During the fifties the BMW company had quite an unbalanced model range. On one hand there were the high profile luxury cars, powered by the famous alloy V8, while on the other hand the company got most of its revenues out of selling the Isetta bubblecar, based on a design taken over from the Italian Iso company. One of the other main activities was building and selling motorcycles. It was the single cylinder engine of the 250 cc motorcycle that was used to power the Isetta. Apart from that, the motorcycles were also propelled by a 2 cylinder air cooled boxer engine, originally available as a 500 cc but with room to grow in displacement.
This two-cylinder engine, enlarged to 600 cc, first saw automotive use in the BMW 600 introduced in 1957. This was basically an Isetta, widened at the rear to accommodate a bench for two people and a side door on the right hand side. The front opening door of the Isetta was maintained. The engine produced 19.5 bhp, and the car could reach just over 100 km/h. In spite of its qualities, the 600 did not become the success BMW had hoped for. By November 1959 and after a production of just under 35000 units, the plug was pulled.
In the mean time, thinking had gone further and already in early 1957 a full four seater car with normal proportions was being prepared. Shortly after, Giovanni Michelotti received an order to produce a prototype, which was duly presented in July 1958. The pleasing lines of the car convinced the board to proceed and by mid 1959 the car went into production.
It featured a 700 cc version of the boxer engine, located behind the rear axle. Developing 32 bhp, it had a significantly better specific output than the 600. Interestingly the first body version that was offered was a 2+2 coupe, while the sedan version with a slightly extended roof and more head room on the rear seats came only several months later.
The boxer engine already had sufficient motorsport pedigree. It was not only used in bike racing itself but also dominated the sidecar category for a very long period. Not surprisingly, by mid 1960 a twin-carb, 40 bhp version of the 700 Coupe was offered, dubbed the 700 CS. This car formed the basis for BMW's first appearance in international racing since WWII. In competition guise the engine could easily be tuned to produce over 60 bhp.
The 700 CS became a familiar sight in the European Touring car races. Together with the sedan, it generated enough cash flow for BMW to develop the 1500; the first modern BMW. The company's current can still trace their roots to the 1500, which was first shown in prototype form in 1961. The 700 remained in production till September 1965, and at the end of the line over 188,000 cars (all models) were completed.
The motorsport career of the 697 cc boxer engine continued well into the 1960s. In early 1961 BMW developed a very special version of the engine, with two kingpin driven OHCs per cylinder and producing over 70 BHP getting its fuel mixture from two 36 mm Dell'Orto Carburetors. The engine was put into a tubular frame chassis this time in front of the rear axle. An all alloy body completed the package.
The bespoke racing car was dubbed the 700 RS and was specially designed for the popular hillclimb races. From its debut in in June of 1961 until the 1963, the lightweight BMW dominated its class. Some sources say as many as 19 were produced but BMW state only two were ever built. They still own one of the cars and we are aware of another car that is Florida. BMW's 700 RS is seen here at the 2009 Techno Classica where the 700's 50th anniversary was celebrated.
It is good to see such a nice example of the 700 RS! I had a 700 Sport coupe and absolutely loved it. Too bad the company sold all the equipment required to make them - it would be a good car for today, obviously with a few changes.
My brother also had a coupe and a sedan - and lots of parts. Yes, you could say we were enthusiasts! To the best of my knowledge all is gone at this point in time.
Everything about this car; from the body shape, to the engine compartment, to the steering wheel and gearshift, is the definition of elegant and functional design.
Less can definitely be more.
Country of origin
Rear, longitudinally mounted
0.697 liter / 42.5 cu in
Bore / Stroke
78.0 mm (3.1 in) / 73.0 mm (2.9 in)
2 valves / cylinder, DOHC
2 Dell'Orto Carburettors
70 bhp / 52 KW
@ 8000 rpm
100 bhp / liter
aluminium body steel tubular spaceframe
5 speed Manual
Rear wheel drive
650 kilo / 1433 lbs
Length / Width / Height
3465 mm (136.4 in) / 1460 mm (57.5 in) / 1060 mm (41.7 in)