The Carchive: The BMW New Class sedans in 1970

Well, it’s all going on in the world of The New, right now. Peugeots and Citroens could soon be littering North America’s roadsides (like in the olden days) , there’s going to be a two-door Range Rover again (like in the olden days), a BMW 8 Series is on the way (like in the olden days).
There’s something quite reassuring about this whole history repeating thing, particularly if, like me, you occasionally like to run away screaming from the storms of the present and bathe in the cool, calming waters of the past. Last time we were looking at Subaru in ’82, today it’s the turn of Die Neue Klasse von BMW. Wilkommen in Der Carchive.

Click for at least half a chance of reading the words in the images

“Today’s traffic calls for modern car styling. Cars with a businesslike design and without the coming and going of fashion trends”
The New Class of BMW was Genesis, pretty much. Its predecessor, the 501 and its derivatives, might have been the model that got BMW back on track after the war, but it was the 1962 1500 that showed the world where the Bayerische Motoren Werke was heading. It was also the origin of the famous Hofmeister Kink, which is arguably the most over-hyped styling trope of all time.
Still, it didn’t make the 5 series’ progenitor any less handsome. In ‘2000’ form, with rectangular headlamps, it makes me wonder how the BMW face would have developed without more than two decades dedicated to quad-circular headlights. Hofmeister’s design was balanced, trim and appeared light on its feet, with enough visual interest to seem that time and effort had been put into it. And even if the brochure’s promise that it was unfettered by fashion trends was disingenuous, it was a very noble conceit.

“Each compromise that engineers have to accept when designing the chassis of a car makes the driver’s risk become greater”
It’s wordy, this brochure, in that deliciously Germanic way. There’s a sense of truth, even if serendipitous, in this implied lack of compromise – the New Class used an entirely new chassis design that was intended to stay in production for a long, long time, so there was little point in cutting corners. You got a dual-circuit braking system, front disc brakes and a pressure limiter for the rear wheels, which was described as if it were a primitive ABS system.
I find it remarkable how the Beech A60 (which ended production in ’83) and the King Air in the image above still look so current, while the crisp, minimalist look of the BMW 2000 is a far cry from today’s aggressive, attention-grabbing design. I guess the optimal shape for an aircraft is very specific, and was determined a long time ago. It seems that the ‘ideal shape’ for a car is in a constant state of flux, but sadly not for reasons of optimization. It’s fashion again.

“A well-fitted and functional interior is something natural in all BMWs. Driving should be pleasant. As pleasant as possible”.
It’s easy to get carried away and wax lyrical about the simplicity of the dashboard photographed above. If you’ve only got a few controls and features to deal with, you’ve little excuse for not presenting them in a sensible, ordered and elegant way. In fact, though beautiful to behold, the ergonomics of this dashboard aren’t very clever at all. The cigarette lighter (that universally vital feature) is sensibly placed where it can be reached by the co-pilot, but is virtually identical to the wiper control.
The choke control, too, is the same shape, and is positioned a goodly distance from the identically designed headlamp switch, both of which operate along organ-stop principals. Their placement means they’re unlikely to be mistaken for each other, but the layout is only clear because there are so few controls to remember. The radio is a long way from line-of-sight, too – and this shortfall would afflict the E12 5 Series that followed, too.

“Usually cars are built by combining the various components. But that is not enough for BMW. We coordinate all the technical elements so that they fit together perfectly”
Ergonomics be damned, it looked gorgeous, it was built beautifully and engineered thoroughly. Wikipedia reports Rodent Rack as pronouncing it “the best performing 2-liter sedan in today’s market and the best handling and best riding as well.” The brand’s famous tag line had not yet been minted – the roundel is underwritten on this brochure with “For sheer driving pleasure”, and you really do get the feeling that BMWs engineers chanted this mantra through every stage of their cars’ development.
There’s nothing in this brochure that speaks of lifestyle, prestige or image, just a detailed account of what the 2000 is all about. Refreshingly, BMW brochures have remained largely true to this form (with the possible exception of SUV types). I want to believe that, by and large, the company ethos has remained intact. Their cars have evolved and drifted away from the puritanical fitness-for-purpose displayed by The New Class, but the fickle tastes of the buying public has changed, too. They now build what the customer wants, rather than telling the buyer what it needs.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of BMW. I went to BMW World in Munich, once. Blew my mind. And the Paulner I sipped in the M1 bar was memorable, too)

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13 responses to “The Carchive: The BMW New Class sedans in 1970”

  1. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    i remember seeing a picture of one of these in a book or something and just being struck by how ugly it was. it must have been a book because i remember seeing it many times.
    the ones in the post here are good, and the E9s look amazing, but this particular headlight arrangement…man, i don’t know how they let it out the door.

      1. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        lol, i think that’s actually the style in the picture i had. suuuuuper gawky.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    I like the facelifted New Class sedans with the rectanguar headlights and horizontal taillights. Looks more “important” than the earlier cars.

