BMW - The Post War Recovery

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BMW withstood many heavy air raids during' World War 2, but production remained intact almost until the very end of hostilities. Following the war's end, the works, or what was left of them, came under the control of the American occupational forces. On the 1 st October, 1945, the Mayor of Munich received an order from the military government which he had to forward to the BMW works. The contents of this document were the following:

Letter To The Mayor Of Munich
You are hereby notified to begin immediately with the dismantling (dismantling being equated to destruction in this context-Ed. note) of the BMW plants 1 and 2 lying within the Munich city limits (at Allach and on Lerchenauer Strasse-Ed. note).

You are further notified that the entire machine-tool park is to be disassembled and packed in wood-board containers made ready for shipping. A detailed inventory is o be made of the
contents of each container, and a copy is to be affixed thereon.

nder the orders of the military government, signed:

Eugene Keller, Jr.
Lieutenant General, AUS, 0103324
Deputy Area Commander

The dismantling of the machines began and they were sent to the four corners of the earth. The automobile works at Eisenach were totally lost with the Russian occupation of Thuringia. Motorcycles and aero engines had been built in Munich but primary emphasis had been placed upon automobile production and therefore the American occupational forces established a repair centre there for military vehicles.

It wasn't till 1948 that manufacturing could be resumed, and then it was only in an insignificant production of motorcycles, consisting of a series of 250cc machines which were assembled from spare parts which BMW dealers had in stock from prewar production.

The works were under the supervision of a legal custodian, the Munich banker Dr. von Mangoldt-Reiboldt. Slowly, parts production was resumed and BMW was able to build 9,450 250 cc, single-cylinder motorcycles in 1949, these machines being readily sold, as vehicles were scarce at that time, and in great demand.

Later on the larger, twin-cylinder machines again became part of the production programme but BMW concentrated only on building motorcycles at first. It took a relatively long time until the management of BMW again reflected upon the firm's excellent reputation and well-founded tradition previously established in the automotive field.

The Calling Card Of The German Firm

Hanns Grewenig, the business manager of BMW at that time, wanted to build an automobile which was to be "the calling card of the German firm", to quote the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel. The German public's major transportation needs at the time, however, consisted of simple motorized vehicles, trucks, lorries and buses, all of which were highly necessary in order to get badly disorganized traffic flowing once again. The proper vehicle for the times would have been a simple, practical design which could have been built in great numbers. Luxury cars are produced only in small, relatively expensive series - expensive in construction as well as in purchase price. Other automoobile factories had long noted the sign ofthe times; Volkswagen and Daimler-Benz, to mention two of the principal German concerns, developed prewar designs which were already on hand.

BMW 335
The last pre-war BMW was the 335, shown here in its 335/1 roadster version of 1939. It was powered by a 6-cylinder, twin carburetter 3485cc engine

The First Postwar German V8

BMW had the same opportunity, but instead, a completely new model was introduced at the 1951 automobile show, this first postwar BMW model being designated type 501.

It was powered by a 2-liter, 6-cylinder engine which produced 65 bhp and it sold for a price of 13,170 Marks. The Types 501/A, 501/B, etc., followed, powered by 72 bhp engines.

Then came the first postwar German V8, the BMW Type 502/1, selling for a price of 15,450 Marks. After this, the 503 and 507 sports versions were introduced.

Truly, these were very fine, exquisite automobiles having from 150 to 160 bhp V8 engines, but they grew to be ever more luxurious, ever more expensive, and were built in such small series that they would have done honour to a specialist firm assembling fine automobiles by hand.

The most expensive BMW of that era cost 32,950 Deutsch Marks. With these machines BMW had entered an automobile category in which other, equally well-known concerns were building cars having modern lines and selling for much more reasonable prices. Besides, the time was not yet ripe for luxury. The postwar population sought, primarily, a return to normal, with food, clothes and housing as the primary goals. An automoobile? Surely, in order to get from point "A" to point "B". How exclusive or how luxurious was was of little interest, the important feature being that it ran.

Demand For Motorcycles Decreases

Due to the growing popularity of economical small cars and the ever-increasing standard of living, the motorcycle lost many buyers and the demand for it as a means of transport decreased. BMW's negative development couldn't be checked any more, even with the construction of the little Isetta under license from Iso.

