Munch­ner crunch­ers

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Two Wheels - JOHN CAREY

IF BMW didn’t build a car un­til 1928, and didn’t build a car of its own de­sign un­til 1932, why is it cel­e­brat­ing the brand’s 100th birth­day next Mon­day?

A big shindig in Mu­nich will mark the reg­is­tra­tion of the BMW name, noth­ing more.

The Bavar­ian Mo­tor Works name was new in 1916, but it was a re­badge of an out­fit al­ready in busi­ness for years. The Rapp Mo­tor­works built en­gines for planes. It wasn’t very suc­cess­ful, which led to founder Karl Rapp be­ing ousted. So a new name was needed.

It wasn’t un­til the next year that the first prod­uct wear­ing the BMW name ap­peared. The IIIa aero en­gine was a 19.1-litre in-line six, with an over­head cam and liq­uid cool­ing.

It was a cracker, and be­gan a ri­valry that con­tin­ues to this day. The big BMW was more pow­er­ful than the ri­val D. III en­gine from Mercedes.

With BMW power, the new Fokker D VII bi­plane fighter was faster and quick­er­climb­ing. Ace pi­lots, in­clud­ing fu­ture Nazi Her­mann Go­er­ing, were soon singing its praises.

Af­ter WWI the vic­to­ri­ous al­lied pow­ers banned aero en­gine build­ing in Ger­many, which al­most killed BMW.

In 1923, the first BMWbadged mo­tor­cy­cle, the R32, went into pro­duc­tion. It had twin-cylin­der boxer en­gine and shaft drive, fea­tures that sur­vive in some BMW bikes to­day.

BMW only got into the car busi­ness in 1928 by tak­ing over a com­pany al­ready build­ing them. Au­to­mo­bil­w­erk Eise­nach had signed a li­cence deal in 1927 with the Austin Mo­tor Com­pany to build the Dixi, ba­si­cally an Austin Seven. One of th­ese lit­tle beau­ties, stripped down to a bare chas­sis, was the pad­dock-basher that ig­nited a very young Peter Brock’s pas­sion for driv­ing.

The big dif­fer­ence be­tween the Seven and the Dixi was that the Ger­man ver­sion was held to­gether with met­ric nuts and bolts, not im­pe­rial. BMW en­gi­neers up­dated the 750cc four-cylin­der Dixi in 1929, at the same time chang­ing the car’s name to the BMW 3/15.

BMW’s first in-house car de­sign, the AM1, went into pro­duc­tion in 1932 — look­ing a lot like the Austin Seven.

The fol­low­ing year came a proper BMW. The 303 had an in-line six-cylin­der en­gine, a for­mat to which the com­pany has stayed loyal, and was first with the kid­ney grille.

BMW con­tin­ued in the aero en­gine busi­ness to the end of WWII. Th­ese days earth­bound ma­chin­ery is its busi­ness. An­nual pro­duc­tion is about two mil­lion BMW-badged cars, sup­ple­mented by sub­sidiary brands Mini and Rolls-Royce. Mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion is mod­est, to­talling about 125,000 bikes and maxi-scoot­ers a year.

If BMW wants to cel­e­brate 100 years in the busi­ness it’s in to­day, it should wait un­til 2023 for its mo­tor­cy­cle divi­sion and at least 2028 for its cars.

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