liter boxer 2-cylinder
- 1521 lbs
hp @ 5700 rpm
- 38 lbs per hp
hp per liter
(from BMW Press
Release) 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
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
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 flat-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.
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
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
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 not have been economical 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-flowing 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 first BMW with a monocoque
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 debut: standing ovations.
The minute Bönsch
revealed the new Coupé, everybody started clapping. The journalists
immediately admired the new model with its wheelbase of 2,120 mm
(83.5"), front track of 1,270 mm (50.0") and rear track measuring
1,200 mm (47.2").
Boasting these dimensions, the BMW 700 had grown out of the small
car class still prevailing in the market at the time and allowed a
relatively high standard of freedom in providing extra space. The
designers and engineers were particularly proud of the car’s
consistent lightweight technology reducing dry weight to less than
600 kg or 1,323 lb despite the car’s overall length 3,540 mm or
139.4", thus providing the qualities required for good acceleration
and hill-climbing performance.
Compared with the BMW 600, the extension in wheelbase by 25 per cent
came with an increase in weight by only 14.5 per cent. And despite
its low height of just 1,270 mm or 50.0", the Coupé offered
acceptable headroom just like the doors measuring 93 cm or 36.6" in
width allowed unusually comfortable access for a car in this class.
Enjoying the seats, the driver and passengers in the BMW 700
benefited from an unusually good balance of useful interior space
and exterior dimensions, the curved windows helping to keep the
doors smooth and provide extra width inside the car.
Again in the words of Helmut Werner Bönsch: “In combining the
footwells and the luggage compartment we followed the example of a
modern sleeping car – which shows that sometimes you can even learn
from the railways!” He then added that “we also remembered to keep
the four corners of the car in clear sight from the driver’s seat,
allowing the driver to easily manoeuvre even into tight parking
Appropriately contoured to fit the human body, the front seats with
their active-breathing upholstery were adjustable even while driving
and came with backrests moving to four different angles. The
backrest at the rear, in turn, folded down whenever required like in
the BMW 600, allowing the driver and passengers to take along bulky
objects such as all their camping gear.
Same space and dynamic performance
as the BMW 326.
The BMW 700 was also
well-equipped for travelling with a fair amount of luggage. The
front luggage compartment with its conveniently fl at floor was able
to accommodate two standard-sized suitcases measuring 70 cm or 27.5"
in length, together with some smaller bags. The fuel tank was
beneath the luggage compartment, perfectly protected by the spare
wheel standing upright in front. Offering a capacity of 30 litres or
6.6 imp gals plus three litres reserve, the tank was sufficient for
a cruising range of approximately 500 kilometres or more than 300
miles, since, according to the fuel consumption standards applicable
at the time, the BMW 700 was quite happy with some six litres for
100 kilometres, equal to approximately 47 mpg imp.
Developing maximum output of 30 hp at 5,000 rpm, the two-cylinder
power unit was able to accelerate the Coupé to a top speed of 125
km/h or 78 mph. Exactly what this meant in terms of performance
became quite clear in a statement again made by Helmut Werner Bönsch,
comparing the car’s performance with that of the legendary BMW 327
touring sports car: “The BMW 700 Coupé with its 700-cc 30-hp
two-cylinder offers the same top speed, the same acceleration and
the same safe average speed on the road as its legendary predecessor
with its two-litre six-cylinder two-carburettor power unit. And it
does so with the same space inside and with superior roadholding of
an even higher standard.”
Journalists driving the BMW 700 Coupé were – rightly – thrilled from
the start, waxing lyrical about the car’s design and its driving
qualities: “Acceleration is certainly impressive for a car of this
size, taking you from a standstill to 90 km/h in 20 and to 100 km/h
in 30 seconds.”
With this kind of performance, some journalists realised from the
start that the BMW 700 Coupé was already looking at a sporting
career: “You have the feeling that you’re sitting in a car with
genuine sporting values, but without the rather harsh ride and
limited space so typical of most sports cars.”
Ultimately, most of the testers readily confirmed the optimism
expressed by BMW’s Board of Management: “The BMW 700 Coupé is the
latest model from Bayerische Motoren Werke and promises to be a
great success and a real highlight at this year’s Frankfurt Motor
Public attractions at the 1959
Frankfurt Motor Show: the BMW 700 Saloon and Coupé.
Precisely this is what
happened, with the BMW 700 becoming a genuine highlight for the
public in Frankfurt. The new Coupé was presented on the BMW stand at
the 1959 Frankfurt Show at a price of DM 5,300.– including the car’s
heater. Right next to it was the four-seater Saloon based on the
same engineering and design concept and destined to enter series
production in early 1960.
Retailing at a price of DM 4,760.–, the Saloon was almost DM 600.–
cheaper than the Coupé with its higher level of equipment. At the
same time the Saloon boasted a far more spacious body offering
adequate space for four adults. And unlike the Coupé with its fl air
almost reminiscent of a sports car, the Saloon stood out in
particular through its practical features and benefits.
Likewise designed by Torino coachbuilder Giovanni Michelotti, the
Saloon also received its finishing touches in BMW’s Design Office
under Wilhelm Hofmeister.
With its steeper windscreen and rear window as well as the modified
roof, the Saloon, on a body otherwise identical, looked much larger
than the dynamic Coupé. But weighing just 10 kilos more than the
Coupé, the 640-kg (1,411 lb) Saloon was able to offer almost the
same good performance, accelerating to 100 km/h in approximately 30
seconds and reaching a top speed of 120 km/h or 75 mph.
