racing the origins of BMW in car manufacture means travlling to the East German town of Eisenach and remembering December 3rd 1896. It was here in the Thuringia's forested and hilly terrain that armaments specialist and multi-talented inventor Dr Heinrich Ehrhardt formed Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach on that date. Dr Ehrhardt had already played a prominent role in the emergence of Rhinemetall Konzern, second only to Krupp in the scale of armaments manufacture within Germany.
Eisenach was within the borders of East Germany. BMW took over the Dixi works in October 1928, but BMW badges did not dominate the Austin 7-based cars they made, until 1929.
In view of their connections it was not surprising that the first Eisenach vehicles were military designs such as munitions carriers, ambulances and gun carriages, but that was not an overhelming commercial success. Thus in 1898 Ehrhardt foresaw modern industry practice and made an agreement with Decauville in France to make a small, voiturette, class of car. By the turn of the century they were using the emblem and name of the Wartburg castle that overlooks Eisenach.
Ehrhardt resigned the chair at Eisenach to form his own company away from Rhinemetall, who also got rid of the embryo Wartburg outfit, Ehrhardt leaving in 1903. The first use of the Dixi name had occured some time before the 1904 Frankfurt Motor Show, but it was confirmed with a touring car displayed under that name for this important hardy annual.
Dixi evolved from 1904 to 1927, manufacturing giant 7.3 litre racing and touring cars, along with lorries that naturally found increased demand through the First World War.
After hostilities concluded Eisenach's Dixi marque were in trouble, along with much of the rest of German industry and the take-over trail that leads to BMW today began.
July 20th 1916 saw the creation of Bayerische Motorenwerke GmbH from the unified Gustav Rau and Rapp Motorenwerke. Yet today's company name, proudly displayed over the portals of the four cylinder building, Bayerischen Motoren Werke AG, came when Castiglioni purchased the Lerchenauer Strasse site next to the post-war defunct Bavarian Aeroplane Works. They had registered the name that is used today in the Munich city register on that March 7th 1916 date we gave earlier.
Like most others in the Germany if the twenties, BMW were pretty near broke in the conventional banking sense. Financial magician Camillio Castiglioni perfomed with his customary persuasive manner and the share capital was upped some 60 per cent to allow BMW financial control at Eisenach during November 1928, althrough the deal was actually recognised when Dixi at Eisenach became a BMW subsidiary from October 1st that year.
With the 1200 Dixi employees came a ready-made production car that BMW decided to keep on, and which eventually became the first BMW four wheeler.
September 5th 1931, less than three years since BMW took over Dixi's factories and debts and the 25,000th BMW 3/15 adaptation of the Austin Seven four cylinder saloon has left the Eisenach works.
The machine was known as the Dixi 3/15, but it was actually a modified Austin Seven that Mr Schapiro had acquired for Dixi, when it was realised they could no longer afford to develop their own machinery.
Gradually modifying the Seven concept further and further including a batch of derivatives for army use and an apparently rather unpleasant swing front axle BMW tramped their way inexorably toward a true BMW car; by 1932 they had delivered over 25,000 Seven “cousins” but in March they ceased to be licencees of the British small car.
That spring BMW brought their own 3/20 to the market place, which still had a small (782cc) four cylinder production producing 20 bhp at 3500 rpm with Overhead Valves (OHV), rather than the Seven's sidevalve engine, which was providing 15 horsepower at 3000 rpm on the same 5.6:1 compression ratio.
The first BMW had a three speed gearbox and would reach around 50 mph, with BMW recalling a 37 mpg equivalent as typical of its everyday consumption.
In fact you could see that BMW had returned to their original first love of perfomance aero engines by analysing the 1933 deployment of staff: over half were working on the revived aero industry's behalf... As the second bout of World War approached, BMW diversified their activities beyond engine manufacture, but the car business was far from neglected.