Debunking the old propeller myth
Ask anyone vaguely interested in cars where the BMW logo comes from, and they'll probably tell you a story of how it represents the propellers of the planes BMW used to build during World War I, with the white being propeller blades and the blue being clear sky. Don't let them fool you, they're wrong, and it's not just us saying that, but BMW as well.
In light of BMW's recent change of its logo for the upcoming BMW i4 electric sedan, we thought we'd unpack the history of BMW's colors and badge, and dispel any erroneous myths you may have heard. To get to the root of BMW's history, our story needs to date back 103 years ago to 1917…
This was when BMW was first registered in Germany, although back then, there was no logo. BMW had evolved from RAPP Motorenwekre, a Munich-based aircraft engine manufacturer. The company changed its name to Bayerische Motoren Werke, or Bavarian Motor Works. The company still produced plane aircraft engines, and as such, it didn't need a logo to solicit customers. Three months after registration, the newly-christened BMW received its first logo. It took on similar styling to the RAPP logo, with a black ring around the outside in which the company name was written, but the center of the logo was filled with the blue and white design we've come to know and love.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not as a result of the company's business building aircraft engines, but was instead derived from the Bavarian state colors. While the Bavarian state colors were organized in reverse, local trademark law at the time forbade the use of state coat of arms in commercial logos, which is why BMW had to change things up.
While the primary focus of BMW may have been aircraft motors, this wasn't entirely to blame for the misconception regarding the design of the logo. Instead, BMWs own marketing was to blame. As far back as 1929, the BMW logo was used on the propeller blades of planes in a print advert promoting a new aircraft engine BMW was building at the time. A 1942 illustration in BMW's works magazine made use of a similar design, and over the years, the myth just stuck. According to Fred Jakobs of BMW Group Classic, the interpretation has been around for 90 years. BMW has never done anything to dispel the myth, and the constant repetition has merely sealed it into the minds of fans around the world.
So while the BMW logo might be straight forward, where on earth did the red, blue and purple of BMW M come from? For those that know the history of the brand, BMW M was the German marque's motorsport division for quite some time, responsible for race cars and their homologation equivalents for decades. Back in the 1970s when BMW's M Division was first getting started, the company needed sponsors for the factory-backed racing teams. At the time, Texaco was a major sponsor in worldwide motorsport, and as such, it was the company BMW targeted with the original M tri-color livery.
In an attempt to woo Texaco, the red striping was the corporate color of Texaco, while the blue was similar to that of the State of Bavaria - the colors of which were used for BMW's logo. The purple in the middle was a representation of the two companies coming together, as red and blue together make purple. The deal with Texaco fell through before it ever actually came to fruition, but the BMW M logo had already been designed accordingly and the livery worked well on the brand's cars, and so the three-stripe BMW M logo lived on.