When people mention rear-engined BMWs, it’s probably the old Isetta bubble car you’ll have in mind, right? Or maybe the new i3, which can be specced with a rear-mounted range-extending engine. Unless you really know your Beemer history, you probably won’t be thinking of this: the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive 700.
It seems to be a largely forgotten car in BMW’s history, but actually represents a crucial time for the Bavarian manufacturer. Its extravagant luxury cars like the 503 and 507 weren’t selling enough to make a decent amount of money and while its Isetta bubble car was a sales success, the profit margins were slim. At the end of the 1950s, BMW was in trouble: it was in debt and haemorrhaging money. There was even talk of a merger with Daimler-Benz. Fortunately, there was a saviour, in the form of the 700.
This modest, two-door car was aimed squarely at the budget end of the market. The engine mounted in the back was a tiny 697cc boxer twin taken from a BMW motorcycle and it produced just 50bhp. It was the first BMW to use a monocoque construction and later spawned a coupe and a convertible version. There was even a handful of competition versions, one of which Jackie Ickx campaigned in German saloon racing.
The simple, low-cost approach paid off: the 700 sold in big numbers and saved BMW from financial ruin. By the time production ended in 1956, 188,211 700s had been built, paving the way for the BMW ‘New Class’ (below), the car that firmly established BMW as a global force in the car industry.
BMW’s success through the 20th century would not have been possible without the 700. Which is why we think it’s high time that this humble little car received a lot more recognition.