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  •   Bob BMW reacted to this post about 3 years ago
    What’s in your Garage? / #BMW-Dixi / #1929 / #BMW-Dixi-3/15PS-DA-1 / #BMW-Dixi-3/15PS

    The Dixi was BMW’s first road car and we look into its history and meet a lucky owner. Mike Taylor talks to David Mawby about his #1929 / #BMW-Dixi – BMW’s very first road car – and takes it for a spin around the Nottinghamshire countryside. Photography: Mike Taylor.

    Not surprisingly, the famous stylized spinning propeller #BMW logo was first seen not on a motor car but on aircraft engines occasioned by the rapid growth in the German aircraft industry at the beginning of the 20th century. Aero engineer Karl Freidrich Rapp set up in business building high performance marine and aero engines, switching to building power units for military aircraft in 1914. However, this change in direction found a grave weakness in Rapp’s engine designs and they quickly gained a poor reputation.

    The saviour for the Munich based business was Camillo Castiglioni, a board member of Austro-Daimler. In return for taking over control of the company Castiglioni arranged a deal for Rapp’s company to build 200 350hp V12 engines and in 1917 the company changed its name to Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW. Engineering direction then fell to Josef Popp and Max Fritz, who designed an inline six-cylinder aero engine that proved to have excellent high altitude performance.

    In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles outlawed Germany from rearming and the company looked elsewhere, first to railway components, then commercial vehicle engines, before moving into the design and manufacture of motorcycles, with BMW’s R32-type ‘bikes proving very successful in competition.

    The Fahzeugfabrik Eisenach company was established in 1896 by Heinrich Ehrhardt, the factory building all kinds of vehicles starting in 1898. In 1903, Ehrhardt left and Eisenach began developing a new range of cars under the name ‘Dixi’, Latin for ‘I have spoken’ suggesting they were the last word in motor cars. However, the war of 1914-18 demanded the company move into military production. Car manufacture restarted at Eisenach in 1919, though it was another two years before a new, and expensive, range was launched, the price tag hindering sales in the early post-war period. The answer was a small car that could be built in volume under licence similar to the Longbridge Austin Seven.

    On his return to the UK from Australia entrepreneur Herbert Austin set up a sheep shearing equipment business before becoming interested in the emergent car industry, establishing the Austin Motor Company based at Longbridge near Birmingham in 1905. By 1908 Austin was selling 17 different models. With the coming of hostilities he moved into military manufacture. However, the transition back to peacetime production took its toll and in 1921 Austin’s business was threatened with bankruptcy. His answer was the design of a baby car with an equally small price tag. To draw out his ideas Austin chose a talented 18-year-old draughtsman, Stanley Edge from the Longbridge team, setting him to work with drawing board and T-square on the billiard table at Lickey Grange, Herbert’s family home.

    What emerged was a car of just nine feet, two-inches long and three feet, ten-inches wide based on an ‘A’ frame chassis made from top hat section extruded steel. Quarter elliptic leaf springs were cantilevered from the rear of the chassis to support the rear axle with trailing arms connected to friction dampers. A short torque tube ran forward from the back axle to a bearing located on a transverse chassis rail intended to reduce axle twist under acceleration. At the front a transverse leaf spring acted as the top locating arms for the hubs held in place by a beam axle with radius arms with a single centrally-mounted friction damper. Never having designed a car engine before Edge copied the drawing for the four-cylinder Indian Motorcycle, the unit having two main bearings supporting the crankshaft with splash-fed lubrication from the sump.

    The dimensions were later increased to 54x76.2mm and the tiny 747cc engine produced 10.5hp at 2500rpm, driving through a single plate clutch to a three-speed non-synchromesh gearbox. First fitted with six-inch diameter drum brakes they were quickly enlarged to seven-inches operated by cables, the floor-mounted brake pedal activating on the rear wheels and the handbrake actuating the front shoes. Later, the brakes were adapted to work entirely from the foot pedal. The steering was abnormally high geared at 1.25 turns lock-to-lock linked to narrow 19x350-inch tyres via a worm and gear steering box.