BMW 501
The first postwar BMW car was the 6-cylinder, 60 horsepower 501 having a 2 liter capacity ...
Nonetheless, 161,360 of these machines were built (this figure including complete spares sets) until prooduction ceased in 1962. A further economy-car design, the 600, which was built from 1957 to 1959, could do little to stem the tide, 34,813 units being produced, in all.

A new chairman of the board couldn't change this negative development any more, even though the first signs of recuperation were becoming evident with the emerrgence of a programme designed to meet the public's needs. In 1959, the BMW 700 went into production; a small economy car which was fast and purely functional, having pleasant lines and using the well-tried, flat-twin motorcycle engine.

It was a hit with the buying public and became instrumental in caussing BMW's sales curve to climb slowly upwards. With the resumption of motorcycle production in 1948, BMW had again become active in motorcycle sports events, and with the advent of the 700 the marque once more entered the lists in the automotive sports field. It was a return to the old policy. At the same time a new design was taking shape on the drawing boards; a design which should have been undertaken a long time before: the BMW 1500. This was a medium-sized saloon possessing a sporting character for those desiring an above-average performance.

Though the annual turnover had fallen to 170 million Marks in 1959, it rose to 239.3 million during 1960. However, the first swallow sighted still isn't the sign of summmer's approach! The increased profit still couldn't cover BMW's great losses of the past years. With the reinstitution of German aviation in 1955, BMW aero-engine production, of sorts, had again commenced in Allach, the subbsidiary being named "BMW Triebbwerkbau". The General Electric J-79 jet turbine was built under license. It powered the Lockheed F-104G Super Starftghter of the new German Luftwaffe and, later on, originally designed, light jet turbines were also included in the aero-engine programme.

BMW sold half its holdings in the aero-engine subsidiary to MAN. With the increased profit and the funds acquired through the sale of stocks to MAN the losses were almost covered. Nevertheless, further financial manipulations and busiiness transactions were necessary to provide a sound basis for BMW's third start. The attempt to enlist the aid of Daimler-Benz faltered due to the refusal of that company's stock holders.

BMW 700 CS Sports Coupe
The 700 CS sports coupe did much to put BMW's name back on the winners list in competition. Powered by an enlarged version of the twin cylinder motorcycle unit which was mounted at the rear and air-cooled, this machine, also available as a sedan, roadster and less-powerful coupe, financed BMW's revival...
With the 1961 Frankfurt Automobile Show serving as the introduction for the new BMW 1500, the technical breakthrough which would take BMW out of its dilemma seemed to be at hand. However, it was to take quite some time before success again became a byword of the marque.

The 1500 went into prooduction in 1962 and only the 3200 CS, with its 3.2-liter V8 engine of 160 bhp, was a remnant of the dream to produce a luxury car. With a new board of directors the future appeared bright; a future which could have started much earlier with a proper business outlook and production programme.

The 1500 was followed, in 1963, by the BMW 1800, which utilized the identical body but was powered by a 1.8-liter, 90 bhp engine, the 1800 TI sports version producing 110 bhp. All of these powerplants were based on the original 1500 4-cylinder unit, which was to serve as the cornerstone for a large number of variations, all of which were to find great favour among the buying public. The 4-cylinder machines followed in the footsteps of the tradition which BMW had established in 1933 with the 6 cylinder series.

The 4-cylinder series broadened in scope with the introduction, in 1966, of the BMW 2000. This car was powered by a 1,990 cc, 100 bhp engine the tuned version of which developed 120 bhp and was mounted in the 2000 TI and 2000 Tilux. Meanwhile, the 1500 cc engine had been increased in displacement to 1600 cc. All of these versions cost in the neighbourhood of 10,000 Marks, the more-powerful ones being a bit more expensive. In order to have a model in the popular price category between 8.000 and 9,000 Marks, BMW introduced the new, 2-door 1600 saloon, powered by an 85 bhp, 4-cylinder unit and smaller than the other, 4-door models in overall size. This model also met with immediate success. Also, in 1966, BMW had produced its 250,000th motorcycle since 1948.

