In 1928, BMW assumed control of the heavily indebted Dixi works in Eisenach, making the transition to car manufacturer in the process. Dixi was a luxury brand, and this proved to be its undoing as the Great Depression took hold. The only model to survive the experience was the Dixi 3/15, which was duly given an overhaul and presented to the public as the BMW 3/15 DA 2 in 1929. Without further ado, three pre-production models were entered for the second edition of the International Alpine Rally to do battle with established players from around the world. For a fledgling carmaker, this was a remarkably bold and confident move.
Doing it the hard way. The 1929 Alpine Rally.
The 2nd International Alpine Rally in 1929 was made up of five stages, each stretching for 465 – 629 kilometres (289 – 391 miles) and winding over the steepest passes the Alps could offer. These were mostly hair-raising dirt roads replete with hairpin bends and deep potholes. Although staged as a regularity trial rather than a race, the event was nevertheless a gruelling challenge for man and machine. Depending on the vehicle class, the competitors had to maintain an average speed of 35 to 48 km/h (22 – 30 mph). Proceedings got underway in Munich on 7 August 1929, where the 80-strong field departed at one-minute intervals. Some of them got no further than the Katschberg Pass with its 26 per cent gradient. But it would be accidents rather than technical problems that ultimately decimated the field.
The first BMW car: “Bigger inside than out!” according to the ads.
Three box-fresh pre-production versions of the newly unveiled BMW 3/15 DA 2 were entered as part of a works team. The four-cylinder engines in the sporty two-seaters generated a very modest 15 hp from displacement of just under three quarters of a litre – but at least they had to propel under 500 kilograms of mass (plus occupants). The cars also boasted a new four-wheel braking system, which would play to their advantage on the mountain roads. The plucky trio acquitted themselves superbly, and most importantly were breakdown-free (so no time was lost). As a result, the three compact BMWs were the only team to reach the finish in Como together without picking up a single penalty point. They set the best time for each individual stage of the Alpine Rally and emerged as class winners – a truly sensational performance that marked the beginning of a glittering career.
Smitten for life. Lutz Schmidt and his BMW 3/15.
Lutz Schmidt has been a fervent “BMW Dixi” fan since he was a child. Hailing from the state of Thuringia in the former East Germany, he was just a young boy when he visited the car museum in Eisenach with his parents – and immediately fell in love with the compact Dixi 3/15. But it wasn’t until adulthood that he had an opportunity to buy one, the specimen he found in 1984 sporting the BMW roundel. Restoring a pre-war vintage car is a challenge under any circumstances, but in the Communist east it was a particularly daunting task that required the assistance of skilled friends. By the time the work was finally completed, the Iron Curtain was a thing of the past, allowing Lutz Schmidt to indulge his other great passion and set off on long-distance road trips.
Twice around the world in the first BMW.
Lutz Schmidt has clocked up an incredible 80,000 kilometres (50,000 miles) in his 90-year-old BMW. He’s been to England on a number of occasions, and Ireland too. He has taken part in reruns of the 10,000 Kilometre Trial through Europe and, of course, the International Alpine Rally – the latter with his fellow members of the Munich Dixi Club, following the original route as far as possible. His car can reach a speed of 50 to 60 km/h (31 – 37 mph) on the flat, while uphill climbs understandably require a little more patience. Mechanical issues are a rare occurrence and usually quickly fixed.
So what next? “China!” he replies without hesitation. “Out on the open road for six weeks solid. Poland, Belarus, Kazakhstan…and finally China.” In his BMW 3/15? “Why not?” Spend time in Lutz’s company and his answer barely raises an eyebrow; you don’t doubt for a second that he will pull it off.
Lutz Schmidt’s well-travelled BMW 3/15 is on show at the BMW Museum until May. Then its owner needs it back again. After all, summertime is driving time – or long-distance road trip time, to be precise.
YouTube links to the first BMW car: