BMW has created some legendary cars in its 100-year lifetime, with many of its models becoming true icons of the motoring world.
As the manufacturer celebrates its centenary, here is a selection of the best of the best — the cars that built BMW and cemented its place in history as one of the world’s most important marques.
Probably not the first car that comes into anyone’s mind when you mention BMW, but this handsome saloon was the predecessor of the E23 7-Series.
This was the first BMW to feature twin headlights set into the grille, a look that became common to BMWs over the next few decades.
This almost-forgotten saloon would still command respect among more modern machinery.
The 80s shark-nose coupe was one of the most striking cars of its time and still cuts a dash on the road today.
The long hood and slightly aggressive, forward-looking stance of the car make it look like it’s moving even when it’s standing still.
The car was also available in 628CSi, 630CS and 633CSi forms, but the 635CSi and the M635CSi are heralded as the ones to have.
The E46 M3 has become a yardstick. If you want a fast, practical, reliable and fun car for under $15,000, then this has got to be high up on your list.
The design is one of BMW’s best, as is the running gear. The SMG (sequential) gearbox divides opinion, but the manual is undoubtedly a great car.
At the moment, this car is one of the bargains of the used car world.
The M1 is regarded as the first reliable supercar; a car you could use every day and not worry about expiring in a cloud of smoke at the side of the road.
Sadly, it was doomed from its conception and only 430 were produced. The M1 was created to represent BMW in the Manufacturers’ Championship, but by the time the car was ready it had become obsolete and could not compete.
Nevertheless, it is one of the best supercars ever made and is still pretty swift by today’s standards. In fact, Car and Driver described the M1 as ‘probably the best fast road car ever built’.
The 328 was named as one of the 25 finalists for Car of the Twentieth Century. It was introduced at the 1936 Eifelrennen race at the Nürburgring, where it won the 2-liter class. The car also enjoyed success in the famous Mille Miglia race.
The BMW factory was bombed during World War II. The plans for the 328 were taken to the UK by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Frazer Nash.
A BMW engineer was also coaxed into making the trip. This heralded the beginning of Bristol Cars and their first car was heavily influenced by the BMW 328.
A car that has the power to make you stop in your tracks and just admire its beauty. The E9 3.0CS has to be one of the most elegant machines ever made.
The car came in CS, CSi (pictured) and CSL guises, along with the fearsome ‘Batmobile’ special – a beast with huge aerodynamic appendages.
This cracker was introduced in 1968 and established BMW’s reputation as a sporty manufacturer.
The 2002tii and the 2002 Turbo were the fastest incarnations of this little car and are still spoken of in reverent tones.
Only ever sold as a 2-door, the sales of the plucky 2002 probably saved BMW from being bought over by a rival company.
Using a tuned version of the 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine from the M1, the M5 became the world’s first super saloon.
To the untrained eye it was a normal 5-Series, but gearheads knew it was something special.
This was a car for all occasions – you could drive to work, take the family away on holiday, and blast past Porsches on the autobahn.
Produced from 1956 to 1959, this 2-door soft top was powered by a 3.2-liter V8 motor. Only 252 cars were ever made, making this a very rare BMW indeed.
The 507 was meant to be exported to the USA in large numbers, but production costs proved too high for the car to be a commercial success.
The car was designed to fit in between the more expensive Mercedes Benz 300SL and cheaper offerings from the likes of Triumph and MG.
We must thank homologation rules for this car. BMW had to build road-going versions of its E30 race car, signalling the birth of the M3.
In the end, the manufacturer produced around 18,000 examples of the model. The M Division honed the E30 M3 over its life and the car is now one of BMW’s most iconic creations.
The E30 M3 enjoyed an illustrious racing career and is the most successful touring car of all time. Values are now soaring, with the best examples commanding a hefty $60,000.
The E39 M5 comes from one of BMW’s golden eras and is now appreciating in value (and appreciated by collectors).
Meanwhile, the 1M was a pleasant surprise when it was released and represented incredible value at around $47,000.
The E39’s glorious V8 and the 1M’s soaring straight-six will put a smile on your face, and both cars have that special M-car feel.