Birth of a legend

What’s in a name? 

Well for one German automaker, just three letters are enough for worldwide success. But that success did not come easy, with the BMW company experiencing numerous challenges and setbacks. Based on today’s overwhelming success and top reputation, it is very easy to think there were no dark moments or poor decisions in the world of BMW.

But, with lasting core values of outstanding engineering, quality and reliability, BMW has grown to be a leader in providing premium products, premium services and premium experiences for drivers through the decades.

It has been through dedication, a commitment to quality and a desire to deliver what has come to be known as the premium automobile brand in the world, that BMW has not only earned the title of legend and icon, but retained that title through the decades, becoming each and every day a vehicle motorists aspire to own and to covet.

The beginnings

First, some fun facts 

  • BMW’s origins can be traced back to three separate German companies — Rapp Motorenwerke, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke and Automobilwerk Eisenach. 
  • The history of the name itself begins with Rapp Motorenwerke, an aircraft engine manufacturer. In fact, the top luxury vehicle was born from a struggling airplane engine company, even at one time making pots and pans.
  • BMW’s founding fathers were Franz Josef Popp, Karl Rapp and Camillo Castiglioni. 
  • BMW is an acronym for Bavarian Motor Works in English and is the parent company of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and also MINI cars.

Don’t think for a moment BMW became a household name overnight. To achieve today’s reputation, which is one of a vehicle that is the epitome of class, quality and luxury, much trial and error occurred.

BMW Co-Founder Karl Friedrich Rapp

BMW Co-Founder Camillo Castiglioni.

BMW Co-Founder Franz Josef Popp

It is important to see how this legend took root — the ups, downs, financial troubles, slow sales, trying times and more. It is in looking back on the history of BMW, and recognizing and celebrating significant milestones along the way, that its true genius can be realized.

It was over 100 years ago that Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, an aircraft engine manufacturer, was formed, a company renamed six years later to Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW, three letters that would eventually be linked to the top luxury brand in the world. The origin of BMW dates back to 1913, when Karl Friedrich Rapp formed Rapp Motoren Werke in a suburb of Munich. A well-known engineer in a German aircraft company, Rapp found that these engines had problems and suffered from excessive vibration.

As a result, Rapp Motoren Werke contracted with Austro-Damier to build V12 Aero engines for aircrafts. The company saw success, expanding rapidly, but eventually Rapp resigned due to financial problems in 1916. At that time, two Austrians, Franz Josef Popp and Maxx Friz took over Rapp Motoren Werke. Another airplane specialist, Gustav Otto, started building small aircraft in a small shop named as Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik. It was in March, 1916, that Rapp Motoren Werke merged with Gustav Flugmaschinefabrik to form Bayersiche Flugzeugwerke. 

The company was later renamed as Bayersiche Motoren Werke, or BMW, the name of present day.

The official founding date of the German motor vehicle manufacturer BMW, headquartered in Munich, was March, 1916, with the company manufacturing aircraft engines from 1917 until 1918 and again from 1933 to 1945. In fact, BMW’s first product was a straight-six aircraft engine named the BMW Illa. Aircraft engines, motorcycles and automobiles would be BMW’s main products until World War II. Its first logo with its signature blue and white was created in 1917.

During the war, and against the wishes of its director Franz Josef Popp, BMW placed its emphasis on aircraft engine production, with motorcycles as a side line and ceasing automobile production in its entirety. Due to the fact that BMW’s factories were heavily bombed during the war, its remaining west German facilities were banned from producing motor vehicles or aircrafts after the war.

How did BMW survive? It made pots, pans and bicycles! Believe it or not! Fast forward to the end of the war, and BMW remained in business, producing motorcycle engines, farm equipment, household items and railway brakes. The production of the company’s first motorcycle, the BMW R 32, was in 1923. BMW was already making a name for itself and being linked to greatness, as this motorcycle set a world speed record that remained unbroken until 1937.

It wasn’t until 1928, though, that automobiles became their business, with the first car sold as a BMW being a rebadged Dixi named the BMW 3/15. This followed BMW’s acquisition of the car manufacturer Automobilwerk Eisenach. 

In 1951, BMW was able to produce its first car since the war — a large saloon vehicle that sat comfortably up to six. While it was designed for the luxury market, this car did not succeed. But instead it played an important role in re-establishing BMW’s reputation as a leader in the area of technology and quality. 

BMW resumed its car production in Bavaria in 1952 with the BMW 501 luxury saloon, and then went on to expand its range of cars in 1955.  Moving into the small car market was not an easy task, with BMW finding it difficult to compete effectively against Volkswagen’s compact, inexpensive cars. In fact, by 1959, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and nearly taken over by rival Daimier-Benz.

This is where its history takes an upswing. It was in that same year that BMW pulled out of its financial slump, with German entrepreneur Herbert Quandt acquiring a controlling interest in the firm and BMW launching its 700 series, followed by the equally successful and sought after 1500 models. If that was not enough to kickstart the company, BMW introduced a new series of motorcycles that were extremely popular in the United States, and still are to this day!

