1962 BMW 1500.
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The fresh face of BMW: 50 years of BMW New Class.
Waiting times averaged around half an hour. That‟s how long you had to queue up at the 1961 Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) to get a close-up look at the star turn of the show – or indeed to sit inside it, if for no more than a hurried minute. “Anyone who was in the vast exhibition area, for whatever reason, felt drawn to the stand of the Bayerische Motoren Werke,” noted reporters from a leading German magazine, “or to be precise, to the new BMW mid-range car which until then had been a closely guarded internal secret but was now on public view for the first time at the BMW stand.”
BMW 1500 celebrates its world premiere. Resplendent in virginal white, one of the two prototypes of the mid-range car from Munich slowly rotated on a closed-off turntable. A few metres away stood its twin, inviting visitors to touch it and even sit behind the wheel. Anyone who managed to secure a spot in front of the adjacent knee-high barrier had an unhampered view of the impressive four-door model performing its slow-motion pirouettes. A flat panel under the front bumper gave a brief summary of its salient cutting-edge specifications: 4 cylinders in-line, 75 hp at 5,500 rpm, 5-bearing crankshaft, OHC, front strut suspension, rear semi-trailing arm, front disc brakes, top speed 150 km/h, weight (fully fuelled) approx. 950 kg. Not even the strikingly elegant eight-cylinder 3200 CS Coupé alongside it, revealed to the public for the first time, could detract from the sheer magnetic pull of this new model.
In no time at all the new BMW had emerged as the ultimate “mid-range dream car” for the 950,000 or so visitors to the 40th IAA – marking a record attendance and furnishing impressive proof of the burgeoning interest in cars among the population at large. More than that, the motoring world likewise credited this BMW debutant with excellent future prospects. “The BMW 1500 really has a great deal to offer that makes it stand out from the crowd of 1.5-litre cars and lends it that aura of technical exclusivity which for so many people is summed up by the three letters BMW,” wrote Germany‟s leading motoring magazine. The four-door model was equally compelling for its clean, uncluttered, modern lines:
“It is a visual feast in the gallery of saloons. But we would hope that this most beautiful of production saloons will one day also be on sale at the stated price.” BMW had quoted 8,500 deutschmarks as the anticipated cost of the 1500 – good value, but far from cheap.
The new car couldn‟t have timed its arrival better. Average incomes in Germany – initially the main target market for the BMW 1500 – were rising by some ten per cent annually in the early 1960s and stood at DM 6,723 in 1961. In that year the number of new car registrations in Germany crossed the one million threshold for the first time. Along with climbing incomes, there was also a rise in the demands made on cars – which BMW was unable to meet with its existing model range. Between the conservative eight-cylinder saloon – popularly dubbed the “Baroque Angel” – and the agile 700 series small car, there was nothing to offer the aspiring middle classes. At the same time, an ongoing restructuring process was taking place within the individual automotive classes. Up to 1958 the microcar category, for example, which included BMW with its Isetta, was steadily expanding. At the same rate as this vehicle class subsequently diminished in significance, registrations in the lower mid-range – which included the BMW 700 – were on the rise. Added to this, the Borgward Isabella premium model had left a gap in the medium range when the Bremen-based car factory announced it was filing for bankruptcy just a few weeks before the IAA. It was BMW‟s clear intention that the 1500 should largely plug the gap which Borgward was leaving after posting sales figures of more than 4,000 units in 1961.
1960: increase in capital generated financing for development and production.
On the other hand, though, this brand-new model was also a huge gamble. In 1959, BMW itself had come within a whisker of bankruptcy and having to sell out to Daimler-Benz before being rescued by its majority shareholder Herbert Quandt.
BMW‟s image ambassador flagships – the BMW 503 and 507 – had been phased out in 1959, but this did not free up sufficient capacity for high-volume production of a new vehicle. And so it was decided to build a completely new factory hall at the Munich-Milbertshofen plant where the new “middle-class car” – its original internal description – was to be constructed. To raise the necessary capital, BMW‟s equity was initially reduced from 30 million to 22.5 million marks in 1960 and then raised to 60 million marks. That secured the necessary means for both the plant and development work. The sense of a new era dawning was tempered by certain reservations, as a media comment at the time revealed: “The plant may be out of the red, but whether it has already won the game will only be confirmed if the BMW 1500 now on show in Frankfurt actually goes into production and sells.”
