Unveiling of the Neue Klasse
Unveiled in 1961, BMW 1500 sedan was a revolutionary concept at the outset of the '60s. No tail fins or chrome fountains. Instead, what you got was understated and elegant, in a modern sense, exciting to drive as nearly any sports car, and yet still comfortable for four.
The elegant little sedan was an instant sensation. In the 1500, BMW not only found the long-term solution to its dire business straits but, more importantly, created an entirely new automobile type, a Neue Klasse, literally -- the sport sedan. This groundwork of sparkling engineering ideas and aesthetic themes established BMW as a builder of comfortable sporting vehicles. This concept would take the company from the brink of bankruptcy into the era of the Ultimate Driving Machine and straight into the 21st century: " ... a car for exacting people who drive it for the sake of driving." Feude am fahren, indeed.
With its forward-leaning shark nose, clean lines, independent rear suspension, and efficient overhead cam engine, BMW 1500 boasted just the right blend of performance and practicality, hints of subtle luxury, and engineering sophistication. Aside from all that, the cars just worked. They were fun and rewarding to drive. And they sold fast. From 1962 to 1971, more than 350,000 BMW Neue Klasse cars were built and sold.
BMW 1800TiSA is rightfully considered BMW's first ///M car, a homologation special that won big-time endurance races across Europe and in the United States. BMW 2000ti in the hands of Hubert Hahne was the first production sedan to break the 10-minute barrier on the Nurburgring. BMW Neue Klasse battled it with pony cars at U.S.-based Trans Am races and with Alfas, Cortinas, Saabs, and Volvos in Europe.
How we got here
Before the Neue Klasse, BMW offered expensive cars with V-8s and cheap cars powered by air-cooled motorcycle engines, but nothing in between. Further, the “Baroque Angel" sedans were a pre-war design and looked it, and the 507s, while gorgeous, was expensive and very slow selling. Sales of the charming Isetta "bubble cars" were slumping too.
BMW 700 Series rear-engine cars were successful enough to give BMW some breathing room in 1959 but not enough to stave off corporate upheaval. Board instability and tight corporate finances prevented the ongoing development of the much-needed new model. The company was foundering. The situation came to a head in December 1959.
A shareholder revolt led to a near-buyout by Mercedes-Benz. BMW was slated to become Mercedes’ truck division. Enter white knight investors, the Quandt family, led by Herbert and Harald Quandt of German banking fame. Under the leadership of the Quandts and a sympathetic board, the company put all its energy into the development of a medium-sized sedan, one that would have the luxury and sporting character of its V8 roadsters but at a more modest price, slotting into the market midway between a Volkswagen Beetle and a Mercedes-Benz. They had roughly 18 months to design and assemble their prototype.
Engineer and ex-race driver Alex von Falkenhausen was responsible for engine development. He had to overcome corporate sentiment for an anemic 1.3-liter engine and fight hard for the "stretchable" 1.5-liter design based on a sturdy iron (not aluminum) engine block. The M10 featured a single overhead camshaft and timing chain, hemispherical combustion chambers, and a slightly over-square cylinder with an 82 mm bore and 71 mm stroke. It generated 80 bhp and offered respectable performance.
BMW would keep the engine in production until 1988. It was used in two generations of Three Series and Five Series cars. Perhaps most notably, BMW used M10 blocks -- aged in the open air and carefully reinforced -- in its first Formula One effort. Those 1.5-liter race engines were turbocharged and, in qualifying trim, were capable of making 1,300 horsepower!
The chassis was the first BMW to combine MacPherson strut front suspension with the rear semi-trailing-arm design introduced in 1959 on the 700-series cars. This layout would prove so successful that BMW stuck with it for another 50 years. ZF-Gemmer worm-and-roller steering introduced on the 1962 BMW 1500s would remain a BMW constant until 1975.
Brakes in the NKs were unassisted front discs with rear drums. The 700 series had only drum brakes, and discs were an option on BMW's fancy V8 cars. Servo-assist was added to the Nueu Klasse braking systems later, and dual-circuit brakes later still. This sort of upgraded content helped cement the NK’s reputation for value as well as performance. Power was transmitted to the rear axle by a four-speed manual gearbox, an automatic transmission being offered in 1966.
Wilhelm Hofmeister led the design team. The BMW design signature, the "Hofmeister kink," made its first appearance on the C pillar of the 1500. Eventually, another BMW interior element appeared on the Neue Klasse -- the hooded pod on the dashboard for instrumentation.
BMW sold more 1500s in two years than a decade's worth of Baroque Angels and Isettas combined. The company literally could not meet the demand for its new star. So the elegant but dated sedans and the bubble cars were retired, and production line capacity was dedicated to the BMW Neue Klasse.
