Taking a tour through BMW’s history
Mark Smyth visited the home of BMW Group Classic in Munich where he found some real treasures
I’ve visited the home of BMW in Munich, Germany, many times over the years but there’s one place that had always eluded me — BMW Classic. The museum is home not just to a great collection of old BMWs but also to a team of restorers and technicians who lovingly work on some of the brand’s most iconic and not-so-iconic models for owners globally.
Enter the hallowed gates of the Bayerische Motoren Werke and you’re immediately greeted by a number of classics waiting to go into the workshop. On the day we were there, the legendary M1 Procars returned from racing at the Norisring that weekend where we had seen their owners jostling for position as they did in their heyday.
The Norisring also gave us a chance to experience another classic, the BMW 3.0 CSL referred to as the Batmobile. Sadly it was only a passenger ride but after being strapped into this iconic machine, a few laps showed just how much hard work it is to get the most out of it.
The CSL might lack the power of today’s M4 DTM cars, but as we exited corners within inches of the concrete barriers, the rear squirming with each dab of the accelerator, the driver constantly correcting the steering, it was a reminder of just how great these classic racing machines were.
Historic racing still provides some of the best track action, in SA and globally, and it’s wonderful to know that owners will continue to get the most from their cars for decades.
A 3.0 CSL road car was also in the museum, but the highlights were some of the cars many will never have heard of. One most South Africans will know though was the famous 333i, built only in SA and enjoying pride of place in the collection. We spotted a BMW Z13, one of a number of concept cars on display. It was shown in 1993 and its styling could easily be seen as a forerunner of the BMW i3 electric car. The Z13 wasn’t electric though; it had an engine in the rear and a Ford gearbox.
Among the few battery-powered cars was an orange 2002 from the 1970s, a very early look at electric mobility by the brand. Skip forward and there were two electric E30 models, one a sedan and the other the classic Touring. But it wasn’t just about electric, with a hydrogen test model also on display.
At the other end of the spectrum was an X5 with a stonking V12 under the bonnet. It’s a project that was not destined for production, although no doubt many would have liked to own one.
The collection is a mixture, with the beautiful 328 and 507 mixed in with a 7 Series, a number of Isettas and lots of 3 and 5 Series models from throughout their history.
In the year that Mini celebrates its 60th anniversary it was great to see a whole row of them, including a number of famous rally cars, an interesting but very compact campervan version and even one of the most famous, the black-bonneted Mr Bean Mini, signed by Rowan Atkinson.
The upper floor is dedicated to BMW motorcycles with examples of every bike the company has made. There’s a California Highway Patrol Cruiser, a C1 kitted out by Louis Vuitton and the bike ridden by Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil — Extinction movie.
It’s not just about cars themselves though. A display showed the development of the BMW kidney grille, although they’ll need a much much bigger stand to show the latest grilles.
Shelves house components, badges and even some radio-controlled cars made over the years, while drawers contain a treasure trove of marketing materials, technical drawings and manuals.
BMW Welt (World) and the BMW Museum just down the road are some of the biggest tourist attractions in Germany, but my first visit revealed that the real attractions are to be found in the BMW Group Classic museum.