BMWs are incredible cars. So incredible, in fact, that the same German engineering was used in what Snoopy’s own nemesis the Red Baron called the greatest engine in World War I. Our friends over at Thrillist put together some fascinating history about the airplane engine designer turned motorcycle and automobile manufacturer to commemorate BMW’s 100th anniversary. Since we just happen to be your reliable go-to solution in Cincinnati when you need to fix your BMW, we thought we’d share.
BMW Engines Are Great Whether In the Sky or On Land
BMW was founded on March 7, 1916, as BFW (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke), eventually becoming Bayerische Motoren Werke (we’ll stick with BMW—German words can be quite the mouthful). The company started out by making airplane engines, many of which set records for altitude and speed. In fact, in 1919, a BMW-powered biplane flew the whole way up to 32,000 ft, which was nearly unheard of at the time, and is roughly the same height that used to fly commercial jets today. BMW then turned their hand at car engines, and ultimately revolutionized the auto industry, creating the 4-cylinder engine that was used by just about anything on the road in the first half of the 20th century.
World War I Was the Catalyst that Eventually Led to BMW
Besides casting Germany into a depression and leading civilization down the path to World War II, you can also thank the Treaty of Versailles for getting BMW out of the sky and into the car market. The treaty mandated that Germany cease all production on warplanes, so a company who made airplane engines had to diversify quickly if they wanted to stay in business. BMW began to produce a German version of the British Austin 7, which was called Dixi 3/15. It was a huge hit, and allowed BMW the stability it needed to work on its motorcycles and eventually produce its own cars.
BMW’s Planes Were Always Fast; So Were Their Motorcycles
About a decade after BMW started to produce the Dixi 3/15, they made something entirely their own that hinted at the company’s incredible future. In the end of November in 1937, Ernst Henne broke the world motorcycle land speed record riding on a tricked out version of BMW’s 500 Kompressor motorcycle. This record came in at an impressive 173.7 mph, and was held for a whopping 14 years—though WWII effectively put a damper on breaking motorcycle land speed records for a while.
BMW’s History Built To Their Present Automotive Success
It’s been decades since BMW produced their first airplane engines, motorcycles, and cars, but there are still going stronger than ever. With a headquarters in Munich that visually represents that first iconic 4-cylinder engine, BMW really respects their roots. This respect is evident in the cars that they produce today. For more about BMW’s history, head over to Thrillist and check out their list.