Road Test

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The Six-Cylinder BMW 2800

An Extremely Fast and Accelerative Medium-Capacity Saloon which is Near-Perfect in Almost All Respects

After reviving their fortunes with a range of extremely good o.h.c. four-cylinder motor cars, the Bayerische Motoren Werke AG of Munich tantalised us at last year’s Motor Show with a six-cylinder version of these earlier models. At the time I ventured to wonder whether the six-cylinder BMW might not be a softened-up affair aimed at a different, luxury-loving public. I had to wait a long time before I was able to drive a BMW Six but, having done so, I can say that not only are these latest BMWs—the 2500 and the 2800—far from being what I had hoped they were not but that they are about as near-perfect on almost all counts as any sporting saloon motor-car can be.

Here is a car that even in 2500 form will exceed 120 m.p.h., clock an impressive and useful 17.2 sec. for a s.s. ¼-mile, exceed our legal top speed by over 20 m.p.h. in third gear, is as satisfactory to drive as former BMWs, which is saying a great deal, is as beautifully made and appointed as they, and which you can buy in this import-protected country for under £3,000. I would have liked to have been able to tell you how much more performance the 2800 extracts from its extra 294 c.c. and additional 20 b.h.p. I am unable to do this because the publicity people messed me about over delivery dates, leaving insufficient time for fifth-wheeling, especially as, having driven the car down from London to the country late one night, I had to drive it back the next day because the bonnet resolutely refused to open (and for photography and the adding of oil you need to open it). The self-supporting lid had to be wrenched open and the catches lowered by altering their mountings. (The bonnet release is in the glove locker on the n/s of this r.h.d. car; it pulls down the light lid and secures it.) So you must just bear with me if I say the performance is adequate—very adequate indeed!

It would need a driver off some skill, and lucky with the traffic, habitually to take the BMW to its rev.-limit, which ranges between 6,200 and 7,000 r.p.m. To do this implies accelerating better than some fast sports-cars and getting 100 or so m.p.h. in 3rd gear. For those who need such performance, it is there. But the BMW offers so much more. It is comfortable, safe, delightful to drive, and a prestige purchase which offers the sort of high-quality finish and equipment for which German cars are noted.

It follows the current German interior pattern of a floor gear-lever mounted somewhat far back with stowage space before it, a central hand-brake behind that, a drop parcels-well in the facia, a rather wide transmission tunnel necessitating placing the left foot under the clutch pedal, stalk-controlled screen-wipers and washers, and rubber-capped bumpers. This means a very conveniently laid out driving compartment, added to which the BMW has controls which function impeccably. If you regard the BMW Six as an extension of the great four-cylinder BMWs with almost unbelievable performance but none of the splendid driving qualities impaired, you have a good idea of what motoring on one of the finest cars to emerge last year is like. In speed, acceleration and economy the BMW 2800 is not merely the equal, it is the superior of cars of considerably greater swept volume. The 86 x 80 mm. 2,788-c.c. single overhead camshaft engine produces 170 (D.I.N.) b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. on a 9-to-1 c.r., which is enough to take the mickey out of many fabulous automobiles! I suppose you could call this BMW an XJ6-consumer, except that Jaguar say they do not sell cars to enthusiastic drivers, and the German car is very much an enthusiast’s motor-car. . . .

There is the typically-BMW steering, firm rather than light, free from vices apart from the faintest trace of feed-back, and sure and positive in action. There is the suspension, firm but not frenzied, giving a comfortable ride without letting the wheels lose contact with the road. There is the handling, enabling corners to be taken as by a sports-car, with a high sense of security. The longer engine, giving a rather heavy front-end feel, has not promoted oversteer, the cornering remaining nicely neutral, the car’s tail following the line through fast bends. There is the light clutch, the delightful gear-change, the rigid short lever under the left hand going from one position to the other with a smooth click, and the light progressive brakes.

These qualities combine to create a motor-car in which the very considerable performance can be used, or in this country a good proportion of it, in safety, with a high degree of enjoyment and without flamboyance. Open up and the engine accelerates, after some initial momentary snatch, with the smoothness of the legendary turbine, on and on up the rev. range, so that normally the driver will change up long before the big tachometer, the needle of which moves in top gear in the same plane as that of the matching speedometer, gets near the red marking. Inaudible when idling, the engine emits a hard purposeful sound around 5,000 r.p.m. Drive briskly on busy roads and confidence is bred from the quick accurate steering, the roll-free suspension, and those deceptively powerful all-disc servo brakes. You sit high on extremely accommodating seats upholstered in cloth (but nylon, not Bedford) like those of a top-bracket limousine from a more gracious age (If I prefer leather, it is a personal fad), after shutting doors which close with a dull high-quality “clonk”. Detachable head-rests can be plugged into the front-seat squabs. The view of the road ahead is enhanced by the low mounting of the wood-rimmed steering wheel and on the Continent there would be every incentive to let the speed of the 2800 to go to its 124-m.p.h. maximum.

