The greatest BMWs of the last 100 years
We choose our favorite Bimmers on the occasion of the company's 100th birthday.BMW was founded on March 7, 1916, at Moosacher Straße 66 in Munich, Germany. That's 100 years ago today. The company has seen a lot of change since then, having started out building planes (hence the propeller in the logo), switching to motorcycles after WWII, and adding cars, what it's best known for now, in the '20s. To celebrate the company's 100th birthday, we're taking a look back at our favorite BMW production cars and sharing why they mean something to us.
E28 BMW M5 – Alex KiersteinThere are lots of great BMWs, and a handful of really great 5 Series cars. The E28 M5 is the one that really does it for me. It has a chunky handsomeness to it – not quite the looker that the E30 is, but better than the dopey E23 that overlapped the first few years of E28 M5 production. It’s aged well, and looks perfectly sinister, purposeful, and Germanic in black.
Now, let’s acknowledge that the European and American offerings were not equal. The Europeans got a better engine, the M88 more closely related to the screamer in the M1, rather than our detuned and catalyzed S38. There were other changes here and there. I’d say find a good European car and import it if you want one, but good luck. Few were made, fewer are available, and they are appreciating in value.
That’s probably deserved. Whip one of these around the hills, like we did a few years back, and it’s clear this is a perfectly-sized (although compact by modern standards) sedan that rewards aggressive driving. The S38 needs to be wound out to work properly, and doing so unleashes a glorious inline-six howl. 256 horsepower (in US spec) from a 3.5-liter six doesn’t seem like a ton now, but it’s enough to get an E28 M5 hustling – and enough, in its prime, to embarrass a lot of expensive machinery.
It’s a German brick with a big hot-rodded straight-six that loves to be pushed. What’s not to love?
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E30 BMW 3 Series – David Gluckman
No, we can't and won't overlook the E30 M3. It's all kinds of greatness in a tidy package, with an engine that has to be worked, tons of tricks and tweaks that let it utterly dominate as a touring car, and a purpose for everything that went into the homologated road cars. It's what M once was and should strive to be once again.
But I have a special place for the more simple E30s, the ones that are still attainable. My 325i was a little rough around the edges, but it had held up pretty well and the engine was still going strong deep into triple-digit mileage. You feel like you're wearing an old pair of worn-in jeans when you're driving one – it's familiar, imperfect in ways you have known about for years, yours. They have acres of glass and you can actually see out of them in every direction (novel!). And then there's the way the car talks back; not so much through the wheel, because the steering isn't great, but you know what's going on around you at all times and why. Aside from the oddly placed wheel, the controls feel right and are placed deliberately. They're just plain friendly, and there's a reason the 3 Series, and this one in particular, was the benchmark for so long. Why did I sell mine again?
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BMW 507 – Greg Migliore
I'm a sucker for roadsters from the '50s and '60s. The 507 ranks among the best for its style, which still echoes on BMWs today. The car itself was a commercial disaster, which is why few were produced. That only makes the survivors more collectable and valuable.
I've driven an Alfa Romeo Spider and a Mercedes SL convertible – slightly later eras than the 507 – and that means the BMW is now at the top of my wish list. I'm totally taken in by the curves and the vents, plus those simple circular headlights are a cue I'd like to see return on a number of cars. The 507 is a timeless design masterpiece, which Is why it's my favorite BMW.
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BMW M1 – Noah Joseph
My all-time favorite BMW is probably the least BMW of them all: the legendary M1. It was the model that launched the Bavarian automaker's legendary M division, and benefited not only from the talented pen of Giorgetto Giugiaro, but also the supercar expertise of Lamborghini – combined with Munich's own engineering know-how.
When the rug was pulled from underneath their feet and the M1 couldn't race under the FIA's Group 5 regulations, the manufacturer launched its own spec racing series instead – and got all the top talents in F1 to compete. It was the first time and (with apologies to the i8 hybrid) the last time BMW would produce a mid-engined sports car. It was a shining example of the wedge-shaped, straight-edged supercars of the 1970s, but it wasn't very BMW – and that could be what I like about it the most.
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BMW i8 – Jeremy Korzeniewski
The annals of history are filled with excellent automobiles designed and built by BMW. My coworkers have done an outstanding job highlighting a few of them – I'm especially fond of Greg's gorgeous 507.
But, an argument can be made that none of them are particularly relevant to the future in the way that the current i8 manages. Its carbon fiber construction and brilliant hybrid powertrain are headliners. It's slinky and futuristic shape is trendsetting, and its entertaining personality and credible performance make it desirable.
Granted, at nearly $140,000, the i8 is too expensive and therefore too limited to make much of a dent in global emissions. I'm also a fan of the i3, which is more attainable. But the BMW i8 a great halo car, and it stands out as proof that the future can be just as exciting as the past.
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BMW 1 Series M Coupe – Steven J. EwingThe 1 Series M Coupe was the last BMW I really loved. There are a number of BMWs that I like these days, but I don’t love any of them. They don’t keep me up at night. They don’t beg to be driven. They just don’t spark any strong, positive emotion within me. But the 1M did. I will never forget that car.
Former Autoblog editor Damon Lavrinc summed it up nicely: "This is a pure driver's machine through-and-through – a true M, or at least the closest we'll get in the 21st century." I totally agree. Every M car I’ve driven since the 1 Series left me feeling cold. Granted, I haven’t driven the new M2 yet, and I hear good things, but I still don’t think I’ll love it as much as the 1M.
Balanced, fast, not overdone. Everything you need and nothing you don’t, with the key focus being ultimate driving enjoyment. That was the 1M, to me – automotive perfection.
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BMW Z3 M Coupe – Steven J. EwingAh, the clown shoe. Some people think it’s ugly, but I think they’re blind. It’s classic shooting brake style on top of a seriously rewarding car – the Z3 M. It’s everything I love about the days when BMW really did build the Ultimate Driving Machine. A naturally aspirated, straight-six engine mixed it up with a five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. The Z3 M had great steering, a talkative yet balanced chassis, and it was all wrapped up in a flickable little package that you could still take to the grocery store.
The Z3 M Coupe is an incredibly rare car these days, and clean examples hold their value very well. Chalk that up to just how great the car was when it was new – it’s a coveted collector's item for serious BMW enthusiasts, and one that I can only dream of someday parking in my own garage.
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E39 BMW M5 – Mike AustinThis makes the case for the best sedan ever made. The E39 hits the sweet spot in so many ways. Take the glorious M5. In 1998, 400 horsepower was crazy, especially in a car that weighed just over 4,000 pounds. Unburdened by with the weight and equipment needed to cope with modern safety standards, the 5 Series was the benchmark of a balanced, responsive chassis. This was close to peak BMW - when the engines were still naturally aspirated and spun like sewing machines. Nothing in the class could touch the 5 Series in terms of driving involvement, and few cars since come close.
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