Some cars we have previously featured owe their rarity to age and/or banger racers. Others were models that never seemed to appeal to the British motorist, while Paul Hill’s white 1967 BMW belongs to a third category; the vastly expensive. A price of £1,777 10s 6d meant it was over £400 more costly than a Rover P6, but enthusiasts regarded it as worth every penny. Equally importantly, the 2000 was part of a dynasty that saved one of the world’s famous marques.
In the late 1950s, BMW lost money on its imposing “Baroque Angel” saloon, while the profit margins on producing its Isetta bubble cars were narrow. The Deutsche Bank even considered selling the company to Daimler-Benz. However, the industrialist Herbert Quant took control in 1959, which funded a crucial new model. For many years BMW had lacked a medium/large saloon that would rival the Borgward Isabella and appeal to Aufsteigers (social climbers) seeking more prestige than a Ford or Opel could offer
When the 1500 “Neue Klasse” (New Class) debuted at the 1961 Frankfurt motor show, BMW’s sales team received thousands of advance orders before the event closed. According to the brochure, the SOHC 1.5-litre engine would be “up to the minute for the next ten years” and the 1500’s appearance was another selling point.
Hill regards the Neue Klasse as possessing “very clean lines, with its double kidney grille and ‘kink’, in the rear window, to compensate for a potential weak point on the C pillar”.
Furthermore, the timing of the 1500’s launch could not have been better, as 1961 also marked the demise of the Isabella, allowing BMW to offer a logical replacement. Production began in 1962 and September of the following year saw the introduction of the 1800, the first Neue Klasse offered to British drivers.
The 2000 made its bow in 1965, and Autocar thought it “the best BMW yet, and is already providing stiff competition to our own excellent 2-litre cars in overseas markets”.
By 1968, the UK versions gained distinctive oblong headlights, while one poster urged female drivers to “Take me to your husband”. The 2000’s price tag was now £2,199, but it was “made for a man like yours”. Moreover, “What if he does fall in love? It’s better than having him fall for another woman”. Only a genuinely great car could survive sales copy that reads as though it was the joint creation of Sidney James and Vivian Stanshall.
The E12 5-Series replaced the Neue Klasse in 1972. Today, 35 are believed to survive in this country. Hill came by his white example in 2003. He recalls: “I found it via the BMW Car Club. The first owner worked for the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, and the 2000 returned to the UK in 1978.”
Hill acquired a second example in 2006, noting: “A Cyprus-based warrant officer originally ordered it in 1969, and he had to pay an extra £100 for the black paintwork.” Two years later, the 2000 was flown to the UK, hence its J registration suffix.
BMW claimed a top speed of 104mph, and Hill finds his 2000s “sure-footed and handle very well. The big 40cm steering wheel compensates for the lack of powered steering, and I find it essential to retain the narrow-rim tyres to get the best out of them.
“The black car is fitted with an automatic gearbox which more than suits the engine. The interiors seem quite utilitarian, but the best way I can describe their appeal is to say that the Neue Klasse is a mass-produced car that feels hand-built.”
And that is why the Neue Klasse appealed to automotive connoisseurs around the world. It did not require chrome plating or any other form of decoration. To see the traditional BMW double kidney-shaped grille in the mirror of your Austin Cambridge would indeed induce a sense of envy as a BMW 2000 appeared far removed from everyday life.
As the advertisements promised, it was “no ordinary car”.
Thanks to: Paul Hill and https://bmwcarclubgb.uk/
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