    Top speed was recorded as being 51mph. The first cars were based on a bathtub-like bodywork with Rexine type hood/side screens from the waist upward. However, with the development in pressed tools and metal stamping techniques it wasn’t long before the car boasted a fully-enclosed steel bodyshell. During manufacture the shell, with the side and rear windows already stamped out, was mated with the chassis frame and scuttle complete with running gear, the doors then being added before the tiny car was driven off the assembly line. With a price tag of just £225 the Austin Seven was launched in 1922. Initially, sales were sluggish as the post-war economy struggled and it took a while for customers to come to terms with its diminutive dimensions. Yet, the Seven went on to become one of the most successful cars ever on the British automotive market.

    In addition to being aimed at a public wholly new to car ownership in the UK, the Seven was also licensed for manufacture in France (as the Rosengart), the USA (as the Bantam) and Japan (under the name of Datsun).

    The deal done between Eisenach and Austin was for 100 kits to be sent to Germany for assembly starting in late #1927 and called the Dixi 3/15PS DA-1. The 3/15 notation denoted the three-speed gearbox and German horsepower rating while DA-1 referred to the car as being the ‘German version one’.

    Despite the Dixi 3/15 having an immediate sales impact Eisenach’s financial status remained dire. Enter Jacob Schapiro, who had a seat on both the BMW and the Eisenach boards, and it was he who helped to seal the deal with Dixi-Werke (the new name for the company) being bought by BMW. In March 1929 a revised version was launched called the DA-2 and would be notable as being the first car to wear the BMW badge.

    The bodyshells for the DA-2 were made by Ambi- Budd and the opportunity was taken to make significant changes to the Seven’s design; the length of the doors was increased to finish over the rear wheel arch, thereby improving access while the tumble home of the roof was changed. The rear panel was also made flat with a larger window, the overall effect giving the BMW Dixi a crisper line. Also, an all enclosed boot was fitted to keep luggage dry in inclement weather. The engine’s electrics and dampers were changed to Bosch fittings while the entire engine layout was reversed, the carburettor and exhaust manifold being relocated to the right-hand side of the power unit. The new car was launched at BMW’s new stylish showrooms in Berlin in July 1929. An open version of the BMW DA-2 then followed using a wood frame bodyshell covered in fabric. In 1930 the DA-3 Wartburg Sport was introduced with an uprated 18hp engine, a fold-flat windscreen and racy cut-away doors.

    The last of the Seven-based BMW models was the DA-4, which featured a swing axle front suspension designed to iron out the characteristically poor directional control of the Austin’s steering design. It wasn’t a success. After nearly 16,000 Seven-based BMW Dixis had been built in #1932 BMW severed its links with Longbridge with a new range of in-house designed models beginning with the 3/20PS AM-1, powered by a 785cc engine with overhead valves. The car featured a more ‘grown up’ appearance yet was still clearly based on the original four-light Austin Seven design. It marked the start of the company’s move to more upmarket models.

    “Dad was always passionate about cars and had several interesting models including an Austin Mulliner coupé,” recalls David Mawby, owner of the rare and exquisite BMW Dixi we have featured here. “In the early 1980s he saw an advertisement for a Jaguar, went to buy it and came away with an Austin Big Seven. Even though I was only around seven years old I could understand the process of buying it, restoring and repairing it to running condition. I then went with him when he used it on several rallies.

    “My life has been full of Austin Sevens. When I was a youngster I was given a copy of the book The Original Austin Seven by Rinsey Mills and that got me started. Then, when I was 21, dad gave me the ‘Big Seven’ for my birthday. By then it had been off-the-road for many years and needed work. I have no mechanical qualifications, all my skills are self-taught from backward engineering, taking things apart to learn how they are made and then putting them back together. When I drove the Big Seven for the first time after repairing it I was concerned that I would damage it. I felt it was quite a responsibility.”

    Placing David’s BMW Dixi side-by-side with his Austin Seven Box saloon we can see immediately the subtle differences between the two cars: the sharper tumble home to the roof and rear panel curvature, for example. There’s also the design of the centre section of the wire wheels, the addition of ‘trafficator’ signals mounted on the A-posts, all suggesting that BMW’s engineers gave considerable thought to the manufacture of their first ever motor vehicle, rather than slavishly copying the baby car from Longbridge.

