Skip to main content

Ten euros will get you a tour of the BMW Museum and an immersion into automotive evolution.

The 3/15, housed in one section dedicated to roadsters, was built in 1930 and named after a castle above the town of Eisenach. Engineers would bump the horsepower in its 750-cc, four-cylinder engine to 18 from 15 by using a copper induction manifold and twin exhaust system. There’s a bench seat for two, clutch, brake, accelerator, wood steering wheel and not much else contained in this marvel of engineering simplicity. Its unique design features a rectangular grille in front and a rear moulded in the form of a submarine.

BMW 3/15 PS (BMW)

Such shapes intrigue Karim Habib, BMW’s chief of design. Growing up in Cartierville, at the north end of Montreal, Habib would sketch anything with a certain functionality: furniture ... architecture ... a wall heater ... especially, cars. These days, Habib is challenged to evoke the German brand’s look and spirit of the past, while encompassing the technology of the future.

This is what BMW thinks we'll be driving in 20-30 years. BMW's head of design talks about some of the design features of the Vision Next 100, like the covered wheels and the interior where the seats don't move

Posted by Globe Drive on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A tough task seemingly, with one aerodynamically engineered automobile looking much like another company’s aerodynamically engineered automobile. Yet, an hour or so in the museum will show how car design and technology leaps inevitably from one generation to the next. Bimmers have come a long way especially in the last 40 years, from the 1975 squat-shaped 2002 sedan to the sleek i8 of 2015. Who knows what’s next.

Photos: BMW celebrates 100 years with special museum exhibit

“We’re in a fantastic phase for the automotive industry, the El Dorado of times,” Habib said last week at the company’s Welt Media Centre after presenting the Vision Next 100, a concept car that pushes design into the sphere of imagination. “There’s a lot of questions, a lot of work ahead, a lot of different ideas. There will be revolution.”

The inside of the BMW Vision Next 100. (Tom Maloney)

Launched as a manufacturer of aircraft parts on March 7, 1916, BMW regenerated twice in the wake of the 1914-18 and 1939-45 world wars and again, arguably, in the midst of the oil crisis of the early 1970s – ultimately breaking into mass consciousness as a maker of sporty, luxurious automobiles in the 1970s and 1980s. The company sold more than two million units last year – including a record 42,052 in Canada, with its Mini division representing 7,050 – to reign as the globe’s No. 1 luxury vehicle maker. It also owns Rolls-Royce and a thriving motorcycle business, Motorrad, that dates to post-First World War.

BMW’s inspired passion in loyal consumers, both with look and feel. North American buyers will not only pick up their car at the Welt, some actually get married in the building – perhaps even while sitting in their new prized possession, before having it shipped home. Across the street, in the Museum bowl, a temporary exhibit called 100 Masterpieces marks the centenary and accompanies the permanent installation, bringing visitors through vehicular history in chronological order. On the first of five platforms, for instance, the BMW 303, a family saloon from 1933-34, demonstrates the vertical kidney design that Habib brought to the Vision 100.

BMW 303 (BMW)

Starting with the Dixi in 1927, BMW built a line of cars through 1941 and made forays into motorsports – crowned by a victory at the 1940 Mille Miglia – that would lead ultimately to participation in Formula One with the M12/13 inline-four turbocharged engine in the 1980s.

Photos: The evolution and history of BMW as it turns 100

The 3 Series, the bedrock of modern-day success, arguably dates to 1933 when the 303 debuted at the Berlin Motor Show with a new six-cylinder inline engine, two-part kidney-shaped grille, long bonnet and roomy interior. In 1936, the BMW 326, powered by a 50-horsepower six-cylinder, sold some 16,000 units. Those vehicles were built with weight optimization as an underlying principle to enhance acceleration, handling and braking – characteristics seeding vehicles on the streets today, the company says. BMW turned away from car production in the Second World War to support Adolf Hitler’s war campaign, using forced labour in its plants. After Germany’s surrender it would take until 1952 for BMW to build another car, followed by years of money-losing operations that led to a near-sale to Daimler-Benz AG in 1959.

BMW 1500 displayed at the museum in Germany. (Tom Maloney)

In 1961, the BMW 1500, a four-door mid-range saloon today displayed on the second platform of 100 Masterpieces, launched the pivotal “New Class” of cars and breathed life into the automotive business. It ran on four cylinders, generated 80 horsepower and needed high-test gasoline. Two years later, the company trotted out its iconic “ultimate driving machine” slogan.

Come 1973, BMW fitted an exhaust turbocharger to a European car for the first time – the new two-door 2002 generated 170 horsepower and found a niche among drivers seeking agile handling. BMW sold more than 862,000 units of the 02 series by 1977.

In 1975, the 3 Series, a compact executive vehicle, succeeded the 02 series – an event considered so critical, the board of management rolled out the car in an event at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. Today, one area of the permanent exhibit is dedicated to the Series, with eight versions of the car through to the 2006 335i. Now in a sixth generation, it remains BMW’s top-seller, the lineup including a four-door sedan, two-door convertible, five-door hatchback and four-door Gran Turismo.

Tom Maloney

The 7 Series sedan, displayed on the fourth platform of the Masterpieces exhibit, has become the flagship for the transition of technology. The E23 (1977-86) featured “computer controls”, a driver’s airbag and interior lighting delay. The Habib-designed sixth-generation 2016 model introduced gesture control, executive lounge rear compartment, carbon core, a touch command tablet, 3D surround view, wireless charging and lane-hold assist. “We were at the [most recent] 7 Series launch showing all the innovations and got a good chuckle because the first 7 innovation was an ‘on-board computer’ –and all it did was show the outside temperature,” BMW Group Canada CEO Hans Blesse said.

In the 1970s, the 5 Series initiated the jump from the New Class. In 2016, Habib’s long awaited re-model, the first since 2010, will reportedly adopt the new 7 Series platform, drop weight by 90 kilograms with more aluminum and carbon-fibre strengthened plastic, and house upgraded tech including gesture controls.

In 1999, anticipating a move away from minivans, the company introduced the X5, its first in the sports activity vehicle segment. Today in Canada, there are five models in the X lineup, the 1-3-4-5-6. The X Coupe, a concept brought to the Detroit auto show 15 years ago, is on the fifth platform where BMW’s lineup breadth is demonstrated, along with a s1000rr motorcycle, an i3 electric vehicle, the 2012 Dakar Rally champ Mini Countryman and a Rolls.

Today, BMW operates 25 production plants in 14 countries, and produces vehicles for every segment – save the minivan. And yet, it frets. “In the not-too-distant future, most vehicles will probably be completely self-driving – people will get around in robots on wheels,” the company stated last week. “So, given these developments, how will we justify the existence of vehicles by BMW, a brand for whom the individual and Sheer Driving Pleasure are the focus of everything?”

Karim Habib, BMW’s head of design examines the exterior clay model of the new 7 Series.(BMW)

On Habib’s to-do list are unspecified remodels for the 2018-19 sales years and a semi-secret co-op with Toyota – “I can’t talk about it, but I can tell you I don’t speak Japanese yet” – in the wake of the Vision 100, a car that would eliminate touchscreens for an interactive windshield, and optimize the driving with computerized “companion” – evoking the notion of HAL in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Cars perhaps, for platforms at the 125th anniversary exhibit.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Latest Videos