In 1961 at the 40th Annual Frankfurt International Motor Show in Germany, Bavarian automaker BMW lifted the wraps off of two very special prototypes: the first of its 1500 “Neue Klasse” mid-sizers. For years, Beamer had been working on a new model to slot between its entry-level one and two cylinder cars and its more expensive, luxury-geared six and eight cylinder ones.
The design of the saloon was reminiscent of Italian cars, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that, when developing the design of the 1500, BMW’s chief stylist Wilhelm Hofmeister had sought the advice of Giovanni Michelotti, who had already collaborated on the 700.
The crowd was instantly taken by it, and wait times to view the new model at the show lasted up to thirty minutes. Upon its reveal, one German automotive magazine commented:
“The BMW 1500 really has a great deal to offer that makes it stand out from the crowd of 1.5-litre cars and lends it that aura of technical exclusivity which for so many people is summed up by the three letters BMW. It is a visual feast in the gallery of saloons. But we would hope that this most beautiful of production saloons will one day also be on sale at the stated price.”
Launched in June 1962, the production variant featured a larger 80 hp (60 kW) four that was good for 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in 16.8 seconds, a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph) and a fuel economy rating of 9.5 lt per 100 kilometers (25 mpg). It was priced at DM 8,500 at a time when the annual income in Germany was around DM 6,723.
Reviews of the new car were favorable, especially from the motoring press. One magazine beamed:
“Two initial impressions from behind the wheel which are likely to strike anyone sitting in a BMW 1500 for the first time sum up this car: the agreeable seating position, offering excellent visibility, and the nimble handling which could almost lead you to believe you were driving something far smaller.”
In 1963, two 1.8-liter models were added to the range in the form of the 90 hp 1800 and 110 hp 1800 ti, the later handling the 0 to 100 km/h dash in 11 seconds. By 1965, the 100,000th “Neue Klasse” rolled over the production line and a 100 hp, 2.0-liter 2000 model was introduced. Four years later BMW capped off the range with a (then jaw-dropping) DM 14,290, 130 hp 2000 tii of which only 2,000 examples were built.
All in all, some 350,729 “Neue Klasse” models (1500, 1800 and 2000s) were built between 1963 and 1972, whereupon it was replaced by the even more successful 5-series sedan. It is well and truly, one of the greats.
By Tristan Hankins