10 Facts Everyone Should Know About BMW

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Big grilles, crazy engines, and a dark past.

Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW as we commonly know it, was founded as an aircraft engine manufacturer in 1916. Its first product was a straight-six engine, a layout it's famous for today in its cars. However, designer Max Friz had a better idea for an airplane engine using just four cylinders. The IIIA engine was reportedly renowned by the Red Baron, the most successful fighter pilot of World War I, referring to it as the "greatest engine." It was revolutionary, and demand from the military ensured BMW's growth and expansion through World War I.

Following the war, BMW was banned by the allies from making aero engines and took to making all sorts of things from farm equipment to household items. That included motorcycle engines, and BMW built its first motorbike in 1923. In 1928, BMW produced its first car when it bought a company that built British Austin Sevens under license. After World War II, which is the bleakest part of BMW's history, the company was banned from making motor vehicles or aircraft and survived making pots, pans, and pedal bikes. It's a genuine wonder that BMW has survived to be here over 100 years later, let alone as a renowned maker of sporty luxury cars. The brand has flourished, though, and brought us some amazing cars. Here are some things you probably don't know about BMW.

BMW

1. Massive Kidney Grilles Aren't New

There has been a lot of negative public reactions to BMW's latest round of kidney grille design. However, they're not new. BMW's first kidney grille arrived in 1933 on the 303 model and stayed large until the 1970s. The trademarked kidney grille as we know it arrived on the New Klasse models introduced in 1962 as part of a large vertical grille. It wasn't until the Series cars arrived that the grilles shrank dramatically overall to become what we consider normal now.

BMW
BMW
BMW
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2. A 1,500-Horsepower Four-Cylinder Engine

BMW might be better known now for its six-cylinder engines, but four-cylinder power plants have been the root of BMW's success. In 1962, BMW introduced its single-overhead-cam M10 engine making around 72 horsepower and continued to develop it until production ended in 1988. In 1982, the turbocharged version, the M12, was used in Formula 1 cars and powered Nelson Piquet in his Brabham car to the championship title in 1983. In maximum boost mode for Formula 1 qualifying, it was capable of an insane 1,400-1,500 hp. It was one of BMW's most successful competition engines and powered cars in plenty of classes over the years.

BMW
BMW
BMW

3. BMW's First Electric Car Was Built In 1972

The 1602e, otherwise known as the 1602 Elektro Antrieb, was introduced in 1972 and became an important development piece for BMW. It wasn't marketable with its 37 miles of range on a full charge, but BMW showed the 1602e off at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich by shuttling VIPs around and lending it out as a support vehicle in long-distance events. It had a 43-hp electric motor that could get it to 60 mph in eight seconds. Unlike modern electric cars, it used lead batteries, and the engine was mounted at the front to drive the rear wheels.

BMW
BMW
BMW

4. The Quandt Family

It was industrialist Herbert Quandt that saved BMW from bankruptcy in 1959. If you ever want to understand just how dark of family history the Quandt's have, check out "The Silence of the Quandts" documentary on a streaming service. He risked his ill-gotten wealth buying 50 percent of BMW and financing the BMW 700, and became incredibly wealthy afterward. He made sure his family continued to benefit from his wealth after his death via BMW and many other business concerns. The Quandt family has managed to remain secretive for a long time, and it wasn't until 1995 that it was revealed due to an overhaul of insider-trading laws that the family still owns half of BMW.

Following the documentary about the family's links to slave labor in World War II, the family publicly stated a historian would examine its activities during Adolf Hitler's dictatorship. An independent study stated: "The Quandts were linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis."

In 2016, on the 100th anniversary of BMW, Gabriele Quandt expressed the family's responsibility, and BMW acknowledged and apologized for its involvement in the Nazi regime, saying, "To this day, the enormous suffering this caused and the fate of many forced laborers remains a matter of the most profound regret."

