Not to be confused with the Dixie from Houston Texas or the Dixie made by the Vincennes Indiana company-or even the Dixie Flyer from the Kentucky Wagon Co-this one was the first-ever car built by Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works, or simply BMW). The Dixi was in fact the British Austin Seven built under license. BMW bought the Dixi company and continued building the baby car as their first tentative step into the four-wheel market. Its motorcycles, already well known, provided the cash.
Although internationally known now, the company was not one of the starters, emerging in 1916 as an amalgam of two other companies, one as airplane manufacturer in Munich with the blue-and-white Bavarian colours in its logo, and the other making marine and aviation engines. The aero engines went into military airplanes and venture became Bayerische Motoren Werke. But the total marriage did not happen until 1922 when a banker from Vienna bought them both. A wise man as it finally proved, but a buyer who first had to pass through several rough patches.
A 500 cc horizontally opposed twin cylinder engine (normally used for stationary work) was put longways into a motor-bike and after some improvements (at first sketched out on the back of a beer mat) the basic concept never looked back, but it was 1928 before BMW went into the car market with the Eisenach-built Austin Seven Dixi. In 1930 the Dixi, in open two-seater ‘roadster’ trim, won its class in the famous Monte Carlo Rally after taking the team prize in the Alpine Trial the year before.
The firm really hit the button with its first six-cylinder car, an in-line engine setup which has almost become their trademark. First appearing as an 1175cc, 30 bhp in 1932, by the next year it was the Model 315 of 1.5 liters with twin carbs and a four-speed gearbox. In its Roadster form this was the first of the line of legendary BMWs. It could reach 75 mph and listed the alpine Trial among its many trophies.
If any model deserves the description ‘classic’ it was the beautiful 328 if 1936 of which, sadly, only 462 were made between then and World War II. The 328 calls for special attention on merit, not only because Hitler Wanted a sports car to dominate that aspect of racing while Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were subjugating the Grand Prix circuits of Europe. The 328 possessed sleeker lines than had ever been seen before, and a performance from its 2-liter (1971 cc) engine that totally outclassed the opposition. In England the Frazer Nash firm (famous in the vintage years for its chain-driven cars) built the 328 for Britain as an FN-BMW.
World War II brought total destruction to the Munich plant and it was 1951 before the company was making cars again. Throughout this decade they were left behind by Mercedes, sliding almost to the edge of bankruptcy in 1959.The first car was the 501, using the 2-liter, prewar engine, then came bigger jobs, including BMW’s only V8, a car which proved wrong for Germany’s poor financial climate, and less than a match for Mercedes’ competitive products. In 1954 came the 502, similar in appearance but with the company’s 2.6 liter V8 motor turning out 100 bhp, a magical figure that made it the company’s best seller of ‘real’ autos in the fifties with the production of nearly 6,000. The tiny Isetta, produced by BMW to the catch the transient bubble car market, reached a production of 162,000 – so the sublime and the ridiculous saved the day for the firm.
BMW’s universal appeal blossomed with the launching of the 2 liter 2002, in effect a move from the exotic to the popular (but not cheap) in 1968, This very roadworthy automobile was intended for the owner who still enjoyed driving, a market that was chosen carefully at the design stage.
When the 525i (fuel injection) came in 1981 it had a top speed of 120 mph from a 150 bhp, 2.5 liter motor; but by 1982 the 635CSi automatic was a 3.65 liter good for 137 mph. This remained the fastest BMW product through to the current M635CSi, developed from the ‘6’ Series ‘M’ engines by the motor sport department. It captured attention at the 1984 British International Motor Show on introduction to the public, with its 158 mph top speed from its six-cylinder, 24-valve power plant. In recent year BMW road cars have had series identifications 3 to 7 (with 4 excepted). The Series 3 Started in the seventies and now Series 7 (728i, 732i, 735i the last two numbers denoting the engine size) is top of the line. Some even say that size for-size they surpass even Mercedes and Jaguar in the claim for the accolade of the ‘ultimate driving machine: as BMW themselves call their product.
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