A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation

The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.

1962 BMW Neue Klasse 1500 Saloon (c) wheelsage.org

In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.

Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”

Four Lessons from History

Pininfarina and Mercedes – it wasn’t all bad. Just good – in parts.

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SC by Pininfarina. (c) heacockclassic

There are certain carmakers and design consultancies who despite all positive signs to the contrary, never quite gelled creatively. Certainly, in places where the incumbent design heritage is sufficiently strong and embedded, there are few if any instances of a coachbuilder or styling house crafting a superior design to that created in-house. Mercedes-Benz during its patrician heyday and carrozzeria Pinin Farina (during its own) are cases in point, especially so if you Continue reading “Four Lessons from History”

What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?

Unusually for the company, BMW’s large coupés have traditionally been rather fickle creatures. 

BMW 3.0 CS, photo (c) mazda3revolution.com

The success of the German car industry is founded upon consistency and evolution. BMW is no exception, as exemplified by its core 3 and 5 series models, which have rarely deviated from the proven and tested formulae.
While other BMW models haven’t been as consistent and successful what with the 7 series never quite recovering from the after effects of the very disruptive E65 generation, it’s the brand’s large coupés that have been by far the most systematically unsteady. Continue reading “What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?”

A Different Shade of Beige

Best known as Germany’s Taxi of choice, the Mercedes /8 has languished under the shadow of more celebrated siblings. Time for a fare hearing.

(c) gdtm

Prior to 1970, all licenced taxis within the Federal Republic of West Germany were painted black. They also for the most part consisted of the products of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. During the wirtschaftswunder era, the diesel-powered Mercedes came to embody virtues of solid dependability, frugality and long-life, as endorsed by the huge, largely trouble-free mileages these vehicles amassed in the public hire trade.

When Mercedes-Benz launched what were termed the ‘new generation’ cars in 1968, perhaps unsurprisingly, the values they espoused were of a familiar, conservative nature. Yet in its own way, the /8 (or Strich Acht – a term employed to denote the model year), was itself something of a revolutionary. Continue reading “A Different Shade of Beige”

Five in Time

Cometh the hour, cometh the car. 1988’s E34 BMW 5-Series arrived at just the right moment, redefining the model line and clarifying a template that arguably hasn’t been bettered.

Image credit: bmwguide

If 1961’s Neue Klasse saloons served to define Bayerische Motoren Werke’s style template and 1966’s 1600-2 popularised it, the Paul Bracq-inspired E12 5-Series of 1972 would take the design principles of Wilhelm Hofmiester and recast them in a modish, yet still highly disciplined context.

A design which married a sharply pared and engineered steeliness with an almost Latin softness, the E12 became BMW’s visual touchstone for almost two generations. So much so that its replacement, 1981’s E28 was essentially a reskin of the outgoing car. Continue reading “Five in Time”

To Judge And To Foresee

From 1972 to 1981 BMW sold the E12, part of its small range of sport saloons. We think of them as quintessentially German. Are they?

1972-1981 BMW E-20 525

When I saw this recently I couldn’t help noticing the almost subliminal Italian feel along with a certain French lightness. How would that be explained? If you Continue reading “To Judge And To Foresee”

Fifth Nicest*

My predilection for two and three door cars is already a matter of public record

The scalloped headlamps and reduced indicators were very small facelift tweaks. To my eyes though they made a big difference.
The scalloped headlamps and reduced indicators were very small facelift tweaks. To my eyes though they made a big difference.

Four years ago however a growing family (and the ridiculous amount of paraphernalia that accompanies two kids) meant short of a roof box or a trailer a new car was needed. The thought of either an MPV or SUV was never entertained. That pretty much meant I was looking for a saloon. Not just any saloon though, but the 5th best looking* 4 door of all time. When this car was launched in 1994 (and especially in base spec) it had a discreet and maybe even slightly underwhelming presence. By the time it came to it’s run out in 2001, dollied up with MSport skirts and almost totally dechromed (the only silver to be found is on the twin kidney grilles) it truly was a sleek slice of motoring heaven.
Continue reading “Fifth Nicest*”