This was an idea that spawned a generation of ‘affordable’ driving machines. A project that brought BMW back from the brink of bankruptcy and gave ride to a new class that remains its bestseller to this day.
The 50’s were a difficult year for BMW who had trouble moving their luxury cars off the shelves. Their insipid low-cost cars with motorcycle engines were not having much success either. Sales were dropping and BMW needed a way out. In 1960, an idea to explore the middle ground was born. A car that would slot into the previously untapped 1.5 to 2.0-litre segment. A new class, quite an apt name for the project headed by Fritz Fiedler. The New Class project was to build a new car and a new engine, something BMW hadn’t done since 1933. The first car from this project – the BMW 1500, was unveiled at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show. Designed by BMW’s chief stylist Wilhelm Hofmeister and Italian Giovanni Michelotti the BMW 1500 was a new direction for BMW in terms of styling. A clean, sleek design that obeyed the law of aerodynamics with addition of subtle design touches like the ‘Hofmeister Kink’ which laid the fundamentals of BMW design, the 1500 became an instant design icon. The all-steel body used a unitary construction. It was also the first time BMW introduced McPherson struts in their cars. The rear featured an independent setup with coil springs and semi-trailing wishbones pivoted from a beam that supported the differential housing. This gave the BMW 1500 agility and fleet-footedness in corners, no doubt aided by the lightweight body. The engine was longitudinally mounted and was aligned at 30 degrees to the right in order to accommodate the low bonnet line. The motor was a 1.5-litre four-pot unit that made 80hp enabling the car to reach 100kmph in around 15 seconds and achieve a top speed of 150kmph. In the early sixties! In fact the M115 motor was so good that it was updated and used in all BMW four-cylinder cars till the early 90’s before it was replaced. Talk about making a versatile motor. The new class also featured disc brakes upfront.
The BMW 1500 was praised by the public for the all-round visibility it afforded. Enthusiast loved it for lively performance and stiff suspension setup that corresponded to sharper handling.
In 1963, BMW introduced the 1800.The car used the same engine with enlarged bore and stroke that hiked capacity to 1773cc. In stock trim the engines made 90hp but BMW, with the help of tuning company Alpina, offered a more powerful 110hp model dubbed the 1800 TI (Turismo Internazionale). It could do a 0-100kmph run in 11 seconds and hit a top whack of 170kmph. Then there was the 1800 TI/SA – a homologation special that came with a 130hp motor, a 5-speed Getrag transmission, anti-roll bars and larger disc brakes. Only 200 were made and sold only to licensed racing drivers.
The BMW 1600 replaced the BMW 1500 in 1964 with an increased bore that increased capacity to 1573cc. Power went up to 83hp. It was the inspiration to the 2 Series which incidentally celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
The 2000 that followed borrowed its motor from the 2000C coupe. The design was updated with wider tail lights and a unique rectangular headlamp design that had to be discontinued in America owing to US regulations. It got four individual round headlamps with a different grill that set the tone for future BMW models. By the end of its life the most powerful – the 2000 tii had a 130hp motor and could reach 185kmph. This fuel-injected model laid the foundation for BMW in Motorsport with the 3.0 CSL that preceded
The New Class came with the right recipe. A lively motor powering the rear wheels, running a lightweight body with modern underpinning even today embodies the mantra behind sporty BMW saloons. One idea that led enthusiasts worldwide to immerse themselves into the ‘Ultimate driving experience’.