In our series to look at the glorious history of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, also known as BMW, we are dedicating this article to the peace after the storm, the booming phase in the BMW cars’ history after the hardship that the BMW cars faced in their early days; the 1970s-1980s.
Throughout its history, BMW cars overcame each bump on the road in the most stylish and awe-inspiring way. Since its inception, BMW cars’ road to glory was not filled with roses. Yet, the brand always rose from the ashes like a phoenix, towering over its competitors with cutting-edge technologies and dazzling designs.
The booming phase in BMW cars’ history was during the 1970s; that’s when the brand came out with many car series, that we can see their traces up until now.
It is impossible to talk about the seventies of the BMW cars’ history without mentioning Eberhard von Kuenheim. This man, appointed managing director in 1970, quickly transformed the German company into a global enterprise and under his leadership, many BMW cars destined for greatness were born: the 5 Series (1972), 3 Series (1975), 6 Series (1976) and 7 Series (1977).
Coming up next, we take a look at the most unforgettable BMW cars produced in their booming phase!
1972: Saloons from Bavaria – The New 5 Series Model Series
1972 saw the birth of the 5 Series, followed by the various 3, 6 and 7 Series. With the E12, BMW presented the first car in the new 5 Series model range. Like all subsequent cars in the series, the first 5 Series was already equipped with a self-supporting all-steel body, the semi-trailing arm rear axle and dual-circuit brake hydraulics with power assistance.
Regardless of the series’ good performance, the BMW 5 Series appeared to be more serious and less sporty than the predecessor models. They are intended more as business cars or large family saloons. The voluminous and comfortable cars from Bavaria have correspondingly rich and user-friendly equipment; inside the vehicle, only the rev counter hints at the sporty qualities. Otherwise, a dignified atmosphere prevails.
1973: BMW Launches First Series Turbo —The 2002 Turbo
At Frankfurt International Motor Show, the BMW 2002 turbo marked its debut as the first European production passenger car with a turbocharger. The engine is based on the 2002 tii’s four-cylinder injection engine.
The turbo assistance, which starts at 3000 rpm, helped the fast car to achieve top performance, setting new standards for sporty 2-litre saloons. Externally, the BMW 2002 turbo is distinguished from the company’s other models by its eye-catching coloured paintwork and front and rear spoilers. The front spoiler has openings for oil and turbocharger cooling.
BMW, however, offered the 2002 turbo at the wrong time: High-performance vehicles with high fuel consumption had hardly any market opportunities because of the oil crisis and recession. Between September 1973 and 1974, BMW produced only 1672 vehicles of this type. With the lettering mounted on the side of the spoiler, drivers should also be able to see who is driving behind them in the rearview mirror.
1975: BMW Cars Hit the Big Time with the New 3 Series
In 1975, recovery was accompanied by expansion into new markets. Also, in July 1975, BMW presented its new 3 Series, which went on to be one of the most successful series of the brand. BMW took its time developing the new series.
In keeping with the effort expended, the new BMW cars have considerably more to offer than just a more modern body, which is the most striking change. The brand-typical lines and the notchback remain, but the cars are longer, wider and lower than the previous models – they have improved aerodynamics.
However, the first 3 Series models were two-doors, but that changed in later models, which included almost all body types. Overall, the new body of the 3 Series was more stable; it had a generously dimensioned crumple zone and showed optimal deformation behaviour in the event of a collision.
As a safety feature, the petrol tank was located outside the rear deformation area below the back seat, which required a rather elaborate technical design. The 3 series models had steel-belted tyres and a brake booster to prevent over-braking of the rear wheels.
There are seven generations of the 3 series, and like all BMW cars series, the brand kept on brilliantly responding to the trend and the market need. When it came to the 3 series, the four-cylinder engine was now more powerful in all versions than in the previous models but made do with regular petrol.
The trend was towards cars with less petrol consumption, so BMW delivered! The BMW 3 Series was released with a roomier and more comfortable interior design. They offered an elaborate heating and ventilation system, automatic seat belts installed as standard, and body-contoured seats with headrests.
