Depending on who you believe, the BMW 1500 was simultaneously the father of the performance sedan, the father of the New Classe cars, the father of the 2002, the father of the 5 series, and the father of former BMW design chief Chris Bangle. It may be some or all of those things, such was its’ groundbreaking significance in 1961 when it was introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Those automotive companies that survived the late 1950s were poised to take advantage of an emerging middle class in Germany, and a boom period worldwide. BMW was recently rescued from the jaws of death by the Quandt family, and was optimistic about its products and its future.
Nothing said middle class quite like a roomy sedan, and the 1500 fit the bill perfectly. It sported a single overhead cam 4 cylinder engine producing 80 HP in a vehicle weighing less than 2400 lbs. It had macpherson struts up front and trailing arms with coil springs in the rear to form a thoroughly modern suspension. The engine was slanted 30 degrees from vertical to allow for a low hood line, another clear contrast to the products of the 1940s and 1950s. It is the first BMW to utilize the famous Hofmeister kink, which is the “c” shape at the base of the rear pillar. This distinctive feature was introduced by Wilhelm Hofmeister who did design work on the 1500 It graced BMWs for decades, and is much imitated in other marques. Another big name working on this project was Alex Von Falkenhausen, the famous motorcycle engineer, racer on any number of wheels, and founder of the Motorsports company AFM. Given the “A” team working on this car, one can understand the effective combination of style, handling, and performance that emerged.
The BMW 1500 was certainly an impressive departure from the Isetta and the BMW 700 that preceded it (see previous post) , and the introduction of a new design language. The distinctive features present such as the Hofmeister kink, the grill treatment, the beltline, the greenhouse, and the low hood, went on to grace BMWs for the next decade and beyond. The motor was also a foundation for many future cars. It can be argued that the basic 4 cylinder engine block in the 1500 served all the way into the 1980s. It is certainly the basis for the 1600, 1800, 2000, and 2002 motors.
The 1500 proved so popular that the factory could not keep up with demand producing 50 cars per day. Waiting lists and backorders ensued. Despite the sales success, the rush to produce cars resulted in some quality issues with axles and a few other components. This hastened the need for revisions and a successor, the 1600. All in all, the 1500 was far more significant than the 23,807 cars produced in the short 2 year run. It was the beginning of the modern BMW that we know today. It was also the beginning of the idea that a family sedan could be a stylish and sporting vehicle, an idea that we take for granted today.