BMW Neue Klasse 1500 made its official debut at the 1961 Frankfurt Auto Show, and it hit showrooms in October 1962. U.S. list price, $3,350. Curb weight, 2,390 pounds. The M10 featured a slightly over-square 82 mm X 71 mm bore and stroke, a single Solex carburetor, and an 8.8:1 compression ratio. BMW reported 80 peak horsepower at 5,700 RPM and a peak torque of 118Nm at 3,000.
In its 1963 road test, Road & Track magazine clocked BMW 1500 running 0-60 in 15 seconds and knocking down a standing quarter mile in 19.6 seconds at 68.5 mph. Road & Track posted 90 bhp for BMW 1500, with a top speed of 93 to 95 mph, hinting that BMW had underreported the engine's power.
The four-speed gearbox featured synchros for all forward gears, "Porsche-type," as R&T put it. The interior was spartan by modern standards but allowed for seatbelts for all passengers. The dash included a speedometer/odometer and a combination instrument with fuel level and water temperature gauges and warning indicators for oil pressure, battery charging, and high beams. It had a 6-volt electrical system.
BMW Neue Klasse steel monocoque chassis had a wheelbase of 2,550 mm, an overall length of 4,500 mm, a width of 1,710 mm, and a height of 1450 mm. The curb weight was 1060 kg. While curb weight would vary somewhat by model, the basic dimensions were unchanged throughout the production run.
Buyers could choose from six colors, including Florida (066), Manila (004), Turf (073), Chamonix (085), Guayana (584), and Macao (690). A BMW factory list of accompanying interior colors for 1962/63 has not been cataloged at BMW Archiv. According to BMW historian Andreas Harz, no information is officially available through BMW Archiv on Neue Klasse interior color palettes prior to the 1969 model year.
In its review of the BMW 1500 in the September 1963 issue, Road & Track magazine wrote, "The BMW 1500 is fun to drive because it is compact, responsive and always faithfully executes the driver's orders." The magazine praised the 1500s fit and finish. They liked the torquey M10 and the gearbox too. "No car is perfect, but in the case of the BMW 1500, the effort of its designers and builders to approach perfection as nearly as possible within their limitations is pleasantly evident." The review is by Hansjorg Bendel.
Road & Track praised the 1500's suspension, noting moderate roll and excellent damping on rough roads but "virtually no nose-diving. After repeated high-speed testing, braking remained powerful and smooth." The magazine's reviewer also appreciated using rubber suspension bushings to dampen vibration and smooth out road feel. "Costly but comfortable, with a well-balanced collection of virtues," read the headline, beneath a three-quarters view black and white portrait of a light-colored Neue Klasse 1500 adorned with small, square fog lights, hubcaps on body-colored steel wheels, and plates with the registration number M-RT 440.
"At the root of the car's performance is an engine of modest size but advanced layout. There are four cylinders; considerations of road tax, total weight, and installed engine volume pointed toward a modest displacement, so a high-revving power unit had to be evolved. This was achieved by over-square cylinder dimensions, a single overhead camshaft, an eight-port aluminum cylinder head, and careful adjustment of inlet and exhaust manifold tube lengths."
R&T continued: "Even more important in daily use is the discreet way the car hangs on to its cruising speed once it has been attained. Repeatedly, over winding roads infested with lots of traffic, we noted average speeds substantially higher than we would have guessed from the way the car handled. This feeling of always remaining at a comfortable, even leisurely speed level was shared by our passengers in the front and back and is a tribute to the engine and the running gear."
BMW's new car had its "teething" problems, as acknowledged in the R&T review. It is easy to attribute those issues to the company's haste to bring the car to market. The pressures were great. At the Frankfurt show debut, BMW collected many preorders for its new model, but show rules required that those orders be filled within six months. It was a scramble to fill them.
Early gearbox and differentials were reportedly trouble-prone. Road & Track noted trouble accessing the spark plugs, a gasoline smell in the cabin, and a coolant overflow vent positioned directly above a complex electrical fitting. The magazine also complained of a "whine" in the engine and poor fuel economy in its test car. (Bendel hinted that his 1500 test car got poor fuel economy because BMW had tweaked the carburetor for better performance.)
But these sorts of issues did little to slow Neue Klasse's success. BMW built 23,807 1500s from 1962 to 1964. The smart little sedans saved BMW's bacon.
History In The Making
Flush with the success and sales receipts, BMW almost immediately began turning up the wick on the Neue Klasse. BMW 1500 cc engine would eventually be retired in favor of a 1600 for the base Neue Klasse.
BMW built 29,362 1600s before ending the model after 1966. But the big news was 1963's BMW 1800. The only visual changes to mark the 1800s were chrome rocker trim and the updated badges. The most significant changes were under the sheet metal.