    “My overall attraction for the Austin Seven, and the Dixi in particular, is the smell, the noise and the size,” remarks David as we walk around it.

    David Mawby’s Dixi is distinctly original and climbing into the car through the wide opening doors there is a surprising amount of space for those in the front, the well-padded seat squabs and backrests giving a reasonable degree of support and comfort. David’s research has revealed that his Dixi was used by the military during World War Two, at which point the coachwork was given a coating of dark green cellulose and the rear seats were removed to provide an area for carrying weaponry and munitions. Later, a pair of jump seats were fitted and these provide some comfort for his three sons when riding in the rear.

    “In addition to the fact that the Dixi has not been restored I would not have bought it unless there was documentation to prove its originality,” explains David. “We have a letter from BMW Historic listing its provenance and we’ve spoken to Kate Clark-Kennedy, Chairman of the BMW Historic Car Club and her partner David, who brought it over from Germany.”

    Ahead of the driver is a 16-inch wood-rimmed slightly dished steering wheel with nickel controls mounted on the boss for ignition advance and retard, and manual throttle control, a kind of 1920s equivalent of modern-day cruise control. The dashboard panel, finished in cream to match the coachwork, is a remarkably ornate affair for a car of this pedigree, with a semi-circular section below a fluted recess carrying the trafficator control, the ignition switch and warning light, and lighting switch on a Bosch-made plate. Next, is a barrel type speedometer (annotated in km/h, naturally) and odometer. To the right is an oil pressure gauge with a BMW insignia in the dial. Finally, there’s a large circular panel, which covers what David thinks was originally the outlet for a heater vent that was fed from the exhaust manifold.

    The six-volt battery is located beneath the passenger’s seat with a power cable that links direct to the starter motor, operated by a lever. Turn the ignition key, move the lever upwards and the tiny engine bursts into life resonating happily throughout the bodywork. The clutch movement is light in operation with minimal travel. To select first gear, press the pedal down and move the gearstick to the left and down. Foot on the throttle, release the clutch and handbrake, and drive take-up is instant and surprisingly smooth. The Dixi then begins to gather speed.

    First gear ratio is purposely low and at around 15kph the engine revs call for a change up to second, selected by moving the gearstick upwards, across the wide gate and up again. The Dixi’s gearbox has no synchromesh, of course, so rather than use my rusty double-de-clutch technique the trick is to hesitate momentarily across the gate allowing the revs to fall, thus ensuring a graunch-free change. Soon, a quick look at the quadrant type speedo shows 25km/h and it’s time to move up to top gear, again hesitating midway before dropping the stick into third.

    “I first saw the Dixi when it was taking part in the Oily Rag Run organised by The Automobile magazine,” continues David. “The car was owned by someone in Dorset and after making an offer to buy it we drove down to Wimborne to see it. My wife and I and the boys then took it out for a test-drive. The owner was totally bemused. It was a day of sunshine and heavy showers and we found ourselves dodging the puddles.”

    To sample Dixi motoring David purposely selected a course that would take us around the lanes of Nottinghamshire and it is here where the diminutive little car comes into its own, with little traffic and much to enjoy about the scenery as we motor along at a subtle and subdued 30-35km/h. Dixi driving is all about patience; a slight incline approaches and David advises to select second rather than let her slog up in top gear, the accompanying rise in engine revs being a characteristic you soon get used to.

    “After our trip around Dorset we loaded the Dixi on to my trailer and drove round to Sandbanks, the UK’s most expensive property area, before making tracks for home,” David relates. “However, while we were parked at the water’s edge the number of people who came over to look at the Dixi was unbelievable. Certainly, the day we went to buy it will always stick in my mind.”

    To the uninitiated, vibration is a factor to become familiar with. Like all Dixi/Austin Sevens of the genre there are no rubber engine mountings, the cast aluminium cylinder block being bolted directly to the chassis frame. This causes the bodyshell to act like a sounding box for all the engine’s quirky noises and exhaust rasps. As the engine revs build so there is a corresponding increase in volume.

    One pleasant surprise is the performance of the cable brakes, operating on all four wheels on this model. Only reasonable pressure on the pedal has the car slowing down appreciably, all square, when approaching a bend or junction.

