of 4,620mm (182”). At launch, it was available with only one engine, a 1,990cc SOHC straight-four unit that had been carried over from its predecessor, albeit with a modified cylinder head to improve combustion efficiency and power output. The engine was offered in two forms, one fitted with twin Stromberg carburettors which produced 114bhp (85kW) and another fitted with Kugelfischer fuel injection which produced 129bhp (96kW). The injected model was designated 520i.
Transmission was via a four-speed manual gearbox or three-speed automatic. Suspension was all-independent, with MacPherson struts at the front and trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. Brakes were discs front and drums at the rear. The unassisted steering had a slightly cumbersome 3.7 turns from lock-to lock for a turning circle of 10.4m (34ft).
Car Magazine had its first opportunity to test the 520 in RHD form on British soil in the summer of 1973 and it was pitched against the Citroën DS23 and NSU RO80. The results of this ‘Giant Test’ were published in the July issue of the magazine. The opening comments were an expression of alarm that, thanks to the weakness of Sterling, each of these cars cost in the region of £3,000, a lot of money for “two litres(sic) and four cylinders or, in the case of the NSU, for a journey into the partly unknown.”
In design terms, the 5 Series was “a slightly scaled down [BMW] three-litre in size and not spectacularly different from it aesthetically.” If the Citroën and NSU were revolutionary designs, then the BMW was “the counter-revolutionary…secure stylistically although it fails to turn over a single sod of the firm ground on which it stands.”
The BMW’s engine sat between the other two for both performance and refinement. It had a “low first gear that ensures ample acceleration from rest, and enough mph per 1000rpm [in top] to provide 100mph cruising.” However, it “stumbled badly by being unexpectedly noisy in the zone between 4000 and 5000rpm – right where the moderately law-abiding British motorist will want to plant the tachometer needle.”
Dynamically, the BMW was praised for steering that was “light and quite accurate with the car maintaining a substantially neutral attitude while cornering” which “imparts a feeling of security that can only be appreciated when the car is really hurled at corners.” That said, it suffered in crosswinds, when it “moves around far too much for comfort.” Overall, however, “Only those without a soul – or £3,000 – could fail to be impressed by the 520’s substantial grip on terra firma and its extremely good handling.”
Ride comfort was “not exceptional, merely very good.” Engine and wind noise were “obtrusive at high speeds” but road noise was “a conspicuous absentee.” Seats were “firm, comfortable [but] not very well shaped…so that one is left free to wobble about.” The instrumentation was “superbly arranged but reveals no more than road and engine speeds, fuel content and engine coolant temperature.” The gearchange “works well enough but is still not as positive as one could reasonably want.”
In conclusion, the BMW won the group test, but with some reservations: “the steering [at parking speeds] is too heavy, the engine is not specially exciting nor is the everyday performance. Handling and roadholding are tremendously good even if crosswind stability is not; it lacks the character of the other two but makes up for that by being the best all-rounder if you like down the middle motoring.”
This might have been a less than euphoric verdict, but BMW was only getting started with the 5 Series, which had much more potential to exploit, as we shall see in Part Two of this series.
(1) Or, at least, that was the intention. On more than one occasion and most recently in 2014, Mercedes-Benz had to employ a figurative machete to disentangle itself from the incoherent alphanumeric jungle in which it had become trapped. The revised nomenclature was an improvement but was still not wholly logical or consistent.
(2) Although BMW has occasionally played fast and loose with the engine capacity part of the model designation.
(3) Unlike later BMW models, this was symmetrical and not angled towards the driver.
(4) I have been unable to ascertain whether these were real or simulated wood veneer.
42 thoughts on “Der Fünfer (Part One)”
The nomenclature of the two door Neue Klasse started with 1600-2 (1.600cc, two doors) and remained so until 1968. On the cars the badges said ‘1600’. a<
The 1,800 and 2,000 versions always were called 1802 and 2002.
In 1971 the 1600-2 became the 1602.
I remember quite well the E12's presentation and resulting press reports. Its looks were criticised for being too similar to the E3, particularly its frontal aspect and the fact that the boot could not be seen while driving rearwards. The opinion of most journalists was that BMW's took a high risk by setting the focus more on comfort and safety in comparison to the 2000 tilux predecessor.
It also wasn't too welcome that the E12's higher weight took the edge off engine performance and made it slower in reaction than the older car. But nearly every test showed a picture of the engine bay with the comment that there was enough room for the inline six.
The first comparison test between Alfetta 1.8 and 520 in a German magazine was won by the Alfa, by the way.
Here’s a picture of the last iteration of the Neue Klasse dashboard
You can see a clear relation to the early E12
The E12 had an interesting way of illuminating the instruments.
