A solid alternative to the Lotus Cortina
The 3-series is typically associated with BMW’s more recent touring car heritage, but if you look further back the marque’s tin-top history really starts with the Neue Klasse – a car of similar size to the 5-series.
Launched in 1961 to rapturous reception at the Frankfurt motor show, the Neue Klasse was a game-changer for BMW on both road and track. The Michelotti-inspired three-box styling has come to define BMW design, not least through its introduction of the famous Hofmeister kink and decorative kidney grille. Technically, too, it set the mould for generations of BMW saloons, the 1.5-litre engine at its heart living on in various forms until the late ’80s and even forming the basis for the turbocharged F1 engines used by Brabham. Rear-wheel drive and independent rear suspension by trailing links gave the 1500 a sophisticated and sporting character, qualities not lost on BMW and followed in 1963 with the 1800 and 1800Ti.
In the latter, sold from spring 1964, BMW had the basis for a fine sporting saloon, the exotic sounding Turismo Internazionale suffix signifying a package of upgrades. These included twin Solex carburettors, a new sump for the expanded 1.8-litre engine, bigger valves and a new cam, close-ratio four-speed gearbox and faster steering. With 108bhp/110ps at 5800rpm and uprated suspension to put it to the road it was a decisive statement of intent. The Neue Klasse was ready to race.
And race it did, Hubert Hahne taking the 1800Ti to 14 victories out of 16 races in the pre-DRM German Circuit Championship and sweeping to victory in the 12-hour race at the Nürburgring
This inspired the 1800Ti/SA of 1965, of which just 200 were built for homologation and sold exclusively to privateer racers.
The SA stood for Sonderausführung, or ‘special edition’, the 1.8-litre motor pushed to 128bhp/130ps with compression raised to 10.5:1, new cams and valves, plumbing for an oil cooler and a standard sports exhaust system. Bucket seats were standard, as were a limited-slip differential and lower, stiffer suspension. From there you could choose a four- or five-speed gearbox and select from four different final drive ratios. Victory in the Spa 24 Hours quickly followed, Hahne and Ickx building on this with a win the following year in the 2000Ti.
Suffice to say, an 1800Ti makes a distinctive and stylish basis for a historic touring car, with the necessary performance and provenance to be mixing it with Lotus Cortinas and other ’60s stars. In close-fought historic racing Minis remain the class of the field in the wet, the American big-bangers excel on the faster circuits and you’ll always see the Cortinas in the thick of the action. In this company an 1800Ti is a stylish all-rounder, blessed with solid engineering, a tough, tuneable engine and the cachet of being the first of BMW’s all-conquering touring cars. Every historic tin-top grid should have one.
SPEAKING TO DANIEL LACKEY
Builder of Revival-ready tin-tops with CCK Historic
The BMW 1800Ti is a pretty straightforward machine – and so long as you set them up correctly they can be extremely competitive. Engines prepared by specialists such as Laranca Engineering are putting out more than 200bhp and it really is a great four-cylinder unit. There’s no denying that these are heavy cars – the homologated weight is about 1000kg, which is significantly more than a Lotus Cortina, but then the build quality is very definitely in a different league. I think it’s fair to say that the engineering that went into these cars was well ahead of its time.