The development engineers in Munich pulled out all the stops to keep to the schedule, which stipulated a market launch in the summer of 1962. After all, the first customers had already signed contracts during the IAA stating delivery in the “second half of 1962”. “We firmly expect to be building the pilot series in June of next year,” promised Paul Hahnemann, the head of sales at the time, shortly after the Frankfurt Show. “Production is then scheduled to start in July.” The intervening period was rife with rumour. In April 1962 an impatient headline – “When will the BMW 1500 be out?” – preceded a claim that series production would not start up until August 1962, when the plant reopened after its holiday closure, while pessimists were already banking on a price hike to 10,000 marks.
In fact, the project ran almost exactly to schedule. By early June 1962, advance orders had already swelled to around 25,000. BMW‟s press department invited auto journalists from Germany and abroad to Rottach on Bavaria‟s Tegernsee lake for the first test-drives with the 1500:
“We‟ve made it: the final soundings on design development have been completed, the tough, tiring endurance tests on motorways and minor roads of all quality levels have corroborated the deliberations and calculations of the designers, and in Milbertshofen a new, impressive state-of-the-art steel structure has been specially built as a production hall for series production of the BMW 1500.”
Design with Giovanni Michelotti’s signature.
Lined up for the journalists was the forerunner of the so-called “Neue Klasse” – “New Class” – that would finally secure BMW the breakthrough as a producer of globally desirable modern automobiles. Its spacious four-door body featured lines that dispensed with any stylistic excesses; indeed, it was so subtle and transparent in its streamlined form that it would endure for a very long time. The design was neither conservative nor influenced by American style – it was more reminiscent of Italian cars. Which was hardly surprising: when developing the design of the 1500, BMW‟s chief stylist Wilhelm Hofmeister had sought the advice of Giovanni Michelotti, who had already collaborated on the 700. Hofmeister‟s team developed Michelotti‟s draft through to completion, and so the car body bore Michelotti‟s modern, unadorned lines along with a radiator grille panel harking back to the era of the 507.
When principal shareholder Herbert Quandt saw the finished design, it is said that he insisted the classic BMW twin kidney be reinstated. The designers rapidly put together a suitable kidney grille and placed it in the centre, coupling the twin kidneys with the horizontality of the radiator grille to create a new BMW face. From the 1500 on, the kidney grille was more ornamentation than key component, with the headlights taking on an ever more important role in design. Another detail made a “double debut” – on the BMW 3200 and the new mid-range car: the transition from the C-pillar to the car body was no longer round but featured a “kink”.
At the outset this was down to perfectly prosaic reasons: the widened support base of the C-pillar was a result of the one-piece steel construction of the 1500 designed to exclude any potential weakness at the transition to the roof. As a tribute to design director Wilhelm Hofmeister, who had developed this form as a BMW styling cue, it became known years later as the “Hofmeister kink”.
80 hp four-cylinder with the latest engine technology.
Working away under the bonnet was an all-new 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit developed by BMW‟s engine guru Alexander von Falkenhausen. This was one of the components that had been palpably or visibly altered since the prototype marked its global debut at the IAA: instead of 75 hp at 5,500 rpm, as originally cited, the power unit now delivered 80 hp at 5,700 rpm thanks to an increase in the compression ratio from 1:8.2 to 1:8.8. The engine had originally been intended to run on standard petrol as well, but was now designed for super grade fuel. And that was good for a top speed of 150 km/h, an outstanding figure when viewed against its rivals. The same applied to acceleration, with the new BMW completing the sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in a sporty 16.8 seconds. Thanks to its streamlined shape, the car body offered relatively little wind resistance, which made for impressive fuel consumption figures: in the prescribed DIN measurement of fuel consumption at 110 km/h, the 1500 managed to undercut the ten-litre threshold by a tenth of a litre. BMW specified fuel consumption on the road as between nine and ten litres per 100 km. With a tank capacity of 53 litres, that was enough to cover a distance of more than 500 kilometres.
A raft of special features in the engine design showed it to be a highly advanced unit, and the company did not hold back in announcing future boosts in output: it offered every potential, they declared, “for keeping its performance up-to-date for the next ten years at least”. That this would prove true all the way to world championship-winning heights, nobody could of course anticipate at the time.
When it made its debut the four-cylinder was the only German touring car racing engine in its class to feature an overhead camshaft and inclined valves in a V arrangement. The valves were slightly off-centre, which made for straight rocker arms subjected to minimal load. This valve arrangement allowed for the combustion chamber to be designed as a “swirl pan”. The fuel-air mixture passed through the chamber in a twist-flow motion, thus creating a turbulence which improves combustion and make the engine more economical.