Instead of bulbs sitting behinds the instruments with light going through the dials there were two light sources in front and above the instruments which cast an organge glow over the whole panel, aircraft style.
BMWs at that time had switches that weren’t marked with pictograms but with text. Language versions were available for German and English
Hi Daniel, and thanks for this post. It brings back a bunch of memories, actually: my late godfather had an E12 518 in a light metallic green color (I think the factory calls it “Resedagrün Metallisch” or something), and it was the second in his three-car succession (Moskvich 412, the BMW I’m writing about here, and a Mercedes-Benz C180 W202).
I vaguely remember having been driven in that car a few times when I was little; just short trips from his apartment, which was opposite the premises of the (now mostly irrelevant) Thessaloniki International Fair, to various upmarket local restaurants and fish taverns he knew very well – to the point of being on a first-name basis with the proprietors and waiting staff.
While I do remember the general ambience of the car’s interior, which I found more elegant than the E30 3-series, the nature of these rare trips means I have no recollection of what the car was like on the move. This comes as no surprise: to visit him and his family, we had to drive from Athens or – later – Larissa to Thessaloniki, and the reverse applied for the times when he wanted to visit us. So, it made a lot more sense for me to be driven in my parents’ car. That, and the fact that my mom considered BMWs to be a handful, as opposed to dad’s more well-mannered rides (the Simca 1307S, the SEAT Ibiza 1.2 GL, and the Citroën 1.4 Kat) that overlapped with the 518’s life in my godfather’s hands.
Bertone concept and BMW 4 series. What a resemblance in the front part.
Hi Marco. There certainly is a resemblance although, to my eyes, the Bertone version is still elegant, whereas the 4 Series is gauche and heavy-handed by comparison:
Like everybody else, I applauded the lengths BMW had gone to in order to recreate the Garmisch for its Villa d’Este ‘re-unveiling’, back then. If only I’d known that it would serve as part of a retconning scheme, intended to justify today’s mutant mole rat snout design…
Two things: one was the fact that our rather more prosperous neighbours had a green 520 which stood out among the brown Fords and rusting Renaults in the ´hood. And two, I notice Car pitched the BMW against what are now seen as weird cars, the DS and the NSU. That indicates what a specialty car the 5 was back in the day. Is there a weird brand now? In the 1970s there was a stronger common perception of “normal” and “specialty” cars. These days the field is rather undifferentiated. You´d need to import a JDM car or an American car to really stand out. As late the early 90s a Saab or Lancia might have been something special. BMW was well on the way to trouncing the mainstreamers.
I think Tesla were the modern weird brand until they became mainstream.
Maybe Subaru can be seen as a strange brand, at least here in the Netherlands where I barely see one.
The first 5-Series was a speciality car because the UK had yet to become part of the EEC, so you paid a hefty premium for decent foreign car.
Good morning all and thank you for your comments. Richard, you’re right about the perception that BMWs were somehow ‘special’ and rather exotic back in the 1970s. Seeing one on the road was something of an event for those interested in cars. I think things began to change with the introduction of the E30 generation 3 Series in 1982. They quickly became so popular and commonplace that one barely noticed them anymore.
One significant change between the E12 and E28 generation 5 Series was the range of colours offered. The E12 was available in some fantastic bright colours but, whether responding to fashion or just taking itself rather more seriously, BMW only offered the E28 in (mainly) much more conservative hues. Here’s an early E12 in a great colour:
BMW had a typical Seventies colour palette
In their home country BMWs weren’t really that special despite of their high prices.
Their image was best characterised best by this picture
The 02 in particular had a somewhat brash aura, mostly because many owners insisted on driving it without front bumper but a battery of additional lights and a sports exhaust.
At that time BMW struggled to meet six digit production numbers per year and no proper Mercedes driver would have touched a BMW with a barge pole.
Eberhard von Kuenheim strategy was to expand production numbers by pushing the cars up the hierarchy.
BMWs became more solid and safety became an important aspect. The E12 was a leap forward in comparison to its predecessor which was still pretty fast but looked very old fashioned at the end of its life, much more so than a Mercedes W114/115.
Those are some wonderful colours indeed. They work well with the otherwise rather restrained design. I notice that the yellow one has a modified front bumper that reveals the entire kidneys.
“the best all-rounder if you like down the middle motoring” doesn’t sound like the kind of image BM”Freude am fahren”W would want to project, though.
The Alfetta mentioned elsewhere is a more emotional design, but it’s also from a more emotional company. Surely that plays a part. The picture of the early model is particularly unflattering, it looks a lot nicer in this one, even with its tippytoe stance that never did the car any favours:
Like the fünfer, the Alfetta set a bit of a design template for Alfa, although their financial situation will have caused part of that.
