From Bavaria with Love: The BMW E9 Coupes

In our recent article about the Packard One-Twenty, we talked about how not to build a brand. This week, we’ll look at the postwar rebirth of BMW and how the company built one of the world’s most successful automotive brands. We’ll also take a look at one of your author’s personal favorite cars: the 1965-1975 BMW E9 coupe, including the 2000CS, 2800CS, and the legendary BMW 3.0 CSL.
1973 BMW 3.0CS pillar roundel


The company that is now Bayerische Motoren Werke AG was born in 1913 as Rapp Motoren Werke, headquartered in a suburb of Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria. Its initial business was not cars but airplane engines, most notably a license-built version of Austro-Daimler’s V-12 aero engine, used in a variety of combat aircraft during the First World War. In 1916, the company was reorganized as Bayerische Motorenwerke GmbH, which went public (becoming an Aktiengesellschaft, or AG) in 1918. By then, Rapp had departed and management of the company had passed to Austrian engineer Franz Josef Popp.

With aviation work in short supply after the 1918 Armistice, BMW branched out into motorcycles, launching its first bike in 1923. Automobiles followed in 1928, when the company purchased a failing business called Dixi, which manufactured a licensed version of the British Austin Seven. By 1933, BMW was producing cars of its own design. They were modestly sized and fairly expensive, but they had brisk performance and sleek, modern styling by Peter Schimanowski. The pinnacle of the line was the 328 roadster, which dominated European sports car competition until war intervened in 1939.

During World War II, BMW turned its efforts to military vehicles and aircraft engines, some allegedly built by slave labor. As a leading producer of war materiel, the company’s factories were seized by the Allies in 1945 and it was not until 1947 that BMW president Kurt Donath (who had succeeded Popp in 1942) obtained permission to return to motorcycle production. Automobile production did not resume until 1951.

The fifties were a difficult decade for BMW, with neither its cars nor its motorcycles selling in sustainable numbers. By the end of the decade, the firm was in serious danger of bankruptcy or of being absorbed by a larger company like perennial rival Daimler-Benz, a prospect that made BMW dealers and some stockholders very unhappy.

Since 1958, speculators (and half-brothers) Harald and Herbert Quandt had been buying up BMW stock, taking advantage of the new shares the company kept issuing in hopes of raising capital. Following a complex 1960 stock reorganization, the Quandts ended up with a 66% ownership stake in BMW. They quickly set to work replacing key management personnel with their own people or recruits and borrowed DM 50 million (about $12.5 million) from the government of Bavaria to help fund BMW’s new direction.

The result, launched in the fall of 1961, was the highly successful Neue Klasse (“New Class”) car line, which became the template for most future BMWs.

Let’s talk about what it takes to build (or rebuild) a successful brand.

Rule One: Don’t Set Your Sights Too High, Too Soon (But It Doesn’t Pay to Set Your Sights Too Low, Either)

BMW’s 1950s 500-series models (nicknamed Barockengel, “Baroque Angels”) were fine cars with attractive if faintly dated styling, admirable engineering, and a modern V8 engine — a rarity in European cars of the era. There was also a lovely sports car, the 507, styled by Albrecht von Goertz. Unfortunately, the Baroque Angels were far too expensive for their market even in America, where they cost almost twice as much as a contemporary Cadillac. Consequently, they sold in very small numbers and the company ended up losing money on each one.

In the mid-fifties, Kurt Donath had tried to shore up BMW’s volume with a license-built German version of the Iso Isetta, a curious-looking “bubblecar” powered by a one-cylinder motorcycle engine. Looking more like the escape pod from some science fiction spacecraft than a car, the Isetta had little relationship to other BMWs in either appearance or performance. It was followed in 1957 by the BMW-designed 600, again powered by an air-cooled motorcycle engine, and in 1959 by the more conventional-looking 700. The 600 and 700 sold fairly well, but not well enough to make up for the significant losses incurred by the pricier 500-series.