Key numbers: 84 mm X 80 mm. That was the increased bore and stroke of the BMW 1800's M10. The slightly over-square design would become a BMW staple. Factory-rated 90 bhp pushed the car to a top speed of 100 mph. The cost was 9,985 DM.
BMW 1800 got a servo-assist on the braking system to help deal with the added power. BMW offered as an option a ZF three-speed automatic transmission. BMW built 134,814 1800s from 1963 to 1966. Next came the factory hotrod 1800ti, first appearing in January of 1964 with a premium price tag of 10,980 DM. BMW sold 21,116 1800tis from 1964 to 1967, with one 1800ti built in 1968.
BMW 1800ti was the first in a long, storied line of BMW exceptional performance derivatives. It featured twin Solex carburetors and a 9.5:1 compression ratio, making 110 bhp. The suspension was uprated with stiffer shocks and springs for more cornering grip.
Almost immediately, the BMW 1800ti began racking up racing victories in class against Alfa, Lotus-Cortina, Mini Cooper, and more, competing in road races, hill climbs, and rallies. BMW 1800 proved so dependable on the track that memories of the BMW 1500’s troubles all but disappeared.
Drivers of note include Herbert Hahne, Walter Schneider, and Anton Fischaber. American driver and BMW tuner Ray Korman raced a BMW 1800ti in Asia, and in America, Marianne “Pinkie” Rollo, Jack Ryan, Lin Coleman, Jerry Titus, and Carl Fredericks campaigned BMW 1800s. The first big win came at the ETCC six-hour race at the Nurburgring, where Hahne and Fischaber's BMW 1800ti, bearing No. 14, scored a convincing class win and finished seventh overall. In the same TiSA, Hahne and Schneider qualified in pole position at the ETCC six-hour race at Brands Hatch. A clutch failure forced a DNF. It was a fantastic inaugural season for BMW's new star, with Hahne eventually winning the German national sedan racing title.
In the U.S., a BMW 1800ti driven by Ryan and Coleman finished ninth overall and sixth in class at the first-ever Trans-Am race, the Four-Hour Governor's Cup Race for Sedans. The class winner was Jochen Rindt in an Alfa-Romeo 1600 GTA. Rollo finished seventh in her BMW 1800ti at the VIR 400 on July 31, 1966, and later teamed up with Denise McCluggage in a Ferrari 275 GTS to finish second at the 1967 Sebring 12-hour enduro.
Drivers could hotrod their 1800tis with Weber conversion kits, trick cylinder heads, and other go-fast goodies from Alpina. Many of these modifications would soon appear as standard features on the hottest Neue Klasse yet, the BMW 1800TiSA.
BMW 1800 TiSa is born
In December 1964, BMW filed homologation papers with FIA for the BMW 1800TiSA and began building the factory race cars. The "Turismo Internationale SonderAusfuhrung” was sold mainly to competition drivers. According to official records, BMW planned to build 500 TiSAs but only produced 200.
In the TiSA, The BMW M10 engine got another compression bump to 10.5:1, and a pair of Weber 45s, the only BMW to come from the factory equipped with Webers. The package was rated at 130 bhp but was capable of 160 bhp in a qualifying tune. This power was fed through a five-speed "longtail" gearbox with “Porsche baulk synchromesh” on all forward gears. A limited-slip differential was standard. The TiSAs also got stiffer dampers, springs, and larger anti-sway bars, 19mm and 17 mm, front and rear. The wood-rimmed wheel controlled a quicker steering box. The cars could do an honest top speed of 110-plus mph.
The factory manual includes this preface: “Dear BMW Owner: In line with our tradition of building motor cars with outstanding performance and characteristics, we have now developed the BMW 1800 Ti Special Version I. “In selecting this model, you have demonstrated that — for you — a motor car is far more than a utilitarian “means of transportation.” You are now well equipped to enjoy all the pleasures of driving and for any motorsport competition held under fair conditions. “In conclusion, we wish you unlimited luck and success!”
Factory information for TiSA owners includes fascinating recommendations for carburetor jetting when running without air filters and for valve clearances just for racing. “Castor racing oil” is recommended for competition, but standard HD motor oil is for rally and road applications.
The engine’s redline was 6,500, but BMW noted that “it is permissible to reach 7,000 rpm for a few seconds, e.g., when overtaking.” BMW offered to send owners drawings to enable the owners to build special performance exhaust components for use only on “enclosed tracks.”
There were factory suspension kits to lower the cars, too. Despite all this encouragement to race, BMW also warned, “Our liability and responsibility within the scope of the warranty become void if the car is entered in competitions.”