E12’s impact seems rather difficult to ascertain in retrospect, certainly from a design perspective, doesn’t it?
Despite setting BMW’s template for decades to come (with regards to nomenclature, but also stylistically), it never stood out to me, apart from it being a rare sight in my lifetime. However, years ago I was talking about the Alfetta – a rather more striking car, to my eyes – with an Italian designer, who was already around when the Fünfer was introduced and explained that the Alfetta appeared embarrassingly old-fashioned, next to the Bavarian saloon. So the somewhat unambitious ’70s BMW styling trumped the rather more romantic, ’60s-rooted Alfa in the public’s eye, back then – yet I’d argue that for those exact same reasons, an early Alfetta appears rather more appealing than an E12 today.
Daniel, allow me a minor correction: Paul Bracq arrived two years before E12’s launch. So in spite of all those intricate marketing illustrations bearing his signature, ’70s lead times would have made it impossible for Bracq to exert much influence over what would have been a finished design by the time he joined BMW.
Marcello Gandini claims that he mostly designed the E12 by himself, which must be taken with a grain of salt, despite ties between BMW and Bertone being close, prior to Bracq’s arrival.
I wish Georg Bertram, whom history seems to have largely forgotten, was still around to cast some light onto this issue.
Good morning Christopher and thank you for your insights into the design provenance of the E12, always appreciated, and acknowledged above in the revised text.
The E12 and the Alfetta, what a great pair of sporty family saloons. The Alfetta could appear old fashioned next to the BMW due to mediocre detailing: in this picture, door handles, bumpers and rear lights look as if they belong to a 1962 car, not 1972. But the wedge style and high tail predicted future trends.
The 1977 restyling (including Marinaflaps!) did a lot to update the car, although perhaps it lost a bit of grace and character.
Can anyone explain the E12’s confounding kidney grill? How is it conceivable that the lower portion of this important brand symbol was intentionally masked by the bumper? It must have been intentional because even with the E12 facelift where the revised bonnet featured a more prominent aperture for the grill they failed to rectify the situation; it was only with the E28 renovation that the grill was redesigned to fit as surely it always should have. Someone please make sense of the madness.
I wondered that – it’s odd. However, seen from the correct angle, the reflection in the bumper ‘completes’ the grille perfectly. I think it may be a deliberate visual trick. The sequence with the blue car demonstrates this well.
The relation of kidneys to bumper is similar to E3 and E9 which also have kidneys reaching far down.
On the E9 their lower part is visible only because the centre section of the bumper is lowered. When the front number plate is incorrectly fitted (centred on the bumper instead of hanging from it) the kidneys are cut like the E12’s.
On the E3 it only takes a squint of the eye to make the kidneys disappear behind the number plate
Aren’t these old BMWs great to look at? E10, E3 and E9 were great looking cars that weren’t matched until the E32 and E34.
They are indeed, Dave. Both are just sublime.
A comment in a test (the one the Alfetta won) was that the E12 when seen from straight ahead was unmistakably a BMW but too easily confused with the E3 whereas the Alfetta could be nothing but an Alfa and at the same time could not be confused with any other of their products.
Seeing the E9 I suddenly remember that the chrome trim around its beltline was bolted to the car from behind using tiny brass screws (a completely mad production process).
Now imagine trying to replace the one up front with a full engine bay or retro fitting the chrome to a 2500 CS that came without it…
Good morning, Daniel. I’m late to the party. In my childhood in the rural north of The Netherlands, we hardly ever saw an E12. I think BMW was more of a niche player at the time than it is now. I remember being very fond of BMW in my childhood, together with Alfa Romeo and Porsche, so I am happy to see both the E12 and Alfetta here. Wonderful cars.
An excellent introduction to the 5, Daniel, thank you. It’s fascinating to see the origins of something, especially when this important to a brand.
Similar to Freerk, I cannot recall ever seeing an E12 on the roads. Sheffield didn’t have a dedicated BMW dealer for years, the roundel being something of a German mystery. Some delightful colour schemes; Golf yellow or that shade of green in your response. As for the Garmisch, nope, not aware of until today. I like it, the grille perhaps less so but I understand the meanings.
The only troubling aspect I’m finding with the production 5 is the Car reviewer’s descriptions. Understanding it’s their job to to inform and no doubt embellish but can anyone really describe the difference between a ride quality that is “not exceptional, merely very good?” This chap must also have been a chair designer at some point; his explanation of them being “not the right shape” must’ve kicked hard back at base. I’m sure even fifty years ago, BMW were pretty keen on getting these things as right as one could, then.
