By the end of 1959 BMW presented the '700'.
It soon proved to be the beginning of a new era for BMW...
The driving force behind this '700' project was not only the BMW development department but in particular the Viennese BMW importer Wolfgang Denzel, a friend of the then BMW boarch chairman, Dr. Richter-Brohm. Largely on his own initiative, Denzel began to develop a sporty small car for BMW, having had some experience of automobile construction himself. The technical basis was to be provided by the chassis and the engine of the BMW 600. This small four-seater, derived from the Isetta, had remained somewhat unsuccessful due to it's unorthodox body, not because of technical shortcomings.
Denzel entrusted the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti with the design of the body. In mid January 1958, Denzel then received the official development contract, and a body design was developed in his workshops. On July 30th 1958, Denzel presented the finished prototype of the Coupé to the BMW board of directors, as developed by himself in collaboration with Michelotti. All in all, the car's modern Italian influenced style was well received. However, a certain amount of criticism was expressed, in particular on the question of suitability for economical manufacture.
The BMW design department under Wilhelm Hofmeister was then instructed to come up with a competing design, though retaining the characteristic stylistic elements of Michelotti prototype. At the same time, Helmut-Werner Bönsch, the new BMW director of product planning and marketing, encouraged the development of a saloon version.
On November 21st 1958, the BMW chief designer Wilhelm Hofmeister presented the adapted Coupé under the project code 107, after which the board decided to build the new BMW in this form. Meanwhile, the engine developers under von Falkenhausen had turned the 19bph horizontally opposed engine of the BMW 600 into a power unit with 700 ccm and 30HP. An initial roadworthy experimental version of the BMW 700 Coupé was completed by the middle of February 1959.
On the occasion of the 39th IAA, BMW presented the new BMW small cars to the general public, the 700 Coupé and Limousine.
Several versions of the sporty Coupé in various pastel colours and one Limousine were on display for public to admire and they could even be test driven in the grounds in front of the hall. The 700 Coupé was not a typical BMW, but it was certainly well in line with contemporary taste. Even the obligatory "kidney grille" at the front was missing, but this would have been merely for show since the spare wheel and luggage compartment were located at the front, and not the engine.
The technical components of the BMW 600 had mainly been used for this serial production Coupé. Apart from the improved engine, the chassis was also taken directly from the luckless front opening four seater. However, the car had a front axle with longitudinal members which followed the direction of the wheels, as in the Isetta, and as a particular delicacy the modern semi trailing arm rear axle features which ensured very sporty yet safe driving qualities with good suspension comfort. Improved brakes and agile rack and pinion steering contributed to the motor enjoyment provided by this BMW.
With the 700 Coupé, BMW conquered the hearts of a large number of motorists for the first time since the end of the war.
In contrast to the bulkiness of the Limousines and the awkward insufficiency of the Isetta, this modern little Coupé expressed the spirit of the times with a dash of Italian charm.
At last there was an affordable BMW on the market again, which was fun in spite of a modest engine. The BMW 700 Coupé was chic in every way and almost without competition when it came out in Germany. The countersunk door handles were modeled on those of the 507 Roadster, one got into the vehicle through frameless doors and sank deeply into half-bucket seats as in a real sports car. This Coupé had a definite sporty character: the synchronized 4-speed transmission was operated by means of a short central gear lever, and the horizontally opposed engine demonstrated astounding elasticity an earthy sound.
When two people travelled in a 700 Coupé, it did not feel at all like a small car. The interior was functionally designed, bright and spacious, and two children could easily be carried on the emergency seats - or two adults at least for a short trip. With good road holding, the car's 30HP allowed one to travel faster then in automobiles of comparable power, and the car was soon dubbed the "working man's Porsche". With 640 kg, acceleration was fast, and the topspeed of 125 km/h (approx. 77 mph) was quite respectable. At DM 5,200,- the 700 Coupé cost DM 300,- more than the Limousine and was thus by no means a cheap car. A Volkswagen beetle cost around DM 700,- less at the time.
After the IAA in Frankfurt, 25,000 orders were received for the Limousine and the Coupé. By the end of 1959 2,648 Coupés were built, and customers had to wait up to six weeks for their car due to heavy demand. In December 1959, fate had determined that BMW would remain an independent company, and an important reason for commitment of the new BMW principal shareholder Dr. Herbert Quandt were the excellent sales figures of the 700.
1960 was to be a record sales year for the 700 Coupé.
Almost 10,000 cars left the Munich plants, and from September one could order the "Saxomat" semi-automatic transmission familiar from the BMW 600 as an optional extra. But only a year later there was even happier news for friends of the new 700 Coupé.
A small car with such a sporty chassis almost cried out to for a more powerful engine, and from the modelyear 1961 this was released in the form of the BMW 700 C Sport. A considerable increase in compression ratio from 7.1 to 9.0:1, improved camshafts and a double Solex carburettor increased the power of this horizontally opposed engine by 30% to 40HP.