1959 BMW 600 front 3q
Tiny motorcycle-engined minicars like this were BMW’s bread and butter in the late fifties; this is a 1959 BMW 600.

After the Quandt buyout, new sales boss Paul Hahnemann decided the Neue Klasse sedans should be positioned squarely in the middle-class market against other upscale European family cars. With a starting price of DM 9,485 DM (equivalent to around $2,400) in Germany, the initial BMW 1500 sedan cost about twice as much as a 700, but less than half as much as the Barockengel sedans, which would expire in 1963. The 700 survived through 1965, but after that, BMW decided to concentrate its limited production capacity on the more profitable Neue Klasse cars and, starting in 1966, their smaller 1600-2 (1602) and 2002 counterparts. It would turn out to be a sensible business decision.

Rule Two: You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick

Although the Neue Klasse was more attractively priced than the Barockengels, it faced an uphill battle against its established mass-market rivals. A firm of BMW’s size could hardly hope to go head to head with Ford, Opel, and Volkswagen on volume or price; even with the Quandt family’s backing, the Bavarian firm had nowhere near that level of capital and had a much smaller distribution network. To survive, BMW needed to offer some unique, defining virtue or virtues its competitors did not.

It was certainly not going to be style. The Neue Klasse sedans were tall and boxy, which was certainly practical, but hardly fit mid-sixties notions of automotive sex appeal. Nor was it going to be exotic specifications, although BMW’s engineering was thoroughly up to date, featuring unitized construction, overhead-cam engines, front disc brakes, and fully independent suspension. Instead, BMW’s managers decided that their calling card should be vigorous performance.

Performance, in this case, demands some qualification. By American standards, no sixties BMW was particularly fast. An early 1500 sedan took 14 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) and had a top speed of perhaps 95 mph (153 km/h), in the same realm as U.S. compacts like the Plymouth Valiant; the 1600 and 1800, added in 1964, were a bit quicker. In 1964, there was the BMW 1800-TI (or 1800ti), with a more powerful dual-carburetor engine that trimmed 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times to 12 seconds or less and allowed a top speed of up to 109 mph (175 km/h), but even that was no great shakes by contemporary Supercar standards.

What the Neue Klasse and its successors lacked in outright performance, however, they made up in well-sorted road manners and accurate, balanced controls. They had limitations, of course, like a tendency to slide the tail if you lifted off the throttle too abruptly in a fast turn (a characteristic of the semi-trailing arm suspensions that BMW used until the nineties), but these innocuous-looking Bavarian sedans handled as well as many contemporary sports cars. Unlike many sports cars, they also retained their composure over rough roads, thanks to ample wheel travel, low unsprung weight, and firm damping.

It was well that BMW was not looking for mass-market appeal, because the Neue Klasse‘s virtues were not immediately obvious to less-enthusiastic drivers. True, an 1800ti performed as well as some workaday American V8 sedans, but $3,500-odd (U.S. POE) was still a lot of money for a stubby-looking compact car with an austere interior, a rather stiff ride, and little of what most non-German buyers would consider luxury. However, if you wanted a relatively practical sedan that could still be driven con brio, your principal alternatives were the Alfa Romeo Giulia TI and the Jaguar S-Type, which often suffered haphazard build quality, aggravating electrical gremlins, and demanding maintenance schedules. The BMW wasn’t as pretty to look at as were its British or Italian opposite numbers, but its engineering and assembly quality were top-drawer and it was far less fussy to own.

1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS rear
Most BMWs from 1962 through the mid-1990s had MacPherson struts in front and semi-trailing arms in back, providing a reasonable mix of handling and ride composure. The semi-trailing arms, however, are prone to both camber and toe changes in hard cornering, which makes these cars tail-happy if provoked. BMW adopted several belt-and-braces measures to reduce such antics, and finally adopted the “Z-link” multilink rear suspension that laid most of them to rest. The BMW E9 coupes have the same rear suspension as the earliest Neue Klasse sedans, though, which means that they can bite the unwary.