It was in 1962 with the introduction of the BMW New Class compact sedans that the beginnings of the automaker’s reputation of today — a leading manufacturer of sport-oriented cars — took root. Throughout the 1960s, BMW continued to expand its range, adding coupe and luxury sedan models to its line-up. They launched their large “New Six” sedans in 1968, including the 2500, 2800 and American Bavaria and coupes 2.5 CS and 2800 CS. In 1971, BMW moved to its new and its current headquarters in Munich, a truly unique building based on a four cylinder engine.

They introduced in 1972 the BMW 5 Series mid-size sedan range, followed by the BMW 3 Series luxury coupes in 1976 and the BMW 7 Series large luxury sedans in 1978.

Their story continued to unfold, with BMW M division releasing its first road car, a mid-engine supercar in 1978 and the BMW M3 in 1986. In that same year, the automaker unveiled its first V12 engine in the 750i luxury sedan. BMW’s M Group was created to facilitate the BMW racing program with all M vehicles tested and tuned at the BMW facility in Nurburgring, Germany. It was in 1994 that the company began production outside of Germany, setting up new factories in South Carolina, where the X5 and X6 are produced today, Oxford, Goodwood, South Africa and other locations. Also that year, the 6 Series was released to meet customer demand. By the end of the 20th century, BMW had established itself as one of the top automobile brands, becoming the epitome of class, quality and performance. Despite that, however, there was another setback, with BMW making a failed attempt to gain market share as a sport-utility-vehicle company. By purchasing the Rover Group in 1994, they lost roughly $4 billion, before selling the Land Rover brand to Ford in 2000. They retained only the Mini and Rolls-Royce models.

A two-seat roadster entered the picture in the mid to late 1990s, with BMW expanding its lineup once again. The mass produced two-seat roadster and the 1999 BMW X5 marked the company’s entry into the Sport Utility Vehicle market.

The road to success continues

BMW paved the way once again, releasing the first mass-produced turbocharged petrol engine in 2006. This was at a time when most engines were switching over to turbocharging, which continued over the following decade. Throughout its history there have been a strong demand for BMW engines. Continuing to explore new horizons, BMW unveiled its first hybrid in 2010 with the ActiveHybrid 7, and that was followed by its first electric car, the BMW i3 city car, released in 2013. Rooted in a strong reputation of producing the top sporting rear-wheel drive cars, BMW introduced its first front-wheel drive car in 2014 — the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).

Today, BMW exports about 50,000 yearly vehicles to Japan, USA, Africa, Australia and the Middle East. In addition to its wide range of distinctive coupes, luxury sedans, nimble sports cars, spacious SUVs and more, BMW has decades under its belt of producing the top in automobiles that have a special emphasis on performance, style and technological advancements.  Their logo is an icon in itself and its origins are truly interesting. While many believe that the logo was carried over from their aircraft engine days, this story is now considered a myth. The true origin of this iconic logo dates back to the merger of BMW and Rapp Motors in July, 1917. BMW took on the roundness of the Rapp logo and the lettering around the circle, eventually adding the colors of the Bavarian Flag, which are blue and white checkers.

It is a logo that has imbedded in the minds and hearts of millions.


Nissan started in 1911 when it was originally founded under the name Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works by Masujiro Hashimoto. Three years later, the company produced its first car, the DAT, which was an acronym of the three investing partners’ surnames. Nissan went through several name changes throughout the 1920s, and it wasn’t until 1934 that Nissan Motor Company was used for the first time.

A company called Nihon Sangyou, or Japan Industries, merged with what would become Nissan Motor Company in 1931. The CEO of Nihon Sangyou, Yoshisuke Aikawa, was excited about starting an auto division of the company, so when other shareholders were less enthusiastic, Aikawa bought them out and began focusing on building Nissan manufacturing plants. Nissan continued making Datsuns, the kind of car they’d been making for years, as well as producing trucks and planes for the Japanese army. After the war, Nissan partnered with various automakers to build vehicles for them, including Austin Motor Company in the 1950s and 1960s and a merger with Prince Motor Company in 1966, which introduced vehicles to the Nissan lineup that are still in production to this day.

1953 was a dramatic moment in Nissan’s history because of anti-communist sentiments after the Korean War ended. Nissan’s labor union acted harshly and fired hundreds of workers, and even had union leaders arrested. Eventually a new union was formed that helped Nissan expand rapidly, in terms of technology.

Nissan started expanding worldwide in the late 1950s, when it realized that the small Datsun would fill a hole in the Australian and US auto markets. Nissan showed cars at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1958 and then opened a subsidiary in the US in 1960. A plant was built in England in 1986 and by 2007 produced over 400,000 vehicles per year, which became the highest producing plant in Europe. Nissan also has plants in Brazil and sells cars all over the world. Nissan is especially popular in China, where it sold more than half a million units in 2009.

Nissan has been one of the most popular and innovative brands in the world since its inception over 100 years ago. Nissan plans to continue to lead the industry in technology and design excellence for years to come.

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