1976: BMW Launches Luxury Coupé on the Market
Whereas in previous years, the BMW cars were mainly launched with a rather comfort-oriented focus, in 1976, the brand presented itself with a focus on “sportiness” with the first generation of the 6 Series. For example, all models could have been bought with a more complex suspension tuning, making the car safer when driving extremely fast in borderline situations.
The trend towards sportiness was evident in the new BMW E24/635 CSi, and the company’s racing experience was clear in the fast upper-class coupé specifications. The car was powered by an M88/3 straight-six engine. In keeping with its sporty character, the new BMW car had reinforced anti-roll bars and slightly wider rims.
Visually, too, the coupé emphasised its sporty image: it had front and rear spoilers, side stripes and strikingly styled rims. Even the standard equipment was extensive, with laminated glass front windows, height-adjustable driver’s seats, and other extras. The 6 series was in production until 1989. The last model of the series from 1989 was even equipped with a driver’s airbag on request.
1977: BMW Cars Enter the Luxury Class with the New 7 Series.
With its 7 Series, BMW entered the automotive upper class, previously occupied in Germany only by the S models of the brand’s rival Mercedes. In terms of styling, BMW’s top models are unmistakably related to both their predecessors, the 3 series.
The series had all the loveable BMW cars’ usual; the slightly rising lines towards the rear, the so-called “BMW kidney”, the low beltline and the large windows. As you would expect from a luxury-class car, the four-door saloon offered high comfort and above-average artistry.
The 7 Series remained true to BMW cars’ successful concept of building comfortable yet sporty cars with good driving performance. It was initially offered with a six-cylinder in-line engine in three versions: the 728i with 190 hp, the 730i with 215 hp and the 735i with 247 hp.
In 1979, the engine line-up for the series was upgraded again: the 7-series received Bosch petrol injection throughout. The 7 series has 7 generations, and the first generation of the series, E23, was the first of the BMW cars to have ABS (Anti-lock braking system).
1979: New BMW — the M1
The autumn of 1978 witnessed the launch of the M1, the car that became a milestone in the history of BMW cars! The M1 was powered by a vigorous 3.5-litre straight-six with a maximum output of 277 hp. BMW’s new M1 was the first German car to rival the Italian sports cars of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati in terms of performance. Designed as a racing car by BMW’s subsidiary BMW Motorsport, now known as BMW M GmbH, the car was also the first BMW car to be mass-produced in at least 460 units to meet homologation requirements.
The car was meant to participate in the German Racing Championship. Nevertheless, the development of this beauty took longer than expected, and it was introduced as part of BMW’s Procar series instead. Despite its close relationship to a racing car, the M1 was suitable for road and everyday use: it comfortably carries two people, has a boot, and is relatively quiet.
The coupé, which was only 1.14 m high and had extremely wide tyres, was styled by Italy’s star designer Giorgio Giugiaro. Compared to other luxury sports cars, the M1, with its six-cylinder powerplant, appeared poorly powered at first glance. But the highly upgraded engine has a cylinder head with two camshafts that operate with four valves per cylinder.
The 1980s: BMW Cars Still at the Top!
The 1980s began with the production of the M535i. In the 1980s, BMW cars strengthened their sporting DNA by launching models focused on driving pleasure and brought home several successes.
September 1983 saw the birth of BMW’s first diesel engine, the M21, a 2443 cm³ unit turbocharged with 115 hp maximum output. Three years later, the same engine was also offered in an aspirated version with a maximum output of 86 hp. These two engines were later fitted under the bonnet of the BMW 524td and 524d, respectively.
Also, in 1983, the Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet became F1 World Champion in a Brabham equipped with a Bavarian power unit, while two years later, two cars destined for greatness were born: the M3 and M5.
The legendary versions of the 3-series immediately won over motorists looking for an everyday sports car and dominated motorsport, especially among touring vehicles: in 1987, when the Italian Roberto Ravaglia won the world championship, Belgian Eric van de Poele won the German DTM title, and Frenchman Bernard Béguin triumphed in rallies by taking the top step on the podium at the Tour de Corse.
