Many of us think of BMW as a very successful, prosperous German luxury car manufacturer, which it is, but that hasn’t always been the case.
It is an old company, officially founded on March 7, 1916 as an aircraft manufacturer. BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, but it did not become a car manufacturer until 1928, when it bought the German company Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, which built the popular English Austin Seven models under a licensing agreement and then renamed them Dixi.
Until the Second World War, the BMW company made cars, aircraft engines and motorcycles. During the war, BMW continued to make aircraft engines and motorcycles, but not cars. With Germany divided after the war, the East German BMW plants were taken over by the Soviet Union, but many of the West German BMW plants were heavily damaged during the war.
Initially BMW was not allowed by the Allies to build motor vehicles or airplanes, so they made pots, pans and bicycles. Motorcycle production resumed in 1948, as did car production in 1952. Early in that economy, however, their luxury cars were slow sellers because they were simply too expensive.
So BMW entered into a licensing agreement with Italian manufacturer Iso Rivolta to build a “micro” sized car called Isetta from 1955 to 1962. a refrigerator door. Although the Isetta sold well, it was a low-profit vehicle and by 1959 BMW was in debt and losing money.
American Motors Corp. and the English Rootes Group tried to take over BMW. There was talk of a merger with Daimler-Benz, but half-brothers Herbert and Harald Quandt, who became wealthy thanks to their father’s highly profitable businesses that employed slave labor of an estimated 50,000 people during the war, increased their stake in BMW and eventually ended up in owning about two-thirds of the company.
Today, the company owns and produces not only the BMW brand, but also Rolls-Royce, Mini and BMW Motorrad (motorcycles). The “Neue Klasse” (New Class) models were introduced in 1962 and are credited with saving the company and establishing BMW as a quality manufacturer of sports sedans. Styling from then on became more evolutionary than revolutionary.
The BMW 325i and 325iS were introduced in Europe in 1985 and in the United States in 1987 and are still popular today. Both US models featured the standard 152-cubic-inch engine rated at 168 horsepower and could go from 0 to 62 mph in 7.4 seconds.
The featured car in this issue is a 1987 BMW 325i convertible owned by Danville resident Brian Aftanas. He has owned the car for about 25 years and from his point of view it was a low mileage car when purchased, with only 120,000 miles on it. He has since put 100,000 miles on it and uses it as his daily driver.
“I really wanted to find a car that was sturdy, reliable and practical,” says Aftanas.
He paid $7,600 for the car (about $14,165 in 2023 dollars) and estimates its current value at $25,000. He bought the car from a private individual in San Francisco who wanted to sell it to make room in his four-car garage for a more luxurious car he wanted to buy.
“It’s smaller and sticks to the ground, so it’s a great sports car, plus four seats and a big boot,” said the owner.
The car is almost entirely original, including the engine and five-speed manual transmission. Not too long ago, the BMW Car Club sponsored an Oktoberfest in Greenville, South Carolina, where there is a BMW factory.
“I only drove that car all the way on back roads,” says Aftanas. “My rules were only back roads, drive a maximum of eight hours a day and not too fast. The car ticked like a clock all the way.”
As you can imagine, this BMW is well equipped with most of the modern day things like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, cruise control, fuel injection and some things that are now obsolete like a cassette player.
The costs have been quite low. He replaced the top once about 15 years ago for about $1,200. The roof was getting old and the rear plastic window was cracked beyond repair, so he opted for a new roof. The car has always been in the garage. There are a few minor irritating things that the owner can fix one day, such as the driver’s door lock, but there’s no rush. Otherwise the maintenance has just been routine.
He doesn’t like the car at all, rain or shine and on long trips to Southern California. He has no plans to sell it, and why should he? He is a lucky owner who happens to be an excellent financial investment.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected]. To see more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.