Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
The nineteen-sixties were turbulent but exciting times for BMW. The late-fifties had seen much financial strife, with the gorgeous 507 roadster proving too expensive to be profitable, the Isetta-based microcars selling badly, and the motorcycle market imploding. BMW’s board of directors even proposed a merger with Daimler-Benz in 1959 – imagine! – but this was vehemently opposed by dealers and shareholders. What the company needed was a shot in the arm, a new direction. And that came in the form of the Neue Klasse. Debuting at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show, the fresh new BMW 1500 demonstrated a solid set of values that have carried on through the model range ever since; it had disc brakes and all-round independent suspension, offering the latest technological developments in a well-equipped car that, while selling at a premium price, wasn’t absurdly out of the reach of the man on the street.
The 1500 morphed into the slippery 2000C/CS coupes and the iconic ’02 series, and so BMW’s 1950s personality-split between big luxury cars and economical micros was smoothly merged into one logical 1960s whole. The car you see here is a 1600, although most observers would probably guess at it being a 1602 or 2002. That's a decent guess. The 1602 started life as a 1600-2, you can see how the thing evolved.
This rakish example bears all the hallmarks of being a bit of a handful. The wide arches (not the later bolt-on 2002 Turbo items that so many go for, you'll notice, but proper blistered box arches) struggle to house a set of broad Alpina rims, and that sense of purpose continues into the cabin, with its rollcage and harnesses sharing space with a colour-coded helmet. There's satin black paint to eliminate glare, the obligatory race numbers, and the obvious fact that it's come over from Germany - as this was spotted in the Goodwood Revival car park (more photos here), it's easy to imagine this high-octane jaunt across Western Europe being an amusingly noisy and rambunctious affair. Given the right conditions, there may be no better car for such a journey.