In short, BMW found a niche in which it had little serious competition, if less through its own achievements than through the various lapses of its few direct rivals.

Rule Three: Make Your New Products Logical Extensions of Your Existing Ones

Not long after the Neue Klasse sedans went on sale, Hahnemann and marketing director Helmut Bônsch began lobbying for the creation of a bigger sedan in the same mold, powered by a new six-cylinder engine. It was intended as a more profitable successor to the old 2600 and 3200 sedans and a rival for midsize Mercedes-Benz models.

The new engine, developed by new technical director Bernhard Osswald (previously of Ford-Werke), debuted in 1968 in 2,494 cc (152 cu. in.) and 2,788 cc (170 cu. in.) versions. The six powered new 2500 and 2800 sedans (known internally as E3), which were essentially scaled-up versions of the Neue Klasse, albeit with various mechanical refinements and detail changes. Predictably, the E3 sedans shared their predecessors’ road manners and enthusiasm for aggressive driving, albeit with more power and a higher level of refinement.

1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS interior
Befitting their prices, the BMW E9 coupes had attractive wood paneling on the dash and most had leather seats. They also had many ergonomic oddities, among them a turn signal lever located on the right rather than the left and washer and window controls on the console rather than the dash. Heating and ventilation were not a strong point on these cars, and the optional air conditioning was inadequate. Curiously, although this particular 3.0 CS wears “Automatic” badges, it carries the standard four-speed Getrag manual.

The New Six sedans proved to be almost as popular as the Neue Klasse. Their road manners made them popular with automotive critics and buyers responded warmly. The E3 sedans would sell more than 220,000 units between 1968 and 1977 and eventually spawned BMW’s highly successful 5-Series and 7-Series sedans.

In between the Neue Klasse and the New Six were the coupes, known to BMW as Model 120. First introduced for the 1965 model year, they were essentially sportier, two-door versions of the Neue Klasse sedan, sharing most of its mechanical components.

1962 BMW 3200CS side
Designed at Stilo Bertone by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, who went on to pen the Maserati Ghibli and Lotus Esprit as well as the Volkswagen Golf, the BMW 3200 CS is a sleek, attractive coupe. Powered by BMW’s 3,168 cc (193 cu. in.) all-aluminum OHV V8, also used on the larger Barockengel sedans, the 3200 CS had brisk performance despite its substantial heft (around 3,300 lb/1,500 kg). However, a price tag of DM 29,580 in Germany and $10,995 in the U.S. limited sales to a mere 603 in four years of production. (Photo: “BMW 3200 CS” © 2007 Jed; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

The Model 120’s styling had a convoluted history. Back in September 1961, BMW had launched the pricey 3200CS, a hardtop coupe riding the old Barockengel chassis and powered by the last of BMW’s fifties V8 engines. The 3200CS was not styled by BMW, but rather by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Bertone, which also built the bodies. Although quite attractive, the coupe was very expensive and only 603 were built between 1961 and 1965.

The 3200CS was replaced in 1965 by a new coupe based on the Neue Klasse and sharing the sedan’s floorpan and some of its inner stampings. The coupe was built by Karmann, but styled by BMW’s in-house design chief Wilhelm Hofmeister, who gave the Model 120 a shortened variation of the 3200CS greenhouse. The results were decidedly odd, with an attractive roofline, peculiar proportions (largely dictated by those of the sedan), and some very eccentric detailing — particularly the grille and headlight treatment. Overall, the coupe was interesting but somewhat gawky-looking, far less graceful than its Italian-styled forebear.

