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BMW, which if you didn’t know stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), has grown into a multi-national corporation that specializes in the manufacturing of automobiles, of which can be found in a wide berth of available designs and concepts. Having just unveiled two world premiers at the North American International Auto Show, an updated i8 Coupe and the all-new X2, in addition to being one of the most sought after motorcycle brands in the market, it’s hard to believe the company first initiated in the production of aeronautic engines. Add to that an ever growing list of hidden secrets, like their being an aeronautic interior design manufacturer and an icon that has long been situated in confusion, there's much to know about BMW that has been previously left guarded by history.
While some models may be among the worst German cars ever built, BMW has still made a name for itself, judged by the simple fact that they were named 2015's 12th largest producer in motor vehicles. That may not sound like much, but with their long engrained history, coupled with the fact that they've singlehandedly pushed the boundaries in design, safety, engine production, and even the future of motorsport, all speaks for themselves in underlying BMW's necessity to modern car production. To honor their name, or to simply gaze back in time at the complex evolution of practices in mechanical engineering, take a look at the amazing facts about BMW you probably didn't know.
Perfect Number Three
Most car companies grow out of an individual mindset, like Ford, or simply experience exponential growth in a time of war, like Jeep, but not BMW. The German based car engine manufacture founded in 1916 would find its roots among not one, or even two, but three separate entities (all of which were ironically not vehicle manufacturers at the time).
One of the most interesting facts about BMW is that its forefathers were well-known aeronautical engine manufactures Rapp Motorenwerke, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke and Automobilwerk Eisenach, all of which in essence became the entity of Rapp itself. Once founder Karl Friedrich Rapp left the company in 1917, it was renamed to Bayerische Motoren Werke, or quite simply BMW. Their first available product? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't an automobile.
Aeroplane Engine Production
Much like Saab and their legacy in jet engine manufacturing, BMW too had been the maker of aircraft engines between 1916-1923, some of which, like the IIIa, were heralded for their high-altitude performance and good fuel economy. Among the facts about BMW is their involvement amid the intense bloodshed of WWI, where they found a remarkable growth as their aeronautic engines were bought in droves by the German military.
Interwoven between three German companies, which folded into the one we now know as BMW by 1923, the aeronautics engine manufacturer came to a steady halt in the passing of the Versailles Armistice Treaty, which effectively disallowed the mass production of aircraft engines. Not until WWII and the rearmament of the 1930s did they return to the manufacturing of airplane engines, but they didn't turn to automobiles just yet.
Farm and Household Equipment
Thanks to that lovely Versailles Armistice Treaty, BMW had to move on to bigger and better things, that is if railway brakes production can be called "bigger and better." That's right, if you're a proud owner of a BMW, just remember the facts about BMW; the company's roots can be traced to a pretty dark predicament before 1923 came around.
Railway brakes weren't the only thing they were producing, either. Farm equipment and household items, like tractors, were what paved the way for BMW to maintain business and reenter the world as the restrictions on manufacturing engines were slowly diminished. By that time, though, the very idea of BMW was just taking form as the ownership and rights were handed to Camillo Castiglioni, one of the primary shareholders in Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, which had only then, in 1922, became forever known as BMW.
World's Fastest Motorcycle
First given insight into the scientific concept of aerodynamics by way of originating as an aeronautical engine manufacturer, BMW built the world's fastest motorcycle in 1937. It was a one-person rider that appeared more like a cross between a baby whale and a giant bullet than an actual motorcycle, and allowed for a record shattering 173.7 miles per hour. For 1937, that's extraordinary.
The vehicle's bodywork was designed to entirely cover the rider. It was slick, supercharged, and meant to represent the most in aerodynamic technology at the time. Almost by accident, their concept was heralded as the fastest motorcycle to date, a fluke among the facts about BMW, which has given them a namesake in the production of the best modern motorcycles.
One of the craziest facts about BMW is their use of forced labor in the creation of air-cooled radial engines, axial-flow turbojets, and rose-mounted piston engines for the Luftwaffe during WWII. Utilizing POWs, foreigners, and inmates from the Dachau concentration camp in their Munich-based factory, BMW successfully pioneered jet-powered engines without even having a paid labor force!
