Classic BMW Enthusiast’s Guide

Enthusiast Guides

Efficient. Elegant. Ergonomically formed.

‘Sheer driving pleasure’. That phrase might conjure up a different image for each person, but for petrolheads, it’s inextricable linked to BMW.

For almost a century, BMW has been at the forefront of luxury car manufacturing – with a range of memorable models and one of the most recognisable logos in motoring.

The German-owned BMW Group famously began as an aircraft manufacturer, but it’s fair to say they’ve soared to even higher heights in their journey as one of the world’s most successful automakers. With a group that now includes the iconic BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars brands, it’s right to call BMW a veteran of the industry.

With that status, BMW has created plenty of what we now call classic cars. Vintage vehicle fans will be familiar with many of the classic models – from their very first car, the BMW 3/15, also known as the ‘Dixi’, to ‘90s favourite the BMW E30. There’s no mistaking BMW’s superb craftsmanship


The Ultimate Guide for Classic BMW Enthusiasts

Before we delve further into this, let’s put the brakes on and start from the beginning – with the facts on BMW’s company history.


The origins of BMW

BMW’s origins can be traced back to 1916. The result of a merger of three different companies, the Bavarian company was originally known as Bayerische Flugzeug- Werke AG (BFW). 

It transitioned to the more familiar name of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) in 1917. Karl Rapp, Gustavo Otto, Camillio Castiglioni and Franz Josef Popp are widely recognised as the founders of BMW, though it was Rapp and Otto who were first involved with the company as a result of their respective companies merging.

Today, half of the BMW group is owned by siblings Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten (long-time family shareholders), while the other half is owned by public investors. The company is still based in the State of Bavaria in Germany, with its headquarters in Munich.

Gustav Otto and Karl Rapp, BMW founders_web
Gustav Otto, left, and Karl Rapp, right, starting BMW founders. Images from carcos.co.uk

Planes, bikes, and automobiles: BMW history timeline

When BMW first formed, Europe was almost two years into World War I. Their first venture into engine manufacturing began with military aircrafts for the German Air Force. BMW then went onto produce motorbikes, before expanding into what we know the company best for today – cars. 

Read on for a rundown of crucial moments, defining events, and key facts in this brief history of BMW.

BMW R 32 production in 1923 - BMW enthusiasts guide
Production of the BMW R 32 motorcycle. Image copyright BMW Group


The early 1920s heralded a new direction for BMW. When the First World War had ended, the ban on producing aircraft meant the company diversified into manufacturing railway brakes and inboard engines. But they’d soon venture into the motoring industry. 

At the Berlin Motor Show in 1923, BMW debuted a high-tech motorcycle. Designed by Max Friz, the BMW R 32 received a hugely positive reaction and is recognised today as one of the most iconic classic motorcycles ever produced.


The first foray into automobile manufacturing. BMW acquired the DIXI car factory in Eisenach, increasing their capabilities, and the “Dixi” car was launched. Further tweaks were made to the car, and it was relaunched as the BMW 3/15 in July 1929.


BMW returned to its roots within the aero-engine business. It was the era of National Socialism and according to the BMW, they “became one of the most important enterprises operating in the German war economy”. 

They continued to produce motorcycles and automobiles alongside aircraft manufacture.


After the Second World War, the US military government dismantled BMW plants, so the company tried its hand at manufacturing household appliances. 

BMW 501 1951_classic BMW Enthusiast Guide
The BMW 501 “Barockengel” debuts at the Frankfurt Motorshow in 1951. Image copyright BMW Group


Their second foray into automobile manufacturing. BMW launched their large six-person saloon, the BMW 501, which reinstated the company’s status as a maker of superior cars.


As demand for high-quality cars (and motorcycles) ramped up, BMW needed more production space at their Munich plant. So, motorcycle manufacture was moved to Berlin.



BMW expanded out of Germany for the first time, taking over the Rosslyn plant near Pretoria in South Africa. This plant would later be home of BMW 3 Series production from 1984.

It was a busy year for the company, as 1972 also saw the launch of BMW Motorsport GmbH.


While BMW launched their first think-tank for designers, engineers and technicians in 1985 (BMW Technik GmbH), it was in 1990 when this revolutionary concept really took off. 

