Unbeatable BMW

A Long-Term Test Report

Somebody, somewhere, remarked on the comparatively high cost of spares for BMW motor cars. This resulted in BMW Concessionaires (GB) Ltd. suggesting that if this is true, it is offset by the very few spare parts BMW cars require during their working life. To emphasise the point they suggested that I should drive a BMW 2500 for 20,000 miles, to see how trouble-free it proved. The number of other cars which have come up for appraisal has made this a rather prolonged task and to date the mileage stands at 15,000. But as I last referred to the BMW 2500 in detail in the June issue of Motor Sport, with 5,000 miles run, it is time to add to these early findings.

The difficulty here is that there is so little to say! The BMW has just run on and on, a delightful high-performance touring saloon, with scarcely any incidents. On one occasion I noticed smoke pluming from the exhaust when I lifted-off to change-up; it was not a crumbling piston, simply the carburation somewhat astray, soon rectified. On another occasion very mild mis-firing intruded, probably as a result of too much town-running which had insulted the plugs, again a malady which did not noticeably affect performance and which was easily cured. Otherwise, this additional 10,000 miles has been trouble-free. The BMW uses virtually no oil between routine servicing, averaging as it does 8,000 m.p.p. of Castrol. It has given a pretty consistent fuel consumption (of 99-octane gas), ranging from 22.5 m.p.g. in daily use for shopping and commuting, with cold-starts thrown in, to 24 m.p.g. cruising at 4,000 r.p.m. along the Motorways. It is a prompt cold-starter on the well-contrived automatic choke, the Berga battery has never misbehaved, the gear-change remains of the most pleasant, and the brakes effective, blackening of the front-wheel rims showing that much of the retardation takes place through the front discs.

While using the car I have been reminded that M.L.G., the BMW specialists with premises adjacent to the BMW Headquarters in Chiswick High Road, W4, within easy distance of London’s M4 flyover, have serviced the car and it was they who ironed out the minor body damage it sustained, as previously recounted. M.L.G. Motors have never failed to do this expeditiously and efficiently and were naturally anxious to establish that it was not they who clocked up the unaccounted-for 1,000 miles on one of these occasions. The fact is that, although the car has been mostly in my care, there have been times when others have used it, driving it hard and never sparing it. At 15,000 miles the centre line of tread on the Michelin XAS tyres on the back wheels is noticeably thin, but the rest of the “footwear” looks good for many more miles.

There is really little more that I can say. The BMW is always a very pleasant car in which to do long runs, with its well-contrived controls, notably the excellent screen-wiper arrangement. It is comfortable, predictable, and adequately quick. The driving position is commanding and the six-cylinder engine has a notable ability to run at impossible low revs, without slogging and spin as smoothly as a turbine in excess of 6.000 r.p.m. I am now used to the power-steering, although this might be a mite higher-geared. Wind noise is rather loud from the rear quarters when at speed. There are those excellent minor items, such as accessible fuses, oil-grade and tyre-pressure requirements, strategically inscribed, well-contrived locks and door-handles (although the sill locks have a habit of unscrewing), wells within the boot for the retention of objects which would otherwise roll about, and so on. The routine servicing at 8,000-mile intervals is appreciated with this sort of car, which builds up mileage so quickly, but BMW wisely recommend at least two electronic programmed tests be carried out each year, irrespective of the distance run. The well-written and illustrated handbook is also reassuring. . . . Oh, and a reader was quick to tell me that “UPM” on the face of the easily-read tachometer is not the “misprint” I thought it was, standing, indeed, for the German Umdrehunger pro Minute—thank you, Mr. Noon of Stock Green!

There has been, then, nothing about which to complain, nothing to detract from the slogan “Unbeatable BMW”, in this fast 15,000 miles’ motoring, although the setting of the headlamps has again made driving on dipped-beam hazardous. (Perhaps I have been lucky with this year’s long-term road-tests, because the Ford Cortina Mk. III, about which I intended to write some more, proved equally reliable, although I had that one for only 2,700 miles.) Come to think of it, there was a fault, and the BMW has developed the same one—a spacer for the driver’s window came adrift, causing rattling, the Ford actually shedding this piece of metal, which the BMW refrained from doing, so that the defect is hardly worth bothering about in the German car.

