The BMW Group’s deep-rooted will to shape, anticipate and pre-empt the future defined the first 100 years of the company – and will play a pivotal role in fashioning the next 100. Under the slogan “Back to the Future”, BMW Magazine has put together a selection of representative events from the past in which BMW looked ahead and helped mould the future through its pioneering decisions and products.
- Michael Seitz
Can a sports car see into the future?
- BMW Turbo, 1972
In 1972, the futuristic BMW Turbo was the star of the Paris Motor Show. It demonstrated the vision of a modern sports car combined with the most stringent safety features. In the early 1970s, the automotive industry was in intensive discussions concerning new safety standards and presented many bizarrely strengthened prototypes with ugly proportions. By contrast, the BMW Turbo was a dynamic vehicle in line with the ideas of BMW’s chief designer of the time, Paul Bracq. The safety concept of the BMW Turbo was based not on reinforcement, but on intelligent passive systems, such as compulsory use of the seatbelt, a collapsible steering column and deformable “crumple zones”. In addition to these systems to protect vehicle occupants in the event of an accident, BMW also equipped the Turbo for the first time with a whole range of active safety features and driver assistance systems. These supported and alerted the driver at times of danger and in so doing prevented accidents before they happened. In concrete terms, the Turbo was the first BMW vehicle to feature an anti-lock braking system, a radar-based distance warning device to guard against rear-impact collisions and a sensor to measure lateral acceleration. Almost all of these systems later went into series production in similar form.
The BMW Turbo demonstrated the vision of a modern sports car combined with the most stringent safety features.
How do you realign your model portfolio?
- The first BMW 5 Series
After a production period of nearly ten years, BMW developed a successor to the New Class in the early 1970s. The launch of the 520i saloon also coincided with BMW’s new model designations. Previously the numbers had shown the displacement of the car’s engine, for example 1500 or 1800 for the New Class. Starting in 1966, to mark the launch of the compact series, a 2 was added to the last figure of the displacement to indicate that the car had two doors – the 02 Series was born. This system had the disadvantage that neither the size of the vehicle nor the model series was identifiable to customers at first glance. And with the introduction of a new large series, confusion would have been even greater. For that reason the Board of Management decided on a combination of model series and displacement. The compact series became the BMW 3 Series and the planned larger model began with the number 7. The first car in the new system was the BMW 520i, the successor to the BMW 2000 with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. Below the 3 Series, above the 7 Series and between them, there remained plenty of room for subsequent expansion of the model range. The system proved future-proof and has now been functioning for over 40 years. The BMW 5 Series was the first BMW to come off the production line at the new, state-of-the-art Dingolfing plant and quickly became a cornerstone of the brand. In particular, the more athletic models with six cylinders contributed to the sporty reputation of BMW. Almost 700,000 customers bought a first-generation BMW 5 Series prior to 1981.
How do you design communication?
- The four-cylinder, 1973
The world’s most famous four cylinders are not part of an engine, but were nevertheless created by BMW. In the early 1970s, the Summer Olympics transformed a rather tranquil Munich into a modern world city. At around the same time, BMW underwent a similar development. The most visible symbol of this was construction of the new Group headquarters adjacent to the Olympic Park in line with plans by the Viennese architect Karl Schwanzer, who had been a pupil of Oscar Niemeyer. Evidence of this can be found in the sculptural form of the BMW Tower, with its four cylinders suspended around a central elevator and supply shaft. Soon after completion of the design, local residents would christen it the “Four-Cylinder Tower”. The building is considered one of the most innovative architectural achievements of the 1970s. It was one of the first buildings in the world to follow the “built-for-communication” principle, the circular floor plan and short routes fostering communication within teams. With virtually no individual offices, the open-plan interior served to symbolise the flat hierarchies within the BMW administration. 40 years on from its official opening, the building remains a byword for precision, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit – a perfect illustration of the BMW ethos.
How do you get ahead of the field in electric mobility?
- BMW 1602 Elektro, 1972
The year 1972 was all about the Summer Olympic Games. With its iconic tent-like roof structure, the Olympic Stadium was built right next door to the Munich parent plant and the site of the new BMW company headquarters. For the organising committee and as a backup vehicle for Olympic long-distance races, the BMW engineers developed two purely electric prototype vehicles based on the BMW 1602. These were powered by a 772 lbs (350 kg) lead battery, which supplied energy to a 32 kilowatt electric motor. At a constant speed of 31 mph (50 km/h), they had a range of approximately 37 miles (60 kilometres). The battery pack was designed to be removed quickly and replaced by a fully charged one. Test drives delivered important insights into the everyday feasibility of electric vehicles as far back as 1972.