  3. salguod Avatar

    This forced me to dig into the difference between the “New class” and the 02 series. I never put together that the New class was a larger predecessor to the 5 series and that the 02 series was built on a shortened version of the New Class platform.
    The rectangular lights in the 2000 look a bit condescending and dour compared to the more friendly look of the 4 round lights of the US model or the single round of the others. Not that the round lights are necessarily better, but it’s interesting how they change the personality of the car. The US implementation is certainly more successful here than on the coupes.

  4. nanoop Avatar

    I wonder why the opening image has a car registered in Hannover instead of Munich: that is Volkswagen State.
    Also, the refinery in the background, obviously an era when doing crack was cool.

  5. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    I have fond memories of these, my parents had a US spec 1970 2000 from 72-77. I liked the cool factor of having an obscure model, rather than the far more common 2002. We used to drive up to Lime Rock Park for the Memorial Day road race to cheer on our dealer’s 1600 road racer. The BMW was eventually replaced by a new Honda Accord, due to a combination of rust, failing synchromesh, and my mother finding the clutch too heavy. (In Mom’s defense the Accord was a 5 speed, as were it’s successors until a back injury in the mid 90s)

  6. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1
    There was one car that was better than this BMW and at the same time, from the early sixties to the early seventies. And as a result it was slightly more successful. And given my chosen moniker, it would be severely remiss of me not to mention it.
    The Rover P6 2000 and 2000TC. The first European car of the year, in 1964, a contest BMW have never won, with any model.
    With 50/50 weight distribution, no camber change in the DeDion rear suspension helping the road holding and handling, (unlike the flawed semi trailing arms on the BMW, helping you off the road on throttle lift-off or a slippery surface.) This was helped by the Pirelli Cinturato radials, specially designed for the P6, and four wheel discs always better than disc/drum. Two inches more suspension travel, front and rear gave a much better ride as well.
    The two cars are pretty much identically sized as well within mm of their major dimensions, though the Rover has 3 inches more wheelbase, and despite the gossip, better build quality, but let down in the US by a too small dealer network that was being started from scratch.
    One thing BMW did better was their marketing, and in the German way, development of a flawed product, evolving it into a good one, and not reinventing the whole vehicle with each new generation.
    To be fair, Rover were trying this too, but got caught up in the whole British Leyland debacle, where all the profits from the enormously profitable P5. P6 and Land Rover were bled off to support the losses at Austin/Morris, Triumph and Jaguar. Fuel injection and five speed boxes were prototyped but not productionised, with the withdrawal from the USA market For the first ten years of it’s life the P6 had a waiting list, something BMW was never troubled with.
    The BMW in 1800 and 200 forms had a production total of 290424, the Rover P6 2000’s total, 209143 with another 122750 3500 V8s (331893 total for all P6s) If only the British could have run their car industry like the Germans,maybe a P6 evolution would be with us today?

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Unfortunately, the Rover P6 was nothing short of a disaster in the USA. It sold in tiny numbers until Rover made a big push with the 3500 in 1970-1971. The enthusiast car magazines fell all over themselves praising the car. However, the reliability was terrible (perhaps due to the difficulty of meeting US smog regulations) and, as you implied, the dealers were totally unprepared to back and service the cars. Car and Driver not long ago said that their praise of the Rover P6 was one of their biggest mistakes. The US 3500 cars got odd triple hoodscoops.

      1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

        Interesting note, those hood scoops were not for power, but emissions reasons. There was a flap under the hood that opened/blocked off the scoops for winter and summer use.

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          The centre scoop feeds the aircleaner atop the motor, the intake is closed off until the engine is warm.

          The P6 EFI prototypes used this bonnet/hood intake too as well as the aborted Rover P8. Because of the departure from the US market forced on Rover by British Leyland, development of the 3500EI with it’s 5 speed Getrag gearbox and Brico EFI and 200hp (in 1971) wasn’t proceeded with. Fuel injection is essential to meet emission controls and driveability, as anyone who has tried to tune a carburetted BMW four or six equipped with A/C and powersteering will know. The other complication was that Brico was caught out by the collapse of Rolls Royce, (owed £8 million in 1971 !) so they sold their nascent EFI division to Lucas who had a simpler system they’d rather use, so we didn’t see EFI Dino 246s,or EFI Fiat 130s though Aston Martin persevered for a while with their Brico system before reverting to carbs.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            I’ve officially learned my new thing for the day – thanks!

          2. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            Thanks. I used to own a NADA TC, and I’m looking to buy another, and a NADA 3500S. I’ve always liked the P6, a high point in car design. One of my favorite cars, I daily curse the pricks that stole my NADA TC, one of about twenty P6s I’ve owned, but the best specced and lowest mileage, and with the best history. These chaps have a good web-site with more info on Brico’s work. The disaster was this
            being subsumed into this, note how Rover disappears.