In a few months, Bavarian Motor Works will turn 105 years old, and no matter which era you see as the highlight of its ongoing history, looking back at the foundation of the storied company is crucial. It’s the perfect adventure story: It has motorsport, passion, innovation, mistakes, and lessons. Ultimately, BMW’s early history built the groundwork that allowed BMW to become the worldwide sports-car superpower that it did in the 1960s and beyond.
The first BMW to exhibit these qualities was, quite arguably, the BMW 315/1 roadster seen in the video above. While some might place these early cars as footnotes in BMW’s history (the ultra-rare roadster doesn’t even have a stand-alone Wikipedia page, for instance—but it should), the BMW 315/1 represents a departure from the safe bets of BMW’s early history of building sedans and motorcycles.
I know that the eyes of many young-timer enthusiasts (who adore iconic chassis from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s) might glaze over when they hear about a car that made its debut in 1934, but this Eisenach-built roadster represents the impetus of BMW’s sporting legacy: an inline six-cylinder engine, manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive, all in a tidy platform—perfect for navigating tight street circuits or European country lanes. The 315/1 produced only 40 horsepower, but having that six-cylinder in a 1,600-pound chassis meant that it was genuinely sporting car. And with triple carburetors, it delivers the sound one might expect from a much more modern BMW. The 328 gets much of the glory, but the story really starts here, with the 315/1.
For a deeper dive into the 315/1, and the history of one particularly special chassis, check out the video above from classic BMW enthusiast, collector, and friend of all things BMW Dirk de Groen. The video was created using footage and narration of his 315/1, currently on display in the BMW CCA Foundation’s current exhibit, “Genesis: BMW from the Beginning.” This car, along with dozens of others, is available to view in the Foundation’s Spartanburg, South Carolina, museum.
In the exhibit, you can hear a detailed description of all the vehicles on display, written by Jackie Jouret and narrated by the deep baritone of BMW NA and broadcast television veteran Kenn Sparks. For more information, check out their exhibit page, and keep an eye on BimmerLife in the future!—David Rose
[Imagery courtesy of the BMW CCA Foundation.]