At BMW there is almost only one topic with a view to the coming years – the new class. Introduced with the new BMW 3 Series, it is intended to be more than just a car, but a new platform with the latest battery technology, driver assistance systems and variable modular construction that enables a wide variety of body structures. Sedan, station wagon, coupe, convertible and SUV – all with different wheelbases and track widths – this is the new class. And probably a little more.

When the BMW 1500 celebrated its world premiere at the Frankfurt IAA in autumn 1961 as the first model of the new class, the interest of the visitors there was enormous. The new mid-range model from Munich was a big hit that hardly anyone had on their radar before. For BMW, the 1500 was the start of a new future, because the Bavarians had big plans, wanted to become a real alternative to Mercedes: emphatically design-oriented and with a powerful shot of dynamics. Technically, the BMW 1500 was a treat that was also impressive. The drive was not provided by an image-enhancing six-cylinder, but at the time a four-cylinder in-line engine with 55 kW / 75 hp, a crankshaft with five bearings and an overhead camshaft. The chassis of the mid-range model, which weighed almost a ton, offered the occupants a strut axle at the front, sloping trailing arms at the rear and disc brakes at the front, which were intended to ensure that the maximum speed of 150 km/h could also be decelerated in a manner appropriate to the species. The design offered more than an Italian touch to the BMW 3200 CS, which was powered by a stately eight-cylinder.

The BMW 1500 came at the right time, because Germany had left the war behind, was becoming increasingly successful economically and the Germans were happy about increasing purchasing power. For the first time, more than a million new vehicles were registered in Germany each year and interest in larger vehicles was greater than ever. The increasing prosperity was more noticeable than ever on the streets – the BMW 1500, which cost at least 9,500 German marks, was exactly the right car for the time. Before that, BMW had offered models like the small 700s in addition to the gigantic baroque angel – the new class was therefore already in the name of the program. Image-boosting but anything but high-volume models such as the BMW 503 / 507 were phased out at the end of the 1950s and the Bavarian Motor Works only narrowly escaped being taken over by Daimler. The right car for an economic restart was missing: the 1500.

Customers showed great interest in the so-called Mittelwagen, as BMW was initially known internally, and by the beginning of 1962 there had already been around 25,000 pre-orders for the new model. The BMW design boss at the time, Wilhelm Hofmeister, was advised on the design by Giovanni Michelotti. After the world premiere there were a few small design adjustments and an increase in output to 59 kW / 80 PS thanks to a slightly increased compression. Anyone driving the BMW 1500 will sense that the four-door mid-range sedan not only has plenty of interior space and a gigantic load compartment, but can also be moved extremely quickly thanks to its curb weight of around 950 kilograms. In the early 1960s, only smaller models from England or Italy offered this much driving pleasure, but not a mid-range sedan from Germany, which could also shine visually with a slightly Italian-inspired design. For all its sporty elegance, the 1500 was more economical than most of its competitors. The 53-liter tank enabled a range of around 500 kilometers. Nevertheless, there was a top speed of at least 150 km/h.

At the time, it was not just the drive that set new standards in the middle class, but in particular the handling. Head of development Fritz Fiedler and head of testing Eberhard Wolff for the first time ensured the combination of a spring strut front axle with rear wheels suspended on longitudinal swingarms, which were 14 inches in size instead of the formerly planned 13 inches. Anyone who wants to be fast on the road still appreciates this today, so it was hardly surprising that the new class quickly made the leap into motorsport, because in 1963 the BMW 1500 became a family with its more powerful brothers, the 1800 and 1800 ti increasingly athletic genes. Above the 90 hp BMW 1800, the 1800 ti was positioned for particularly discerning customers, particularly from abroad.

Thanks to an increased compression ratio of 1:9.5, two Solex double carburettors, larger intake valves and harder valve springs, a camshaft with longer valve times and higher cams, the top model delivered 81 kW / 110 hp at 5,800 rpm. The enlarged and ribbed light-alloy oil sump, which has been enlarged to a capacity of five litres, ensures good recooling of the oil. The best general conditions for entry into touring car racing. The BMW 1800 TISA with bucket seats, adjustable sports suspension, five-speed gearbox, 105-liter tank and a power increase to 96 kW / 130 hp, which made it 192 km/h, was intended directly for motorsport. The sale was only to licensed sports car drivers. For BMW, the new class was a big hit in the 1960s. The people of Munich are also hoping for the same with the new electric generation – which will celebrate its premiere in just under two years.