Looking forward to the future articles.
BMW was criticised for the shape of the seats for a long time.
This already was a point in tests involving the Neue Klasse wich had backrests that were too flat and too hard and pressed against your back in the wrong places. I can confirm that because I took my driving lessons in a Neue Klasse.
BMW also insisted on funny adjustment mechanisms for their seats. For longitudinal adjustment of a 02er seat you had to press a lever in the sill (!) sideways, they also had ratchet mechanisms working in steps for the backrest when everybody else had stepless wheels for ages, for the height adjustment of the seat you had to press a lever down to unlock the spring loaded adjuster- particularly funny when you wanted to bring the seat up.
Even in later BMWs like E30 or E34 it took ages to find an appropriate driving position particularly when the car was equipped with sports seats. When offered a test drive in somebody else’s BMW I was told more than once that I could adjust everything to my liking but please had to leave the fingers off the seats.
Having lived in the country where the sky has the same colour as the BMW roundel these cars were ubiquitous and marked BMWs metamorphosis from a slightly casual niche manufacturer to a serious mass market contender. The only BMW that could be seen in significant numbers were 02s. E3 were on the road in significantly smaller numbers than Benz W108/109 and an E3 was a rare sight. This changed all of a sudden with the arrival of the E12.
About ride quality, perhaps what CAR reviewer meant was the E12 was comfortable enough, but the DS and the Ro80 were renowned by their very supple ride.
Funny. To me the unusual seat adjustment of BMW’s never was a problem and in BMW’s, same as in other German cars, it was super easy to find a good driving position. I drove my dad’s E34 plenty of times and we always changed the seats back and forth without issues. Same with my E30.
I also find it weird people would let you drive their car without changing the seat position. A wrong driving position is not very safe in my opinion.
Now, I don’t own a -E12 but a E28 since 2004 and I can confirm they are “not the right shape” although I love the car, the seats are a weak spot with strange ways of adjusting them and strange seating position with short distance between seat and pedals. Mine has original basic seats (not sport) with springs doing the dampening all over in the seats. It’s impossible to find a good seating position and on longer journeys the leg or back numbs differently pending on how the seat is adjusted for the time. And yes I keep adjusting still 18 years later 😄
This must be close to the most unlogical seat adjustment mechanism ever.
You pull the lever up to unlock the backrest which then only adjusts in coarse steps.
You push the lever down to unlock the spring underneath the seat and then try to get weight off the seat to make it go up while pressing the lever down. Very funny.
This was at a time when everybody else had a stepless wheel for adjusting the backrest and pumping mechanisms for height adjustment where pulling on the lever brought the seat up and pushing down the lever lowered the seat.
CAR says in their 1973 Giant Test that the 520 cost around 3000 GBP.
In an Eóin previous article there is a 1975 BMW ad displaying the 520 price: 4144 GBP, or 4399 GBP in fuel injected form.
It seems we can´t complain too much about inflation, after all…
Ah, yes, the 1970s: terrible fashion, glam rock, punk, oil crises, high inflation, power cuts, mass industrial unrest, an IMF bailout in 1976…halcyon days for the UK. 😬
I used to think the Alfetta looked just like an E12 with a shield instead of kidneys. In my defence I never saw them parked together in the metal and pre-DTW it wouldn’t have occurred to me to compare photos side by side.
The Alfetta looks smaller, tighter, more balletic somehow but also clumsier. There’s a bit of a naïve quality about it that endears. The original looks a model cycle older than the E12 too, only the curved side glass and face level air extractors make it look semi-contemporary. Those door handles (Shared with the Giulietta and 1750?) look almost art deco. In my mind’s eye the Alfetta is one with the C1 Audi 80 and the VW K70. Contemporary for 1969 but; we have a problem… FCAheritage.com claims a 1971 launch date was pushed back to avoid undermining Alfasud, so it was eventually launched with a press jolly to Trieste in May 1972. It avoids mention of BL-esque production delays that held back most LHD deliveries into 1973, whilst right-handers finally squeaked into Britain in 1974. Clive Richardson reviewed it for “Motorsport” in June that year. He wasn’t keen on the look of the high tail and it’s “Wedge shape”.
Oddly I see a lot of the E12’s styling influence in the E39: the deep side crease, the strong parallel lines and above all the prominent front wheel overhang.
Very interesting to see that, Richard. I prefer the Alfetta – it’s a ‘tighter’, less elongated design.
