Saturday, July 14, 2007

Generation of BMW Car

Naming any car the very best one in the whole world is an exercise fraught with peril. In some contexts car "A" is perfect while car "B" is ludicrously inadequate, and in other situations it's exactly the opposite. The fastest cars usually can't carry your family to Disney World and minivans aren't likely to win many races. But virtually every esteemed commentator, media organization or drunken bar patron who's ever dared name one vehicle the best the planet has to offer has had BMW's 5 Series on the short list for consideration.

The 5 Series has, in its structure, form, performance and overall excellence, been the archetypical sport sedan for more than 30 years. It's the bogey against which every other sport sedan must be measured and the car that pushed BMW beyond the niche it secured with the much smaller 1600, 2002 and 3 Series. And every time BMW redesigns the 5 Series, it risks destroying all that.

Before the 5

In many ways the 5 Series development parallels that of the 3 series with both tracing their heritage to the "Neue Klasse" (New Class) midsize car that went on sale in the U.S. in 1962 as the 1500 four-door sedan. The New Class was the first modern BMW. It had state-of-the-art features like a unibody structure, MacPherson strut front and independent rear suspension and an 80-horsepower, SOHC 1.5-liter four in its nose. The wildly popular New Class did nothing less than save BMW.

Evolution of the New Class split, however, with the introduction of the 1600-2 two-door model in 1966. With a two-inch-shorter wheelbase, two fewer doors and less weight than other New Class models, the two-door model performed better even if it was slightly compromised in utility. When the two-door's engine grew to two liters in displacement during 1968, the model's name became "2002" and that evolutionary branch would eventually lead to the 3 Series.

Meanwhile the four-door New Class sedans continued in production with their four-cylinder engines also growing eventually to 2.0 liters and 100 hp in 1966's 2000 sedan. Then in 1968 BMW introduced their large sedan, powered by a new range of inline six-cylinder engines and sold as the 2500 when equipped with a 2.5-liter version of the six and the 2800 with a 2.8-liter displacement.

By the early 1970s, the New Class cars were obviously aging and the two-door 2002 was an established hit. It was time to replace the New Class four-doors, and BMW decided to make the replacement significantly larger than the 2002 to distinguish it in the marketplace and open a new niche for BMW. The trick would be doing that while not impinging on the niche established by the E21.

That successor would be the 5 Series.

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