Celebrating BMW's centennial with 30 of its greatest hits (pictures)
Over the last 100 years, BMW has graduated from small-time builder of quirky automobiles to one of the world's leading luxury and technology powerhouses. Join us as we celebrate its centennial by taking a look back at 30 of its most important models.
BMW 3 Series (E30)
The E30-generation BMW 3 Series is perhaps the quintessential Eighties Yuppie mobile, but it was popular for a reason. Crisp styling, spirited performance and a variety of body styles made it a very popular car that was produced for over a decade.
The BMW X5 was the first European luxury crossover SUV. At the time, the E53 generation launched for the 2000 model year, it was considered a gamble, both business-wise and to the company's sporting reputation. Today, premium CUVs are everywhere, and a chief profit driver of automakers globally.
BMW's groundbreaking i8 hybrid sports car started production in 2014. It, along with the i3 city car, ushered in the company's new i subdivision. Powered by a surprisingly small 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine and a sizable electric motor, the butterfly-doored i8 is capable of hitting 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
BMW's E30 M3 is one of the purer race-car-turned-street-car transformations you're likely to ever see. A homologation special (that is, a car that had to be produced in order to qualify for particular racing series), the E30 M3 found great success in global touring car racing. Today, its relative rarity and driver-focused mission has sent collectors into a frenzy.
This BMW 3200 CS is a Bertone design from 1965. It featured the first production application of what came to be known as the "Hofmeister Kink," a design detail in its rearmost cabin pillar that became a BMW styling hallmark.
BMW's E36/8 M Coupe had a short lifespan, being produced between 1998-2002. Although its oddly formal roofline gave it more structural rigidity and utility than its Z3/M Roadster convertible counterpart, which was much more popular. Today, the M Coupe is prized by enthusiasts for its involving driving dynamics, not to mention its rarity.
Built between 1933 and 1934, this upright 303 is a long way from what most people think of when they picture a BMW. Regardless, the 303 established a couple of firsts for the automaker that have gone on to become longstanding mainstays -- six-cylinder power and BMW's now-iconic twin-kidney grille.
BMW's bizarre Z1 was never sold officially sold in North America, but its novel removable plastic bodywork and power doors that lowered into the sill panels continue to captivate brand enthusiasts decades after its brief 1989-1991 production run.
It's hard to imagine that the company that build this Isetta microcar has gone on to spawn today's i8 and 7 Series. Perhaps predictably, BMW's bubble car was a fuel-economy champ in its day. Aside from its appearance, the Isetta's most unique feature is a large side-hinged front door, like a refrigerator. The latter also incorporates the steering wheel and pedals, which swing out of the way to ease entry.
BMW's i3 city car has been available in pure electric and range-extended hybrid form since the 2014 model year. Its novel carbon-intensive construction and modern, minimalist interior ensures the i3 drives like nothing else on the road.
BMW's 335 was built between 1939 and 1941, and represents the automaker's first real push into premium motorcars, challenging rival Mercedes-Benz for the luxury dollar. Only around 400 examples were ever produced.
BMW traces much of its sporty heritage to the 3.0 CS, built from 1968 to 1975. The rakish, shark-prowed coupe was actually assembled by German coachbuilder Karmann, and saw great success in racing as the 3.0 CSL, a car sometimes known as BMW's "Batmobile" due to its distinctive aerodynamics package.
BMW's flat-surfaced 8 Series was a technological juggernaut when it was introduced in 1989. The range-topping coupe featured an early drive-by-wire throttle and was the first production car to use a CAN bus wiring system.
Despite being the first 3 Series ever, the E21 generation lives in the shadow both of its 2002 forebearer and its higher-volume E30 successor. Built between 1975 and 1981, the E21 has a lovely airy greenhouse and good proportions. Its used-market value lags that of some of its more famous brethren...for now.
The E36-generation M3 is one of the most successful high-performance BMW models of recent times. Built between 1992 and 1999, the E36 was the first M3 to feature a straight-six engine. First imported into North America in 1995, our market never saw some of the car's highest-performance variants, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a modern-day legend.
Built in South Carolina, BMW's Z3 sought to capitalize on the success of Mazda's MX-5 Miata by offering a more luxurious and prestigious alternative. Built between late 1995 and mid 2002, the Z3 was decidedly affordable for a BMW, and went on to become quite a success.
Built between 1962 and 1977, the 2002 is the car that, more than any other, established BMW's worldwide reputation for producing excellent driver's cars. A global success, the 2002 is celebrated not only for helping BMW achieve global prosperity, but also for its elegant design, excellent handling and unfiltered driver feedback.
One of the most aesthetically gifted BMWs of all time, today the V-8-powered 507 is also one of the German automaker's most collectible cars. Built between 1956 and 1959, the 507 was conceived at the request of influential New York importer Max Hoffman (who was also instrumental in the rise of Volkswagen and Alfa Romeo in the US). Only around 250 examples were ever built, of which one was famously owned by Elvis Presley.
Built for the 2002-2008 model years, the E65 7 Series initially received a lot of flak for its unconventional Chris Bangle-penned lines (its oddly stacked trunk lid came to be derisively known as the "Bangle Butt") and its novel but fiendishly complex iDrive all-in-one infotainment interface. After a troubled initial reception, the E65 went on to be the best-selling 7 Series ever, and today is considered one of the most influential new cars in decades.
Built in small numbers for just two years, the BMW 2002 Turbo has taken on an outsized importance thanks to the bright light of history. One of the auto industry's very first production turbocharged cars, the 2002 Turbo was only made between 1973 and 1974, with under 1,700 built in total. Said to be unpopular at the time due to the oil crisis as well as its relatively expensive sticker price, the Turbo's rarity now means it commands a serious premium over more common 2002 models.
For a company perhaps best known for driving performance, it's perhaps surprising that BMW hasn't more regularly attempted to build supercars. The Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned M1 still looks clean and contemporary, despite dating from 1978 to 1981. Just 481 of the mid-engined six-cylinder coupes were built, and today, they're one of BMW's few genuine blue-chip collectible models.
The 2011 1 Series M Coupe, a one-year special, was a real treat for brand purists who had begun worrying that BMW had begun veering too far toward high technology and comfort in favor of involving driver's cars. Despite being the least-expensive Motorsport division car offered that year, its small volume means it's not only worth more than it was when new, it means it's also worth more than all other M cars of its year.
Designed by famed designer Henrik Fisker (who would eventually go on to start his own star-crossed luxury car company, Fisker Automotive), the 2000-2003 BMW Z8 was not a particularly strong seller when new. Thankfully, the Z8's gorgeously retro curves have found much firmer footing on the used market. Today, the Z8 -- like the BMW 507 that inspired it -- is regarded as a sure classic.
The Dixi is where it all started -- BMW's very first production car. Interestingly, the Dixi -- later called 3/15 DA-1 and DA-2, was actually not designed by BMW. The brand purchased the tooling and rights to build the car from another company. The Dixi was actually based on the Austin Motor Company's Austin 7.