Excellent engine charging was down to minimally curved intake ports and a sophisticated gas cycle on the inlet and exhaust side which was fine-tuned to reduce vibration. The pipe lengths ahead of the air filter housing and between the air filter and the carburettor were aligned extremely accurately both to the length of the fan-shaped intake pipe and to the volume of the intake silencer and the engine timing.
The five sets of bearings for the rigid and meticulously counter-balanced crankshaft ensured high running smoothness across the entire rev range, while its four-layer bearings broadened its dry-running characteristics. The grey-cast iron engine block featured water chambers between all the cylinders and extended down well below the crankshaft mid-point. Over the course of the engine‟s subsequent development, this crankshaft proved so robust that it was able to withstand many times the loads it was originally designed to take.
With a stroke of 71 millimetres and a bore of 82 millimetres, the four-cylinder engine was designed as a modern short-stroke unit for the higher rev ranges. Yet it generated 98 Newton metres of torque over a broad bandwidth from 1,400 rpm to 5,700 rpm, with the curve peaking at 117 Newton metres. That placed it at the top of its class while also permitting lazy shifting thanks to its great flexibility. But in terms of gear spacing, the four-speed transmission was targeted at the sportier driver. It had four all-synchromesh gears that enabled fast, smooth shifting without the need for double-declutching.
Innovative new chassis design with impressive reserves of talent.
The BMW engineers marshalled by development chief Fritz Fiedler and head of testing Eberhard Wolff also performed some ground-breaking work in the design of the chassis. This was the first time that a spring strut front axle had been combined with rear wheels using rocker arm suspension with such care that the roll axis – the imaginary line around which the body tilts when driving through corners – remained virtually horizontal even under varying loads. The BMW 1500 displayed a largely neutral steering tendency even under extremely dynamic cornering and with varying loads, allowing it to resist both understeer and oversteer. This chassis set-up was achieved in essence through the inclination of the front spring struts and the deployment of the rear wheel rocker arms in coordination with the spring characteristics.
“The terms understeer and oversteer lose their significance in this car,” BMW Director of Technical Sales Planning Helmut Werner Bönsch was quoted as saying in one major German news magazine. “Its fine roadholding has come about not by chance, but as a result of precise work by the engineers.” The research carried out by the BMW designers, the magazine continued, has put them in a position to “accurately identify around 130 of the 168 factors which affect a car‟s roadholding, to establish their impact and, in so doing, to adjust the car‟s handling characteristics to the desired effect.”
In order to more effectively exploit the potential available within the chassis, the BMW engineers increased the size of the standard production model‟s wheels and brakes. A new tyre dimension was developed specially for the 1500. The result: low-profile tyres in size 6.00-14. A round-shoulder design and wide contact patch, coupled with a low height, ensured high lateral forces and therefore impressive stability through corners despite the soft tyre suspension. Another critical enhancement achieved through the switch from 13-inch to 14-inch rims lay in the scope for larger brakes.
The exterior dimensions of the front fixed-calliper disc brakes duly increased from 238 mm to 268 mm, the diameter of the rear drum brakes from 230 mm to 250 mm.
Functional and practical body and equipment.
The car‟s body was built according to cutting-edge construction principles. Its structure was welded to the rigid floor assembly and, as a self-supporting all-steel body, formed a cell combining high bending strength and torsional stiffness with low weight. Inner door openings of 828 mm at the front and 726 mm at the rear revealed the importance attached to ease of entry. The individual front seats were contoured and given a bucket-like design in the lower section to provide lateral support around fast corners. With these features, and an additional transverse spring providing extra back disc support, the sporting future of the new model series had already been programmed in.
In the early 1960s, passive safety was still largely a foreign concept. However, the first key details could already be found in the new 1500. Screw connections were provided for all four seats to allow seat belts to be installed. The grippy two-spoke steering wheel had a padded impact plate, and the dashboard minimised reflections in the windscreen – as did the instruments set well back in the dark, padded dashboard. “Added to which,” continues the press clipping, “wherever you look you‟ll see that „Aus gutem Grund ist alles rund‟ – „things are circular (also means „going well‟) for a reason‟.”
The exceptionally efficient use of space in the interior was duplicated in the large boot area, which had a low rear panel to ease loading and a totally level floor to allow the space to be exploited to the full. Its 600-litre capacity allowed the luggage area to swallow up three normal-sized pieces of luggage, two smaller cases and a number of other bags with ease. The boot also had to be opened if you wanted to top up the fuel tank, as the filler cap was positioned under the boot lid on the right-hand wing.
