BMW Saga

Acquiring an engine factory on the eve of the 1929 crash could lead you to fear the worst.

Fortunately, in the 20s, Eisenach had bought from Austin the licence for a small English car: the Seven in England, the Bantam in the USA, Datsun in Japan and Rosengart in France. Germany christens it Dixi. It will be the first BMW.


In 1927, the launch of the Dixi is perfect timing to save BMW’s independence.

But Emil Georg von Strauss, director of Deutsche Bank, dreams of merging BMW and Daimler-Benz. This is natural, since he is Daimler-Benz’s Chairman of the Board, BMW’s as well!

On April 15, 1926, a merger agreement is signed, defining the companies’ activities: BMW will build airplane and motorcycle engines, as well as a small-engine car. Daimler-Benz will make airplane engines, and Mercedes brand sedans. The wedding seems inevitable.

In 1929 Daimler-Benz dealerships showcase the Dixi and Mercedes side by side.

But the engagement goes on and on. At the end of six years, the parties get cold feet, and BMW launches its 6-cylinder 303 model. Daimler-Benz does not appreciate this breach in the contract.

In 1933, they both decide to regain their freedom. The divorce is announced before the wedding takes place!

The Reich über alles!

The 303 is launched in 1933, 11 days after the elections placing Hitler in power. BMW counts on the 303 to consolidate its technological advances, and to demonstrate its ambition.

The 303 bmw

This requires a distinctive mark. The “double kidney” logo appears for the first time in 1933; 70 years (and several evolutions) later, it still adorns each BMW’s bonnet. Produced in small batches, the 303 is elegant and prestigious, but its price rather steep. But it captures 5% of the German market in one year.

The company continues with its offensive. The 303 becomes the 309, then the 315 in various models: coupe, convertible, and roadster.

In 1937, the 328 is launched

On April 28, 1940, two men drive the 2-litre 328 Coupe Sport into the history books, by winning the most prestigious of road tests: the Mille Miglia. These men are baron Fritz Huschke von Hanstein (29 years old), nicknamed “the Racing Baron” and Walter Bäumer (32 years old). Their “Mille Miglia” Coupe 328 bearing number 70 follows all the racing stars, but in Brescia it stuns everyone by crossing the finishing line barely 9 hours later, having covered 1600 km with a remarkable average of 170 km/h! Although Hanstein (1911-1996 ) was able to rest on his laurels for a lengthy period, Bäumer died tragically at the wheel one year later, in his own driveway!

For BMW, these 1940 Mille Miglia races are a complete triumph, with 3 other 328 roadsters taking respectively 3rd, 5th and 6th places!

The 328 record list is impressive. It wins the German Grand Prix and the Coupe des Alpes in 1938, the Brookland Speed Trials in 1939 and the Australian Grand Prix in 1948! Continue reading “BMW Saga”

BMW Art Car Collection

Counting myself as a fully paid-up philistine who believes that the perfect BMW comes in perfect, pure white paint, the BMW Art Cars present a challenge. That, I must accept, is exactly what they are meant to do.

It all started when art auctioneer, Herve Poulain, arranged a commission for Alexander Calder to treat his 1975 Le Mans 24hrs race car as a kind of three dimensional metal ‘canvas’. Poulain’s BMW 3.0CSL race car may not have figured strongly in the race but it has found immortality of another kind. Impressed by the striking, colourful result of Calder’s work, BMW has continued the tradition ever since and there are now 15 cars in the Collection, all by different artists.

BMW 3.0CSL race car

The Collection is said to express BMW’s “commitment to cultural activities”, being a “promotion of dialogue between art and technology”. To the untrained eye some of the work can seem overly primitive. Yet others, such as Frank Stella’s 1976 “blueprint transferred to the bodywork”, are obviously outstanding and accessible even to diehard petrolheads.

Alexander Calder bmw

Back in 1979, Andy Warhol’s attempt to “portray speed pictorially” on a Group 4 BMW M1 was also one of the more successful works in the Collection. At any rate, the idea has been much-copied by many race teams ever since, if not always quite so well. David Hockney’s 850CSi of 1995 is completely beyond me, I have to admit, and his description of the work only puzzles me more: “The car has wonderful contours and I followed them”. In a brochure on this car, it states: “He admits to having playfully ‘destroyed’ the outer surfaces of the car, whilst at the same time he respected the overall design”. Hockney added: “Driving and design go hand in hand in a way. Travelling around in a car means experiencing landscapes – which is one of the reasons why I chose green as a colour.” Continue reading “BMW Art Car Collection”

The sad story of the Cisitalia CIS 360

My father’s famous CIS models lie in chains, but the racing wildcats, as they were called, will soon roar again… My mother – who by the way was one of the most beautiful women in Turin – has sold her glorious town house at least to partially satisfy my father’s creditors… I am just returning from negotiations with our many good friends… Cisitalia will reconquer its world fame, the car with the fastest times will not be defeated by its competitor Mammon and will again earn the victory laurels.”

Somehow you can sense and feel the confused emptiness of these words – quotes from an interview that journalist Pitt Schultes conducted in the 1950s with Carletto, the son of industrial magnate and sportsman Piero Dusio. The conversation appeared at the end of a long and promising story about Porsche’s most unfortunate (but from today’s perspective, most valuable) Grand Prix car, the Type 360.

