Bayerische Motoren Werke was formed on March 7th, 1916 as BFW (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke), a company that primarily made airplane engines. In the century that followed, the company set records for altitude and speed, redefined an entire segment of the market, and dominated on racetracks around the world. Oh yeah, and it also built its very own Lamborghini and erected a 22-story homage to car engines. To celebrate the company’s big 100th birthday, first we took a look at the all-time best BMWs from the past 10 decades. Then we dug deep, and found a whole bunch of things you probably didn’t know about BMW.
1. BMW built the airplane engine the Red Baron wished he had
During WWI, there was an immense need for airplane engines, especially on the German side. So a little company called Rapp Motor merged with Otto Werke, an airplane maker just up the street in Munich, combining forces to satisfy the war effort’s needs. Otto Werke was run by the son of the guy who made four-cycle engines useable — which ultimately contributed to just about every car engine on the road. That same technology went directly into the engine that legendary fighter pilot the Red Baron called the greatest engine in WWI.
2. BMW’s headquarters is a giant homage to its four-cylinder heritage
While the highest-performing BMWs from the past few decades tend to rely on six cylinders, so much of BMW’s legacy revolves around outstanding four-cylinder engines that in the 1960s, an Austrian architecture professor designed BMW’s global HQ to pay tribute to the four.
3. Those early airplane engines rewrote the record book
Aside from plenty of records for speed, and even helping an airboat circumnavigate the globe in 1932, this BMW-powered biplane hit 32,000ft in 1919. It was easily a record back then, and that’s roughly the altitude you cruise at today while you’re cursing your decision to fly Spirit.
4. Everyone thinks the iconic logo represents a spinning propeller. Everyone is wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, the logo existed before it ever graced a propeller. Call it a bloody-brilliant piece of marketing, call it a badass design that tricks the eyes, but don’t call it the origin of the BMW roundel.