It’s commonly thought that the very first all-wheel drive BMW was the E30-generation 325ix. Even BMW credits this car with being the first all-wheel drive Bavarian. Admittedly, it’s the first BMW to us an all-wheel drive system similar to what we use today. However, it technically isn’t the first all-wheel drive vehicle to wear a roundel.
During the late 1930’s, the German military was in high demand for rugged, off-road style vehicles that could be used to transport supplies and troops. While there wasn’t actually a war to fight until 1939, the Nazis knew what was coming long before then and we all know the horrors that followed. So they started asking German auto manufacturers to develop rugged vehicles for them. One of these vehicles was the 1937 BMW 325.
A few requirements were given for the development of these vehicles by the German military. They couldn’t bear any emblems on the exterior showing which manufacturer made it, they had to have permanent four-wheel drive, four limited-slip differentials (I don’t how they could fit four) and they also had to have selectable, spindle-linked, four-wheel steering. The BMW 325 had all of these, making it not only the first BMW to have four-wheel drive but the first to have four-wheel steering. Take that, G30 5 Series. BMW made the 325 from 1937 to 1940 and created about 3,200 of them.
It’s a shame that the original BMW 325 was made under such diabolical circumstances, as it was actually a brilliant vehicle. Although, it actually ended up not being very good for military use. Its extremely short wheelbase, made even shorter by rear-wheel steering, complicated mechanics and poor power-to-weight ratio made it pretty useless for the military, actually. While BMW used a inline-six with two Solex carburetors, it only developed 50 hp.
While 50 hp wasn’t terrible for 1937, it wasn’t enough to haul the BMW 325 with any sort of speed, as the car was very heavy thanks to its four-wheel drive system, multiple differentials and four-wheel steering system. It also had to carry some military equipment (such as the telecommunications box shown at the rear of the picture above) in and on the vehicle, so it was far too heavy for its 50 hp.
It also only had a range of 150 miles, thanks to a small fuel tank. So its use in battle was severely limited. This is why it was only made for a few years. However, it was an incredibly impressive vehicle, technically, as it had both four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering in 1937. Right now, BMW is bragging about the Integral Active Steering on the current 5 Series but it’s apparently nothing new.
So it isn’t actually the E30-generation BMW 325ix that pioneered the first BMW all-wheel drive system. Although, the E30 wasn’t made to help Hitler, so it has that going for it…
(Side Note: The pictures and information came from the book “BMW” by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch. It’s a must-have for any BMW fan, as it’s filled with tons of information on classic BMWs and the history of the brand.)