A car that has come to define a segment
First launched in 1975, the BMW 3 Series has since come to define the sporting compact executive segment of the car market. All five 3 Series generations have focussed on unrivalled driving dynamics, powerful yet economical engines and the most advanced car technology of the day. When an industry segment becomes eponymous, the success of that car is evident - and the 3 Series is just such a car. Over the years the 3 Series has developed from a single body style into one of the widest range of cars on offer, now totalling 52 different model options. To find out how the BMW 3 Series, the fifth generation of which is launched in the UK on Saturday, 12 March, has arrived at this revered position a history of the model range is outlined below.
BMW 02 Series
Although BMW has produced compact-sized cars since the 3/15 Dixi of 1928, the bloodline of the 3 Series can be traced back to 1966, with the launch of the BMW 1600-2. BMW was buoyed by the success of the larger BMW 1500 in 1961 (the model that secured BMW’s path to success after near bankruptcy in 1959) and the later 1600, 1800 and 2000 four-door saloons. Moving 11 years on and these models had grown into the mid-sized executive level 5 Series. With this development, BMW engineers had the opportunity of designing a new ‘small’ BMW. The result was the BMW 1600-2.
The BMW 1600-2 (the last digit denoting two doors) was a revelation at its launch in 1966. Its sleek body offered ample space for four adults yet its 85bhp four-cylinder engine propelled it to a top speed of just over 100mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 13 seconds. Gone were the days when drivers had to buy an uninvolving car to carry out the familial duties. At last a car was available which combined the response and excitement of a sports car with practicality too.
The 02 Series was built from May 1966 until July 1976 with 861,940 units leaving the Munich plant’s production lines. The model variants ranged from the 1600-2 through the 90bhp 1802, 100bhp 2002, 105bhp in the 1602ti, 120bhp in 2002ti and 130bhp in 2002tii all the way to 170bhp in the 2002 turbo. Incidentally, the 2002 turbo was the first European production turbocharged car and bore the now politically incorrect reversed ‘turbo’ decals on its front spoiler. In addition, there were model variations such as the Touring (not an estate car as Touring models are today but one of the first hatchbacks), a Convertible and a targa all built in relatively small production runs.
The 2002, in particular, etched its place as a classic both on road and track. A very strong owners club following confirms the 02’s durable popularity whilst drivers of the calibre of Hans Stuck and Dieter Quester cut their competitive teeth on even more modified 2002’s.