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These Cars Saved BMW!

The BMW Neue Klasse & 02 Series: 1962-1977

✪ The Neue Klasse, (New Class) and later the 02 series, were sedans and coupes produced by BMW. They helped the company maintain solvency after their 1950s financial crisis and are the foundation of all modern BMW sport luxury sedans and coupes. These cars were game-changers both for BMW and the entire midsize sport sedan segment.

1500 1962-1977

In the 1950s BMW was producing luxury cars with 2-liter or greater engines, economy cars powered by variants of their motorcycle engines and motorcycles. Their luxury cars seemed outdated by the end of the decade and customers weren’t interested,. Their economy cars with motorcycle engines were becoming less and less attractive to an increasingly affluent post-war society. To fill this gap in their line, they needed a car in the 1.5 liter to 2 liter category in order to become competitive again. The first Neue Klasse car was the 1500, a 4-door compact executive car powered by a 1.5 liter (hence 1500) M115 overhead-cam four cylinder engine. New Class referred to the new 1.5 liter to 2 liter class that the company had not produced since WWII. BMW went all-out preparing for production of the Neue Klasse, investing vast amounts in creating and expanding high-tech production capacity. They constructed a new production building for the Munich plant, hired 3,000 skilled workers, and introduced a multi-stage in-process quality inspection system to quickly address production issues.

The project was led by Fritz Fiedler, and featured Eberhard Wolff designing the chassis, Wilhelm Hofmeister in charge of style and body engineering and Alex von Falkenhausen over engine design. The team had the task of designing an entirely new car with a new engine, something BMW had not done since 1933’s 303. It was introduced at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show as the BMW 1500 four-door saloon, entering production in October of 1962.

The restrained and functional design of the four-door body was a deliberate departure from the classic, luxurious lines of the 501/502/503, and the lack of stylistic idiosyncrasies and presence of flowing shapes left a sporty, elegant impression. This perfectly captured the essence of the times, reflecting the work of Hofmeister and Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti.

The greatest accolade bestowed upon a designer is to have a specific design element named after them. Such is the case with the distinctive transition of the lower C-pillar to the body first seen on the¬†Neue Klasse¬†cars, not with a smooth curve but an angle. This was done for stability reasons as well as aesthetics, and was designed by Wilhelm Hofmeister and his team. This became known as the ‚ÄúHofmeister Kink‚ÄĚ and is still seen on¬†BMWs and other cars to this day.

The car was a typical 3-box four-door utilizing a unibody construction and featuring the¬†MacPherson¬†strut front suspension which was starting to become more prevalent, although this was the first time¬†BMW¬†would use such as setup. The independent rear suspension was unconventional, with coil springs instead of the more common leaf-spring suspension and semi-trailing wishbones pivoting from a strong cross-beam that also supported the differential. Front disc brakes were also standard, providing better stopping power and fade resistance than the drum brakes that were more widely used at the time. The firm suspension and relatively harsh ride surprised buyers more used to the comfort-oriented suspension of previous models like the¬†501. The front end retained the ‚Äúdouble kidney‚ÄĚ grill of previous¬†BMWs, albeit smaller.

BMW executives wanted the M115 (later M10) overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine built to displace 1.3 liters with the option to expand to 1.8 liters. Engine designer von Falkenhausen convinced them that this would be inadequate for future needs and suggested a 1.5 liter engine that could be expanded to 2 liters, and this was what was designed. It was canted over 30 degrees to the right to allow for a low hoodline, contributing to the car’s styling. The M115 had a cast-iron block and an aluminum head with 2 valves per cylinder, a forged crankshaft with counter-balance weights, 5 main bearings and a chain-driven camshaft. The initial peak power rating was 79 HP, not much by today’s standards. The car took 13 seconds to reach 60 MPH, considered lively at the time for a 1.5 liter engine, and could manage 95 MPH at the top end. The engine needed to be worked hard to achieve that time, but ran smoothly even above 6,000 RPM.

The Neue Klasse 1500 did in fact turn the company’s fortunes around, breaking even in 1962 and showing a profit in 1963 after years of losses. BMW was able to pay dividends to shareholders that year, something they had not done for the previous two decades. BMW had not only filled a niche within their own model range, but also carved out an entirely new segment, sportiness coupled with exclusivity, that continues on into the 21st Century.