1984-1985: M-series, Successful as a Road Version
In 1984, the famous M5 was released. The M5 belongs to the range of individual sports cars marketed by BMW as the M Series. The car was based on the second generation of the series, the E28.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about this time in BMW cars’ history without making a stop at the M 535i. The car was also one of the motorsport variants that belonged to the M series. Powered by a 3.5-litre M30 inline-six, the car was the solo official E12, the first generation of the M series model that was developed by BMW Motorsport.
The M-series models proved to be highly successful. The designation M in the BMW programme originally stood for producing road-going racing cars. The letter identified BMW’s Motorsport GmbH subsidiary, which was responsible for motorsport and marked the start of the series in 1979 with the production of the M1.
All the vehicles certainly live up to the sporty image, even if it is not always apparent at first glance. The exterior design of the M5, for example, is rather simple and restrained; there are no sporty elements such as rear spoilers or widened wings; on the other hand, the engine performance speaks for itself.
1986: Sporty Crowning Glory of the 3-series— the M3
The new M3 was the top-performance edition of the old 3 series. It had a 197 hp four-cylinder, four-valve engine with a displacement of 2.3 litres. The new M3 accelerated to 100 km/h in an incredible 6.7 seconds! The basis for the most successful racing touring car of all time.
The four-cylinder engine of the M3 represented a combination of previously proven components. Although the engine is based on the six-cylinder installed in the BMW 635 CSi, this version had four cylinders.
Each cylinder has four valves and a three-way catalytic converter. The car came with an electronic fuel injection system from Bosch, with its bumper/spoiler combination made of polyester and polyurethane.
1986: BMW’s V12 flagship – the 750iL
Almost a decade after the introduction of the 7 Series, BMW crowned its 7 Series in July 1986 with the new 750i/ E32 750i. The initial models were released with six-cylinder, but later came the upgrade everyone was waiting for; the 12 cylinders! The 750i was the first German twelve-cylinder in 50 years. With its new flagship, BMW sent a clear signal to the German and international competition.
Making headlines for everyone in the world, the 750i was one of the best cars in the world at the time. The new BMW was a sensation; it has blown car enthusiasts’ minds since its introduction. In fact, there were more than 3,000 pre-orders for the car!
The car owed this top position in the cars’ hierarchy not only to its V12 engine but also its front axle and transmission block. Not to forget the illuminated display boards this piece of work had! On the outside, the car also had a distinctive feature with a broader kidney grille than the previous models.
Despite its sporty design, the 750i offers four doors and generous space in its interior; this applies in particular to the even more comfortable 750iL version with its longer wheelbase. Standard equipment includes electrically adjustable front and rear seats, automatically extending headrests, airbags for the driver and front passenger and many other equipment highlights.
The 750i quickly became a prestige car and, even years later, was still one of the best the market had to offer in this class.
In addition, the new 750i was the first car from BMW to follow the gentlemen’s agreement between the German carmakers to have a maximum speed limit of up to 250 km/h only.
1988: The Ultimate Driving Pleasure – the Z1 Roadster
The first car in the Z series roadsters was a new signature to be added to BMW cars’ history! It had a 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine that produced 170 hp and accelerated the car to 100 km/h in 7.9 seconds. With a top speed of 225 km/h, the two-seater had a unique sliding door feature.
The body, mainly made of plastic, is self-supporting with the help of a steel skeleton. The total weight is ideally distributed almost equally between the front wheels and the rear axle. The Z1 was one of the early BMW cars to have a multi-link design suspension. Also, its rear suspension, Z Axle, was built particularly for this model.
1988: BMW Presents a Sporty, Elegant Five-door Model
The mid-1980s were all about the estate cars (a vehicle with a body longer than usual that comes with a large carrying space behind the seats and an additional door/ usually a fifth door in the rear to access the extra space). At the time, BMW had no estate cars in its lines until the 3 Series Touring.
In 1988, BMW presented the new 3 Series Touring, a versatile vehicle for individual needs in everyday life and leisure. The apple of the new 3 Series Touring model didn’t fall far from the 3 Series tree, as the model adopted engines and chassis from the 3 Series.
As the world bid adieu to the 1980s, BMW was far from being done, stunning cars’ enthusiasts with its innovations. In fact, by the end of the 1980s, the brand was already cooking up new brilliant BMW cars, a new 8 Series, which we will find out in our next article!