1965 BMW 2000CS front 3q © 2006 Rudolf Stricker PD
Odd glassed-in headlights and the curious (but functional) slots above the bumper do no favors for the looks of this four-cylinder 2000CS. It looks better from the side or the rear three-quarter view, where its resemblance to its Bertone-built predecessor is clearer. The engine in the four-cylinder coupes was a new 1,990 cc (121 cu. in.) version of BMW’s SOHC four. In the base 2000C and automatic 2000CA, this had a single Solex carburetor and 120 gross horsepower (100 hp DIN, 74 kW), while the 2000CS had dual carburetors and 135 gross horsepower (120 hp DIN, 88 kW). The latter was good for 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 11 seconds with manual shift. (Photo: “BMW 2000 CS 1” © 2006 Rudolf Stricker; released into the public domain by the photographer, resized 2008 by Aaron Severson)

Unlike the V8-powered 3200CS, the new coupe had a four-cylinder engine: a bored-out 1,990 cc (121 cu. in.) version of the engine in the 1800 sedan. The bigger engine was offered in single-carburetor form for the 2000C and 2000CA coupes (the latter having a three-speed ZF 3HP22 automatic transmission) while the 2000CS had a more powerful twin-carburetor edition, also used (from January 1966) in the new 2000ti sedan. Otherwise, the coupe was mechanically similar to the sedans, sharing the same suspension, brakes, and transmissions.

Rule Four: Be Careful Not to Lose the Plot

In its original four-cylinder form, the Model 120 coupe did not make a strong case for itself. It was a kind of Bavarian Ford Thunderbird: a personal luxury coupe that sacrificed a good deal of the Neue Klasse‘s no-nonsense practicality for (somewhat dubious) styling flair. Admittedly, the Model 120 shared many of the virtues of its sedan brethren, including fine road manners, decent fuel economy, and generally excellent build quality (if not quite to the standard of cars built at BMW’s own Dingolfing plant and suffering an alarming lack of rust-prevention measures). It was also surprisingly roomy for a coupe.

However, the coupe wasn’t any faster than a comparably equipped BMW sedan and cost substantially more: DM 16,905 to 17,500 in Germany, $4,985 POE in the U.S. At that price, it became harder to ignore the fact that the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint was around $800 cheaper, arguably better-looking, and had features the BMW lacked (including a five-speed gearbox and four-wheel disc brakes). An extra $500, meanwhile, would buy you an E-type Jaguar, which was prettier and far faster, if more likely to be troublesome.

1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS side view
The six-cylinder BMW E9 coupes rode a 103.3-inch (2,624mm) wheelbase, compared to 100.4 inches (2,550 mm) for the four-cylinder cars, and the nose was stretched an additional 3 inches (76 mm) to accommodate the longer six-cylinder engine. Later U.S. models, like this 1973 3.0 CS, were even longer thanks to the addition of mandatory 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers. The 2800CS had disc/drum brakes like those of the four-cylinder coupes, but later 3.0 CS models like this one have four-wheel ventilated discs. The discs improve fade resistance, although the front-rear balance often left something to be desired.

The simple answer to these shortcomings was to add the E3’s six-cylinder engine to the coupe, which BMW did in 1968, earning the coupe a new type number: BMW E9. In the process, the coupe’s front end and wheelbase were both stretched, vastly improving its proportions in the process, while a minor facelift added a more aggressive, shark-like nose.

Although the new 2800CS was around 300 pounds (136 kg) heavier than the four-cylinder 2000CS, the E9 was considerably better-looking (your author considers the six-cylinder E9 among the best-looking cars of its era) and had nearly 60 additional horsepower (40 kW). The 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint could now be accomplished in around 9 seconds and top speed approached 130 mph (205 km/h). Despite the additional muscle, the 2800CS could still return close to 20 miles to the gallon (12 L/100 km) in more cautious driving.

1973 BMW 30CS badge
In 1971, BMW’s 2,788 cc (170 cu. in.) six was bored out to 2,985 cc (182 cu. in.). U.S. cars, burdened by emissions controls, had 170 net horsepower (127 KW), no better than the 2800CS, but European engines now had 180 hp DIN (132 kW) in the carbureted 3.0 CS or 200 hp (147 kW) in the fuel-injected 3.0 CSi, not offered in the U.S. Either way, the bigger six had more torque than before, improving low-speed acceleration. For racing, BMW increased the bore fractionally to bring the big six’s displacement to 3,003 cc (183 cu. in.), which allowed the competition versions to be stretched yet further.

