When the B.M.W. 1500 was introduced in 1961 it marked a turning point in the Bavarian company’s history. Within two years the 1800-c.c. version was introduced, challenging Mercedes’ grip on the 2-litre portion of the cheap-luxury market, but the new model virtually killed-off the original car until a replacement was announced at the Paris Show last year.
Essentially the 1600 had to offer performance at least equal to that of the 1800, and this was done by a complete redesign of the body, reducing weight by nearly 300 lb. It appeared as a 2-door sporting saloon, retaining the familiar “upright” grille, falling away more to the tail, and having forward-hinged rear windows. When the front-seat occupants are stretching luxuriously there is not really adequate room in the rear for adults, so the 1600 should be described as a two-plus-large-two. A scaled-down copy of the successful trailing link rear suspension is employed (MacPherson struts are used at the front), and brakes are disc and drum, front and rear.
The power unit is a destroked version of the 1,800-c.c. overhead camshaft engine, with a similar bore of 84 mm. and a stroke of 71 mm. (80 mm. on the 1800). The crankshaft runs in five bearings, and as is often the case with destroked engines the whole unit is exceptionally smooth in operation. It develops 85 b.h.p. net at 5,700 r.p.m., and 91.1 lb. ft. of torque at 3,000 r.p.m.
The 1600 is a well-equipped car, extremely well built and furnished, which has the unfortunate effect of raising the selling price in Britain to a level (£1,298) at which it has to meet fierce competition from our own 2-litre twins, Triumph and Rover.
There are two small criticisms which occur to the driver at first acquaintance, these being the suspended clutch and brake pedals which need deliberate lines of attack (the clutch has a long movement and takes some getting used to) and the seat, which has four positions of rake, lacks ideal relationship between the cushion and the back-rest. It is quite comfortable over long distances but the driver has a feeling of sitting on the seat rather than in it.
There is every characteristic of B.M.W.s in the 1600, predominantly the well-sprung feeling suggesting a lot of rubber between suspension and bodywork. The worn-and-roller steering lightens as the speed increases, but sacrifices just a little quickness of response for cushioning effect. The overall effect of the car, however, is one of comfort and liveliness. Whether accelerating hard or cruising at speeds approaching 100 m.p.h. it is quiet and restful, especially with the windows shut.
Our test car was equipped with Dunlop SP41 tyres on the 13-in. pressed steel wheels, a good combination for fine handling, although the smaller rolling radius led to speedometer optimism. With its powerful and fade-free braking system, and a pleasant and fast 4-speed gear-change, the 1600 feels a most sporting saloon. Although lively enough to satisfy most owners, especially in this “B.C.” era, there will probably be a “T.I.” version along shortly with a twin-choke carburetter and other modifications to give it performance well in excess of 100 m.p.h. Even now it will accelerate to 60 m.p.h. in 13 seconds. Overall fuel consumption during our trial was 24.5 m.p.g., and with a fuel capacity of 10.1 gallons the range is in the region of 250 miles. M.L.C.