However, at the time, I think the trend was for longer, slimmer-looking cars. I’ve just had a look at the Peugeot 504, which is a contemporary and the sloping boot really takes the visual weight out of its side profile. The Renault 12 pulls off a similar trick and it makes the Renault and the Peugeot look distinctively ‘light’ and ‘French’.
re: kidneys on the E12 – their visibility was changed on the facelifted model released in 1976. The car did receive bigger lights at the tail (somehow previewing the 1977 Alfetta 2000‘s rear end) and changes to the fascia – the kindneys were moved up a bit, resulting in a newly cast hood, with a slight bump. The change is subtle, but very effective. All cars pictured in the article and the comments (so far) are Series 1 E12‘s btw.
The new E12 rear lights brought it in line with the equally new E3’s
More important was the move of the E12’s fuel filler neck and flap from a location between rear light and number plate to the rear side panel behind the rear wheel.
“All cars pictured in the article and the comments (so far) are Series 1 E12‘s btw.”
That’s because the facelifted E12 is covered in Part Two – which you’ve just scooped! 😁
Oops. I guess I should have figured that one out myself! 🤗
@Dave: the E12 facelift roughly coincided with the release of the first (E23 series) Siebener. So I‘d say is has little to do with the E3 rump. In fact, the E3‘s facelift (or rather: rearlift) came about in 1971, i.e. prior to the E12‘s release.
Then let me say it chronologically correct: BMW brought the E12 in line with the common look established by the rearlifted E10 and E3 that also was found on E23 and E24.
The odd man out was the E21 with its awful naked rear end and slit-like rear lights.
Greetings to fellow DTWers and once again, a modest praise for another excellent article from Daniel!
The E12 was indeed the beginning of BMW’s emergence from obscurity and brash perception. It also coincided with ALFA’s start of decline. It has been said that Milan’s and Munich’s fates converged during the early seventies. ALFA was still high from the all-conquering and very successful 105/115 Series, while BMW was the up-and-coming outsider with some hits here and there. Surely, nothing to write home about for the venerable Biscione… But, as early as 1977, the tables have had already turned. BMW had already updated most of its lineup with fresh and coherent designs, an ever-increasing quality and technology, while dominating in sporting events which were ALFA’s bread and butter just a decade ago, pushing along the “Ultimate Driving Machine” copy. Meanwhile, in Arese, Giuseppe Busso was gone and Luranghi was dead, the AlfaSei was looking suspiciously like a cheap BMW, AlfaSud was rusting upon first delivery, the 105s were gone, the 116 Alfetta was already 5 years old and troubled with guibo issues, and the company begrudgedly presented the Nuova Giulietta.
It all went down in the eighties. BMW became the yuppie status must-have icon, whereas ALFA was a charming -and troublesome- relic of the good ol’ days. The die was by then cast. BMW capitalized on their success, and went on to create arguably the best sport sedan of all time – the E39. The best ALFA could offer with the funds allocated was the 156. A fine car, but too late.
It is indeed a shame that BMW’s styling nowadays is so far from the elegance which characterized the brand up to the early 00’s. However, sales tell a different story.
It’s barely believable that in the late Sixties or early Seventies an Alfa Giulia 1600 was seen as a viable alternative to a BMW 2002 – and that it was the faster of the two, thanks to its five speed gearbox and far superior aerodynamics.
Alfa had high flying plans for the Alfetta family which didn’t have torsion bar front suspension for nothing to make room for larger engines that never materialised. All plans were annihilated by the early Seventies’ recession which hit Italy far worse than Germany.
BMW pushed the E12 continuously upmarket with ever larger and more expensive six cylinder versions whereas Alfa had to introduce a never intended Alfetta 1.6 and had to delay the 119 (Sei) until it was old hat from day one.
The four cylinder Alfettas originally weren’t meant to make the big money. As things evolved they became the sole member of the intended model family and had to make profits they were never meant to. This led to cost saving wherever it was possible but annoyed most – in the interior which never stood a chance in comparisons with the E12 with exposed allen head screws and the cheapest of plastics everywhere.
And the little money the Alfetta earned was used to bolster the losses from Pomigliano.
Imagine an Alfetta line-up reaching up to an M5 rivalling Montreal engined version which surely would have given its Munich rival a good run for its money.
Daniel, I think you’re being rather generous in your second footnote.
“BMW has occasionally played fast and loose with the engine capacity part of the model designation”. Are any of their engine capacities correctly designated these days?
Hi Andy. I was speaking very much in the past tense, when this occurred only “occasionally”. Sadly, there hasn’t been a BMW launched in over a decade that has interested me enough to fathom out the badging. In fairness, with turbocharging and now hybrid and electric powertrains, cubic capacity is now pretty meaningless as a proxy for power output.