“The car that saved the company” – we’re not the ones saying this, BMW is. This lesser-known small car came at a time when the company was in a bit of a predicament. The German automaker was on the brink of collapse in the late 1950s, but the BMW 700 saved the day. It went on to become a commercial success, racking up more than 35,000 sales in 1960 to generate about 58% of that year’s total revenues.
It succeeded where the Isetta and 600 had failed, mainly because the two were simply too small. The BMW 700 had a longer wheelbase of 2,120 mm (up by 25% compared to the 600’s) while carrying over the chassis and suspension from the 600. It was the firm’s first production car with a monocoque body, which helped bring down weight and lower the vehicle. It was only 1,270 mm tall but still offered decent headroom.
Power was provided by a mighty 0.7-liter, two-cylinder adapted from the R67 motorcycle. The flat-twin engine was shared with the 600 but enlarged by 100 cc to deliver 30 hp at 5,000 rpm. It was enough to propel the BMW 700 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in roughly 30 seconds before hitting 75 mph (120 km/h). A beefier Sport version with 40 hp followed in the summer of 1961 or two years after the regular model. It shortened the sprint to just under 20 seconds and increased maximum velocity to 84 mph (135 km/h).
However, this isn’t an ordinary road-going BMW 700. Instead, it’s a purpose-built race car with a bigger 1.1-liter engine. It’s still a two-cylinder unit from a motorcycle, but with around 100 hp. Output is channeled to the road via the same four-speed manual transmission installed in the standard vehicle.
The rear-engined race car seems to be a real hoot on the track, mainly because it’s so small and light. 100 hp might not sound like much by today’s standards, but you need to keep in mind the BMW 700 is shorter than the original modern MINI. The road car weighed roughly 601 kilograms (1,325 pounds), thus making the first-gen Cooper S twice as heavy.
Speaking of race cars, BMW built a few of its own, including the 700 RS with a whopping 70 hp on tap.
PS: BMW was technically still selling a car with a two-cylinder engine from a motorcycle not that many years ago before pulling the plug on the i3 REx. Yes, the C650 GT is a maxi-scooter, but you get the idea.
Source: Goodwood Road & Racing / YouTube