History Lesson: Visiting the BMW Museum

For the casual visitor, a trip to the BMW Welt will probably be a nice way to experience Munich’s ultimate exports, but for fans of the marque, no visit is complete without heading next door into the BMW Museum. If the Welt is a propellerhead’s dream, the BMW Museum is quite likely, his or hers very own slice of Heaven. It is that good.

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Unlike the Welt, entry into the museum requires a fee but it is so very worth it.

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Think of the Welt as an appetiser and the Museum, the main course. There is a lot to take in and if you have the luxury of time, do allow yourself at least a few hours to absorb BMW’s rich history.

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From motorcycles…

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…to their very early automobiles.

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I’m guessing their engineers back then would never have imagined their little Dixi would eventually lead to visionary cars like the i8 or to their powerhouse M-cars.

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The progress of chassis development sure has gone a long way.

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I’m sure many of you think that the BMW logo is based on a spinning white propeller against a blue sky. Interestingly, that isn’t entirely true, while BMW did produce aircraft engines for a period of time, the logo we all know is in fact a combination of the logo of the Rapp Motorenwerke, from which the BMW company grew, and the colours of the Bavarian flag. The misconception that this logo represents a spinning propeller was probably due to a BMW aircraft magazine cover that was done is 1929.

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Moving forward a few years after that magazine debacle, we arrive in the year 1936, when BMW unveiled one of its most beautiful shapes ever. The gorgeous 328. Named as one of the Top 25 “Cars of the Century” by a panel of automotive journalist, the 328 was built through the years 1936-1940 and became a highly decorated race car throughout its lifetime.

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This particular 328 though is something extra special. Unlike most 328s that were produced as a roadster, this 328 is a Mille Miglia Touring Coupe.

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With ultimate race-ready versions of the 328 having tuned engines that would produce 135 bhp. The Touring company of Milan who were specialists in aluminium construction assembled three cars for BMW, two roadsters and this stunning coupe that would lead BMW’s factory team in 1939 and 1940.

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Interestingly, for a car with such a illustrious history, many considered it lost to the pages of history but after a 30 year hibernation in a Connecticut garage, it was found by a gentleman by the name of Jim Proffit, who bought the car in the mid eighties, gave it a full restoration and raced it briefly before it exchanged hands one last time back to BMW who have kept it in their Mobile Tradition collection ever since.

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To create this beautiful shape, designers and engineers relied not on wind tunnels but on pure instinct and intuition. Proving their skills as experts in the field, the 328 Touring Coupe was far more than just a pretty face. Test runs had shown that it was capable of exceeding the 200 km/h mark and in 1940, the 328 Touring Coupe won the Mille Miglia race. As an added bit of info, the 328 Touring Coupe became the first car to win both the original Mille Miglia (1940) and the modern-day classical version of the race.

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A more modern interpretation of their racing lineage represented by this Gordon Murray designed Brabham BT54, powered by BMW’s M12 4-cylinder Turbo engine and piloted by Nelson Piquet. Strangely the copy on the wall describes this car’s predecessor, the BT52. Perhaps the more celebrated BT52 was away for another showcase.

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Sadly BMW’s last efforts in F1 were met with limited success and after the 2009 season, withdrew from the sport. Personally, i think it was a good move as F1 in my opinion, continues to be a snooze fest up till today with very limited relevance to the development of road cars.

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BMW’s venerable M12/13 engine. Powering Nelson Piquet to his F1 Drivers’ Championship in 1983. It was also significant for being the first Drivers’ Championship to be won using a turbocharged engine.

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The P84 V10. There is no mistaking the high-pitched banshee wails that emanated from this era of F1 engines for anything else other than a V10. This time period was quite possibly the best sounding era for F1.

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Not quite as compact or efficient as the P84, this is the BMW 109-003 engine. A very early turbojet engine produced by BMW in Germany during the second World War. Although 500 engines were said to have been produced, very few ever made it into actual aircraft. (Not a bad thing)

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With most of the Art Car collection on tour around the World, it was nice to see this still sitting pretty in the Museum. This is Art Car #11, created by German artist, A.R Penck.

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Inspired by the work of artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt, as well as by early cave painting and a fascination with mathematics and physics. His unique Z1 (already a limited production car) has been adorned with various symbols and images including the artist’s own legendary stick figures to great effect.

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Moving on, we come to a showcase of the 3. From the first through to the last “E” chassis derived car, the E90. I guess they will have to expand this exhibit soon.

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Of course my favourites are the earliest cars.

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E30 Touring. Perfect.

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A display of BMW’s badges through the years.

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The BMW 700. Guess what this shares in commmon with a Porsche 911? Yup, they are both rear engined! This car is also a significant part of BMW’s history as it was a sales success at a time when BMW was faced with financial ruin in the 1960s. And true to BMW form, it even went racing at the hands of people like Hans Stuck, Jacky Ickx, Hubert Hahne, and Alpina founder Burkard Bovensiepen.

