Road Impressions

The BMW 3.3 L Sports Limousine

BMW of Munich have not only built up a great reputation for high-quality cars which are extremely enjoyable to drive and desirable in almost every way but in this field they have extended continually their range of high-performance saloons so that it is now all embracing. From the l-1/2-litre 1602 model at just less than £2,000 to the very fast and luxurious 3-litre cars at the top of the scale, BMW has a choice for almost every lucky citizen who can afford personal travel of this calibre. Thus it might seem that there is no place for yet another BMW. However, the State-occasion, really-spacious type of luxurycar was seen as representing a gap to fill, which the Bavarian engineers have done with the new 3.3 L limousine. It costs £8,442.65 in this country, which could be seen as a measure of the way in which, while the rest of Europe is suffering from rising inflation and rushing towards poverty, Germany, who lost the war, is apparently winning the Industrial battle of the 1970s or at any rate is far from being impoverished.

Be that as it may, here is the most luxurious BMW yet. It is officially termed a limousine, although as one brought up on the explanations of the 1920s and 1930s as to the correct nomenclature for the many different styles of carriagework that were then still being made by individual firms, I question whether this is strictly correct. According to George Oliver’s book “A History of Coachbuilding” (Cassell, 1962) a limousine is a closed body with a division separating paid driver from his employers, often with different seat upholstery front and back. To which I would add that it should have occasional seats in the back compartment for additional passengers. The BMW 3.3 L does not conform, being simply a very fully-equipped, stately, long-wheelbase saloon. But I like to think of it as a “sports limousine”. With its claimed top speed of 128 m.p.h. and the ability, in spite of its unladen weight of 3,196 lb., to accelerate from rest to 60 m.p.h. in some nine seconds, it surely merits the term “sports”!

What BMW have done is to lengthen the wheelbase of their bigger six-cylinder car to 10 ft. 2 in. (the overall length of the 3.3 L is 15 ft. 9 in. and it is permitted to carry a gross laden weight totalling 4,188 lb.) and to increase the capacity of the well-tried single o.h.c. engine, with its “triple hemisphere” shape combustion chambers, to 3.3-litres. The increased swept-volume is obtained by increasing the stroke to 88.4 mm.from 80 mm. This improves the power output by 5%, to 190 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and the maximum torque by 15%, to 217 lb./ft. at 3,500 r.p.m., the latter important as a means of maintaining effortless running with the four-inch-longer-wheelbase car. These outputs are achieved from the 88.4 mm.-bore, 3,299 c.c. engine with twin Zenith 35/40INAT carburetters.

Having tried most of the post-war BMWs, I was pleased to have a few days in a 3.3 L during the time of the London Motor Show. Indeed, after surviving the British Leyland luncheon, some office work, a walk round Earls Court and the Fiat cocktail party, I was grateful to Raymond Playfoot for being able to walk out of the Dorchester Ballroom into the Hyde Park underground garage, and depart for home in this very comfortable motor-car. The black leather upholstery was very much to my taste, the washer-wiper unit on the dual halogen headlamps ensured that on this dirty (weather-wise, that is) night the way ahead would remain well-lit, and all the other innumerable amenities, such as the electric window lifts which are so important when you are driving alone in a wide car (actually, the front passenger’s window had ceased to function), the Becker Stereo Grand Prix radio (that was better as a stereo than a radio), the tinted glass, the electrically-operated aerial, the acceptable driving stance achieved by a seat adjustable for height and a steering-column adjustable for length, the so-comfortable seats themselves, the generous window area, and, of course, a heated rear window, contributed to an easy assimilation of distance in the dark.

The controls and instrumentation of the 3.3 L follow standard r.h.d. BMW practice, which means that providing you remember that the turn-indicators’ stalk is on the left, everything is conveniently arranged and no dials could be more easily read, especially as the needles point to clear white figures. Around 70 m.p.h. those of tachometer and 140 m.p.h. Vdo speedometer move approximately in the same plane—a Bentley-ish touch. Further reducing the effort of leaving the Metropolis behind, this BMW had automatic transmission. It is controlled by the expected T-handled central lever. This selects somewhat vaguely but this action is rendered of no moment because in a line below the indicator lights on the centre of the instrument panel is a row of lamps which show the gear you have selected—P, R, O (for neutral), A (best thought of as “advance”), 2 and 1. The pick-up, even under kick-down, is not violently brisk in “A” but if “2” is selected full BMW acceleration is certainly available. As an automatic transmission this Borg-Warner box works with commendable smoothness.

