2016 is 50 Years of the BMW 02

Interesting | January 1st, 2016 by 1
1600 Munich Opera house 01 750x500

A big year with lots of celebrations is being planned with the main event in August. Other highlights this year are the return of the …

A big year with lots of celebrations is being planned with the main event in August. Other highlights this year are the return of the Bavaria Tour, and the fantastic Dutch 02 weekend in September. The 1600-2 was announced in March 1966 and was immediately acclaimed as a winner. The lighter body made the car nearly as fast as the 1800 sedan, while the excellent handling added a sporting ingredient, which was lacking in the larger car.

Before being designated the 02, the BMW 1600 made its first public appearance in front of Munich’s opera house in March 1966 on the occasion of BMW’s 50th birthday.

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Delivering 85 bhp, 12.6 mkp of torque at 3000 rpm, a zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration time of 13.3 sec and a top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph), the BMW 1600 was right on the pulse of the time. After the difficult years of reconstruction following World War II and the threatened sale of the company at the end of the 1950s, it was initially the BMW 700 and then, above all, the BMW 1500 – launched in 1962 as the first car of the so-called “New Class” – which pointed the way forward for the company.

Market research suggested there was considerable growth potential in compact, sporty, medium-range saloons. The four-door BMW 1500 saloon fitted the bill. When the BMW 700 Series was discontinued in 1965, it left a gap to be filled by a two-door car. The 1600 wasn’t merely a successor model – it utterly redefined this market segment. As the advertisements of the time put it, this was a car that was “modern, compact, dynamic, sporty, offering a wide range of features, and striking for its consistency of style and technology”. Clearly, then, this was a car which drew on values that had already crucially defined BMW’s image before the war.

At DM 8,650 the BMW 1600 was priced well below the level of the New Class and thus had its appeal for a broad category of buyers. The BMW 1600 was a typical driver’s car, “a sports car in a Sunday suit”, as one journalist aptly described it. Its low waistline and large windows gave it an airy, transparent appearance, while the engine and chassis proved hard to match in this class. It came as no surprise that the 1600 was not only voted best compact saloon of the year, but saw over 13,000 units manufactured in its debut year. It was the dawn of a new era. The Beatles were at the height of their career, Cassius “I am the greatest” Clay had mesmerized the sporting world, and the race between the Americans and Russians to land on the moon was on. It was the perfect time for a car with the agility and dynamism of the BMW 1600 to come onto the scene. But it was also a car to whet the appetite for more. No sooner had the commercial tuners begun souping up the latest model when the BMW manufacturers took matters in hand again and, in 1967, launched a version which had been boosted to 105 bhp: the 1600 ti. Weighing just 960 kg, it delivered true sports car performance.

Naturally enough, it also provided the perfect prerequisites for motor racing. And so it was no great surprise when the 02 Series frequently proved unbeatable in virtually all the car racing disciplines during the ’60s and ’70s. This is borne out by numerous German and European titles in saloon car racing, as well as victories in airfield events, classic circuit races, endurance events and rally racing, achieved by both BMW works teams and customer teams.

Helping the BMW 02 to win these racing laurels were such legendary drivers as Hubert Hahne, Dieter Quester, Klaus Ludwig, Harald Ertl and Hans-Joachim Stuck. The designation 02 Series accompanied the launch of the BMW 2002 in 1968 to distinguish it from the four-door models of the New Class, the last digit indicating the number of doors. The model names of subsequent cars were to follow this example. A wide range of engine and chassis variants -from the 1502 to the 2002 turbo, from two-door saloons and convertibles with or without rollover hoops, all the way to the first Touring model – complemented the range of this highly popular series which, by 1977, was to notch up a total production run of 825,000 units.

The 1600-2 Officially launched on 17th March at Geneva Motor Show.

By Richard Stern | www.bmw2002.co.uk

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