Cisitalia CIS 360

Among its potential opponents in the post-war era (Mercedes, Ferrari, Maserati and the Alfas!) it represented the peak of racing car development, though relaxed and completely in step with the company’s trim style; a brilliant Porsche design through and through:

with the horizontally opposed 12-cylinder mid-engine set deeply in the frame (competitors were still driving cars with the power units up front)

with four-wheel drive, and the ability to disconnect the drive to the front wheels while in motion

with a five-speed synchromesh transmission that had only two gate planes – like a motorcycle gear shift

with four independently suspended wheels, based in the front on the parallel trailing-arm layout from Auto Union’s racing cars (a Porsche design!). In the rear there was a double swing axle in accordance with the principle seen on the early Volkswagen

with an aluminium body over a chrome-molybdenum steel frame and a weight of just 630 kg.

Ideally it would have been possible to obtain a power to weight ratio of 1.4 kg/bhp – provided that the engine produced the 450 bhp at 10,500 revs that it was calculated as developing when in top form. Something to keep in mind:

At that time there was a 1.5-liter displacement limit, but mechanical supercharging was allowed (Porsche used Roots or Centrik superchargers at boost pressures of approximately 1.8 bar). The fuel question was dealt with liberally, which is why a racing fuel mixture with an octane level of 150 was assumed to be available.

The fact that the quoted power ratings (theoretical, practical, on the testing rig, or idealized) are so far apart is in the nature of the matter. 280 bhp, 363 bhp, 385 bhp, 450 bhp with an option for 500 – the figure was of little significance. The car was never really able to demonstrate its abilities.

Its long, unfullfilled story began when businessman Piero Dusio from Turin gained some respectable sports successes with his own Cisitalia marque. The little CIS with a Fiat 1,100-cc engine, something of a post-war Formula Junior race car, was driven successfully by people like Nuvolari, Taruffi, Stuck, and above all, Bonetto. Cisitalia’s rise to the Grand Prix league seemed to be a natural development.

Co-operation with the Porsche design office came about-through the engineers’ grapevine, members of which were the two Austrians Rudolf Hruschka (later to develop the Alfasud) and Carlo Abarth. Later they were joined by Eberan von Eberhorst, the man with Auto Union Grand Prix experience, (who later fell out with Carlo Abarth). Nuvolari and Millanta, an Italian automotive journalist, established important contacts, but only the top man, Ferdinand Porsche, was still unreachable in French custody. On December 20, 1946 Dusio met with Porsche’s people in Kitzbühel: Ferry (Ferdinand’s son), his sister Louise Piëch, and chief designer Karl Rabe. Continue reading “The sad story of the Cisitalia CIS 360”

A brief history of racing on ovals

The first ever banked ‘oval’ racing track, indeed the first ever motor racing circuit in the world was Brooklands, built by Mr. H. F. Locke King on his estate near Weybridge in Surrey.

Up till that point, most motor racing had taken place on the continent, with road races between cities. As these were banned for safety reasons in Britain, Locke King decided that a purpose-made motor racing track was the solution.

Brooklands napier

Brooklands opened on the 28th June 1907 with a 24-hour distance record attempt by S. F. Edge on his Napier. It’s first motor race on July 6th 1907 was also won by a Napier, driven by H. C. Tyron. The race was organised by the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club, today known as the British Automobile Racing Club.

Speeds rapidly increased as cars became larger and more powerful. The first 100+ mile per hour lap of the track was set by the Italien Felice Nazzaro on his giant 21-litre Fiat Mephistopheles in 1908. Was he really as fast? As the time measuring instruments were not too precise at that time the controversy still continues after more than 90 years!

As Brooklands developed as a major sporting and social venue, British racing drivers such as Henry Seagrave, Malcolm Campbell and John Cobb became celebrities for the first time and races were broadcast on the ‘wireless’ for the very first time.

It was Cobb, who set the fastest-ever lap of Brooklands in 1935, averaging 143.44 mph in a 24-litre Napier Railton. Cobb’s record marked a swansong for British oval racing. Already Grand Prix racing had become established on a road circuit at Donington Park and with the outbreak of war, Brooklands became an aircraft factory and part of the banking was torn down. It would never reopen again.

In America, oval racing originally began on dirt tracks as a side-show at county fairs. As early 1905 tracks such as Brighton Beach, Coney Island and Harlem were staging races every few weeks through the year, aimed at giving entertainment to paying spectators and sponsors. It was this commercial impetus that initiated the construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. The oval was conceived and built by businessmen to pay for itself both as a test track for the industry and as a race track for spectators at weekends. Continue reading “A brief history of racing on ovals”

Bosch spark plugs

A spark plug is a vital element of your car’s ignition system. Its purpose is to ignite the air/fuel mixture in an internal combustion engine. The combustion begins when a spark moves between the two electrodes of the plug, hence the name.

A spark plug is composed of a central electrode and an insulated wire, both placed in an electrically isolated shell. The wire connects the plug with the output terminal of the elements of the ignition system: an ignition coil or magneto. The central electrode is usually the cathode of the spark plug. Nowadays, the central electrode is made using two metals: the interior is made of copper and the exterior is made of steel. The outer steel part heats almost immediately providing a fast and reliable engine start, and a steady functioning.

Bosch spark plugs

In order to increase the durability of the spark plug, Bosch uses alloys of steel and noble metals (such as tungsten, iridium, palladium, rhodium and platinum) to make the central electrode. This allows reduction of the effects of corrosion and electrochemical destruction. The usage of those metals also makes the central electrode thinner. This has a positive impact on the efficiency of the ignition of the air/fuel mixture.

A lifespan of a spark plug is somewhere between thirty and one hundred thousand kilometers. After that you have to replace it with a new one. It is a fast and simple process, but it is always better to buy a spark plug that lasts longer and is more reliable. Bosch spark plugs are produced using the best materials and a manufacturing process tested for decades. When you buy their production you make sure that your car will function properly for many years to come.

Don’t forget that replacing the spark plugs in time is one of the basic rules that every car owner should know.