The interior sported UK-made Restall high-bolstered racing buckets with two-tone upholstery, a wood-rimmed steering wheel, and a tachometer staring the driver in the face from its perch atop the steering column.
The TiSA rode on wide-for-the-day 14X5-inch wheels with Dunlop tires. The bodies were stamped of thinner steel than the other Neue Klasse cars, making the BMW 1800 TiSA the lightest Neue Klasse, at 1050 kg.
Some BMW histories contend that BMW 1800TiSA was offered in one color, German Racing Silver. But owners and sales documents state otherwise. TiSAs were available in Bristol, Chamonix, and Polaris Silver Metallic.
Cost, 13,500 DM, or roughly $3,375 in 1966 dollars. A window sticker from a TiSA sold in the U.S. by a dealership in South Carolina showed a total price of $4,631, including tax. For comparison, the base price of a Corvette was $4,295.
Changing the face of BMW
But the TiSA's run as BMW's premier factory racer would be short. In September 1965, BMW announced its new 2000 Neue Klasse sedan and 2000CS coupe models, powered by a two-liter M10. The bore/stroke measured 89X80. It was the logical extension of the eager-to-rev over-square design that would serve so admirably in BMW's iconic 2002. BMW introduced the two-liter M10 in its luxurious 2000CS coupe in the summer of 1965.
The 2000 sedan came with a single Solex carburetor, good for 100 bhp, and a top speed of 105 mph. BMW built 113,074 2000s from 1966 to 1972. The initial price was 11,475 DM. All 2000s came with rectangular lights except for the US model, which had four sealed beam lamps.
Shortly after launch, BMW introduced the 2000Tilux with rectangular headlights. The other 2000s got them later. Neue Klasse continued running on 6-volt electrical systems until July/August of 1967 when BMW changed to 12-volt electricals. BMW sold more than 113,000 copies from 1966 to 1972.
For a cool 12,750 DM, the 2000ti sported twin Solexes, 120 bhp, and a top speed of 112 mph. ATE-brand servo-assisted disc brakes in front with drums in back again. The car's overall dimensions were the same as the previous Neue Klasse cars, but it weighed slightly more, at 1,150 kg. Herbert Hahne piloted this BMW Neue Klasse model to lap records on the Nurburgring, averaging 137.2km/h (85.2 mph).
In the U.K., the 2000ti was sold as a Frazer-Nash BMW. With its startling performance, some of the only cars on the market that came close were the Rover 2000, Triumph 2000, and Alfa Romeo Giulia. More than 6,400 were sold from 1966 through 1968.
To broaden the market for its car, BMW rolled out the 2000Tilux. It boasted wood interior trim, fully reclining front seats, a console/storage bin on the transmission tunnel, a fully carpeted trunk, and suspension modified for greater ride comfort. Badges fore and aft announced the Tilux. BMW built 17,440 2000Tiluxes from '66 to '72 when only 94 were built to complete the model.
Paint and Interior
The color palette was very geographical: Sahara, Nevada, Colorado, Atlantic, and Baikal, along with Dunkelbrun Metallic, Polaris Metallic, Olivgrun Metallic, and Tundra Metallic. By 1969, you could choose from quite an array, including Derby grey, Sahara beige, Colorado orange, Polaris silver metallic, Atlantic blue, Chamonix white, Grenada red, and Olive green metallic.
Upholstery options included plaids, patterns, and various weave styles. Cloth and vinyl were offered. Colors and styles of upholstery were keyed to the exterior color offerings.
BMW offered two-tone paint schemes as well, based on factory color charts in the collections of BMW Neue Klasse owners, "Zweifarbig" offerings included: manila/anthrazit, chamonix/anthrazit, derby/creme, macao/creme, and guayana/creme. However, Andreas Harz at BMW Archiv had no records that any NKs ever left the factory wearing two-tone paint.
Launch of a Tii
The ultra-plush of the Nueu Klasse hit the road at the end of 1969. BMW 2000tii came with Kugelfisher mechanical fuel injection, the first road-going BMW equipped with fuel injection and the first to bear the "tii" suffix. The "fuelie" BMW M10 made 130 bhp, powering to a 120 mph top speed.
BMW's experience with fuel injection in competition cars convinced the company of its reliability and power potential in road-going vehicles. The Kugelfisher system used a special cam to vary the fuel-to-air mixture depending on engine load, speed, and temperature. Only a handful of other road cars -- exotics and expensive luxury cars -- boasted fuel injection. The system was good for another ten horsepower. The price was $14,290 DM. Only 1,952 were built in '69, '70, and '71.
End of an Erra
After '71, the Neue Klasse was all but done. BMW's first 5 Series sedans were already on their way as the official replacement.
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