    Naturally, speed is relative and another factor quickly to consider is the car’s limited road-holding and handling abilities. Shock absorber technology was very much in its infancy in the 1920s (the first Austin Sevens had none fitted) and relied on friction type damper design. The overall effect is an unnerving degree of body lean on corners even when tackled at mediocre speeds, again something to be learnt and accepted when driving a Dixi.

    “The Dixi talks to you when you are motoring along,“ smiles David. “It has its own character, like a person. Also, it’s the knowledge that the whole car is original and the driver’s seat has been sat on by people since it was new in 1929. Then there’s the smell of the headlining, the leather and the engine. They are all different if the car has not been restored. Dad taught me from an early age what to look for if a car has been resprayed or retrimmed. Things like whether or not masking tape has been used round the windows and door handles.”

    Like most vehicles of this age the car is fitted with worm and cog steering, which is by today’s standards notoriously vague and indecisive while the ultra-slim tyres are easily affected by the slightest pothole. Bump steer, caused by changes in length of the rear springs affecting the axle line and toe-in to toe-out movement as the front wheels move vertically from compression to extension is a well-known characteristic. Ruts and road undulations have the car darting off in a new direction without any movement from the steering. The experienced Dixi navigator allows the car to find it own course rather than continuously overcorrect with the wheel for every movement of the car. The novice quickly learns just how much freedom to allow before correcting the car’s course with the wheel. In fact, around the Nottinghamshire byways, steering and changing gear (remembering to hesitate mid-movement) was a new science that I had to learn quickly.

    Very soon, however, the noise, vibration and steering foibles all fade pleasantly into the background as the fun of Dixi driving quickly wins you over. This is a delightful little car and it’s easy to imagine how it would be used for family outings at a time in motoring history when this was a whole new experience, while other road users were cruising at an equally relaxed rate.

    “The BMW is a bit delicate and we don’t drive it for miles,” concludes David. “Our normal distance is around 20 miles around the local villages. Being lefthand drive my eldest son sits in the passenger’s seat and pretends he is driving it. Dad would let me go and sit in his cars in the garage and today I let my children play in the Dixi.”

    At 87 years young this BMW represents the company’s launch into automobile manufacture, providing a wonderful insight into car design in the late 1920s. Much was to happen to the Munichbased business before it arrived at its current worldacclaimed status in the 21st century.

    THANKS TO David Mawby and Kate Clerk-Kennedy, Chairman of the Historic BMW Motor Club:

    “The Dixi talks to you when you are motoring along. It has its own character, like a person”

    “In addition to the fact that the Dixi has not been restored I would not have bought it unless there was documentation to prove its originality”
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  •   Kristie Bertucci reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    BMW 700 Coupé remembered. What’s in your Garage? The 700 kept the company afloat in the early ‘60s and we meet one man and his Coupé. / #BMW-700-Coupe-Sport / #BMW-700-Coupe / #BMW-700 / #BMW /

    BMW’s Isetta kept the company afloat during the 1950s but by the end of the decade it needed something more, and the result was the 700. Mike Taylor talks to David Ridley about his 700 Coupé Sport. Photography: Mike Taylor.

    Significantly, the 700 was BMW’s first model range to move away from the curvaceous US-influenced styling of the 500 ‘Baroque’ saloons, pre-war look sports cars and the egg-like Isetta utility vehicle of the mid-1950s. And, despite the 700’s small dimensions its contemporary look and feel doubtless helped elevate BMW’s image, signalling a marked step up for the company.

    BMW had launched the diminutive Isetta vehicle in 1955. With the advent of the Suez Crisis, which heralded spiralling fuel costs, the concept of providing a car that returned cheap travel at least cost was quickly vindicated. However, within a short time its attraction began to decline with BMW’s loyal client base demanding more maturity, size and performance from the Munich manufacturer. BMW’s solution was to increase the Isetta into a lengthened four-seater powered by a larger engine, yet retaining the baby Isetta’s front opening door. Called the 600, sadly, the buying public did not fall for its charms and sales fell short of expectations.

