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BMW history

BMW in the 1950s - from the Isetta bubble car to the 507 roadster

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The 250 cc limit imposed by the Allies has been lifted. BMW is producing the first motorcycle with a Boxer engine; the 500 cc R51/2. This is followed in 1951 by the R51/3 and the R 67, with variants /2 and /3 boasting 600 cc engines. With demand far outweighing supply, these motorcycles are a roaring sales success.


The first post war car model, the V8 equipped 501 luxury sedan produced in 1951 was a poor production choice for a country that was also devastated by the war. Demand was low and the 501 did not even com e close to meeting BMW's expectations. With the Eisenach plant now under Soviet control, it is also the first BMW automobile to be built completely in Munich. The 500-series cars may not have been BMW's most glamorous products, but these big and sturdy middle-class machines were the mainstay of the company's car division from 1951 up until 1964. They were nicknamed Barockengel - Baroque Angels - because their shape and flowing lines looked like the carved wooden figures in South German and Austrian churches back in the Baroque period. From 1954 onwards, it is joined by the 502, which possesses the world's first V8 light-alloy engine.


Between 1952 and 1954, BMW produces the exceptionally fast BMW R68, capable of doing some 160 km/h in top gear. This 600 cc motorcycle with 35 hp, it sets a new standard for international motorcycle makers. Selling at 4,000 DM, exclusivity is also part and parcel of this motorcycle as well, as only 1,452 were ever built. BMW's motorcycle production has risen from 10,000 to 30,000 units.


BMW's 100,000th motorcycle, an R67/2, comes off the assembly line.


Three years after BMW resumed car production, the world's first all-aluminium V8 engine goes into production in Munich in 1954. This smooth-running piece of machinery combines strength and silence; it initially produces 100 hp and can propel the BMW 502 to a speed of 160 km/h. The BMW 507 can later even reach up to 220 km/h.
In 1954, BMW establishes a research facility for engine construction in the Allach plant, which survived the war undamaged. In 1957, this becomes BMW Triebwerkbau GmbH. The company MAN buys 50% of the firm in 1960. Under license from Lycoming, the firm starts production with a 264 horsepower six cylinder boxer engine. It also develops a small gas turbine for light aircraft, and for stationary use.

BMW is the World Motorcycle Sidecar Champion and stays so for the next twenty years.


In 1955 BMW Isetta won the hearts of the public. Just 2.29 m long, the company obtains the licence to build the motocoupé from ISO in Italy. Powered by a 12 or 13 hp BMW motorcycle engine, over 160,000 people buy an Isetta in the Fifties, making it the best-selling BMW of the decade and a symbol for the boom years after the war.

The full swing-arm suspension on the R50, R60 and R69 takes the market by storm. Sliding swing-arm front-wheel suspension and long-arm rear-wheel suspension afford BMW motorcycles previously unattained levels of stability. But the motorcycle bubble appears to have burst: the number of BMW motorcycles produced slumps from 30,000 in 1954 to a mere 5,400 in 1957.
Wilhelm Noll sets a new world record at 280.2 km/h. From a standing start, he reaches 139 km/h after one kilometre and 166 km/h after one mile. His average speed after five miles clocks in at 266 km/h.


The 507 is probably the most widely recognised classic BMW of the 1950s. Like it's great rival the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, it was inspired by the US importer Max Hoffmann, who told BMW that he could sell a high-performance sports car in large quantities if the company could deliver. Designed in less than a year by Albrecht Goertz, the BMW 507 is a very exclusive sports car: only a total of 252 are built. Most of the work is carried out by hand, customised to meet each buyer's wishes. Its timeless good looks, with a sleek silhouette, supple curves and expansive bonnet, guarantee that it remains the embodiment of the dream car to this day. The power unit was the then new 150 hp V8 of the 502 3.2-liter super, with an additional 10 hp. 


Designed by Willy Black, the BMW 600 was intended as an enlarged Isetta three-wheeler with more power and a more conventional four-wheel configuration. The front end of the 600 was virtually unchanged from the Isetta, but the 600s wheelbase was stretched to accommodate four seats.


Ernst Hiller, riding a BMW, wins the Austrian Grand Prix.


Financier Herbert Quandt acquires a large number of BMW shares and subsequently initiates the reorganization of the company, leading to its independence. The majority shareholder, Quandt is first a member of the advisory board and later sits on the supervisory board, thus contributing greatly to BMW's rise as a company of global importance.
After sustaining heavy financial losses in the big limousine sector, a merger with Daimler-Benz is planned. But Board Chairman Kurt Golda together with the workforce and trade unions, convinces majority shareholder Herbert Quandt that BMW has a future. Quandt rejects Daimler-Benz’s offer at the last minute.
The 700 model was the car that put BMW back on its feet again. It is the first vehicle to have a unitary body: floor, side walls and roof are welded to the occupant cell.

Albrecht Goertz's masterpiece - the BMW 507

Albrecht Goertz's masterpiece - the BMW 507

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