With the Frankfurt Motor Show hardly over, BMW struck a very
positive balance towards the end of September: “Both new models were
warmly welcomed by motor journalists and the public alike, showing a
response well beyond even our most optimistic expectations. As a
result, we successfully made an unusually large number of sales not
only in Germany, but also and above all in our export markets.”
The BMW 700 was the direct competitor of the initially cheaper VW
Beetle and appealed above all to the motorist wishing to stand out
from the crowd. Indeed, as a result of great demand customers had to
wait several months for the delivery of their car, with BMW selling
more than 35,000 units in 1960, the BMW 700 thus accounting for some
58 per cent of the Company’s overall revenues.
Born for motorsport: the BMW 700
The sporting qualities
of the BMW 700 Coupé came out quite clearly from the start, shortly
after the beginning of production in July 1959: The first Coupés
were to be admired on the track before the end of the year, for
example in the Sahara-Lappland Rally. In 1960 BMW’s fast Coupés
brought home both gold medals and titles, Hans Stuck clinching the
German Hill-Climbing Championship once again at the wheel of a BMW
700 at the age of 60.
This clearly created significant demand among many customers for an
even more powerful engine, with the big day coming in summer 1961,
when BMW proudly presented the BMW 700 Sport to the press at the
Nürburgring Race Track.
With its compression ratio increased to 9:1, an even more dynamic
camshaft and Solex twin-carburettors supplying the fuel, the
two-cylinder boxer engine now developed 40 hp at 5,700 rpm.
This sporting package was rounded off by an optional sports gearbox
and an even harder suspension featuring firmer dampers and an
anti-roll torsion bar. The power unit, in turn, was sufficient for
acceleration to 100 km/h in just under 20 seconds and a top speed of
135 km/h or 84 mph.
All the customer had to pay for this extra driving pleasure was DM
This “hot” version of the BMW 700 quickly became a legend in the
early ’60s particularly in motorsport, and was lauded by fans as the
“little fighter”. And indeed, at its time the car put up some
exciting duels against competitors from both Steyr-Puch and Abarth.
Racing machine with a tubular
spaceframe and an aluminium body:
the BMW 700 RS.
Moving on to works
racing, BMW prepared two truly outstanding performers parallel to
one another: the 700 GT in 1960 and, a year later, the BMW 700 S.
“When a new BMW sports car, the BMW 700 RS enters the Rossfeld
Hillclimb Race on 18 June 1961, this will be in a quest to test the
driving qualities of the BMW 700 at higher speeds and under more
dynamic conditions,” said the announcement.
The fact that this was indeed no more than a test is obvious,
considering that the BMW 700 RS, in making its debut in the sports
car category up to 1600-cc, was competing against the likes of the
Porsche Spyder and the Porsche RSK, to mention only two formidable
BMW’s small racing machine boasted a tubular spaceframe and an
aluminium body, with 70 hp coming from the side-shaft power unit and
with the complete vehicle weighing less than 600 kg or 1,323 lb.
Depending on the transmission ratio, this small but dynamic
performer was able to reach a top speed between 150 and 200 km/h (93
and 124 mph) – enough for Walter Schneider to bring home the German
Circuit Championship in 1961 at the wheel of a BMW 700 RS.
The dynamic BMW 700 remained seriously competitive and in most cases
even superior for years to come, boasting various levels of tuning
and engine power. And when BMW’s two-cylinder sports car finally
reached the end of its career, Hubert Hahne, one of the big stars at
the time in touring car racing, had brought home the majority of his
wins in this outstanding performance model.
At the same time the BMW 700 had already become the ideal car for
young drivers making their first appearance in racing at the time. A
very good example is Hans-Joachim Stuck, who has great memories of
this great car: “I was just nine years old when I accompanied my
father to drivers’ courses held by Scuderia Hanseat at the
Nürburgring race track. And there I was able to drive a BMW 700
myself, since it was a closed circuit reserved entirely for our
BMW quickly added further versions to the range, making the BMW 700
even more successful: Following the regular BMW 700, the Company
introduced the BMW 700 De Luxe in February 1961, featuring the same
technical equipment but with an even higher level of appointments.
The most exclusive model in the BMW 700 range launched at the same
time was the BMW 700 Convertible, the Baur Coachbuilding Company in
Stuttgart designing and building this open-air version of the BMW
700, as they had already done so often in the history of BMW.
To provide all the qualities for driving in the open air, Baur
reinforced the car’s load-bearing elements and re-designed the rear
end. An uncomplicated, straightforward roof mechanism made open air
motoring a genuine pleasure, particularly because the 700
Convertible came as standard with the more powerful engine otherwise
featured in the BMW 700 Sport.
1962: new generation for greater
The most significant
change came in spring 1962 when BMW, while retaining the car’s
wheelbase, extended the body by no less than 32 cm or 12.6" in order
to offer a significant increase in motoring comfort.
This new model was marketed as the BMW LS and the BMW LS De Luxe. As
of autumn 1964 the Coupé also received this longer body, coming off
the assembly line in its last year of production as the BMW LS Coupé.
In all, sales of the BMW 700 amounted to 190,000 units by the year
1965. And the car was a great success in many countries the world
over, with BMW delivering assembly kits for the BMW 700 to assembly
plants in countries otherwise imposing high taxes on completely
built-up cars. Hence, the BMW 700 was assembled from kits in
Belgium, Italy, Argentina and even – in small numbers – in Israel.
At the end of the day the BMW 700 more than fulfi lled its
expectations, having given BMW new hope and taking the Company
successfully through the crisis in 1959 and on to the fi nal
breakthrough to profitable large-scale production.