The Forschungs- und Innovationszentrum (Research Innovation Centre) – known as ‘FIZ’ – opened in Munich in 1990, and housed around 7,000 scientists, engineers, designers, managers and technicians.

Today, FIZ is still central to BMW. Recently expanded, it’s now “one of the largest R&D (research and development) locations in Europe”. With 4,800 vehicle developers, 200 laboratories and 100 test benches, it’s where cars for all brands owned by the BMW Group are conceptualised and created.

FIZ Munich - BMW Group - BMW enthusiast guide
The Forschungs- und Innovationszentrum (FIZ) centre in Munich. Image copyright BMW Group.

BMW launched automobile production in the USA. Their plant in South Carolina helped underpin their position as a global force – seeing them into the 21st century as the luxury carmaker we know today.


Another pivotal moment in the history of BMW was bringing BMW Classic to the UK. Headquartered in Munich, BMW Classic not only manage the company archive, but also offer servicing and repairs for historic and classic BMW models.

The specialist service launched within the group’s Park Lane showroom, offering UK-based BMW classic car owners the chance to restore their beloved BMW with access to over 30,000 classic car parts dating back to the 1930s.

What makes this service even more special is if the part doesn’t exist, BMW can make it for you. With access to technical drawings for every part for every BMW ever made, your BMW classic car dreams can come true.

The history of BMW’s logo

For the aficionados, just one glance at BMW’s iconic blue, white and black circular logo will likely evoke feelings of unbridled driving pleasure. BMW’s logo design may have gone through its own timeline of adaptions, but the design has remained fairly consistent throughout.

While the BMW badge is widely believed to be a propeller – a tribute to the company’s roots – BMW say that’s not technically true. As is often the case, the truth is simpler than that.

It emerged from the logo of Karl Rapp’s firm (Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH), – also a round shape featuring an inner and outer circle.

First registered in 1917, BMW’s original logo featured the company name in a black ring bordered by gold lines, with an inner circle split into four quarters – two blue, and two white. The blue and white an homage to the state colours of Bavaria. 

BMW logo timeline

BMW logos in order_BMW Enthusiast Guide

New BMW communications logo as of 2020
The new BMW communications logo, announced in 2020. Cars continue to be badged with the previous logo.

Throughout its history, the BMW logo has retained the inner quadrant of blue and white, while the outer circle has gone through minor adaptations. From removing the gold borders, to modernising the font, and more recently dropping the black background from the outer circle. 

The 2020 adaptation has a much more minimalist vibe, with transparent background and a modern, ‘flat’ look. With the refreshed emblem, BMW say they want to be “perceived even more openly and more accessible”.

BMW’s most iconic classic cars

While BMW has a vast range of models, there are a few cars that helped cement its place in automotive history. If you’re lucky, some of them may even spark blissful memories of gliding down roads behind the wheel of a treasured ‘Bimmer’.

In this BMW car timeline, we look at a few of the most celebrated models from the last century.

1937: BMW 320

This two-door car came as either a saloon or convertible and was targeted at customers with more modest budgets. Its two-litre engine took it to a top speed of 68 mph, and it became a much sought-after vehicle.

A BMW 320 photographed at Arkhangelskoye, Russia
A BMW 320 photographed at Arkhangelskoye, Russia
BMW Isetta at Himeji, Japan - BMW Enthusiast Guide
The BMW Isetta, highly collectible and VERY easy to park!

1955: BMW Isetta

The distinctive ‘bubble car’ is a true icon. Priced at the equivalent of only around $1,450 in today’s money, it became a bestseller. Plus, to drive it you didn’t even need a car licence – all you needed was a motorcycle licence, which was a lot cheaper to get at the time.

1982: BMW E30

The history of BMW’s 3 Series deserves its very own article. But for now, let’s focus on the second-generation release. While it didn’t appear too different from the previous generation, the 80s model really took off thanks to its iconic style and excellent engineering.

BMW Enthusiast Guide - the 1987 E30 road and racing cars
These 80s machines packed a punch, on the road and the racetrack. Image copyright BMW Group.
The BMW Z3 in Goldeneye - BMW Enthusiast Guide
Pierce Brosnan drove a Z3 around Cuba in Goldeneye, months before the car was even announced by BMW. Image from BAMFStyle.