Unfortunately, the E9 suffered the same problem as its four-cylinder predecessor and the old Baroque Angels: While it was very desirable in many respects, its price exceeded its tangible virtues by at least 30%. A 2800CS started at DM 22,980 in Germany and around $8,800 in the U.S., which made the BMW coupe significantly more expensive than an E-type and a bit more expensive than a Porsche 911. Even critics who were smitten with the 2800CS found the price tag hard to justify, particularly when the 2800 sedan offered the same mechanical package and greater practicality for about 25% less money. Consequently, only about 3,500 six-cylinder coupes were built in 1969, followed by 5,242 in 1970 and a few more in 1971 before the 2800CS was replaced by the similar 3.0 CS.

1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS front
The stretched nose of the six-cylinder BMW E9 coupe was accompanied by a much-needed facelift, which had felicitous results. The forward slope of the leading edge of the hood is an attractive touch retained for the later E24 6-Series, but by the 1980s, BMW was forced to grudgingly admit it had negative effects on aerodynamic drag. The six-cylinder engines in these cars are sturdy and reliable provided that they get regular valve adjustments and oil changes. Its only real weak spot is cooling in slow traffic, a product of mediocre fan capacity (which current owners often upgrade). Overheating is often fatal, leading to warping of the aluminum head, which has a different expansion rate than does the iron block.

Rule Five: Be Prepared to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Nothing props up the perceived value of a sporty car like an authentic competition pedigree, so BMW decided to take the E9 coupe racing. The early efforts, run mainly by independent tuner Alpina, were none too successful, but they got a shot in the arm in May 1972 with the advent of the lightweight 3.0 CSL, which used thinner-gauge steel, plastic windows, and many aluminum parts to trim more than 300 pounds (140 kg) from the E9’s curb weight. Once down to fighting weight, the coupe became far more competitive, though still not a world-beater.

That changed in 1973, when BMW and Alpina developed a wild-looking array of wings and spoilers for the CSL, aimed at reducing drag and eliminating the aerodynamic lift that had previously compromised the E9’s handling at racing speeds. The aero kit, which soon earned the CSL the nickname “Batmobile,” looked outré, but it worked, vastly improving the coupe’s high-speed handling.

1973 BMW 30CSL Batmobile side
Chris Amon’s BMW E9 3.0 CSL “Batmobile” at the Nürburgring on July 8, 1973. Note the wing above the rear window, an odd-looking touch. Although BMW had to sell copies of this car to the public for homologation purposes, the wings were actually illegal in Germany, so they were not attached to production cars sold there. (Photo: “AmonChris-BMW19730708” © 1973 Lothar Spurzem; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Germany 2.0 license)

With its Batmobile wings and a new 3,453 cc (211 cu. in.) version of the big six, the CSL suddenly became a fearsome contender. It won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1973 and went on to dominate European racing until 1979, four years after it went out of production. It won a total of five European Touring Car championships and was highly successful in various U.S. events as well, seriously challenging Porsche’s previously unassailable IMSA domination.

All this sturm und drang did not make the production BMW E9 a hot seller. Like the contemporary Citroën SM, its sales were hit hard by the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-74. By the time production ended in December 1975, BMW had built a grand total of 30,546 six-cylinder E9s and 13,696 four-cylinder coupes (which had ended production in early 1970). Only 1,096 of those were CSLs, which were offered to the public only to homologate them for racing. If the coupes had been the company’s sole product, BMW probably would have ended up in receivership, especially if the expense of the factory’s racing efforts were added to the tab.

1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS rear 3q
The BMW E9 coupe is about 3 inches lower than the Neue Klasse sedans on which it was based, helping to make the coupes notably sleeker than their four-door counterparts. Unfortunately, the coupes are a good deal heavier as well — a federalized 3.0 CS like this weighs around 3,175 lb (1,440 kg). Note the upward kink of the leading edge of the C-pillar, a BMW styling cue called the “Hofmeister Kink,” after 1960s styling chief Wilhelm Hofmeister. The Hofmeister Kink has been featured on most subsequent BMWs.

