Say what you like about buying American, the German auto market produces some of the best and most well-known cars on the market today. Particularly luxury cars – BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are the three German companies who have a global corner on the luxury car market. But where did BMW come from? And what does that stand for, anyway? Well, hold on to your seats (or the steering wheel, but if you’re driving, you shouldn’t be reading this), because here’s a brief history of BMW, or the Bayerische Motoren Werke company.
Beginning of the Company
Yes, the real name of BMW is that long and German. They’re a German company, after all, based in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. The English translation happily keeps the same initials, though: Bavarian Motor Works, which is much easier to pronounce. The company, interestingly, started in the same field as the Lincoln Motor Company, and at about the same time. In 1916, the Rapp Motorenwerke company started building engines. Not for cars, though; these engines were for aircraft. For WWI, in fact. The first engines were shaky, but RM soon updated their engines and were doing quite well. Too well, actually; they grew too quickly, and before long, they were having financial difficulties. Rapp, the owner for whom the company was named, resigned. Two Austrians took over, merged with a local small aircraft maker, and named the company Bayersiche Flugzeungwerke. This changed quickly to the current name, and BMW came into existence, building high quality aircraft engines for the war.
This went well until WWI was over and the Armistice Treaty stipulated that BMW stop producing airplanes. Not to be daunted, or put out of business for too long, BMW began building motorcycles. The R-32, the first BMW motorcycle, was announced in 1923. The basic design for this compact cycle was so effective that the theory is still used in their motorcycles today. In 1928, BMW began building cars called the Dixi 3/15 PS, under license from Austin. The car was updated in 1929 and 1930. The first car they built entirely came in 1932, the BMW AM 4. With a 4-cylinder engine, suspended valves, and two chains driving the crankshaft, the “Ausfuhrung Munchen 4 Gange,” or AM 4, produced 20 horsepower at 3500 rpm and hit a top speed of 50 miles.
Their most famous pre-WWII car was the BMW 328. Built as a motor sport vehicle, the 328 made significant improvements on previous cars. The engine was an in-line 6 cylinder, giving 80 horsepower, 5000 rpm, and with a top speed of 93 mph. It quickly became a popular car for the road, though the 328 did make a name for itself on the track, as well.
Before long, war broke out again, and BMW found aircraft engines in demand again. They began providing engines to the Luftwaffe until the end of the war, when they once again were banned from making aircraft engines for 30 years.
After the war and with aircraft engines off the market, BMW turned luxury cars and produced the 501 luxury sedan. However, a luxury car in post-war Germany wasn’t what the general populace was looking for, so the sales weren’t what BMW hoped for. So they turned their hands to making the popular economy cars. BMW acquired the rights to the Iso Isetta and powered the cars with their motorcycle engines. These small cars helped the company regain finances and property, and soon they were turning out more cars; and selling cars and buying companies overseas, like the Rover series which they later sold to Ford.
Where are they now?
BMW continues selling high quality luxury cars, competing with Mercedes and other companies to produce newer, better, faster, and more efficient cars every year. In June 2012, Forbes magazine listed BMW as the #1 most reputable company worldwide. Where is BMW now? Quite well off and continuing to improve.