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60 Years of the BMW 700

This August sees the 60th anniversary of a small car that changed the destiny of one of Europe’s most famous car manufacturers. It was, of course, the BMW 700, the company’s first monocoque vehicle and the model that helped them to stave off bankruptcy and a possible takeover by Daimler-Benz.

The average British motorist was unlikely to have come across the 700 due to the vexed issue of heavy import duties. When it was displayed at the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show - a price of  £728 meant it was nearly £200 more than an Austin Seven/Morris Mini Minor De Luxe.

RHD versions became available in 1961, but in the UK the 700 remained in the province of the well-heeled young professional. In its homeland, the latest BMW was perfect for the motorist who was now beyond a bubble car and who regarded the Beetle as antediluvian.

In the late 1950s, BMW was suffering from a range that lacked cohesion and declining sales of the Isetta. The 600 of 1957 was their attempt to widen the bubble-car formula, but it proved a slow seller. However, the racing driver  Wolfgang Denzel, who the firm’s sole agent in Austria commissioned Giovanni Michelotti in November of that year to create a rakish new 2+2 coupe based on the 600.

By the summer of 1958, the design had received the approval of senior management and Wilhelm Hofmeister and his team of stylists developed a saloon version.  

The  700 made its bow at the 1959 Frankfurt Motor Show where it caused such a sensation that BMW received over 25,000 orders. Enthusiasts noted the rack & pinion steering and trailing arm rear suspension while power was from an enlarged  697cc version of the 600’s air-cooled flat-twin engine.

Above all, there was the styling which lent the 700 instant showroom appeal.  The Coupe entered production first, joined by the four-seater saloon at the end of the year.

July 1960 saw the introduction of the Sport Coupe with twin Solex carburettors which became known as the ‘Poor Man’s Porsche’. A 1962 Autocar test found it to have ‘many endearing features’ such as ‘economy, compactness, superb handling and road holding, and a willing engine that endows it with a lively performance’.

However,  a  £1.039 14s 11d – as much as a Ford Zodiac or a Vauxhall Cresta – meant that few Britons would experience these qualities. 1961 marked the debut of the even more desirable Baur-built Cabriolet, powered by the Sport engine.

The long wheelbase  Luxus replaced the original saloon in 1965, and the  700 ceased production in November 1965 after 180,000 unit; it was the marque’s best-selling post-war model. By then the era of bubble cars, the 507 and the imposing “Baroque Angel” saloon had already passed, and the 700 was crucial in not only proving development funds for the 1500 “Neue Klasse” of 1961 but IN changing the perception of the small BMW.

And after watching this 1964-vintage promotion for a late model LS Luxus, who could resist the charm of the 700?

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