Since it’s genesis BMW has been peppered, especially nowadays, with many different connotations. Today BMW is associated with expensive, executive-styled performance cars with monetary values that drop like they’re entering Earth’s atmosphere, but in fact, BMW has always centered its focus on performance, to produce the “ultimate driving machine”. Out of this drive was bred the most powerful engine used in Formula 1 motor racing to date, and that was way back in the mid-1980s.
Since then BMW has kept its eye on the proverbial performance prize, churning out machines that deliver luxurious interiors and stylings with exceptional performance brewing beneath. While sales of BMWs have slowed down a bit, you might be able to attribute it to relatively poor reliability rather than how the car drives. Regardless of reliability, BMW still makes some of the best performing vehicles.
The company, Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), began in the early 20th century and with an absorbed aircraft engine manufacturer and a car manufacturing company, BMW started making cars by 1929. Until WW2 BMW would produce sports cars, motorcycles and aircraft engines, which is where it’s been decided that the logo comes from. The logo has been described (even in history books) as a spinning propeller against a blue sky, thus indicating the company’s origins in aircraft engine manufacturing.
In fact, the BMW logo stands for the Bavarian Free State, as denoted by the colors blue and white. Apparently, the colors alternate because at the time it was illegal to use national symbols for commercial purposes.
Whatever the origins, it’s undeniable that the BMW logo has since become one of the most iconic symbols in history. The first complete BMW vehicle was a motorcycle, the R23, and down the line, BMW made the 328 powered by the first inline-six the company had made for a car.
BMW crawled along after the war during which it devoted its efforts exclusively to the manufacturing of aircraft engines. Making pots and pans to scrape together enough cash to survive after the war, BMW was bought again and started producing vehicles once more, starting with the next motorcycle, the R24. The BMW 501 was the company’s first car after World War 2, equipped with a better version of the M78, the inline-six engine used in the pre-war 328.
Later on, after the company had established itself as a successful carmaker, in 1962 BMW created the M10. It was an inline-four engine that had a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) and could displace 1.5 liters, but a feature of the M10 was it could be bored out to 2.0-liters.
The M10 was a shining example of BMW’s exceptional engineering. Inside the block was a forged crankshaft with counterbalance weights and it used a chain to drive the camshaft instead of a belt. The heads were made of aluminum. The M10 lasted until 1988. From this engine was bred the M40 which debuted in 1987.
Before the M40 was unleashed, however, another monster was bred based on the M10, and that was the M12. It was a turbocharged, racing version of the M10 and was used by a few F1 teams including Benetton, Brabham, and Arrows. It was a 1.5-liter inline-four engine.
In those days Formula 1 cars had two different engines per race weekend, one for qualifying and the other for race day. Race day engines were designed to last however many laps the race was designated for, i.e. the Monaco Grand Prix for 78 laps. Qualifying engines, however, were more powerful and thus were designed to run for only a few hot laps. A hot lap is when a driver would try to produce the fastest lap possible.
In race trim, the M12 made roughly 850 horsepower, and in qualifying the M12 is believed to have made almost or near to 1,500 horsepower. This makes the M12 the most powerful engine F1 has ever seen, and that was back in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, there’s no way to accurately measure how much horsepower the engine really had because BMW’s dyno at the time was only accurate to 1300, which the engine exceeded.
BMW is one of the few engine manufacturers that still equips some of its cars with inline-six engines, and has been since the 1930s. The 2017 M3, for instance, uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that produces more than 400 horsepower. BMW has made other ground-breaking inline-six engines, including the N54 which was used in BMW’s 3 series until 2007, various other models until 2016.
Despite V6 layouts being better for weight distribution and power output, BMW has stuck with the inline layout presumably because of its capability of being one of the most balanced engine layouts.
While some may argue that BMW’s interiors are laden with breakable plastics, somewhat hard leather seats and material finishes that wear more easily than others, there’s no question that when it comes to engines and gearboxes BMW’s engineering decimates expectations almost every time. Besides engines, BMW makes exceptional suspension setups as evidenced by its M line’s performance. Reliability and depreciation aside, if you want a luxurious sedan that can perform better than some sports cars, BMW makes what you’re looking for.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.