Early next week, BMW Group Plant Hams Hall in Birmingham, England will celebrate its twentieth anniversary, having come online on February 8, 2001. During its twenty years as a BMW Group production facility, the plant has produced more than 3,500,000 engines, with annual output over the last few years eclipsing 350,000 units. The engines produced at Hams Hall are small displacement three- and four-cylinder units, most of which find their way into both compact BMW models popular in the U.K. and Europe, and Mini models sold globally.
When production commenced in 2001, the first engine made at Hams Hall was the BMW N42, which came with what was then a groundbreaking technology: Valvetronic, or variable valve lift. In the two decades since, the technology has become ubiquitous not only in BMW’s engine lineup, but also with other manufacturers seeking to imitate it. In 2009, the N55 turbocharged six-cylinder debuted with Valvetronic, marking the first time the technology had been paired with turbocharging. Today, the only gasoline BMW engine to go without Valvetronic is the N74 V12.
In 2014, and the plant became the sole producer of the highly-boosted 228-horsepower B38 three-cylinder of the i8. The B38 is part of BMW’s current modular family of engines, and in 2015, Hams Hall began producing versions of the accompanying B48 four-cylinder. During 2018, the plant began production of the 300-horsepower version of the B48—one of the world’s most powerful four-cylinder engines—which is used in models such as the X2 M35i, M235i Gran Coupé, and various Mini John Cooper Works models.
Hams Hall has supplied various BMW plants from Rosslynn, South Africa to Spartanburg, South Carolina, with engines during its twenty years in operation. Exports to South Carolina began in 2005, when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines for the Z4 were sent stateside, a practice that would continue until 2008. Just over a decade later, in 2019, engine shipments to Spartanburg resumed once again, after Hams Hall had been retooled to produce longitudinal engines as well as those destined for front-wheel-drive applications.
Right now, investment in the form of upgrades to produce both plug-in hybrid vehicle drivetrains and BMW’s line of V8 and V12 engines is taking place at Hams Hall. Announced in November in 2020, BMW is adding a new electric vehicle production line to its home factory in Munich, which is set to take the place of the existing engine line. In a true sign of the times, as BMW continues its transition to electric vehicles, engine production is being moved outside of Germany, where it has traditionally taken place since the concept of internal combustion was first embraced.
Before V8 engine production commences at Hams Hall, it seems likely that a new (and likely final) BMW V8 will be announced, as the current N63 and derivative S63 predate BMW’s modular architecture, and trace their origins back to 2008. Little is known about the future of the BMW V12, outside of it likely being removed from the BMW lineup when next-generation 7 Series lineup arrives, and being reserved exclusively for Rolls-Royce before being ultimately phased out.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]