Back to the future

BMW history: adventure and speed

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 determining 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 strategies and products.

Words
Michael Seitz

Can you reinvent the motorcycle?
- BMW R 80 G/S, 1980


Almost 50 years after the first motorcycle boom, BMW Motorrad underwent a second period of prosperity. What was once a mode of transport had now become a vehicle for leisure and fun. Now, instead of vehicles suitable for everyday use, customers wanted the possibility of adventure – with an off-road bike, for example. In the late 1970s, BMW won the German and European Off-road Championships. This gave rise to a pioneering idea among those responsible at BMW Motorrad: to develop an off-road motorcycle with the handling capabilities of a road machine. At the unveiling of the BMW R 80 G/S, the motorcycle world was astonished to discover that a new segment had been created. The BMW touring enduro was born and enjoyed huge market success – with a popularity that continues virtually undiminished to this day.

Prosperity combined with shorter working hours boosted the importance of leisure and sport. Motorcycles experienced a renaissance.

Inspired by its success in off-road competition, BMW created the touring enduro market segment.

How do you tame over 800 hp?
- Brabham BMW BT52, 1983


To win in Formula One, you need the best people in the right place at the right time. In 1982, the British Formula One team Brabham brought together German BMW engineer Paul Rosche, South African designer Gordon Murray and Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet. Each was a genius in his field. Rosche, lead engineer at the time for BMW racing engines and Formula One project manager, had by then already developed several successful power units – including the BMW 2002 Turbo, the BMW M1 and the winning Formula Two engines. But it was his 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged unit for Formula One that earned him his reputation as an “engine guru”. With continuous tweaking over the following years, the unit is said to have developed an output of up to 1,300 hp in qualifying. The engine incorporated a microprocessor-controlled ignition box – a revolutionary feature at the time. In addition, engine performance was constantly monitored and optimised via telemetry. But it also took the design talent of Gordon Murray and the fearless skills of Nelson Piquet to keep this beast on the track. At the final in South Africa, just two points separated the two potential champions, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost. In the end Prost’s engine failed, Piquet took no chances and BMW became world champions for the first time with a turbo engine – just 630 days after BMW became engine supplier to the Brabham team.

After the first test drive in his Brabham BMW F1 BT52, Nelson Piquet commented: “I had to hold onto the steering wheel for dear life on the straights.” Never before – and never again – would so many hp (up to 1,500) accelerate so few kilos (540, around 1,200 lbs) as in the turbocharged era of Formula One in the 1980s.

12-cylinder units are considered by engineers to be the pinnacle of engine technology. The BMW engine was made up of 2,500 individual parts in total, developed 300 hp and for the first time in this model series enabled the BMW 750i to reach speeds of 250 km/h [over 155 mph].

12-cylinder units are considered by engineers to be the pinnacle of engine technology. The BMW engine was made up of 2,500 individual parts in total, developed 300 hp and for the first time in this model series enabled the BMW 750i to reach speeds of 250 km/h [over 155 mph].

What drives pure luxury?
- 12 cylinders, 1987


By the late 1980s, the second-generation BMW 7 Series had already become an established name in the segment of large luxury saloons. It was valued by customers as a lightweight, sporty yet elegant alternative to the automotive establishment. But BMW was not satisfied with just being a part of this group, it wanted to lead it – and the sooner the better. So the company developed an engine which even today’s engineers consider to be a technological masterpiece: a 12-cylinder. It was the first post-war German unit of its kind and its maiden outing in a 1987 BMW 750i was nothing short of sensational. Press and customers alike were effusive in their praise for the saloon. Before long the BMW 750i was deemed the benchmark for its class. Based on this superior reputation, BMW sold almost 50,000 saloons equipped with the 12-cylinder unit – the large engine was fitted to one in six BMW 7 Series of this generation. The competition was unnerved and similarly began developing 12-cylinder engines. But it was too late – the BMW 750i legend was already firmly established.

Even today’s engineers consider the 12-cylinder engine to be a technological masterpiece. Its maiden outing in a 1987 BMW 750i was nothing short of sensational.

03/15/2017