Reports from the automotive press praised the 1500 for its all-round visibility, thanks to a large greenhouse with minimal obstructions from the roof pillars and the high, commanding driving position. They also commended BMW for designing a large trunk in a relatively small vehicle. This contributed to the sales volume of 23,807 over its run.

1800 1963-1975

The second member of the¬†Neue Klasse¬†family was the¬†1800, which was also the class‚Äôs best seller. The larger displacement of the uprated¬†M115¬†engine produced 90 HP and 96 ft. lb. of torque with the same body. Back then the cars were built to specific requirements by varying engine displacement and power, made possible by the modular system which is now standard in automotive assembly. A 3-speed automatic transmission was included as an option to the four-speed manual starting in 1966, as well as a more reliable dual-circuit braking system, improved cabin heating and ventilation, a modernized dashboard and subtle changes to the front ‚Äúkidney‚ÄĚ grills. 0-60 took 11.6 seconds with a top speed of 96 MPH. It was with the¬†1800¬†that the term ‚ÄúNeue Klasse‚ÄĚ began to be used by¬†BMW¬†to describe their new line. According to Marc¬†Thiesb√ľrger,¬†current Press Spokesman for¬†BMW Group Classic, ‚ÄúUltimately the view was that we had created a quite unique and peerless ‚Äėnew class‚Äô with this midsized sedan.”

Performance upgrades started to come into play with this version. The 1800 TI (Turismo Internazionale) featured new components from tuning company Alpina such as twin Solex PHH two-barrel side-draft carbs and higher-compression pistons. This would lead to a long relationship with Alpina for performance-tuned BMWs, just as AMG would become the performance tuner for Mercedes-Benz. The setup produced 20 HP more than the standard 1800, a 22% gain, allowing for a 9.9 second 0-60 MPH time and 105 MPH top speed, a considerable gain over the stock 1800. An anti-roll bar was added to the front suspension to improve handling.

A homologation special, the¬†1800 TI/SA, was introduced in 1964, with¬†SA¬†standing for¬†Sonderausf√ľhrung¬†(Special Version). It was indeed special, with dual¬†Weber DCOE-45¬†two-barrel carbs and a higher 10.5:1 compression ratio helping the engine find another 18 HP over and above the already more powerful¬†1800 TI. The 8.8 second 0-60 time and 112 MPH top speed were the best in the 1800 line. It also had a¬†Getrag¬†5-speed gearbox and a stronger front anti-roll bar as well as a rear anti-roll bar and larger diameter disc brakes. The 200 examples built were sold only to licensed racing and sports drivers.

1600 1964-1975

In 1964 the¬†1500¬†was replaced by the¬†1600¬†with an upgraded displacement¬†M115, but the¬†1500¬†was still made available in markets such as Italy that taxed vehicles over 1.5 liters at a much higher rate. The¬†1600¬†utilized the bore of the 1800 combined with the stroke of the¬†1500¬†to achieve the extra 100cc. At 83 HP it was slightly more powerful than the¬†1500¬†and could best the¬†1500¬†to 60 MPH by a mere half-second with the same top speed. It was produced until early 1966, when it was replaced by a two-door coupe known as the¬†1600-2. This was the first of the ‚Äú02‚ÄĚ series based upon the earlier¬†Neue Klasse¬†sedans.

2000 1965-1974

The¬†2000, released in 1965, was an upscale version of the¬†1800¬†with distinctive wide taillights and unique rectangular headlights. Unfortunately those headlights ran afoul of US Government regulations, so US export market¬†2000s had two pairs of conventional round headlights. It used the 2-liter 101 HP engine from the¬†2000 C¬†and also had an optional 3-speed automatic like the¬†1800. It could reach 60 MPH in 13.4 seconds with a top speed of 103 MPH, better than the¬†1800¬†but not as quick as the¬†1800 TI. In 1967,¬†Road & Track¬†magazine said the the¬†2000¬†sedan was ‚Äúthe best-performing 2-liter sedan in today‚Äôs market and the best handling and best riding as well.” In 1969 the¬†2000¬†got the same upgrades as the¬†1800: dual-circuit brakes, better heating and ventilation, and upgraded dashboard and re-styled front grill.

