JUST CALL ME PHOENIX. THE BMW 1500.

This was the model many had been waiting for. The BMW 1500 offered sporty performance in modern mid-size sedan clothing, making it the perfect fit for the new lifestyle of the early 60s.

The Frankfurt International Motor Show, 1961.

The halls were full to bursting, the interest in new models feverish; more and more people had money in their pockets – and they weren’t afraid to spend it. At the top of many a shopping list alongside a house of their own was a car. But this captive market had been left criminally untapped by BMW, thanks to yawning gaps in its model line-up. The small BMW 700 was selling strongly, but there was nothing in the range between it and the spread of BMW 502 luxury models. The absence of aMittelwagen (mid-size car) had long been a hot topic. But now here was one, present and correct, making up for lost time. Such was the clamour for the newcomer, prospective customers found getting their hands on one required great patience and sharp elbows. Describing it as a sensation barely did it justice.

All new on the engine front.

At the heart of the new BMW 1500 was a four-cylinder engine (known internally as the M115) developed from scratch by Alexander von Falkenhausen. A cutting-edge, clean-sheet design, this cast-iron unit featured an overhead camshaft and produced 80 hp. Given its relatively small displacement, that was an exceptional amount of power. And then there was its torque curve, which extended over a wide rev range and therefore demanded little of the driver gear-changing-wise in delivering a relaxed cruise or rapid sprint. The chassis was likewise the product of much development endeavour, Individually suspended front wheels teamed up with semi-trailing wishbones at the rear, resulting in neutral handling and impressive rolling comfort. Modern disc brakes at the front wheels were standard from launch.

Design à la Hofmeister.

A key design element of the BMW 1500 is the C-pillar’s “Hofmeister kink”, which made its BMW series production debut in the “Neue Klasse” (New Class) range and the BMW 3200 CS presented at the same time. The two cars may have been very different – one a mid-size model designed for a varied clientele, the other a luxurious sports coupe radiating exclusivity – but this design cue had, from the outset, been part of a broad-based design language spanning the whole of the BMW line-up. It helped keep the Neue Klasse stylistically fresh over a long period and was one factor in ensuring it remained in production without major changes until the unveiling of the new 5 Series in 1972.

 

The phoenix rises again.

Failure was not an option for the BMW 1500; had it tanked, BMW would most probably not have survived, such was the precarious nature of its finances at the time. Happily, it was a roaring success. Indeed, thousands of purchase orders were received at the Frankfurt show alone, even though the start of production had not yet been confirmed. The assembly lines finally whirred into action in February 1962 and increased their output gradually thereafter. The BMW 1500 retailed at DM 9,485, but was only available until December 1964, the 90 hp 1800 (presented in 1963) soon unseating it in the sales charts. In its most important task, though – to guide BMW back into the mid-size class and into a new era – it had already delivered handsomely, an automotive phoenix if ever there was one.