Thursday, May 21, 2015

The "Neue Klasse" 1500, the First Modern BMW

The Neue Klasse 1500 (and subsequent 2002 and other models) effected a turnaround in BMW's fortunes that eventually resulted in the Munich firm's becoming one of the world's most prestigious automobile makers.  The Wikipedia entry dealing with the Neue Klasse ("New Class") is here.

The 1500 itself was produced 1962-64, but variants continued to be built until 1977.  Its styling is an an extension of that of the BMW 700 (introduced 1959), an early example of the "three-box" look popular into the 1980s that was abandoned due to the need for better aerodynamic efficiency.  The look's features included a squared-off, boxy appearance that usually included a tall "greenhouse" with large windows that had the effect of making the car seem less heavy than it otherwise would have appeared.  BMW's styling director at the time was Wilhelm Hofmeister.  Consultation was provided by the prolific Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti.


The 1500's body was boxy indeed and there was plenty of glass.  The belt line is enhanced by a character line that, in various guises, extends all the way around the car, a feature also found on the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair that I wrote about here.  There is a secondary crease farther down the fender that, in my judgment, is poorly placed.  Note that it touches the lip around the front wheel opening, an awkward detail.

The front styling marks the debut of a theme that continues in various forms to this day.  The traditional (from the 1933 BMW 303) dual-opening "nostril" feature is now augmented by a horizontal element that admits most of the air flowing to the radiator.

The rear as portrayed in a catalog.  The lower side character line does not integrate with the tail light assembly -- presenting yet another defect.  A noteworthy feature is the "kink" or "dog leg" angle on the leading edge of the C-pillar.  This was not an BMW innovation, but when elaborated in later years, became an identification feature on BMW sedans.

All told, the 1500s styling was a great success.  The car was fairly small, and the airy greenhouse emphasized lightness.  Unlike garish, baroque styling found on late 1950s American cars, the 1500 was plain, with little ornamentation other than in the grille area.  As mentioned, the main defect was the secondary side character line that might have been necessary for sheet metal stiffness, but was poorly placed.


Joe Barthlow said...

what's you source regarding Michelotti's involvement with the Neue Klasse design? I know he designed the 700. thanks

Donald Pittenger said...

His Wikipedia entry.

My personal library has no references to confirm this or deny it, so used the source above.

Just now checking, I see that here,

credit is given to internal BMW design. Though it's possible that Michelotti consulted at some point, as he was doing a lot of that here and there.