BMW
BMW

5. World's Longest Drift

At the time of writing, BMW still holds the Guinness world record for the longest drift at a staggering 232.5 miles. Johan Schwartz set the record in a 2018 BMW M5 with eight hours of continual sliding. The 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine in the M5 is a thirsty beast, so it had to be refueled while the car was still drifting. For that, BMW tapped custom car builders Detroit Speed to create a rig that would allow a second car to come out and drift alongside the main to refuel it. Matt Butts from Detroit Speed climbed through the rear passenger door window five times to connect the rig and refuel the record-breaking car.

BMW
BMW
BMW

6. Aeroplane And Train Interiors

BMW hasn't built an airplane engine since 1945 but has recently delved into designing aircraft interiors via its Industrial design studio, BMW Designworks. Currently, BMW's interiors can be enjoyed in certain Starlux, Ava Air, and Singapore Airlines models. BMW has also dabbled in train interiors, and the BART system in San Francisco partnered with Designworks in 2011. The result will be seen in the 775 new trains currently being built by Bombardier Transportation to replace existing railcars being delivered in 2022.

BMW
BMW
BMW

7. Elvis Presley Drove A BMW

The self-styled King Of Rock 'N' Roll had some seriously good taste before the 1970s took hold. An example is the first BMW 507 Elvis Presley bought while stationed in Germany on duty with the US Army. It was a 1957 model that had been raced and also a press demonstrator model for BMW in white. However, due to the number of lipstick marks left on the car by German fans, he had it painted red. He had it shipped back to the US in 1960, then bought another one for actress and co-star in the film Fun In Acapulco, Ursula Andress.

The 507 was a landmark car for BMW and re-sparked the world's interest in the company as a sports car maker. However, it was expensive to build and nearly bankrupted the company. Only 252 plus two prototypes were built, making them incredibly rare. BMW tracked down Elvis's car, which had been sold, engine swapped by a hot-rodding disc Jockey, sold again and then left to rot in a barn, and restored it to its original Chalk White glory.

BMW
BMW
BMW
BMW

8. James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 Is M Powered

The new James Bond movie is finally here, and the iconic DB5 is back. However, using real and rare seven-figure cars for stunts isn't a wise idea. Instead, the crew used carefully constructed replicas built in collaboration with Aston Martin and powered by naturally-aspirated straight-six engines sourced from a third party and making around 300 hp. BMW nerds will spot that the engines used sound like the 3.2-liter S54 engine from the legendary E46 generation M3. Aston won't confirm the actual engine, but the beans were spilled by a UK auto writer on Instagram, confirming that the engine and transmission are from an older 3 Series. Daniel Craig also let it slip in a video posted to Youtube when he showed Prince Charles the cars from the movie. Besides, in the video below, that's definitely the throaty and metallic rasp of the legendary S54 engine.

MAX EAREY
MAX EAREY
MAX EAREY
MAX EAREY

9. BMW Gave Away A New Car As An April Fool's Joke

It was actually a BMW dealership in New Zealand that made Tianna Marsh's year. The BMW Newmarket dealership put an advert in the New Zealand Herald saying "April Fools Day Special - Be the first person to bring your car, along with this coupon, into the BMW Newmarket dealership this morning, ask for Tom and we'll swap your old car, whatever it is, for a brand new BMW." It was largely ignored as a prank, but Marsh and her friend showed up at the dealership expecting to be offered a toy car in exchange for her old Nissan. Instead, she left her 15-year-old Nissan Avenir there and drove off in a brand new BMW 1 Series worth around $50,000.

BMW NZ/YouTube

10. You Can Still Buy Classic BMW Parts From BMW

Need a transmission for a 1940s BMW? It's entirely possible because you can order one from your local dealership. BMW's Classic Program makes parts for old cars as well as modern classics. The automaker even went as far as buying back its first Munich factory to host its restoration and service facilities, a showroom, and a parts counter in one place. It's also a badly kept secret that BMW stores heritage cars there, and you can also buy restored cars direct from BMW.

BMW
BMW
BMW

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