BMW Milestones

Regarded as the founding year of BMW when the Otto Works became reincorporated as a result of expansion due to the demands of the war.


19-liter, 6-cylinder IIIa aero engine developing 185 bhp and specially designed for high-altitude operation during World War I.


A further development was the 22.9-liter, 250 bhp BMW IV unit.


M 4 A 1 commercial vehicle, 4-cylinder in-line engine having a displaceement of 8,000 cc and developing 60 bhp; overhead camshaft.


Twin-cylinder, 500 cc, horizontally opposed stationary engine. This 6.5-horsepower unit was also installed as a motorcycle engine.


: R32 motorcycle with horizontally opposed, 8,5-horsepower, twinder engine, 3-speed transmission and shaft drive to rear wheel.


First single-cylinder BMW motorcycle: the 250 cc, 6.5 bhp R39.


BMW V aero engine of 6-cylinder, in-line construction and having a displacement of 24.3 liters with a power output of 320 bhp. Also, the BMW VI of V12 configuration with a 60° included angle and delivering 350 bhp from a capacity of 46.9 liters-liquid cooled.


VIII U aero engine. 6-cylinder in-line of 22.9 liter capacity and produucing 530 bhp. BMW-Hornet 9-cylinder radial aero engine.


First BMW car with 4-cylinder, 750 cc engine yielding 15 bhp. 1931: BMW IX aero engine. V12 of 46.9 liter capacity and 800 bhp. 1932: A M 4 saloon with 4-cylinder, 795 cc in-line engine of 20 bhp.


132 aero engine-27.7-liter, 9-cylinder radial yielding 650 bhp. The first BMW 6-cylinder automobile, the 303 of 1175 cc and 30 bhp.


315 with 6-cylinder, in-line engine of 1475 cc and 34 bhp.


319 with 1875 cc 6-cylinder, in-line engine delivering either 45 or 55 bhp. Also 320 with 1975 cc, 45 bhp in-line, 6-cylinder unit.


326 with 6-cylinder, 1975 cc, in-line engine yielding 50 bhp. Also 328 sports roadster with 6-cylinder, 1975 cc, in-line powerplant developing 80 bhp. and 329 Cabriolet with 1975 cc, 45 bhp engine.


327 Coupe and Cabriolet with 55 bhp, 1975 cc, in-line six. 1938: 327 Coupe and Cabriolet with 80 bhp, 1975 cc, in-line six.


Last prewar car: 335 of 3485 cc displacement and 90 bhp from its 6-cylinder, in-line engine. Also 335/1 sports cabriolet version.


801 aero engine: 14-cylinder, twin-row radial with command regulator, 41.8-liter displacement and developing 1800 bhp originally. Also R75 miliitary motorcycle with tWin-cylinder, horizontally opposed 750 cc engine, 8-speed transmission with reverse gear, drive to the sidecar wheel.


Series construction of 109-003 jet engine of 800-pound thrust.


Confiscation of all production machinery and dismounting of the works. The machinery was shipped away as part of war reparations. 1947: Production of agricultural equipment and machinery began.


R26 single-cylinder, 250 cc motorcycle developing 12 bhp and having the front wheel mounted on telescopic oleo-strut.


R51/2 motorcycle with 500 cc, 24 bhp, horizontally opposed twin and both the front and rear wheels being telescopically sprung.


R67 motorcycle with 600 cc 24 bhp twin for sidecar utilization. 1952: First postwar car: 501 with 6-cylinder, 1971 cc in-line; 65 bhp.


502/1 and 502/2 saloons with 2580 cc, 95 and 110 bhp V8 engines. Also 503 Coupe and Cabriolet with 3168 cc V8 of 140 bhp and the 507 sports roadster delivering 150 cc from 3168 cc unit. Isetta: single-cylinder, rearrmounted 245 or292 cc four-cycle engine delivering 12 and 13 bhp respectively.


R60 motorcycle with 28 bhp, flat twin engine.


BMW 600 with 582 cc horizontally opposed twin developing 19.5 bhp. 1959: BMW 700 Coupe; 697 cc, enlarged 600 engine delivering 30 bhp. 1960: 700 saloon with 697 cc powerplant and 30 bhp. Also 700 CS sports coupe with 40 bhp version of 697 cc unit. R50S motorcycle with 35 bhp, 500 cc, horizontally opposed twin and 600 cc, 42 bhp R69S version.