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Speaking of racing, it takes some really brave souls to look at this deathtrap and go, “Yes, let’s race it!”

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Something that’s always interested me are the clay 1:1 scale models that designers create when designing a car. Seeing one in real life really brings the scale into perspective.

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From concept through to development. It looks like a lot of work goes into sculpting each and every concept.

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Underneath all that clay lies this wooden buck.

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Smaller Clay models on display, a diecast collector will probably froth at the mouth if given a chance to have these in their collection.

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The radical BMW Z1. This one is the regular road going version, or as regular as can be given its rather limited 8,000 car production run. I could hardly contain my excitement when i saw one going down the other way on my Alpenstrasse drive. For something that looks this cool, it’s hard to believe it first appeared in 1989. It truly was a golden era of unique modern car design.

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Those slide-down doors are not the only interesting detail of this roadster.

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Did you know that those instrument dials were designed to mimic motorcycle gauges and that only the tach has a red needle?

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The other Z (Zukunft, interestingly, German for future) cars on display were the James Bond duo. The misunderstood Z3 and the further misunderstood Z8. Both slated back in the day, but now classics in their own right.

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The Z8 in particular one of BMW’s loveliest shapes, built as the road going version of the Z07 Concept car whose design was by a team led by the press’s favourite whipping boy, Chris Bangle. It was intended as just a styling exercise meant to evoke and celebrate the BMW 507, but reaction to the Z07 concept was strong enough to spur BMW into producing a limited run of the car. Thus, the Z8 was born with 5,703 cars eventually produced with 555 being Alpina cars. Today, the Z8 has became a much sought after modern classic with the Alpina V8 cars being one of the rarest cars around.

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Since we are on the topic of concepts, the Vision Efficient Dynamics was also in the museum.

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Sporting an extremely striking and bold shape, it was interesting to see how somewhat “unfinished” this and other Concepts looked in real life. It was heartening to see how much of the design was eventually carried on to the i8 production car though.

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In the same hall as the Vision Efficient Dynamics was this 328 Roadster. Having already bored you with some history of the 328 earlier, i’ll keep this short.

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Having the interior exposed does allow us to have a glimpse into the interior. Only the essentials, the only iDrive you’d have back then was probably a co-driver holding onto a map! At least there won’t be any issues with voice commands.

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Beautiful 3.0CSi in a very unique shade of turquoise. BMW makes such beautiful coupes.

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The 327/28 Coupe, a higher powered variant of the 327 Touring Coupe. Produced between the years 1937 and 1941. A lovely coupe that sold well back in the day, but unfortunately overshadowed by its more illustrious and more attractive sibling, the 328.

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Now, we enter the hall of legends. Those colors, those shapes, will you be able to contain your excitement? I couldn’t.

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Let’s start at the very beginning with the Neue Klasse. The non racing variation already a very significant car in BMW’s history, being credited as the series of cars that ensured BMW’s solvency through difficult times and establishing BMW’s identity as the maker of sports sedans. This identity was further cemented on the racing circuit by this very Neue Klasse piloted by Hubert Hahne, winning the 1964 German Circuit Championship in style, collecting 14 of the 16 winner’s trophies.

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Then we come to this. The legendary E9 Batmobile CSL. One of the most iconic racing car shapes in its most iconic livery. Top Gear calls it one of the most coolest racing cars in all of history. I won’t disagree.

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Beginning its life as a beautifully elegant 2000CS coupe penned by non other than Wilhelm Hofmeister (yes that guy), BMW then tasked Alpina with creating a more powerful car, resulting in the 3.0CSL.

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But it was only in 1972 when BMW decided it was time to enter the European racing fray that this monster was finally breathed into life and blessed with the aero package that gave it its iconic nickname.

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The CSL racing cars were also the first cars to adorn the now signature BMW M blue, purple and red stripes, which came about as a result of a Texaco sponsorship deal.

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The Batmobile went on to become a highly competitive racing machine and one of the most successful touring cars of the 1970s at the hands of drivers like Hans Stuck, Brian Redman, Sam Posey, Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda. Furthering BMW’s reputation as a maker of The Ultimate Driving Machine.

Highlights of its career include a significant class win in the 1973 Le Mans 24 hours, a 1-2-3 finish at the Salzburgring in 1974, countless national and international series wins in the hands of factory teams and privateers, and six European touring car titles. By the time production ended, the CSL had already become a legend.

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Following on the success of the CSL, the Group 5 320 Turbo had a slightly less heroic nickname due to its blocky shape, The Flying Brick.

Powered by a 2-litre 4 cylinder engine no less tuned to 650 horses, the 320 Turbo was curiously developed over only 12 weeks with no technical drawing ever made and the car progressively taking shape as BMW Motorsport engineers applied modifications to the car directly to the car. Even though development of the car was brief, The Flying Brick enjoyed significant success on the tracks with the BMW factory campaigning alongside McLaren who ran the car on the IMSA circuit in the United States, presenting a serious challenge to the Porsche 935s that would go on to dominate the series. Not bad for a 3 Series don’t you think?

