How the BMW 700 saved the German company from collapse

The air in Feldafing near Munich, Germany, was filled with cautious anticipation on that day in June 1959 when BMW The board presented the all-new BMW 700 Coupé to a gathering of international motoring journalists. The hundreds of press men and women in Feldafing were nervous, not for themselves, but for the Bimmer. They had gathered at this same location for the unveiling of the ill-fated BMW 600 just two years previously.

BMW was on a slippery slope toward closing its doors permanently when it launched the 600 to, at least, slow the descent. But with the 600’s dismal performance, the slide into demise continued unabated. It was not a matter of habitual bad planning, domestic politics or poor economic management. Ever-changing market trends seemed to have caught BMW off guard, leading to the struggle to regain its footing.

BMW’s alarming and recurring failure to return to profitability began with the introduction of the prototype of a new small car in 1950, taking the lines of the pre-war BMW 327 and the 600 flat-twin engine cm3 so popular at the time. But the project turned out to be economically unviable. This disturbing trend continued until BMW designers developed a small, dynamic car that until now had nothing to do with BMW design: the BMW 700.

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The BMW 700: concept, design and engineering

The BMW 700 was, among other things, the first Bimmer built on a monocoque chassis, which deviated from what the company was known for but had to be done to achieve its development goal. “The monocoque floor,” according to BMW, “saved about 66 pounds of weight, lowered the entire car from 2.4 to 2.8″ and streamlined the production process, with benefits appropriate costs.”

The prognosis was bad for the Bimmer in the 1950s. Motorcycle production peaked in 1952 but dropped significantly in subsequent years from the late 1940s. This is to save the market from the motorcycle that BMW built the stillborn small car prototype based on the popular pre-war BMW 327. They tried again, releasing the Isetta under license in 1954, but that too could not fulfill its messianic purpose.

Although the Isetta traveled farther than the stillborn prototype, the Bimmer miscalculated a market that had since moved away from the small, bewildering cars. Thanks to the German “economic miracle” of the late 1950s, the German public wanted more from their cars than the Isetta’s short wheelbase and spartan interior offered.

The auto industry was booming while BMW was struggling for a share. So he tried again, introducing the BMW 600 in 1957, with a slightly longer wheelbase and a flat-twin engine in the rear to allow for a 4-seat configuration. But it was also another painful lesson for the Bimmer, because the German public didn’t appreciate the door up front too much.

BMW engineers strove to modify the 600’s chassis and structure, but found they couldn’t, at least not without significant compromises that would inadvertently prove problematic. It was as if the company couldn’t keep up with modern consumer trends. If he could not modify the frame and structure to place the door on the side, then the only option was to reconfigure the entire body.

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The BMW 700: the car that saved the company

Bimmer’s economically conscious development division first attempted to build a conventional small car, with an extended wheelbase and additional sections front and rear, using as many parts from the offending BMW 600 as possible. . space and a considerably increased curb weight.

They solved this problem by modifying the 600’s front axle, with its trailing trailing arms, for consistent track and wheel camber, wearing it with appropriate braces to meet the higher demands of the new model. The rear suspension was another holdover from the 600 which, with trailing arms modified to a slightly higher angle, supported the direction of the car according to cornering acceleration, counteracting oversteer.

The Bimmer carried over several other features including the fully synchronized 4-speed transmission, bevel gear differential and many more from the BMW 600 to the new BMW 700. The 700’s bodywork was inspired by the interpretation American of the Italian pontoon structure. , although the Bimmer asked the Italian designers to refine and streamline the trapezoidal design of the 700.

This design approach, under design chief Wilhelm Hofmeister, was entirely new to BMW and was transformed into a sedan and a 2-door coupe. With the monocoque floor, the 700 boasted superior tensile strength compared to other marquee European models. By the time the BMW 700 was unveiled on June 9, 1959, media jitters were no longer needed.

Addressing the conclave of international motoring journalists in Feldafing, Helmut Werner, BMW Technical Sales Planning Manager, said: “It was ultimately this attitude and these doubts that convinced us to invite you here today to experience the new BMW 700 Coupe, not to wait for the Frankfurt Motor Show.” When Werner revealed the new Coup, he received a standing ovation.


Gearhead journalists were impressed with the new model. Test drivers sang its praises, with one saying: “Acceleration is certainly impressive for a car of this size, taking you from a standstill to 60mph in 20 and 120mph in 30 seconds.” And another saying, “You get the feeling of sitting in a car with real sporting values, but without the rather harsh ride and limited space typical of most sports cars.” Jackpot.

The BMW 700 was larger, had more interior and luggage space, and was lighter than 1,323 lb despite the longer wheelbase of 139.4 inches. This improved the 700’s acceleration and climbing ability. The car had achieved its historic messianic vocation and commercial success by the time the Frankfurt Motor Show had barely ended, selling unusually large numbers in Germany and abroad.

Demand for the BMW 700 was so high that customers had to wait several months for delivery of their car, with BMW selling over 35,000 units in 1960, accounting for around 58% of the Bimmer’s overall revenue.

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