A TI version of the 2000 utilized the same Solex PHH carbs as the 1800 TI and a higher compression ratio. It also sported front and rear anti-roll bars like the 1800 TI, but had somewhat wider wheel rims and tires than the 2000. It retained the round headlights and vertically-arranged taillights of the 1800 and was more Spartan and less-well equipped than the non-TI version. With 130 HP and an 8.8 second 0-60 time and 112 MPH top speed meant that it matched the all-but-unobtainable 1800 TI/SA.

To make up for the rather ill-equipped 2000 TI, BMW introduced a tilux version with the same engine, performance and handling of the TI with the 2000’s exterior styling and a higher-grade interior and accessories, including a wood dashboard and optional leather seats. This marked the beginning of production of the performance luxury cars that BMW would become synonymous with.

The final Neue Klasse 4-door sedan was the 2000 tii (touring international, injected) version with BMW’s first fuel-injection, a Kugerfischer mechanical system. This allowed the engine to produce the same 130 HP as the 1800 TI/SA homologation special and also match its 0-60 time, but with an extra 1 MPH of top speed. It also had the more luxurious interior of the 2000 tilux. 1,952 were built.

In 1965 a coupe version of the Neue Klasse, the 2000 C, was built by German coachbuilder Karmann to showcase the 2 liter version of the M10 engine shortly after the V8-powered 3200 CS was discontinued, and this became BMW’s flagship model. The front end of the 2000 C was different than the sedans with only a chrome double kidney as a grill. The headlights were behind a glass fairing except in North America where they too fell victim to government regulations and were again replaced by two sets of round headlights. Equipped with a 3-speed automatic transmission, the 101 HP engine had a single carb to feed it and propelled the car to 60 MPH in 14.2 seconds, topping out at 103 MPH. A 2000 CS version bumped the power to 120 HP through the use of dual 2-barrel carbs and was equipped only with a 4-speed manual transmission, which was also available on the 2000 C starting in 1967. It bested the 2000 C to 60 MPH by 4 seconds and 8 MPH at the top end.

02 Series 1966- 1977

The¬†02 Series¬†of sporty, compact executive cars was based upon a shortened version of the¬†Neue Klasse¬†sedans, starting with the¬†1600-2¬†(later¬†1602) in 1966 which had a 2 inch shorter wheelbase and its overall length reduced by 10 inches, mainly by bobbing the rear deck. The resulting car was less well-appointed than the¬†Neue Classe¬†sedans but was lighter, faster and better handling. The ‚Äú-2‚ÄĚ and later ‚Äú02‚ÄĚ designations indicated a 2-door model. An 84 HP 1.6 liter¬†M10¬†four-cylinder powered the¬†1600-2, propelling it to 60 MPH in 12.9 seconds and eventually 99 MPH. and it quickly became popular in Western Europe except for Italy, where its price was not competitive with domestically-produced¬†Fiats and¬†Alfa-Romeos of the same engine power. in 1968¬†Road & Track¬†magazine declared the¬†1600-2¬†‚Äúa great automobile for the price‚ÄĚ ($2,676).

In 1967 a 1600-2 Ti high-performance version with a 9.5:1 compression ratio and dual Solex PHH side-draft carbs from the 1800 ti sedan bumped the HP to 104, with a 12.1 second 0-60 and 105 MPH top speed. The ti version was not sold in the US as it did not meet emissions regulations. A limited-production cabriolet (convertible) was also released that year, morphing from full convertible to a Targa-top in 1971, which also saw the introduction of a hatchback Touring model.

The 1802 was introduced in 1971 with the 1.8 liter version of the M10 producing 89 HP, and came in either coupe form or the 3-door hatchback Touring model introduced that year. The Touring version was produced until 1974, with the 2-door ending production the following year.