It was also through this car that spurred on the development of BMW’s turbocharged F1 cars of the 1980s and contributing to the technological arms race that ensued.

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With 2 highly successful racing cars born one after another, it would be understandable if any automobile manufacturer decided to rest of their laurels, but no, this is BMW, and they came up with this, the E30 M3. The first M3 ever made and the World’s most successful touring race car.

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When the M3 raced between 1987-1993, it dominated. Multiple Touring Car championships in Europe, multiple 24 Hours of Nurburgring and Spa wins the E30 M3 even went off road for various rally wins. This is the E30 M3, this is the legend. Ain’t she a beauty.

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The rather short lived E46 M3 GTR. Powered by the BMW P60B40 V8 engine producing 493 horses, the M3 GTR came to life in the year of 2001 and went on to gain rapid success in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

Unfortunately, the rules for racing were changed in 2002 (brought on by protest from rival teams), and BMW pulled out of the series.

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However, in 2003, Two Schnitzer Motorsport campaigned GTRs saw a comeback in the 24 Hours Nürburgring race, winning 1–2 in 2004 and 2005. BMW also built 10 special road going versions of the GTR to satisfy race regulations and all 10 are powered by the same 4-Litre V8 engines as the race cars, all slightly detuned and modified to meet emission and noise regulations. These 10 cars are now also highly sought after by collectors and command ridiculous amounts of financial commitment should one eventually be found.

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From the racing legends, we now venture into the hall of cars born from racing. The classic BMW M cars. Legends in their own right.

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Sitting alongside the original M car, the beautiful shark nosed E24 M-car we all know was never intended to have the M6 branding. Its original designation was M635CSi and only the US bound cars had the M6 name. Eventually all cars were given the M6 badge and the rest is history.

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While most people pine for Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis in their dream 5-car garage, these 2 cars are what i’d have in mine.

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My (automotive) love, my dream.

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Das originals, das beste.

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E46 M3, in my opinion the last of a generation. Kind of like how the 993 is revered in the 911 range. This particular example being the most loved and sought after CSL variant. Would i take this over an E30 M3 though? Not a chance.

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With its blistered wheel arches and hunkered down stance, this can only be the Z3 M Roadster. I would have so much preferred to see the Z3 M Coupe.

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Behind the M cars were a series of engines on display. Stand in front of them and a sound clip of the power units will play from a speaker right above you. Nice.

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Check out the retro Motorsport script on the original M88.

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Development of the M88 into M88/3. Used in the M635CSi(M6) and the original M5.

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The last iteration of the M88 based block, the S38B38. Initially a 3.6 litre engine (S38B36), the S38 eventually went on to become the largest 6-cylinder engine ever made by BMW at 3.8 litres and was also the last 6-cylinder engine to power an M5.

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The legendary S14 from the E30 M3. The only time an M-car used a 4-cylinder power plant.

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The last of the screaming Straight-6s, the S54. With the carbon air box on, this particular S54 can only be from the E46 M3 CSL.

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Don’t you love how BMW curates their cars and the exhibits to showcase around them?

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Perfectly restored Isetta.

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Towards the end of the exhibit, we come to this new addition to the museum. A BMW 507, and not just any 507 (itself already a great car to any collection), but a BMW 507 once owned by the King himself, Elvis Presley.

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Unearthed by Jackie Jouret, a journalist for Bimmer magazine, who tracked down the car into a pumpkin warehouse in Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. The legendary roadster’s owner, automobile enthusiast and classic car fanatic Jack Castor, had stored it in his barn and was unaware of the car’s Rock & Roll history.

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With the car eventually being acquired by BMW Group Classic, it was initially put on display at this very location prior to its long restoration process.

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Years later, here it is in her original glory.

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Elvis would be proud.

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Elsewhere is the halls of the museum was another exhibit detailing significant events during the past 100 years of BMW’s history.

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Like the Vision Efficient Dynamics, this Turbo Concept felt somewhat unfinished when you take a closer look. But, just as much, i do like how much of the concept’s essence made it to the M1 road car.

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The original 5, the E12.

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V12 powered E32 7 Series. I’m guessing this is the more exclusive “Highline” edition. I’m also guessing the rear SLS suspension is slightly faulty given the rake.

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The original 8 sits next to yet another Art Car. #15, The V12 LMR Art Car by Jenny Holzer. When this first came out, i remember how much people hated it, especially when put alongside BMW’s earliest Art Car masterpieces by Calder, Warhol and Lichtenstein. I’m no art connoisseur, but on hindsight, it doesn’t look too bad when you consider the latest Art Car does not even have any actual “art” on the car.

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And with that, we conclude our jaunt into the halls of the BMW Museum. If you only have enough time to visit either the Welt or the Museum, i highly recommend the latter. History class dismissed!

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