Fortunately, the E9 coupes eventually justified themselves with their spectacular racing success, which had a highly salutary effect on the company’s sporting image. Admittedly, the relationship between race cars and production models is usually rather remote, but the same connoisseurs who appreciate BMW-type virtues tend to be enamored of the fantasy that with only a few simple modifications, their car could lap the Nürburgring with the best of them. The CSL’s racing exploits certainly added luster to the E9’s successor, the E24 6-Series, as well as the later E30 M3 and M5 sedans.

Rule Six: Keep Telling the Same Story

BMW underwent a series of management shifts at the end of the 1960s. Harald Quandt died in a plane crash in 1967, leading to renewed fears that BMW would end up in the hands of Daimler-Benz. (It didn’t happen and the Quandt family still retains a controlling interest in BMW.) Powerful sales chief Paul Hahnemann, who had looked like a strong candidate for the new company chairman, was passed over in favor of Quandt Gruppe executive Eberhard von Kuenheim in January 1970, who then forced Hahnemann out.

Hahnemann’s successor was an American named Bob Lutz, previously of Opel (and later GM’s product czar), who was the instigator of many of the factory racing efforts as well as the originator of BMW’s Motorsport subsidiary. Lutz didn’t stick around for long, but von Kuenheim remained head of the company until 1993, during which time BMW’s worldwide volume quadrupled.

In 1974, BMW’s U.S. ad agency coined the now-familiar “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan, which the company has used ever since. Even as its cars grew bigger and generally more mainstream, BMW repeated that message relentlessly, to the point where it could be recited (however derisively) even by people who knew nothing about cars. Whether you believed it or not, there was little doubt about what a BMW was supposed to be.

Since the mid-seventies, many automakers, ranging from Pontiac to Mercedes-Benz, have made BMW’s cars the design bogeys for their new product development. What those rivals have really been after is not so much BMW’s performance, but the coherency of its brand image; most any marketing executive in the world would sell her own grandmother for the kind of branding BMW has achieved in the past 30 years.

There’s no particular magic to BMW’s success and if we were so inclined, we could be quite cynical about it. Ordinary sedans handle far better today than they did 40 years ago, and if BMWs have an edge, it is far narrower than it was in 1970. Even if you like BMWs (and here your author must confess a fondness), it’s difficult to justify their inflated prices unless you put a considerable premium on having a little blue-and-white emblem on your hood.

What we must respect about BMW as a company is not its performance, its styling, or its financial success, but its impressive sense of focus. That’s not to say it hasn’t periodically lost its way or that all its decisions have been good ones, but the company has stuck to its guns for more than four decades. In a business that tends to water down every good idea and that seems always to chase the lowest common denominator, that’s an admirable achievement, even if the results aren’t always to taste.



Our sources included Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, 2nd ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Jan P. Norbye and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, BMW: Bavaria’s Driving Machines (New York: Beekman House/Publications International, 1984); Bob Lutz, Guts: 8 Laws of Business from One of the Most Innovative Business Leaders of Our Time, Second ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003); “Car and Driver Road Research Report: BMW 1500,” Car and Driver August 1963; “Road Research Report: BMW 2000 CS,” Car and Driver April 1966; Patrick Bedard, “Viewpoint: Patrick Bedard: BMW 2500,” Car and Driver June 1969; and “Car and Driver Road Test: BMW 2800 CS,” Car and Driver December 1969, all of which are reprinted in Car and Driver on BMW Cars 1957-1977, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1986); “BMW 2800 CS,” Road & Track Vol. 21, No. 6 (February 1970), pp. 100-107; “BMW 3.0CS: A glorious blend of Grand Touring qualities,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 11 (July 1973), pp. 88-91; and “Road & Track Owner Survey: BMW 2800, Bavaria & CS,” ibid, pp. 93-95; and “Giant Test: Five grand plus: Citroen SM v. BMW 3.0 CS, CAR December 1971, reprinted in Citroen SM 1970-1975 Limited Edition Extra, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books, Ltd., 2001), pp. 62-72. Some useful information on the racing coupes came from Jonathan Thompson, “BMW vs Ford,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 11 (July 1973).