To improve oil cooling, the engine had a ribbed oil pan, and the short gear ration now transferred the power onto the rear axle. While the automobile testers had been full of praise in their verdict on the 30HP Coupé, many journalists could scarcely hide their enthusiasm for this little power package. Taking only 20 seconds to reach 100 km/h and with a topspeed of 135 km/h, the fact more that the 40HP version only cost DM 300,- more than the less powerful model was reason enough to be pleased .
The first cars had been presented to automobile journalists in fitting style on the Nürburg Ring in August and in September the new BMW 700 was presented to the general public. Even in 1961, more Sport Coupés were sold than models of the 30HP type, and this remained the case uptil the end of production in 1964. There was soon a sports version with the long awaited tachometer, and the works could even supply a special sport exhaust system which positively influenced the car's performance and aroused considerable acoustic interest. In the advertising brochures, the 700 Sport Coupé was always featured on the race track - a true forerunner of the GT generation.
From February 1963, the 700 Coupé was also given more power when the inlet valves of the horizontally opposed engine with 7.5:1 compression ratio were enlarged. This modest increase of 2HP could in fact be clearly felt on the road.
In spite of improvements, especially in the BMW 700 Limousine, which was build with a wheelbase extended by 16 cm (6.3 inch) from the beginning of 1962, it was gradually becoming clear that interest in vehicles like the BMW 700 was waning. More and more competitive models appeared on the scene, and BMW itself had taken a new and very successful course with the completely new 4-cylinder 1500 model of the "New Class". Soon, the space required for the production of the BMW 700 models would be needed for production of new series. In May 1964 production of the 700 and 700 Coupé came to and end, but the history of this small, appealing car was not yet over, indeed it was enriched by a further oddity...
At the IAA in 1964, BMW presented the 700 LS Coupé with the longer wheelbase of the LS Limousine. For cost reasons, any major renewal of the appealing body design had been avoided. An emergency solution was found so as to be able to use existing 700 Coupé parts for the longer chassis. In order not to strain BMW capacities, the bodymakers Baur were once again called upon to make the necessary modifications.
The body was retained as far as the C column and the additional centimeters had to be put into the rear of the car alone. The latter was thus rather oversized, although there was a new, flatter and larger rear window in order to provide a gentler transition. An attempt was made to enhance this model with abundant chrome ornamentation and a luxerious interior with comfort seats, carpeting and imitation wood, but the disharmony in the car's lines was too obvious to be excused by customers. The BMW LS Coupé was produced in 1964 and 1965 only with the 40HP engine and weighted almost 100 kg more than predecessor models
It is hardly surprising that customers were rather less enthusiastic about this last model in the 700 Coupé series. Only 1,730 700 LS Coupés were built by Baur and BMW. The last car was delivered in September 1965.
Of course a sporty automobile like the BMW 700 Coupé was a highly welcome gift to all BMW racing fans. Before the Second World War, BMW automobiles had become motor racing legends, but after 1945 this field of activity had shrunk to a minimum. One did occasionally see the 501 and 502 saloons, the luxury sports car 507 or even the comical Isetta on the rally track, but second-class efforts were not expected from BMW in this traditional field.
However, the compact Sport Coupé 700 began a phenomenal sporting career for BMW. The 700 ccm horizontally opposed engine could be tuned quite easily to over 50HP, versions with Dell'Orto carburettors even reached over 60HP. The best was a racing engine developed by BMW in 1961 with overhead chain driven camshafts and 78HP.
Up until the mid sixties there were hardly any races in this class without massive BMW 700 Coupé participation. The little Coupés 700 in their racing trim without bumpers were usually the stars agains competitors such as the Fiat Abarth, the NSU TT or the powerfull dwarves of Steyr-Puch.
Hans Stuck senior won the German Mountain Championship in a 700 Coupé with around 60HP in 1960, and many others racing legends such as the BMW engine developer Alexander von Falkenhausen or the then racing novices Hubert Hahne, Sepp Greger, Jacky Ickx and the later BMW motor racing director Jochen Neerpasch cut their teeth on these tough little BMW Coupés.
Between 1959 and 1965, BMW built 27,171 Coupés with 700 ccm engines in Milbertshofen. They were the last production BMW models to be infuenced by Italian designers.
It is also little known that almost 3,800 700 C and CS Coupés were assembled in Belgium and Italy with sets of parts supplied by BMW. Even in the USA, this little agile car was remarkably popular. Around 1,000 Coupés with 30HP and 32HP engines and 428 CS Coupés were produced especially for the North American market, distinguished from the regular models by differing bumpers and headlamps.
In addition, somewhat more than 400 CS Coupés with right-hand drive were built for markets such as Great Britain, South Africa, Australia and Japan.
In Argentina the 700 model was even build till the late 1960's and sold under the alias of De Carlo 700.