The bonnet rated as another special design feature of the car. In order to fundamentally rule out the possibility of the bonnet opening while on the move, it was front-hinged and held itself wide open.
Although BMW was unable to stick to its original price for the new 1500, the eventual rise was not quite as drastic as the scaremongers had feared. The company instructed dealers to quote a sale price of 9,485 marks, which included “all standard fittings without which the car cannot be delivered, such as the disc brakes, windscreen wash system, etc.,” as Board member for sales Paul G. Hahnemann was keen to emphasise at the press launch.
A roundly positive reaction in press: “This car is worth the money”.
The first road test reports provided a ringing endorsement of the initial enthusiasm. “This car is worth the money” led one drivers‟ journal, and gushed: “The BMW may be an off-the-peg garment, but it doesn‟t let it show; its workmanship would be a credit to any bespoke car manufacturer. Its body is a work of precision, its construction a genuine masterpiece.” Their counterparts at Germany‟s leading car magazine warmed to the theme: “Two initial impressions from behind the wheel which are likely to strike anyone sitting in a BMW 1500 for the first time sum up this car: the agreeable seating position, offering excellent visibility, and the nimble handling which could almost lead you to believe you were driving something far smaller.” The Italian press lauded the new mid-size BMW as a car with much competition in the four-cylinder saloon class, “but whose rivals cannot keep pace with it in terms of its completeness, the cutting-edge status of its design and its engine power.” As a whole and in its details, the new kid on the block left French testers with an “excellent impression. Here we have a car whose makers have been careful not only to keep price as low as possible, but also to ensure satisfied owners over the long term.”
The development story: early projects were launched as early as 1953.
For the creators of the BMW 1500, the market launch of the new car represented the fulfilment of a long cherished dream. It had, after all, been a long and winding – not to mention, at times, rocky – road to get to this day in June 1961. Back in the early 1950s the company had been struck by the lack of a mid-size four-cylinder car to sit between the large six and eight-cylinder models on the top end of the range and the small single-cylinder and twin-cylinder variants at the opposite extreme. Although it was far from certain where the funds would be found to finance the project, development work got underway in 1953. Emerging from a pack of engine concepts as the leading candidates for a place under the bonnet were two four-cylinder powerplants derived directly from the celebrated aluminium V8 in the BMW 502 / 507. For the unit known internally by the codename M521V, the eight-cylinder was sliced in half crossways; for the M521R the cut was lengthways.
This “partnership engines” concept was so named because of the potential for low development and manufacturing costs generated through component sharing with the V8. Although the 1955 engine failed to make the grade, let down by its unacceptable vibrations and running characteristics, the four-cylinder in-line engine concept in general was looking extremely promising. Mounted at a 45-degree angle, the V8 derivative soon became known as “Der schräge Otto” (“schräg” meaning “sloping”) within the factory walls, inspired by a popular film musical in Germany at the time. The 1.6-litre engine, which developed 62 hp in testing, was housed under a body later described by BMW Director Bönsch as “futuristic”. Rather than sloping down towards the tail of the car in conventional style, the rear screen was angled back towards the front, in a manner mimicked in subsequent years by a small French car.
By 1957 the process of further development had ruled out the idea of partnership engines as a viable option.
The aluminium crankcase would have become too expensive and technical development revealed that a crossflow cylinder head with valves in a V arrangement and overhead camshaft would be necessary. The new engine was badged M530 and had an output of 75 – 80 hp. To house the engine the bodyshop developed a prototype BMW 530, a two or four-door saloon which shared a radiator design with the BMW 507 and whose trapezoidal lines lent it a strong likeness to the later 1500. Taking shape at the same time was an extremely elegant coupé boasting design references to the BMW 503 and an increase in engine capacity from 1.6 litres to 1900 cc to give a claimed output of 100 hp. The saloon and engine were scheduled to go into series production at the turn of the year 1958/1959, and the development process was duly wrapped up. However, with the financial situation becoming increasingly dire, a lack of resources forced BMW to pull the plug on the project in late 1958.
Starting again with a BMW 1300 prototype.
With the company‟s financial fortunes staging a revival, a mid-size car reappeared on the radar. The conception process was re-launched with a clean slate, which meant a re-evaluation of all existing engine concepts. As the project demanded a powerplant that was as lightweight and compact as possible, the leading candidate was a unit originally intended to power a small car. The 0.9-litre engine was plumped up into a 1,300 cc unit developing 65 hp in its grey-cast iron version and 62 hp in aluminium guise. It was given the designation M113, and the BMW 1300 prototype built in 1961 was therefore known as the BMW 113.