The 2002, probably the most familiar of the Neue Klasse family to Americans, was released after Helmut Werner Bonsch, director of product planning, and engine designer Alex von Falkenhausen both had 2-liter versions of the M10 installed in 1600-2 models for their personal use and enjoyed driving them so much that they decided to manufacture a 2-liter version for production. At the same time, American BMW importer Max Hoffman was asking for a sportier version of the 02 series that could be sold in the US. These were also sold in a base single-carb version producing 100 HP or a twin-carb 2002 ti version producing 118 HP, with the single carb version reaching 60 MPH in 10.3 seconds with a top speed of 106 MPH and the ti version good for a 8.4 second 0-60 and 112 MPH top. A 2002 Automatic with the base single-carb M10 engine and a ZF 3HP12 3-speed automatic came in 1969. The fuel-injected 2002 tii increased the HP by 10 over the twin-carbureted 2002 ti and was good for 117 MPH and a 7.8 second 0-60 with its optional upgraded Getrag 235/5 5-speed manual transmission. The cabriolet version, by 1971 a Targa-top, came with the base 2 liter engine and was available until 1975. Touring versions were available with all engine sizes, including a tii version, until 1974.

The 2002 Turbo, introduced at the 1973 Frankfurt Auto Show, was Europe and BMW’s first turbocharged production car. The KK&K twin-scroll, .55 bar turbo unit paired to the injected tii engine saw a 40 HP gain to 168. The engine has larger combustion chambers and a lower 6.9:1 compression ratio in order to prevent knocking. The fuel injection system was also upgraded to a Kugelfischer unit with an integrated boost enrichment system and altitude compensation for consistent power when navigating European mountain roads. With the 02 Series’ best 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 128 MPH, the 2002 Turbo was quite the performer for its day. A larger radiator and oil cooler were standard, as was a ventilated version of the tii’s front discs. The rear drum brakes were larger as well. To compensate for the increased power, the transmission was upgraded to a strengthened Getrag 232 4-speed manual which was unique to the 2002 Turbo or an optional Getrag 235/5 close-ratio 5-speed manual, the same optional transmission available on the 2002 tii. There was an extra gauge cluster inside that housed the boost gauge and a clock, and the red instrument panel contained a 150 MPH speedometer. Sport seats and sport steering wheel were also standard.

The front end was different than the regular¬†2002, with a tow-bracket, air-intake apertures and a fiberglass air dam. The front and rear wheel arches were cut back and featured fiberglass wheel arch extensions to allow wider wheels to be fitted. The exterior was finished off by a rubber spoiler on the rear decklid.¬†BMW Motorsport¬†stripe decals were added to the sides and the front airdam, long before the ‚ÄúM‚ÄĚ badge with its three stripes appeared on high-performance¬†BMWs. Introduced right before the 1973¬†Arab Oil Embargo, only 1,672 were built as a result. Of the¬†2002 Turbo,¬†BMW¬†stated that they ‚Äúhad built a car that contradicted the spirit of the times like no automobile before.”

The 1502, an economy model able to run on cheaper low-octane regular gas, was introduced in 1975 as a response to the Arab Oil Embargo. It had the same 1,573cc displacement at the 1602 but with a lower 8.0:1 compression ratio for better fuel economy, reducing power to 74 HP and giving a dismal 12.4 second 0-60 with a top speed of just 96 MPH. The 1502 continued on until 1977, by which time the rest of the Neue Klasse sedans and 02 Series 2-doors had been replaced by BMW’s new E21 3-Series 316i, 318i and 320i.

The¬†Neue Klasse¬†line was an enormous success for¬†BMW. New owners received the ‚Äúultimate package‚ÄĚ combining the best technologies with a timeless yet contemporary design, which is precisely what their customers expected. From the design through to its production, the expansion and updating of the series and its market positioning, the¬†Neue Klasse¬†paved the way for the future of¬†BMW. Taking the risk of doing things differently had certainly paid off, and the¬†Neue Klasse¬†series was a commercial success and led to the company‚Äôs rapid growth during the 1960s. They were able to stake out a clear market position as a manufacturer of both sporty and everyday cars, and during the decade of the 1960s¬†BMW¬†sales tripled, with revenues increasing seven-fold. Closer collaboration between development and sales also emerged from the project, resulting in improved planning of vehicle characteristics and features. It remains a milestone in the history of the company; an exciting new chapter which guides¬†BMW¬†development even today.‚ú™

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