BMW Group Classic throttles into 2020 with an impressive list of heritage milestones and anniversaries. This year, the automotive conglomerate marks 100 years since the production of the first Boxer motorcycle engine, 90 years since the advent of the BMW roadster tradition back in 1930, 80 years since the victory of BMW in the Mille Miglia race and 60 years of model and variant diversity at MINI.

Birth of the Boxer engine – tribute to brilliant engineer Martin Strolle

Aged 34 in 1920, Martin Strolle was an engineer working for the BMW engine development department. Because of the interdiction to produce aircraft engine in the post-war era, BMW needed a sparkle to survive, besides the ordinary production of four-cylinder inline engine for trucks, tractors and boats.

Inspired by his British-produced Douglas motorbike, Strolle designed a new type of engine with horizontally placed cylinders, in which the pistons always operated one against the other like in a boxing game. This was to become better known as the Boxer configuration engine.

The original version of this special motorcycle powerplant developed 6.5 hp at 4,500 rpm. The new power unit, branded Bayern-Kleinmotor (translated as Bavaria Small Engine) was supplied to various motorcycle manufacturers, such as Helios, Bison, SMW (Stockdorfer Motoren Werke), Corona and Hoco.

The most successful application of the Bayern-Kleinmotor was in the motorbikes produced by Nürnberger Victoria-Werke. Its popular model, the KR1, fitted with the BMW-sourced Boxer engine, sold in more than 1,000 examples all alone. In 1922, Martin Strolle switched office to the very same Victoria-Werke company, given the success of his creation.

Inspired by the trailblazing performance and recognition of the Boxer engine, BMW decided to follow the footsteps of his creator and, by September 1923, it was already officially premiering its first Boxer-powered motorcycle: the R32.

The advent of the BMW roadster – signaling a long string of successes

The BMW 3/15 PS DA 3 “Type Wartburg”, which was produced in the German city of Eisenach and had its appellation inspired by the homonymous landmark castle, is considered the forerunner of all BMW roadster. The constructor began production as an automobile manufacturer in 1929, with the “Type Wartburg” roadster assembled from 1930 to 1933.

The 18-hp open-top vehicle had an overall weight of just 400 kilos. The young engineer Robert “Bobby” Kohlrausch received a 3/15 roadster from his father and began a successful racing career by emerging victorious in the Kesselberg race held on June 15th, 1930. He competed with the BMW roadster in the class of vehicle up to 750 cubic centimeters.

Till 1933, the BMW 3/15 PS DA 3 driven by Bobby Kohlrausch took no less than 27 national victories, thus paving the way for BMW to become a thorough-bred motorsport constructor. Besides understanding the sporty nature of the 3/15 PS DA 3 vehicle, Kohlrausch also helped BMW to win prestige in building roadster models. The 315/1 and 319/1 that followed, as well as the outstanding 328 roadster, considered to be Germany’s most successful sports car of its time, are pure demonstrations of the fact.

The roadster tradition at BMW did not end with the 328. In the 1950s, the flamboyant 507 evolved the classic roadster shape into a sexy open-top which attracted a lot of admiration and was also to become an icon car for BMW. The Z1, Z3, Z8 and now Z4 models are also a proof the brand’s long-standing commitment to designing and producing one of the most fascinating roadster cars in the automotive industry.

BMW 328 Touring Coupé during the 1st Italian Mille Miglia Grand Prix in Brescia, April 28, 1940 (03/2010)

1940: the year of a breathtaking success at Mille Miglia

The famous endurance race at Mille Miglia started on April 28th, 1940. BMW lined up no less than five teams at the start of the event. The eight drivers were to race in three specifically designed versions of the successful 328 roadster: the 328 Berlinetta Touring, the 328 Spider and the 328 Kamm Coupe.

BMW 328 Touring Coupé at the start of the Italian Mille Miglia Grand Prix in Brescia, April 28, 1940 (03/2010)

The 328 Kamm Coupe was forced to retire due to technical issues after just 7 laps covered. The duo of Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer, in charge of the sole 328 Berlinetta Touring in the competition, was to secure an outstanding victory at Mille Miglia. The unprecedented desire and determination from the driving team for winning this race was crucial for the success of BMW.

Crossing the finishing-tape at the 1st Italian Mille Miglia Grand Prix at Brescia, April 28, 1940 (03/2010)

The lead over the rest of the teams increased constantly mile after mile, lap after lap. In the last lap of the race, shortly before crossing the finishing line, von Hanstein swapped seats with Bäumer, which was to take over the steering wheel in a maneuver that left the public speechless.

The duo then crossed the finish line in first place, almost 25 minutes ahead of the Alfa Romeo that was placed in second. The overall average speed achieved by the winning BMW team was 166.7 km/h, a record that was never beaten in the history of the Mille Miglia race.

60 years of MINI model diversity

Today, the MINI portfolio of models is as broad as it could get. And the tradition of spawning several body variants on the same MINI platform is not new. Since the advent of the very first MINI generation in 1959, the company then-owned by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) launched several versions in the years that followed after the launch.

In 1960, the MINI Van was presented. The closed body delivery van was designed to be a light commercial vehicle, suitable for workmen and tradespeople. Also along the original MINI, the brand also launched the estate version, marketed as the Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Seven Countryman. The MINI Pick-up was also another highlight of the diversified lineup.

In 1961, the MINI Cooper was premiered, with an output increased from 34 hp to 55 hp. This model was to become a symbol of the British brand. The standard version was shortly followed by a sports variant, dubbed MINI Cooper S. Its designer, John Cooper, sensed the performance potential of the original model and came up with the 70 hp Cooper S. The rally-modified version lived up to the expectations and brought home 3 wins in the Monte Carlo Rally.

[Photos: BMW Group Classic]