The 93-millimetre distance between the engine‟s cylinders meant the scope for enlarging the four-cylinder unit, if required, was limited. This distance was therefore increased to 100 millimetres, creating the M115 with capacity of 1,499 cc. The M115 was to become the forefather of all BMW four-cylinder engines produced up to 1990.
And even the company‟s later, legendary six-cylinder in-line units inherited some of its characteristics, including the 100 millimetres between the cylinders.
The same dedication to perfection was shared by the body development experts in the design of the mid-size car from the wheels up. Stung by their experience with the BMW 530 – whose body possessed insufficient torsional stiffness to deliver the sporting capability desired – they conducted a series of load tests. One example involved fitting a BMW 700 with a high-performance engine and sending the test drivers out on a mission of speed. The small cars were hounded over motorways and country roads alike at up to 170 km/h until their bodies could take no more. The areas of weakness were subsequently remodelled and improved to the point where, rather than snapping under the loads, they would, at most, bend. All of which laid the foundations for the exemplary rigidity of the BMW 1500, recipient of such high praise after its launch in June 1962.
Lack of skilled workers causes quality issues.
Production of the 1500 began on schedule in September 1962, after the pre-production series of test and demonstration cars had rolled off the assembly line late that spring. Exports to Japan and the USA were also quickly up and running. However, the growing production numbers were accompanied by an increase in the fault count, due in part to the large number of unskilled personnel and “guest workers” employed by the company in the manufacturing halls to aid the rapid growth in production. Given considerable time pressure, there was no option but to train these employees “on the job” once production had already begun. It was not long before the public got wind of these shortcomings, which threatened to cause lasting damage to the reputation of the 1500 and of BMW as a whole. This led production management to introduce a multi-layered system of quality control mid-way through the production run. By the middle of 1963 this had led to rapid improvements in the production quality of the cars.
The 1500 saw BMW finally identify the missing link between the small and large cars in its model range. Where BMW had previously been goaded with taunts that it only made “cars for bank managers and day-labourers,” the new mid-size fulfilled its brief of appealing to a new customer base. While only 14 per cent of all BMW 700 and BMW LS customers were self-employed, 76 per cent of early orders for the BMW 1500 came from buyers with their own business.
The BMW 1800 turns the “neue Klasse” into the “Neue Klasse”.
In was not long after its introduction in 1962 that BMW advertising had billed the 1500 the “new class”. Its nickname initially had to make do with lower case, but stepped up to full block capital status a few months later and finally settled for the middle ground: “New Class” it was. BMW confidently argued that it had dreamt up a distinctive and unrivalled new class of car with its sporty new mid-size saloons. Clever marketing indeed, as the “only child” 1500 was to become part of a small family in autumn 1963; with the arrival of the BMW 1800 and 1800 ti at the IAA show in Frankfurt, the leading cars in the class were now also the smallest.
The concept for the BMW 1800 was a textbook exercise in modular construction. A longer stroke and larger bore gave the engine displacement of 1.8 litres and higher output – 90 hp, as it turned out. The body remained practically unchanged, but specification had certainly improved. From the outside the 1800 differed only in its nameplate and the addition of two chrome strips. In return for their DM 9,985, 500 marks than BMW asked for the 1500, customers were given a car that could sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.2 seconds and hit 160 km/h. Its outstanding chassis needed no modification, having been designed from the outset to handle far higher speeds. Only the rubber-insulated fixed rear axle subframe was altered, two short supporting struts anchoring it even more securely to the floorpan. This was an additional safety feature, also included in the BMW 1500.
Its greater performance earned the 1800 a Mastervac brake booster, which helped the actuating forces to be vastly reduced. The company‟s advertising at the time summed up what the new car was all about: “The BMW 1800 develops 90 horsepower. At 120 km/h it needs only 40 hp. The remaining 50 hp are on hand for accelerating, overtaking and driving at 160 km/h.”
The car also boasted extensively updated fixtures and fittings. The backrests of the front seats in the 1500 were adjustable, but its big brother‟s seats also came with a reclining function. The colours of the seat and side panel trim reflected the new exterior paint shades and were available in a Skaiflor artificial leather / cloth combination or in Skaiflor only. There were two pockets in the front seat backrests to swallow up newspapers, maps and small items for the journey ahead. The rear-view mirror could be dimmed.
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