BMW at 100: Our top picks from its proud history

BMW ICONS: Two of BMW's finest from the past 100 years, the 1980s E30 M3 and classic pre-war 328.
BMW ICONS: Two of BMW's finest from the past 100 years, the 1980s E30 M3 and classic pre-war 328.

IT'S ton-up time for BMW. The little Bavarian company, which started making aircraft in 1916 and morphed into a global car-building phenomenon, turned 100 this week.

Much stein-clinking, downing of Hofbrau and celebratory dancing in lederhosen to mark the occasion we're sure, and there's no denying it's all quite justified.

Here was a company which struggled to survive after World War 2. Despite Germany being in the midst of the "economic miracle" in the 1950s, BMW's finances were in crisis after low sales of its 501/502 luxury sedans and 507 sports car, and was on the verge of losing its independence by being sold to rival Daimler-Benz.

Plans for the sale were scuppered in the last few weeks of 1959 thanks mainly to industrialist shareholder Herbert Quandt's investment. He helped reverse the company's fortunes, and today BMW is the 12th largest car company globally, ahead even of old rival Daimler (Mercedes-Benz).

To mark the occasion, here are our choices of six of the most significant BMW offerings from the past 100 years.

328 (1936-40).

1936 BMW 328. Photo: Contributed
1936 BMW 328. Photo: Contributed Gudrun Muschalla

A mere 464 were built, but the little 2.0-litre six-cylinder sports car made a huge impact, and was the only BMW shortlisted in the 25 finalists in 1999's Car of the Century awards.

In 1938, a 328 won its class in the Le Mans 24 Hours, RAC TT, Alpine Rally and Mille Miglia, while in 1940 the Mille Miglia Touring Coupe won the famous Mille Miglia Italian road race outright. An example even triumphed at the 1948 Australian Grand Prix, 12 years after its production debut.

507 (1956-59).

1956 BMW 507. Photo: Contributed
1956 BMW 507. Photo: Contributed Gudrun Muschalla

The stunning roadster played its part in nearly bankrupting BMW, with all 252 models produced selling at a huge loss.

The 507's desirable shape and strong V8 engine helped revive BMW's sporting image however, and counted Elvis Presley amongst its celebrity owners. Surviving examples are now worth millions.

1500 and Neue Klasse (1962-77).

1962 BMW 1500. Photo: Contributed.
1962 BMW 1500. Photo: Contributed.

The start of the line of sedans and coupes that made BMW's name, paving the way for the sporting 3 Series and 5 Series triumphs still with us today. Started with the 1500 in 1963, and by 1966 we had the much-loved 2002 models, establishing BMW as a global brand.

BMW E30 M3 (1986-1992).

1986 BMW E30 M3. Photo: Contributed
1986 BMW E30 M3. Photo: Contributed

A revvy 158kW-175kW four-cylinder engine and near peerless steering and handling, it is also regarded by many as the world's most successful road-going race car, winning touring car titles globally, endurance races and rallies. Around 16,000 were built, and values are now skyrocketing.

X5 (1999- ).

1999 BMW X5. Photo: Contributed
1999 BMW X5. Photo: Contributed

Love them or hate them, BMW's 'Sport Activity Vehicle' blazed the trail for luxury car-like SUVs.

Proved more comfortable, sportier and better dynamically than other four-wheel-drives, and its popularity shows no signs of abating even 17 years on. In Australia, BMW sells more X5s than any of its other models.

M2 (2016- ).

2016 BMW M2 Coupe.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW M2 Coupe.Photo: Contributed Uwe Fischer

An early call this one, but indications show the new M2 will be the most compelling new BMW offering for a decade.

Drawing inspiration from the much-loved BMW 2002 Turbo, E30 M3 and 1M Coupe, this bargain ($89,990) coupe with a 272kW/465Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo engine can hit 100kmh in 4.3 seconds. A fitting sports car to celebrate the centenary.

BMW vital statistics

Founded: March 7, 1916, in Munich.

Stands for: Bayerische Motorenwerke (Bavarian Motor Works).

First car: BMW Dixi in 1928 (an Austin 7 variant).

Employees: 116,324.

Pre-tax profit 2014: 8.71 billion Euros ($12.85 billion).

Cars sold globally in 2015: 2.247 million.

Motorcycles sold in 2015: 137,000.

Cars sold in Australia 2015: 25,022.

Cheapest new BMW in Australia: BMW 118i ($36,900).

Priciest new BMW in Australia: BMW 750Li ($312,700).

Best-selling BMW in Australia: BMW X5 (from $86,200).

Topics:  birthday bmw cars news centenary century motoring

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