    The story behind the 700 begins with Austrian Wolfgang Denzel, a Viennese importer of BMWs and a friend of BMW chairman Dr Richter Brohm. With BMW sales at a low ebb Denzel began considering possible alternatives. With experience of car manufacture to call on, Denzel started by considering a small sporty model, which would attract a slice of the car-buying public. Critical to his plans was to utilise the chassis and drivetrain from the 600, thereby maintaining strict control over expenditure.

    In 1957 Denzel tasked Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti with producing some design proposals for his new BMW. In January the following year Denzel received financial approval for the project and a prototype was built in Denzel’s Vienna workshops. By the middle of the year the car was complete and in late July it was presented to the BMW board in Munich for their consideration. It featured twin headlamps, a protruding sharp horizontal edge halfway up the front panel, a fluted recess to the bonnet that ran to a vertical grille set below the windscreen, gracefully curved body sides, pronounced intakes behind the rear window to channel essential air into the engine compartment and vestidual rear fins, also seen on Pininfarina and other Michelotti models of the period.

    Reaction from the board was positive with the exception that there was concern that, in its current format, the little car would prove to be expensive to manufacture. Moreover, there was a call to make a saloon version to attract family buyers. While maintaining much of Michelotti’s basic features, BMW’s head of design, Wilhelm Hofmeister was given the job of creating a version which was more economic to manufacture, while director of product planning and marketing, Helmut-Werner Bönsch, recommended that a saloon version be considered.

    In late November 1958, Hofmeister presented the adapted Coupé for appraisal. Gone was the hardedged frontal treatment, the fluted bonnet and the aggressive rear air intakes while the curvy side flanks had been softened, the overall effect being of a sharper, less fussy, appearance.

    The engineer responsible for the chassis and suspension technology for the 700 was Willy Black, who had designed and engineered the 600. The new car featured a steel monocoque body structure, the first BMW to do so, with twin leading arm suspension at the front with coil springs, and semi trailing arms at the rear, again with coil springs, a configuration selected to give sporty yet safe driving qualities with good ride characteristics. The brakes were uprated 600 type drums all-round with a similar rack and pinion steering to the 600, but uprated to 1:1.2 to give quick directional control.

    Meanwhile, BMW’s drivetrain department under Alex von Falkenhausen had responded to the need for more power by increasing the cubic capacity of the 19hp horizontally opposed two cylinder engine of the BMW 600 to 697cc, which produced a healthy 30hp using a single Solex carburettor.

    Considerable attention had been given to cooling and vital air to control engine temperature came from beneath the car, while baffles around the engine helped to prevent the engine compartment from becoming pressurised. Vital engine cooling was derived from oil in the generously sized sump, which was connected to an oil cooler located behind the rear numberplate.

    With these amendments agreed, BMW gave its approval for the car to move into full project development stage in readiness for manufacture. By mid-February 1959 an experimental 700 mule had been completed and was ready for road evaluation. The sporty new BMW 700 was launched to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in late September that year where several Coupés finished in pastel hues were on display. Also, on the stand was a natty saloon version, which featured a taller, longer roof line. To encourage customer interest, 700s were also available to test drive by members of the public. Initial reaction suggested that here was a BMW that would appeal to a number of the car-buying public for the first time since the end of the war.

    After the initial furore of the Frankfurt Show had dwindled, it was clear that for BMW the exhibition had been a marked success with orders taken for some 25,000 units. Production of the Coupé had already started in August 1959, assembly of the saloon coming on stream in December.

    Behind the scenes, confidence in the little car brought its own reward as the company was in grave financial crisis and the full order book was sufficient for shareholders to block a proposal to sell BMW to Mercedes-Benz. Additionally, 700 sales would provide the financial platform for the development of an allnew mid-range 1500 four-door saloon, which would be launched in 1962, propelling the company forward on its path to grandeur and success. In 1960, production of the 700 rose to 155 units per da and a Coupé Sport version was launched. The engine was fitted with twin Solex carbs and together with a compression ratio hike power increased to 40hp. To improve handling an anti-roll bar was fitted at the rear and to reduce oil temperature at high revs the sump was given a ribbed pan. In 1963 the Sport was renamed the 700 CS.