You sit naturally to drive the BMW, as in a saloon you should, with the instrument binnacle immediately before you, Vdo 8,000-r.p.m. tachometer and 140-m.p.h. speedometer supplemented by small, simply-marked dials recording water heat and fuel contents. Behind the glass, the larger dials are angled for effective vision. An easily-reached knob on the right brings in the lamps; turning it dims out the instrument lighting. Below these two small dials there is a series of triple warning-light slots, labelled GENER., OIL, BEAM, FLASHER, FUEL, BRAKE, the respective colours being red, orange, blue (and rather too bright), green, white and red. The steering-wheel spokes depress to sound the horn; other knobs, on the top of the central console, look after hazard warning and wipers speed adjustment. Stalks to right and left of the steering column control, respectively, turn indicators, parking lamps, washers and wipers, and headlamps dipping and flashing.

The console contains a drawer-type ash-tray, ventilation grille with adjustable vents, the radio, if fitted, and generous open stowage space. The facia, with its discreet strip of wood trim, carries the heater quadrant levers, a small Vdo Kienzle clock more easily read by passenger than driver, and the press-button which drops the illuminated but unlockable parcels well. There are swivelling fresh-air vents at its extremities, but they do not pass as much air as the central inlets. The rear window can be heated and the driver of a l.h.d. BMW apparently has a drop stowage well similar to that before the front-seat occupant, although this did not figure on the test car. In addition there are pockets (which had split along the bottom) in the front doors, pockets on the backs of the adjustable front-seat squabs, and a deep shelf behind the windscreen, apart from the usual rear shelf.

The décor of the red BMW was beautifully done—black trim on the doors, with their shaped grips and sill interior locks, heavy grey carpets on the floor. Two keys are provided, very substantial, the master key operating all locks, including ignition/steering, and looking as if it belonged to a small safe. The essence of the BMW’s instruments is easily read messages without detailed calibration, from upright white needles (speedometer and tachometer have clear figures in multiples of ten), and many warning lights arranged, however, so that the impression of a mobile fruit machine is avoided. The speedometer incorporates a decimal trip and total milometers. A rather ineffective anti-dazzle mirror and a good anti-dazzle driver’s exterior mirror were fitted, together with expected visors, coat-hooks, grabs, etc. Items such as the ignition cutting the headlamps beam when it is switched off and rotating grips on the window-winders had to the air of high-quality which the impeccably-appointed interior imparts.

Very few items marred the pleasure of driving this remarkable motor-car. In sunlight the speaker-grille on the screen side of the instrument binnacle reflected in the windscreen glass. The Phoenix Senator 6/4-ply rayon radial tubed DR70HR14 low-profile tyres howled when resisting oversteer on sharp corners and yelped from the inside rear wheel if the power was brought in with verve for a fast getaway. There was that bother with the bonnet, and occasional brake-screech. Reverse gear, outboard of bottom gear, could be engaged inadvertently if one was so clumsy as to override its spring-loading. Otherwise, from the nice action of its lift-up external door handles to the extreme joy of driving the BMW 2800 as a car of this performance ability and controllability should be driven, I have nothing but praise for the best BMW yet.

The Munich manufacturer is no stranger to six-cylinder power units, for pre-war BMWs used them, up to the well-remembered 328 sports car. The present 2500/2800 engines is in effect the 1600 with the benefit of two more cylinders. It has the alloy head and iron block, seven main bearings for the forged steel crankshaft and it is inclined at 30°. The single o.h. camshaft is chain-driven and valve seats and guides are shrunk in the head.

The valve rockers are of light alloy. The valve timing is: inlet opens 6° b.t.d.c., closes 54° a.b.d.c.; exhaust opens 54° b.b.d.c., closes 6° a.t.d.c., with clearances of 0.010 to 0.012 in., cold. Lubrication is by an Eaton rotor pump with full-flow filter, and carburation is by twin Zenith 35/40 two-stage carburettors with 117.5 main jets.

The running gear follows BMW practice with coil-spring struts front and back, in conjunction with lower wishbones and trailing links at the front and semi-training arms for the independent rear suspension which functions so well. Front suspension travel is 7.1 in., rear suspension travel 7.9 in., and the layout of the front struts has been revised. ZF-Gemmer hour-glass worm-and-roller steering is used, the ratio being 16.4 at the box and 18.9 overall, which translates into just over four turns, lock-to-lock, of the three-spoke steering wheel. The column has two universal joints and is collapsible in a crash. The brake discs have a diameter of 272 mm., the front ones actuated by four 40 mm. dia. piston, the rear ones by two such pistons, with the hand-brake working on the rear discs. The all-steel body has a 21.2 cu. ft. capacity luggage boot, rather shallow, with a flat floor and a useful stowage box for a petrol can, etc. the fuel tank is said to hold 16½ gallons but the range suggests nearer 10 gallons. The filler cap is unsecured, unusual on a German car and is concealed behind the rear number plate.