1995: BMW Z3

This nippy roadster made an impressive debut in the Bond film Goldeneye. From then, the world fell in love with the thought of tearing down winding roads with the top down and the sun shining.

1997: BMW E46

Back to the 3 Series – there are too many not to mention another! This modern classic became the best-selling BMW model of all time, with over 3 million units sold.

A BMW E46 from 1998_BMW Enthusiast Guide
The E46 came in sedan, convertible, station wagon, coupe and hatchback styles. None of which we’d personally drive in a field if we didn’t have to.

Five fun BMW facts

1. BMW built the world’s fastest motorcycle

While the 2022 record is an astonishing 376.36 mph, back in 1937, BMW produced a motorcycle which reached a top speed of 173.7 mph. This was revolutionary at the time and a mark of BMW’s expertise across more than just cars. Motorcycle racer Ernst Henne set the motorcycle land speed record on the BMW-built machine, a record that stood for 14 years. 

2. BMW made household appliances for a while

We mentioned this in passing in the history section, but after an Allied ban on German manufacturers post World War II, BMW turned their hand to stopgap solutions like using their metal moulding tools to produce pots and pans, and even putting out a line of bicycles. Seen above is the BMW plant at Milbertshofen, in 1945. 

3. BMW almost got bought out by Mercedes-Benz

BMW wasn’t always the MINI and Rolls-Royce owning financial behemoth we know today. Back in 1959, when BMW was close to bankruptcy, Mercedes- Benz attempted a hostile takeover, which was blocked by stockholder Herbert Quandt, a future BMW boss.


While the likes of Tesla might get a lot of credit for the electric car revolution, BMW certainly deserves a nod. The 1972 BMW 1602e was unveiled at the 1972 Munich Olympics in Munich, with a Bosch electric engine, 12 lead-acid batteries, and a fan to keep everything cool.

5. An argument with Lamborghini launched BMW sports cars

Sometimes good things come from bad situations. The 1979 M-branded 5 Series birthed what we know today as one of the world’s leading sports car manufactures, but only happened after Lamborghini pulled out of a contract to develop a performance car together.

Classic BMW insurance

If your classic BMW needs specialist care, we’ve got great insurance cover options for you. Get free agreed value on classics, European driving cover, and other perks.

BMW classic car clubs

Chances are, if you’ve made it this far on a classic BMW enthusiasts guide, you might already be in a BMW classic car club. But if not, why not get involved? 

BMW car clubs are a fantastic way to bring communities together and meet likeminded people. They’re also a great way to keep the history of BMW alive. 

With 800 official BMW car clubs across the world and more than 200,000 members, there are plenty of other BMW superfans out there. Within the UK, there are two official car clubs recognised by the BMW Clubs European Federation.


BMW Car Club GB

Founded in 1952, the club covers 22 regions across the UK. Each region is run by a volunteer chair who organises monthly events like drives, attendance at shows, and even coffee meetups.

The BMW Car Club GB also has various sub-sections for specific BMW models such as the E3, E30 and M models, so there’s something to cater for all BMW tastes.

BMW Historic Motor Club

This UK-based classic BMW owners club is the sister club to the one above, with the distinction of being dedicated to historic motors. That is, pre-1963 cars including the likes of the Dixi and Isetta. 

Don’t worry if you don’t own a historic BMW. Even if you have an interest in them, this classic BMW club will be happy to welcome you.


BMW enthusiasts events

  • Join fellow fans at the Ultimate BMW Meet, which this year is on 30th April. Held at the British Motor Museum, it’s an opportunity to see all kinds of BMWs and meet other enthusiasts. 
  • Expect to see all kinds of bimmers at the BMW Show – from classics to modern and even race cars. You’ll even be able to take your own BMW down the drag strip, if you dare. The event takes place on 11th June at Santa Pod Raceway.
  • Simply BMW takes place at the National Motor Museum in the Beaulieu Estate on 17th September. All BMW owners are invited to park up at this event to showcase their car.


Know of clubs or events that should have made this list? Email us – marketing@heritagecarinsurance.co.uk – and we’ll be happy to add them!

Are you the proud owner of a BMW classic car?

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If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help protect your classic BMW, get in touch today for a free quote.