    A delightful cabriolet version was also introduced in 1960. Powered by the 40hp engine of the Sport Coupé the soft-top body was made by specialist car body maker, Baur of Stuttgart and 2592 units were built. For those who demanded effortless motoring a semi-automatic 700 was available with ‘Saxomat’ transmission from September 1960. The original saloon was replaced by the ‘Luxus’ in 1962. It featured a wheelbase lengthened by 6.3 inches to improve cabin accommodation and a simplified version of the Luxus called the 700 LS was released in 1963 with a lower price tag. The following year the specification of the 700’s base engine was given a slight power increase of 2hp through the introduction of larger inlet valves. As for the Coupé the LS version appeared in 1964 based on the lengthened saloon body tub. In total, some 188,211 700s had been built when production ceased in November 1965.

    Despite its diminutive size and twin-cylinder engine the 700 Coupé seemed ideally suited to competition and Hans Stuck won the German Hillclimb Championship driving one in 1960 while Stuck partnered Sepp Grieger to a class win at Hockenheim in the 12-Hour Race, and Leo Levine and Walter Schneider won their class in the 6-Hour Touring Car event at the Nürburgring, again in 1960. The following year a 700 won its class at Monza. Other 700 exponents included Hubert Hahne, Burkard Bovensiepen and Jack Ickx.

    A racing version of the 700 was introduced, called the RS. It featured a tubular spaceframe chassis and a sleek aerodynamic aluminium body weighing 600kg. The engine had double overhead camshafts and was tuned to 69hp. Dependent on final drive ratio it could reach 124mph. Interestingly, RS cars always raced with the numberplate removed to allow cooling air to reach the engine. The RS made its debut at the Rossfeld Hillclimb in June 1961 and often competed against the Porsche RSK and the Porsche Spyder. RSs were driven by Hans Stuck and Walter Schneider, who won the German Circuit Championship.

    So how did David Ridley, the owner of this delightful 700 become involved with BMWs? “During my latter days in the army I lived in a tent and as I had nothing to spend my money on when I was demobbed in 1959 I bought a single-seater 1937 Frazer Nash racing car called the Semmence Special for £175. Among the many people who owned the Frazer Nash racer was Lesley Hawthorn, father of racing driver Mike Hawthorn,” explains David. “I knew a few people who worked for AFN, importer of BMWs, including John Aldington, AFN’s sales manager Michael Burn and Dickie Stoop, who raced for AFN.

    “Sadly, I began to realise that professional drivers like Dickie all had a judgement far superior to mine and I decided that racing was not for me. After spending quite a lot of money on restoring it to its original specification, I sold the Frazer Nash in 1962. In the VSCC I am best known as being the owner of GNs, but I had a number of other interesting road cars including a C-type Jaguar, which was something of a distraction and I kept it for many years.

    “In 2006 I bought a Frazer Nash BMW,” David tells us. “I was always more interested in the engineering aspect of cars as I’d already taught myself workshop engineering practice. There were a few things wrong with the car and I spent some time putting them right.

    However, around that time I was given the unpalatable news that I was suffering from an incurable eye disability. Then, about 18 months ago I sold it to the son of a friend of mine, which netted me the wherewithal to buy the BMW 700.

    “I came across the advertisement for my BMW 700 Coupé Sport by chance,” continues David. “The owner was a member of the Historic BMW Motor Club and was about to lose his licence through ill health. I thought it was small and all the mechanical components would be light and easy for me to lift when I’m working on the car and spares costs in Germany are very cheap.”

    View the 700 Coupé Sport today from the side or rear and there are still clear indications of Italian styling reminiscent of the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Two characteristics in particular are the wraparound rear windscreen and the vestidual tail fins, the overall impression being of a pleasantly presented package.

    The proportions of widow to bodywork, and bonnet to boot size make for an extremely satisfying composition, only the foreshortened rear window of the Coupé version, the effect of raking the rear screen, seems a little out of keeping with the remainder of the car.

    “I’m not that attracted to the Italian styling, I am much more interested in the engineering design,” reveals David as we stand admiring his white Coupé. “When I bought this car I had never driven a 700 before so I had no preconceived expectations.

    However, I did recall reading the Autocar road test and the best recorded speed it achieved was 82mph, which wasn’t bad for a 695cc car. In contrast, the interior is very 1960s and not very well executed. The rest of the car is pretty well made.”