There is ZF power-steering to overcome the grip of the 195-VR14 Michelin XWX tyres and it has the usual excellent BMW feel and sense of control and is geared about four turns, lock-to-lock. The safety-pad wheel has horn-pushes in each of its four spokes but a rather too thick leather-bound rim. As I drove Westwards I did not take particular note of the pace I was making but familiar landmarks arrived sooner than expected — the 3.3 L thus fulfilling one of its intended functions. It is not an uncannily quiet runner, like a Silver Shadow or a Double-Six, the eager note it makes again prompting me to think of it as a sports limousine. It handles well and absolutely safely, too, if not wanting to be thrown about as one would a 520. The all-disc, servo, dual-circuit brakes add further assurance to anyone hurrying along in this big car. They are very powerful, yet can be stamped on without the wheels locking up on slippery surfaces. Incidentally, it has become customary to describe a car coming to rest as “coming to a grinding halt”; quite why grinding I ,do not know, although this might have applied to the Rover V8 I drove immediately prior to taking over the 3.3 L. The BMW reduces speed quietly.

Although this big 3.3-litre BMW develops maximum power at 5,500 r.p.m. the tachometer warning does not apply until 6,400 r.p.m. is reached and indicates that the engine can be kept spinning between there and 7,000 r.p.m. should one feel disposed to exploit to the full the sports aspect of this fine limousine. Reverting to the dials, a fuel gauge and thermometer supplement the main instruments behind that simple transparent panel and the warning lights cover generator charge, lack of oil pressure, full-beam from the commendably powerful headlamps, flashers’ reminder, low fuel supply, and central handbrake on. A minor grouse is that the instrument lighting did not show the setting of the heater controls, as on smaller BMWs. But with the air conditioner fitted as standard these would not often be varied, anyway. Moreover, this is the chauffeur’s anxiety; rear seat occupants have their own reading lamps, and their own hot-air supply.

Coming back into London at the week-end, I found another acceptable item, in the form of the electrically-operated sliding roof, operated by buttons close to its leading edge. I also noted that this big BMW is nicely high-geared. At an indicated 70 mph. the engine is running at only about 3,250 r.p.m., whereas my 520i at the same speed is doing some 4,000 r.p.m. This must be beneficial to fuel economy. I did not have the car sufficiently long to carry out an accurate check but it was giving about 20 m.p.g. The makers suggest 23-1/2 m.p.g. at a constant 68 m.p.h., so Motorway running might prove more economical. The fuel gauge needle sank into the red after 280 miles but the fuel light had not begun to flash, so the range must be well over 300 miles of fast driving.

The size of the luggage boot is in keeping with a car designed, according to BMW, “for ambassadors, heads of large companies and senior Statesmen”. Its lid is also properly drained, to prevent rain-water running into the boot when it is opened. I liked the flap-style door pockets, and the neat zipper in the roof for taking private or important papers. The headlamps wipers, as pioneered by Saab, are interesting. The cleaning fluid is contained in a separate 4-3/4 pint reservoir and the wipers function when the car’s lights are first switched on, then whenever the screen-washer is used, after a 30 sec. interval in each case. The screen wipers have the usual BMW delayed-action and stalk-tip control of this and the two-speed main setting. If the boot lid was a trifle stiff to shut, likewise the driver’s door, these again are a chauffeur’s concern.

Altogether this biggest of the BMWs is a splendid car for long-distance travel in maximum comfort. It looks unpretentious, reminding me of those vintage times when persons who felt a Rolls-Royce too blatant a symbol of wealth would invest in a Daimler. Does it apply, perhaps, in reverse today, with the choice between the carriages of Daimler-Benz and those of BMW? That the 3.3 L is available with such optional extras as a 4-speed manual gearbox and a limited-slip differential (as well as cloth upholstery and even self-levelling rear suspension) endorses, however, the sports tag I have applied to this new limousine from the latter company.—W.B.