3200 CS V8 of 3168 cc displacement and 160 bhp as well as 1500 saloon with 4-cylinder, in-line powerplant developing 80 horsepower.



1600 saloon developed from 1500, having a 1573 cc 4-cylinder engine yielding 83 bhp. Also 1800 version with engine enlarged to 1773 cc, produucing 90 bhp and the 1800 TI, modified to give 110 bhp.


2000 CS Coupe with 4-cylinder, 1990 cc, 120 bhp engine and manual transmission or 100 bhp and automatic transmission.

2000 saloon with 1990 cc, 100 bhp, 4-cylinder, in-line engine and 2000 TI and 2000 Tilux having a 120 bhp version of the same unit. 1600 two-door saloon with 1573 cc, 85 bhp, in-line, 4-cylinder power-plant. BMWacquired the Glas automobile works in Bavaria, that year.

A short time after the introduction of the 1800 TI version the new BMW 4-cylinder powerplant attained great popularity through many racing victories, among others, winning the gruelling 24-Hours of Spa - Francorchamps twice. This development spurred BMW on to further labours, this time in the racing car field. The Apfelbeck cylinder head was developed and, mounted on the block of the 2-liter unit, served as a potent powerplant for successful record runs.

For the 1967 competition season BMW realized a plan which had never before been undertaken in the history of the marque: a factory team competed in the Formula-2 events. The single-seater racing car had a monocoque body shell which Eric Broadley had developed and was powered by a BMW engine, the most interesting feature of which was the cylinder head. This component, including the entire valve train, had been designed and developed by the Austrian experimental engineer Ludwig Apfelbeck. The 2000's cylinder block was utiliized, the 89 mm bore being retained but the 80 mm stroke being reduced to 64 mm.

The Apfelbeck cylinder head posssessed four radially positioned valves per cylinder and hemispherical combustion chambers. Intake and exhaust valves were diametrically opposed to each other in this configuration, the former having a 42 mm diameter, the latter, one of 36 mm. The valve stems protruded at various angles from the head, the radial configuration necessitating a complex valve-timing mechanism which, according to Apfelbeck, was surprisingly simple in construction. The valve-timing arrangement remained a BMW company secret for years to come. Twin overhead camshafts driven via chains acted on short rocker arms. The fuel mixture was supplied by a Lucas fuel-injection unit having eight jets, each injecting the mixture almost vertically, in the same plane as the axis of the intake valves. The fuel distributing pump was driven from the end of the left camshaft. In order to save weight, the connecting rods were made of titanium alloy, being 20% lighter than conventional steel rods.

The pistons, supplied by Mahle, were sprayed with oil from the insides to provide better cooling. Bosch electrical equipment was utilized and the first version of this remarkable powerplant delivered 225 bhp at a crankshaft speed of 9,500 rpm and with a 10.5:1 compression ratio. On the business side of the ledger, from the mid 1960's BMW was in a better position than it had ever been previously in the not-too-happy postwar history of the firm. In 1966, the company's 50th anniversary year, registration of new BMW cars went up by 30% and sales were up by 27% over 1965, to 755 million Marks.

Sporting achievements and highly developed technical constructions gave birth to the BMW image which was based on such a firm cornerstone that not even the firm's disastrous post-war business policy, which brought it to the very brink of bankruptcy, could rub off its sheen. Though the lowest ebb was attained at a time of general prosperity in Germany, a new group of enterprising men were responnsible for BMW's second birth in the post-war period and for its greatest success during this era. With a construction programme which filled a long-known gap, that of a luxurious, mid-sized saloon possessing a definite sports-car character, BMW was in a better financial position than ever - and it continues to build cars that are both desirable and sporting in nature.
BMW 507
A relic of bad, postwar finances but inpeccably clean lines and faultless mechanics sums up the BMW 507...


Recommended Reading:

BMW Heritage
BMW - Aviation and Motorcycle Heritage
The BMW Automobile
The BMW Motorcycle
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource