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The Carchive: The BMW New Class sedans in 1970

Chris Haining January 26, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 13 Comments

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”

Word.

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)