BMW's work with the Luftwaffe even led to the development of some prototype concepts, from the BMW Strahljäger and Strahlbomber to the turboshaft powerplant and the GT 101, an armored fighting vehicle. While their work with forced labor may not look so well on their overall image, it definitely kept them afloat during an era of worldwide panic and provides historical insight into the realities of WWII manufacturing.
Banging Pots and Pans
Following the culmination of WWII, many BMW factories were either bombed to smithereens, captured by Soviet forces, or simply shut down in the Allies' ban on motorcycle and automobile production. Which leads us to one of the most outrageous facts about BMW: their turn to the creation of kitchenware. Absurd as it sounds, we still know of them today—so, it worked.
Using salvaged parts and secondhand materials, BMW literally used the equipment leftover from WWII to produce pots and pans in order to stay afloat during post-war rebuilding. As time progressed, they broadened into more kitchenware products, and even turned to bicycles. Not until 1948, a year after being granted permission to produce motorcycles, BMW released the R24. The ban on automobile manufacturing wouldn't be lifted until 1952.
Confusing the Icon
The well-known circular indentation present on all BMW vehicles has long been believed to act as a symbolic reference to their aeronautic past. Many historians and drivers alike have long considered the brand's logo, which contains two rows of blue and white squares at the center and a gold trace outline, is a depiction of a spinning propeller. This, of course, is not the case.
BMW's iconic logo represents the past. It was first crafted out of the likeness of their originator, Rapp Motor, which was one of the founding entities behind Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. As an honorary nod to them, in addition to adding the blue and white pallet from the national colors of Bavaria, BMW would take on the logo we know today. Also among facts about BMW, little of the icon has changed in the years since its inception, besides general updates in quality and coloration, keeping true to the name and history of this beloved brand.
A Four-Cylindrical HQ
Among facts about BMW is the ostentatious design and symbolic meaning of their global headquarters, which has been based in Bavaria since 1916. They may have turned to more sophisticated motors in the decades since, what with the creation of both six and eight cylinder engines, their close ties with "the four," as it's called, became their literal image in 1960.
An Austrian architecture professor crafted and modeled the building after the brand's symbolic closeness to the four cylinder, and it's remained as such since. While it may not be among the most interesting facts, or historical, the four-cylinder BMW headquarters serves as a tribute to the brand's almost century long hold in the developing of more powerful cylindrical automobile engines.
One of the reasons why European cars are better is because many of them were crafted with the best in aerodynamic technology. Of course, seeing that it's among facts about BMW, who else would we have to thank for providing the world with sophisticated and advanced aerodynamic designs since the term was even birthed?
BMW revolutionized aerodynamics for the future of all automobiles, as is exemplified by the 1940 Kamm Coupe, named after the father of Wunibald Kaam, a German aerodynamicist. It utilized a "chopped-back" production method, which basically saw the removal of the automobile's rear end in order to raise straight-line speeds by about 30 percent. They eventually started calling it "Kaamback," and the idea is still seen today in Corvettes, Mitsubishis, and more.
Despite the fact that they didn't even design their first ever car (for that we can give thanks to the Austin Motor Company, which designed, built and licensed the chassis for many vehicles around the world amid the 1930s), BMW's first ever all-electric vehicle was released in 1972. You may not have heard of it only because of the terrorist attacks at the Munich Olympics that same year, but you've definitely seen the boxy, wanna-be luxurious 1602.
Not all 1602s were built with all-electric components though, as it was just a limited version at the time. Made with 12 batteries, reaching no more than (and barely even) 50 miles per hour, and being able to reach up to 19 miles at a time, the 1602 was definitely a revolutionary concept among facts about BMW. But, as to the popularity and marketability of the electric car, it remains, more importantly, as a mechanical procedure in creating greener automobiles.
Aeronautic Interior Designs
Harkening back to their inception as an aeronautic engine manufacturer, being one of the most outlandish facts about BMW, the car company is also responsible for designing and installing airplane interiors. It's almost like they try to do everything.
An example of their interior design tastes can be viewed in the spacious and luxurious first class cabin of Singapore Air, which looks more like a futuristic hotel room rather than the inside of an airplane. Almost romantically, the German automobile manufacturer has seemingly come full circle in drafting an international image, which is seemingly shrouded in secrecy—or, maybe just a very long and brutal past. At least they're flying high now.