BMW has come a long way since its inception as an aircraft engine manufacturer to one of the most popular family, luxury and sports car manufacturers today.
The company began in 1913 as the Rapp-Motorenwerke firm, making aircraft engines, before merging with the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke factory, located nearby on the outskirts of Munich, in 1922. The letters BMW stand for Bayerische Motoren Werke.
In its early days, BMW mainly manufactured aircraft engines and occasionally motorcycle engines. In fact, the BMW badge was designed to resemble an aircraft propeller, and it wasn't until 1929 that the firm became automobile manufacturers after purchasing the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach factory which produced Austin Sevens.
Developing the style of car manufactured over time, in 1936 BMW started to produce the 328 sports car which went on to enjoy incredible success. In 1999, the BMW 328 was nominated as car of the century.
For the three years leading up to World War II, BMW manufactured aircraft engines, motorcycles and cars. During the war, the company focused on aircraft engines and ceased making cars altogether. In 1948, motorcycle manufacturing started again but it was not until 1952 that BMW began building cars once more. The launch of the BMW 501 luxury car was not a big hit, however, and the company did not make a profit as a result and so the company brought the design and manufacturing rights to the Isetta – a micro-car, cheap to manufacture – and began selling these.
BMW's luck changed during the next decade and the 1960s brought considerable success for the firm. The BMW 1500, a four-cylinder sports car, was introduced in 1961 followed shortly afterward by the BMW 2002, a two-door car that stayed in production until 1976 and was the predecessor of the BMW 3 Series.
The '70s saw BMW continue to build their reputation for creating original and sought-after cars, as this decade saw the launch of the 3, 5 and 7 Series. Between 1970 and 1993, BMW increased its output fourfold and turnover by an incredible 1700%.
Between 1994 and 2000, BMW had ownership of the British Rover Group but the venture was not successful and the company soon got rid of Rover. However, BMW retained the rights to Mini and has enjoyed – and continues to enjoy – considerable achievement with this business.
Today, BMW is seen as an innovative manufacturer and has a reputation for excellence, both for its design and quality of cars.