Production numbers and some technical details came from the BMW 3.0cs, 3.0csi, 2800cs, and BMW SL e9 models coupe site, www.e9coupe. com, accessed 17 November 2008; the BMW Coupé-Club e.v. site, de, last accessed 11 September 2015; and Luca Ciferri, “Volume leader in automobile design,” European Automotive Hall of Fame, 2006, www.autonews. com, accessed 17 November 2008.

Historical exchange rates for the DM to the dollar came from Harold Marcuse, “Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page,” UC Santa Barbara, 19 August 2005, www.history.ucsb. edu/faculty/ marcuse/projects/currency.htm. Our estimates of the present equivalency of historical amounts are based on the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, All equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and are provided for illustration and informational purposes only — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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  1. I had the good fortune to work on and drive a few of the coupes in the mid 70s. Technical innovation has always been the hallmark of BMW, and one of my favorites was the trunk mounted alternator in the CSL cars entered in the IMSA series. A toothed belt, similar to an OHC timing belt drove the alternator from a sprocket attached to one of the stub axles on the differential. Just one more ingenious way to balance the weight of the vehicle.

  2. The Lamborghini Miura and Countach are usually credited to Marcello Gandini, not to Giugaro.

    1. You’re right, of course — fixed.

  3. Great Article, got here from Jalopnik, and I really enjoyed reading it. However, your final tag line about the roundel, unfortunately is incorrect. While it has been rumored for years that the roundel harks back to the aviation history, the accepted history now is that it is a section of the bavarian flag, which features blue diamonds on it. Maybe its a german marketing plot to distract from their involvement in both world wars, but thats the story they are now sticking to.

    1. Fair enough. I had always assumed the roundel was a stylized propeller using the colors of the Bavarian flag (which does have blue and white diamonds, but isn’t at all round), which I thought was a rather clever bit of graphic design.

  4. Thank you for this impressive distillation of the E9’s development and of BMW’s history in general, which I found well researched and presented concisely.
    I believe you got a little ahead of BMW’s engine development history by saying, “The new M52 engine, developed by new technical director Bernhard Osswald (previously of Ford-Werke), debuted in 1968 in 2,494 cc (152 cu. in.) and 2,788 cc (170 cu. in.) versions.”
    The M52 six-cylinder, which succeeded the M50, didn’t come along until the 1990s. I’m pretty sure you were thinking of the legendary and durable M30 as the engine family that powered most of the E9 coupes.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I’m embarrassed to say that I noticed it the other day and thought I had fixed it — apparently I went away thinking, “I fixed that” as opposed to “I really need to fix that…”

        1. Ahh, I guess I fixed one reference to it, but not the other. I’ll take care of that now. Thanks!

  5. In 1971 I purchased, new, a 1970 2500 automatic that had probably been sitting on an import dock for some time. The dealer offered it at $5200, discounted from the sticker price of $6800. It was at the time that BMW changed over the US badging of the sedans to “Bavaria” and dramatically reduced the list price to improve salability – still, a lot of money for an almost unknown German marque.

    While I disliked the automatic, I was forever smitten with the handling and ride when compared with my prior GM muscle cars! The carburetors were another thing, altogether, and required a blanket tossed over the engine with a light bulb under it on cold New Hampshire nights if I was to have half a chance of starting up in the morning. I finally surrendered and traded the car for a 2002 in 1974 when front wing and facia rust were becoming scarily obvious.

    The front end weight bias was another weakness of the vintage and I could occasionally require friends to get out and push to start out from a modest snow dusting on even more modest grades on the lovely Michelin XAS tires! A parking garage attendant broke off the turn indicator stalk assuming it to be the shift lever. The ownership experience makes me smile 44 years later but at the time…not so much!

