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BMW — the history of the famous car producer

BMW logo

Although BMW's current fame and reputation as one of the greatest automobile manufacturers can be mostly linked to models produced in the last two decades, the history of the marque stretches back almost 90 years and contains numerous achievements that have established it as a benchmark.

The origins of BMW trace back to 1913 when Karl Friedrich Rapp, a Bavarian who had been a well-known engineer in a German aircraft company, formed Rapp Motoren Werke in a suburb of Munich. The company specialized in airplane engines however Rapp found that they were problematic and suffered from excessive vibration. Nearby, Gustav Otto, also an airplane specialist, set up his own shop, Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik, building small aircraft.

Because of the faulty engines, Rapp Motoren Werke secured a contract with Austro-Daimler, who was unable to meet its demands, to build V12 Aero engines under license. The company expanded too quickly, however, and by 1916 Rapp resigned from the company because of financial troubles. In his place Franz Josef Popp and Max Friz, two Austrians, took over the company. In March that same year, Rapp Motoren Werke merged with Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik to form Bayersiche Flugzeungwerke. It was shortly afterwards renamed Bayersiche Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), or BMW, forming the company we know today.

In 1917, BMW's first aircraft engine went into production, the 6 cylinder Type IIIa. In 1919, using an aircraft powered by its successor, the Type IV, Franz Zeno Diemer set an altitude record of 9,760 metres (32,013 ft). After the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the same year, prohibiting BMW from building aircraft engines, production switched to air brakes for railway cars. When BMW started once again to build aircraft engines in 1922, no fewer than 29 world records in aviation were set with them. The current BMW logo, introduced in 1920, was based on the circular design of an aircraft propeller.

The first BMW motorcycle, the R 32, went into production in 1923 at the newly constructed Eisenach factory next to the Munich airport of the day. The R 32 used a flat-twin engine transversely mounted in a double-tubular frame producing 8.5 horsepower at 3300 rpm. The 2-cylinder 494cc motorcycle could reach a top speed of 59 mph (95 km/h). BMW manufactured 3090 of them during its 3 year life span.