The outputs claimed for this fine oversquare BMW power unit are 170 (D.I.N.) or 192 (S.A.E.) b.h.p., equal to 61 b.h.p. per litre at 6,000 r.p.m., with maximum torque, 173.6 lb. ft., developed at 3,700 r.p.m. Piston speed at 6,000 r.p.m. is 3,150 ft./min. and the claimed power/weight ratio is 128.6 b.h.p. per ton at the kerb, tank full, dropping to 99.5 b.h.p. per ton fully laden with typical passengers and luggage.

To appreciate just how much performance this luxury BMW Six gives, it will out-accelerate cars like the 4.2-litre Jaguar XJ6 and 6.3-litre Mercedes-Benz 600. The makers quote figures of 0-60 m.p.h. in under 10 sec. and 0-100 m.p.h. in 25 sec., and there is reason to believe that these can be bettered and that a s.s. ¼-mille can be achieved in under 17 sec.—impressive indeed, from a four-door, five-seater 2.8-litre saloon. (As I have explained, the demand for demonstrations prevented us from taking our own performance figures.) The handbook also gives the maxima in the gears as 34, 60, 90 and 124 m.p.h. at 6,000 r.p.m. The axle ratio in the hypoid back axle with ZF limited-slip differential is 3.45 to 1, the other gear ratios being 4.9, 7.17 and 13.2 to 1. Incidentally, it is available with power steering and an automatic gearbox for those more interested in luxury than in the pleasure of driving.

Because of the changed test dates I was obliged to cause the BMW the indignity of using the congested A30 and A303 roads, instead of the more deserted going to which I am accustomed. However, even under these depressing circumstances it was great fun, and got along exceedingly well, cruising at !!! m.p.h. whenever the traffic permitted. On this journey I was able to ascertain that the fuel tank takes the car 216 miles before the low fuel level warning light begins to twinkle, 231 miles before this warning says “Fill up!” In fact, the absolute range, in some very mixed driving, proved to be 265 miles, which is fair enough for a saloon, some of whose occupants will be expected to wish to vacate the car before this, although inadequate for a genuine GT machine. A fuel consumption check, using 5-star petrol, returned an excellent 24.8 m.p.g. As for oil the consumption was approximately 1,000 m.p.p.

The impeccable handling qualities of the car made light of what would otherwise have been some tedious motoring. Outside Torquay we paused at a large establishment which advertised “light lunches”, only to be told that all they were prepared to offer, at 2.15 p.m., were hot pies. They appear to be keener on selling music than meals. Pressing on, I had a bright idea. Our homeward route took us past Exeter Airport and here, I thought, we would find the sort of meal we required. Sure enough, the big advertisement for the Airport restaurant announced that it was open to the public. Although we were merely driving a BMW and not buying a seat in a Bristol Freighter, I thought this might apply. But no—it was 3 p.m. and no cooked food was to be had. Remembering the many excellent meals I have enjoyed, at all manner of odd hours, at small aerodromes on the other side of the Channel, my sympathy goes out to anyone who has to get airborne from Exeter. Moreover, judging from the blind T-road from which they have to join the A30, I imagine that, having survived the hazards of aviation and probable starvation, they are likely to die while attempting to drive away.

It was nice to see a vintage solid-tyred Leyland platform lorry outside the premises of Hine Bros. near the Dorset border, bearing their insignia, but I was surprised to find that a fair was partially closing and encroaching on the roads of Crewkerne, for we have been disallowed motor racing (which is also a circus or fair) on public roads these past 44 years!

However, back to the BMW 2800, at speed it becomes very hushed, apart from subdued wind noise around the front door pillars. It makes light of congested traffic and proved equally effective along the winding country lanes by which I am able to get home after leaving the A30 at Dummer Down. It really is a splendid all-round car. I recall trying the first of the new line in BMWs, the 1500 in Germany and thinking how very refined it was. Later, more powerful versions never quite seemed to match up in this respect, although being exceedingly good cars. The 2800 has the refinement of the 1500, more “character” than the four-cylinder models, and must be regarded as one off the World’s great cars.

If you have the sort of money the Concessionaires in this country charge for the BMW 2800, try it and you will almost certainly buy it.

The price is £3,245 including p.t. and Import duty.—W. B.