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Extended enjoyment of this reliable BMW 2500 has increased my admiration for the cars from Munich, although it stood at a high level previously, from experience of shorter road-tests of various models. If I ever had anything adverse to say about a BMW it was to the effect that these cars have such perfect manners, that, as with faultless human beings, they tend to lack character. But you do not necessarily want to have to contend with a “character” in the car you drive daily; or, for that matter, in the person you live with. . . I certainly think admiration is enhanced because this is a race-bred car, not only in the idiom of today but in those memorable years immediately before the war when the AIdington brothers focussed our attention on the delights of BMW (beg pardon, Frazer Nash-BMW) motoring, which was soon endorsed by the competition prowess of the 328 Sports model. Today BMW keep ahead without recourse to twin-cam heads or V8, or V12, cylinder configurations. . . .!

There are other factors contributory to the present popularity of these cars and the esteem in which they are held. For instance, there is the efficient manner of their importation. They come into this country at Dover, to the most modern import centre in Britain. It cost £500,000, has a floor area of 56,000 sq. ft., of which 28,000 sq. ft. is devoted to storage of £1-million-worth of BMW spare parts, and it was designed to handle 20,000 new BMWs a year. That this target figure is approaching is indicated by the sale of 4,881 BMWs here in the first six months of this year, compared with 2,052 in the equivalent period in 1971. At the Dover BMW Import Centre cars are sent through an infra-red de-waxing tunnel using a 478 kw reflector and detergent/water wash and dryer, and they are then prepared for delivery to distributors, the Centre possessing its own workshops, paint shop, body-repair bay and engine, electrical, suspension and running-gear departments, so that any faults can be rectified on the spot. The spares store is linked by IBM System-3 computer with Munich, for fast and accurate maintenance of supplies. The staff are well provided for, another contribution to efficiency, with a restaurant used by all levels, a coffee lounge, and showers in the washrooms. There is even a helicopter pad at the Dover Centre, and a dispatch-park for 1,000 cars.

The same efficiency prevails with BMW in London. The Chelsea Headquarters, BMW House and Service Station, and the adjacent M.L.G. premises specialising in these cars and their equipment, have already been mentioned. There are the BMW showrooms in Park Lane, W1, where Ford once sold cars. C. G. Grey used to say that he had The Aeroplane offices in Piccadilly because sooner or later every visitor to London of any importance to him walked out of the Royal Aero Club and down Piccadilly and so found it easy to come and tell him the latest aviation news at his office at No. 175. In much the same way influential residents in the Metropolis, staying at Grosvenor House or the Dorchester, are likely to stroll along Park Lane and there be able to inspect the BMW range of cars and discuss selling arrangements. I only hope, when I next visit Europe, that I shall see British Leyland showrooms in similarly strategic and prestigious positions. . . .

One has only to observe the roads of this country to note how popular BMWs have become. From selling 800 in 1965 it looks as if BMW Concessionaires (GB) Limited will reach their 1972 sales’ target of 9,000 cars. It would be easy to publish the names of many famous people who own BMWs. This, however, would not prove much, because many of them will have bought because others have done so, thus giving us a list of pop-stars, footballers. and the boutique-set, who are at present associated in these columns with quite a different kind of car! No harm in that; but I would prefer you to think of those who led the way, buying a BMW because they really know about motor cars, starting if you like with Stirling Moss, O.B.E., who owns a specially-tailored BMW 2000 Tii Touring. . . .

BMW are determined not only to sell properly-serviced cars to contented customers, but to ensure that as many people as possible have BMW merits placed before them. At this year’s Earls Court Show Raymond Playfoot had abandoned lion cubs for a Russian acrobatic show (symbolising, perhaps, the strength of BMW ?) and the famous Bavarian band. Unfortunately the latter was allowed to play only on Press Day, otherwise it might have drowned the girls’ voices proclaiming the good points of the Ford Consul/Granada cars, which some people regard as an attempt by Dagenham to emulate the Bavarian products. . .

Throughout last month there were champagne parties to introduce the new lightweight BMW 3.0 CSL, the fastest 3-litre luxury sport-scoupé in the World, in the words of the Concessionaires, at 14 centres as far apart as the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and Doune Motor Museum in Scotland.

David Blackburn, Chairman, and Jonathan Sieff, Deputy Chairman, and the Joint Managing Directors Anton Hille and Les Jones are to be congratulated on injecting great life, allied to dignity, into BMW Concessionaires (GB) Limited. If, as seems inevitable, they reap their just reward, this is a fitting pattern for our entry into the EEC.

W. B.