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The BMW 700 : The Car That Saved The Company

The BMW 700 is a small rear-engined car produced by BMW from August 1959 to September 1965, based on the BMW 600. The 700 is one of several models credited with having rescued BMW from a terrible fate. By the time production ended, 188,211 had been produced which was more than five times the number achieved by its predecessor model.

The BMW 700. The car that saved the Company.

Things did not look good. Indeed, BMW was rapidly approaching the final collapse and demise of the Company in the 1950s: While motorcycle production had reached a new record in 1952, production figures decreased more significantly in the years to come than they had increased in the late '40s.

To set off this dismal end of the motorcycle market, BMW built the prototype of a new small car in 1950, taking up the lines of the pre-war BMW 327 and the 600-cc fl at-twin engine so popular at the time. But the project was subsequently discarded for economic reasons.

After launching the Isetta in 1954 in an attempt to set off the slump in the motorcycle market, BMW soon realised that this bubble car was too small for the new customers entering the market, who, as a result of the German “economic miracle” soon expected a lot more of their new car in the late '50s. Quite simply, therefore, such spartan “super-minis” had already passed their climax, with customers demanding a longer wheelbase and more comfort.

At the same time the automotive industry was booming, with production in West Germany increasing by one-third in 1955 alone. Introducing new models, BMW sought to jump up on the bandwagon, the BMW 600, a somewhat longer Isetta with its fl at-twin engine fitted at the rear, intended to meet demand for a genuine four-seater at least for a while as of 1957. But again, the BMW 600 turned out to be a flop, customers not accepting the concept with the door at the front of the car.

Looking hard for a solution, the Development Division initially attempted for economic reasons to build a conventional small car using as many parts of the BMW 600 as possible. Wheelbase was extended to 1,900 mm or 74.8" by adding on extra sections front and rear, and the front seats were moved back to provide convenient access to the car from behind the wheel arches. But soon it became evident that without a further extension of the car's wheelbase space for the rear seats would be very limited. At the same time the rapid increase in weight resulting from the car's longer wheelbase was another problem, together with the poor seating arrangement.

The attempt to modify the frame and structure of the BMW 600 and meet modern demands thus proved to be impossible – or at least subject to significant compromises. So instead BMW decided to find a more promising solution by re-configuring the entire design and structure of the body.

Proven chassis and suspension carried over from the BMW 600.
Notwithstanding this decision, BMW's engineers did not want to completely give up the proven parts and components of the BMW 600 in developing their new model. So they decided to modify the front axle of the BMW 600 with its longitudinal swing arms for consistent track and wheel camber and carry over the concept to BMW's new small car – naturally with appropriate reinforcements to meet the greater demands made of the new model.

The engineers also took over the rear wheel suspension which, with its swing arms modified to a slightly higher angle, supported the car's steering as a function of acceleration in bends and counteracted any tendency to oversteer. Further features carried over from the BMW 600 were the all-synchromesh four-speed transmission as well as the bevel gear differential – and, of course, the fl at-twin power unit originally used on BMW motorcycles and now increased in size from 600 to 700 cc.

The crucial point was now to wrap up this technology in an appropriate body suitable both for the market and the requirements of the future. Back in late 1957, that is before the BMW 600 entered the market, BMW's new Board of Management had already requested the Development Division to develop and build a conventional small car with progressive design in corporation with an Italian designer and coachbuilder.

In July 1958 Wolfgang Denzel, an automotive engineer himself and BMW's importer in Vienna , proudly presented his new model designed by Michelotti in Starnberg just south of Munich . The decision in favour of this concept model was then taken in October 1958, allowing BMW to create both a Coupé and a Saloon to series production level as an in-house development.

The reason for doing this in-house was that the prototype, while being very attractive and offering excellent driving qualities, would have been neconomical in production due to the expensive tooling required. So working hard on all the details, BMW's designers developed a dynamic little car which had nothing do to do with BMW design so far: the BMW 700.

In its design the BMW 700 followed a trapezoid line with the roof structure and the basic body of the car opposed to one another to form two counter-fl owing bodies. This design concept came from the USA as a streamlined rendition of the former pontoon structure, with further refinement by Italian car designers.

Under the guidance of Wilhelm Hofmeister, BMW's designers then turned this draft into two models, a two-door Saloon and a Coupé.

The fi rst BMW with a monocoque body.
Apart from its brand-new design, the BMW 700 offered another surprising highlight: it was the first BMW with a monocoque body. And the reason for introducing this new technology was clear: “They might believe initially that in this way we were giving up an old principle going back many years within the Company. But our calculators quickly showed us that a monocoque floorpan was able to save about 30 kg in weight, lower the entire car by 60–70 mm (2.4–2.8") and streamline the production process, with appropriate cost benefits.”

BMW was not a newcomer to the use of monocoque unitary body panels. On the contrary, the BMW 326 built in Eisenach from 1936 until the beginning of the War already featured a floorpan made of high-rising panel supports firmly welded to the body of the car – at the time the best solution for a load-bearing body structure.

This experience carried over from the past quickly paid off, a comparison with two other well-known cars of the same size built in Europe and with a monocoque body clearly confirming the superior stiffness of BMW's car structure.

On 9 June 1959 BMW's Board of Management under their Chief Executive Dr Heinrich Richter-Brohm made the big move, presenting the new BMW 700 Coupé, the first model in the new series, to some 100 international motoring journalists. This was in Feldafing near Munich , at the same place where about two years before they had first seen the not-so-fortunate BMW 600.

Since the turbulence encountered in BMW's model range had added further momentum to the critical reports by the press, Helmut Werner Bönsch, BMW's Director of Technical Sales Planning, admitted quite frankly in his welcome statement that “ultimately it was this attitude and these doubts which convinced us to invite you here today to experience the new BMW 700 Coupé, and not to wait until the Frankfurt Motor Show.”

The BMW 700 : The Car That Saved The Company


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