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The Ultimate: The History of BMW

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On: Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 12:19PM | By: Teddy Field

The Ultimate: The History of BMW

If you're into cars, then you've no doubt heard BMW cars referred to as “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. This is because their combination of agility and power makes them very engaging to drive. The BMW 3-Series and BMW 5-Series are commonly used as the benchmark in their segments. Even the BMW X3 and BMW X5 offer more driving excitement than any luxury SUV has a right to. So how did BMW become so popular? Let's find out...

During World War I, an engine maker called Rapp Motorenwerke supplied aircraft engines to Germany, Austria, and Prussia. They were huge, 15+ liter engines, capable of operating at incredible altitudes. At a time when airplane wings were typically made of cloth, one of Rapp's engines set an altitude record of 32,000 feet. In 1919, that was incredible, but the founder and main engine designer, Karl Rapp, had already left the company, and it had been renamed Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW for short (1917).

Once the war ended, the Treaty of Versailles prohibited German companies from manufacturing airplane engines. So BMW turned its attention to motorcycle production in 1923, launching the 500cc R32, which used a driveshaft to propel the rear wheel instead of a chain. By 1927, BMW had purchased the Dixi car company, along with its license to produce the British-designed Austin Seven. This catapulted BMW into the car business, and their first production model was known as the 1927 BMW Dixi 3/15.

During the 1930s, BMW built a number of sporty cars and won numerous races. The Second World War saw BMW return to making aircraft engines. And once again, they were banned from making anything but motorcycles once the dust settled. By the late '50s, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, so they launched the iconic little BMW Isetta which used one of their equally-tiny motorcycle engines (this was the car Steve Urkel drove on the sitcom Family Matters). The little runabout was a success, and it financed the development of the BMW 1500, which later became the BMW 5-Series. BMW importer Max Hoffman requested a sporty model for the growing American market. Munich responded by shoehorning a peppy 2-liter motor into their lightweight 1600-series two-door. The new model was dubbed the BMW 2002, and would later become the basis for the legendary BMW 3-Series.

New wealth from the dot-com boom allowed BMW to expand its empire by snapping up troubled marques like Rolls Royce and Mini Cooper. Those brands have benefited from BMW's technical abilities, and have since enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Back in Germany, BMW now builds a huge range of sporty cars, wagons, and SUVs—each one devoted to providing the driver with the ultimate in luxurious driving.

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