Here’s our picks for the 10 best BMWs of all time. From 1933 until today, BMWs continue to defend the ultimate driving machine crown.
BMW’s have been somewhat of a cult car representing everything from Yuppies to the Ultimate Driving Machine. But a key to its origins is represented in the Roundel logo itself – the propellor. The blue and white logo is a graphic representation of the original machine built by Bayerische Fugzeugwerke AG. The BMW IIIa was a straight-six aircraft engine. That logo and the straight-six engine model carried them through the second World War. Afterward, they were banned from manufacturing motor vehicles and aircraft components, but the emblem stayed.
They eventually designed and built their first post-war car in 1952, and it was the iconic BMW 502. In 2021, after motorcycles, Formula 1, M cars, and SUVs, the Roundel still stands as a defender of the driving machine. Let’s look back at our top 10 BMWs of all time.
The 303 was the first model to establish BMW legends of the sedan, kidney grille, and the six-cylinder engine. This small family saloon’s six was 1.2L and had 28bhp. And, although not M cars, there were high-performance versions called the 315/1 and 319/1. These beautiful roadsters produced up to 55hp.
The BMW 328 is an icon. Designed by Peter Szymanowski, who would eventually become chief of design, this roadster would hit 93 mph and be powered by a 2.0L straight-six. With its super light body, no automaker could keep up with it on the racetrack.
The 507 is also an icon for BMW fans, and we still think it’s the most beautiful BMW ever built. Initially conceived by Max Hoffman, BMW’s US auto importer, BMW produced 251 of the roadsters and only imported and sold 39 in the US.
It has a powerful 3.2L V8 engine that made 150 horsepower and had a top speed of 122 mph. BMW was expensive to make, they had to build each model out of aluminum and never recovered the cost. Instead of the planned 5000, they had to stop at 251 sales, which nearly caused them to declare bankruptcy and made it the rarest of BMWs. How rare? A 507 cost $9000 when new and, in January 2021, one auctioned for an estimated 2.3 million dollars.
Max Hoffman was once again pressuring BMW to produce a car for America. This one was based on the 2 Series model from Germany. Soon, another icon was made called the 2002.
The BMW 2002 was known for its performance, handling, and reputation of being an easily tunable car. It had up to 119 horsepower in the 2002Ti and eventually became the most successful model producing over 400,000 vehicles by 1976. Today you’ll see fast and pristine versions still running around many cities.
Seen on International Motor Sports Association raceways in America, the BMW 3.0 CSL, also known as the ‘Batmobile’, was brought to the US in 1972. Originally produced to be raced in the European Touring Car Championship, it made a name for itself in the US by beating out Porsche in the 12 hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of Daytona and Talladega. The 3.0 CSL firmly established BMW as a manufacturer of racecars.
Buying this car from a dealer would get you a 3.0L engine producing 203 horsepower that could reach 0-60 in under 7 seconds. Today, you’ll see them running Concours races at Laguna Seca Raceway.
The handbuilt BMW M1 was the first model to wear the M badge. Built by the BMW Motorsports division, this mid-engined car was stuffed with a 273 horsepower 3.5L six-cylinder engine capable of hurling the M1 down the road at 162 mph.
Although it was supposed to have been produced by Lamborghini, BMW ended up building it themselves. The M1 was introduced in 1978 and sold 453 by 1981. From 1979 to 1981, BMW ran a Procar series pitting the five fastest F1 drivers against each other in identical M1 race-prepared models. It was a companion race to the F1 series and deemed by some as the most exciting racing of that time. Soon after the series ended, BMW entered F1 racing themselves.
If there had to be only one M5, it would have to be the E28 version. The E28 is rare, crazy quick, handsome, and has a bulletproof motor initially developed for the M1. The 256 horsepower six would catapult the tall E28 body style to an incredible 150 mph. This made it the fastest production sedan in the world at that time when BMW was known as The Ultimate Driving Machine.
Advertised initially to have a 500 car production run, BMW produced 1200 by the end of 1987 and ended up with a lawsuit from American BMW owners for overproduction. BMW eventually settled with a $4,000 check to each owner. We think this E28 version is full of character, cornering, speed, and racing heritage like no M5 after it. It is well-deserving of its spot as one of the best BMWs of all time.
The E30 M3 was introduced in 1986 and quickly became a sports car legend. The M division substantially changed the aerodynamics, engine, and suspension of the basic E30 3-series. These changes made it a brute force racing machine in the European Touring Car Championships. In its body beat the high revving 192 horsepower engine that could send the M3 to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds on the way to a 149 mph top speed. In special edition Sport Evolution form, the E30 produced 238hp. The BMW E30 M3 is considered to be one of the great sports cars of the 80s, is featured on the many greatest cars of all time lists, and has a rightful spot as one of the best BMWs of all time.
Retro touches were everywhere, from the body color painted dashboard to the switchgear and instrument placement. But this was a well-appointed modern car with leather on nearly every surface, climate controls, and a navigation system. Its design alone makes it worthy of being considered one of the best BMWs.
Built as an homage to the incredible 507, the Z8 faithfully updated the classic design inside and out. One thing that it didn’t faithfully keep was the engine. The Z8 was built around the M5’s 400 horsepower 4.9L V8 and could run to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds while reaching a top speed of 180 mph. Those are numbers that would have never been considered in 1957.
BMW had become an SUV maker. The models above the 3-series were becoming bloated, oddly designed, and complicated. The beauty of the 1 Series Coupe was the same that drew everyone to the BMW 2002. Simplicity and purity of driving enjoyment. Since they were free from any electronic dash and iPad-looking center console, nothing got in the way.
Only 1000 of these near-perfect handling 3.0L twin-turbo six-cylinder models making 335 horsepower made it to the US. For that brief year they were sold, everyone loved them. We’re convinced that the original BMW M builders would have approved.