    As David remarks, inside, the trim and fittings do let the car down, something even Autocar found itself feeling disappointed over when it tested an example of the 700 Coupé Sport in January 1962. First, the dashboard is a simple and plain affair providing only a speedometer, which also houses a fuel gauge, and a matching clock. There is no oil temperature gauge, perhaps a stark omission on an air-cooled engine, only a vague orange warning light, which is connected to a sensor in the output pipe connected to the oil cooler. The overall impression is one of functionality and practicality, and does not align itself well with BMW’s luxury car maker image of the past.

    Another shortcoming is the front seats. Despite being a sporting model with touring aspirations the seats are set low in the cabin, the squabs feeling as though they could become uncomfortable on a longish journey. In contrast, the concave back rests give a degree of sideways support, especially if the car is driven with any degree of verve. Finally, the wheel arches protrude noticeably into the footwells with the result that the pedals are offset noticeably to the centre of the car, the seats being angled slightly inwards so the driver’s legs line up with the foot controls.

    The ignition switch, which includes a novel anti-theft gear selector device, is located on the transmission tunnel ahead of the gearstick. Turn the key and the starter emits a characteristic wurring sound as the crankshaft speed builds up and the unit fires, settling down to an obvious rhythmic beat from the horizontally opposed cylinders. It is a sound that became familiar, though not too intrusive, throughout our short driving impression.

    The clutch and gear changes are smooth in operation, the short gearstick giving direct positive changes. Into first and take up is jerk-free. In Sport tune with twin-Solex carburettors the tiny 697cc power produces a healthy 40hp at 5800rpm, sufficient to give satisfactory acceleration with a 0-60 time of 23.4 seconds as recorded by Autocar.

    Like the Isetta we tested in the January 2016 issue of BMW Car the 700 is geared to give it long legs in top for relaxed cruising. The shortfall of this ratio is the engine’s inability to deliver any real power to climb even the most mediocre of inclines resulting in the driver being forced to drop down one or even two gears to maintain momentum. In truth, however, this is no hardship, so delightful is the gear change and clutch action.

    With its rack and pinion setup, steering is precise, almost too precise perhaps, a minute twitch of the wheel has the car bounding off in a new direction and progress along straight uneven country roads is a continuum of very slight corrections with the wheel.

    The brakes, too, appear well up to their task, the unassisted drums all-round making light work of dragging the 648kg car down from speed giving the driver added confidence in the controls.

    The suspension on the 700 gives a very ‘grown up’ ride quality, an indication perhaps of BMW’s experience with suspension models designed for luxury cars. However, on undulating road surfaces the car tends to wallow, the sensation being accentuated by the concentration of weight over the back wheels, a characteristic of many rear engined vehicles.

    In dry conditions handling is well within the performance available from the power unit, with limited lean the car can be hustled through bends smartly. In contrast, with its weighty rear end, in the wet, there would always be the chance of the tail letting go, only to be caught by the ultra quick steering.

    Given a free hand to explore the engine’s characteristics and a longer test the car’s true sporting attributes would clearly reveal themselves indicating just how it was that the 700 was so successful in competition. Even so, our short time around the lanes of Hampshire proved hugely satisfying, the car’s shortcomings becoming less obvious as the miles increased. Indeed, at least one classic car enthusiast was so enamoured with the little Munich Coupé that he stopped to admire the 700 at close quarters.

    “I am rather mechanically critical and when I drove the 700 for the first time I noticed that the exhaust was made from stainless steel resulting in the car being very noisy,” explains David. “I quickly built a replacement system from mild steel. In addition, the car easily steamed up so the heat exchanger was replaced by an Eberspächer heater, which runs on diesel oil and fitted in the engine compartment. It has one drawback and that is the fan is very noisy. Also, I was unhappy about the clutch. The problem is that it does not seem to free off properly and I’ve had the engine out twice in an effort to resolve it.”

    Sadly, David’s eyes have now deteriorated to the point that he cannot drive and the 700 is up for sale through the website of the Historic BMW Motor Club. “One of the things that I will miss when the car is sold is working on it for relaxation at weekends,” he sighs with resignation as we say our goodbyes.

    THANKS TO David Ridley and Kate Clark-Kennedy, Chairman of the Historic BMW Motor Club Contact:
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