  6. My first experience with BMW was as a passenger in a late ’80’s 325i sedan–an iconic symbol of the Yuppie drive toward success. My overall impressions of the car were taut and spartan compared to a contemporary Audi 5000 and Lincoln Mark VII I drove. The Bimmer was OK; perhaps it needed something other than 55mph speed limits and unoccupied twisty-turnies to showcase its pedigree. The Audi and Lincoln seemed much better suited as daily drivers for my taste.

    Regarding the E9, I can’t help but see the ’62 Plymouth Belvedere–one of the cars that nearly ate Detroit–as a strong influence. I know which I’d rather have…

    Thank you for the insightful article and slice of BMW history.

    I truly hope you will find a way to keep this site active.

    1. I concur with your assessment of the E30 three-series — “taut” is a good word for it, and pretty quick for the time in six-cylinder form, but interior space and appointments were more econobox than luxury sedan, and you were paying an awful lot for the badge and the driving manners. For the price, an Acura Legend or the Mark VII were tempting alternatives for American driving.

  7. “It is difficult to justify their inflated prices unless you put a considerable premium on having a little blue and white emblem on your hood”
    I think you have it nailed there, in a somewhat similar way to the Ford LTD appealed to plenty who would make sacrifices to have one outside their house. I have plenty such people in the UK, they will put used tires on their cars, and skimp on maintenance generally. It’s not unusual to see them seized by the authorities because the owners can’t afford to keep them legally on the road. The halo of “German Quality” is very persistent, Mercedes and Audi also have a strong following. They are better built than many European cars, but matched by many Japanese automakers. But “Toyota” or “Honda” simply doesn’t have the image appeal, although Lexus has a loyal following, they have an image of making reliable but dull cars to shake off.


    1. Do you mean the Ford Thunderbird? The LTD was just a trim level of the full-size Ford, initially distinguished by a slightly different roofline (at least on the four-door hardtop), and existed primarily as a way to upsell buyer on a more expensive variation. (The comparison in British terms would be the Ghia trim level of ’70s and ’80s Fords.) The Thunderbird, on the other hand, was certainly a car of the same genre as the E9, although fans of either car would no doubt bristle at the comparison.

  8. Regarding the relative prestige of BMW vs. Mercedes-Benz, and with the usual caveats about generalizing from a small sample, here are a few data points.

    At one point Ron Wakefield, then engineering editor of Road & Track, did an article on his BMW 2800CS. His previous car had been a Mercedes 280SL. At the time he ordered the 2800CS, Road & Track publishers John and Elaine Bond owned an E3 sedan. Shortly thereafter their car had serious engine and transmission trouble, and Wakefield considered canceling his order, but he stayed the course.

    Within a few thousand miles the car developed some sort of what sounded like rod knock or some such. The dealership suggested that he wait a few thousand miles for it to go away. He explained to the readers that, counterintuitively, this was a reasonable thing to do, up to a point, and the dealer wasn’t blowing him off. The problem didn’t clear up, and as he put it, he took advantage of his connections, and Hoffman took the car in for rework. They tore down the engine, and the problem wouldn’t have cleared up on its own.

    Wakefield concluded that the car had suffered poor workmanship at the factory, but Hoffman had made things right. He said it didn’t seem to have the bank-vault solidity of his 280SL, but it seemed decently durable.

    IIRC he later owned another BMW coupe when Road & Track based him in West Germany, so presumably he liked the first one overall.

  9. Not a BMW fan for the past 40 years, but in my school days… As a 10 year old I was very excited to see a red 1600 at the house of my friends. I told the owner, a student at Goddard College, how interested I was in his car. When it was time for me to go home, he offered to give me a ride, an 11 mile detour on US2. I thought it was super cool. Also, quite small, even compared to our rope drive Tempest.

    A few years later a friend in Alicante, Spain had a 2002 which I got a brief ride in. Very nice.

    Over all, I am more of a 510 guy. I hate snooty people.

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