Curbside Classic: 1965 BMW 1800 TI – Süddeutsche Zeitgeist

Wilkommen to all at T87’s Great Bundesrepublikan Four-door Fest, all week long on CC. We’ll play this one in chronological order and kick off with the ‘60s, the decade of BMW’s rebirth, with the hottest of the first wave Neue Klasse. Driving gloves are recommended to read this post.

It’s uncanny how closely these early Neue Klasse resemble the -02s from a distance. Even from a pretty close distance. There are quite a few around town, so I figured this might be one of them. Besides, I can’t say I’ve seen an early Neue Klasse up close in many, many years. Then I noticed the headlights are a smidgen more in-board than they should be. And there’s the small matter of the extra pair of doors at the back…

When the 1800 came out in September 1963, it didn’t come alone. It was accompanied by a super-spicy TI version, courtesy of the good folks at Alpina, who had done wonders for some early adopter of the 1500. It took a little while for the TI to reach dealerships, but they got there and did not stay on the forecourt for very long.

The focus was on the engine, of course. Not the standard 1800 lacked guts, but at 90hp (DIN), the OHC 4-cyl. could still use a few extra horses. A twin Solex carb setup and a boost in the compression ratio yielded an extra 20hp – now the game was afoot. A limited run of an even hotter Weber-carburated, 5-speed, 130hp TI/SA variant was available for MY 1965, though these were more for track and hill-climb use than regular civilian use. Some of the Alpina mods seen on the TI/SA could be adapted to a TI, if one had the means.

Yet for all this extra power, all BMW did to the exterior was to slap a “TI” badge on the rear end. Didn’t even bother giving it a twin exhaust or something to adorn those high flanks… I’m all for discretion and Q-ships and all that, but methinks this Bavarian doth underplay it too much.

Not that it seemed to matter: the 1800 became the Neue Klasse’s number one seller in its home market, completely eclipsing the 1500 and the short-lived 1600, with or without (mostly without) the TI badge on its behind. The squary/squinty-eyed 2000 elbowed its way to the top-of-the-range spot starting in 1966, causing the death of the 1800 TI. The standard-issue 1800 carried on regardless, making it all the way to 1971 with very minor changes.

The car’s very ‘60s feel is far more starkly evident inside. Compared to the somewhat drab and very dark interiors of the later -02s that I usually see in these parts, this fantastic display of chrome, maroon vinyl and plastiwood is almost deliriously extravagant (for a BMW).

Nice amount of room at the back, both for legs and heads, not to mention all the bits in between. Hey, this is a family car after all. It wasn’t the only one to exist in this segment, either. Families, it turns out, were a thing in those days too. Back in the tail end of the Baby Boom — who’d have thunk it?

And folks who had a little extra income might well be tempted by a saloon with better appointments (and/or a sportier demeanour) than the average 4/5 seater. Should we take a gander at the BMW’s opposition?

This is a skewed table, because we’re seeing the BMW within an odd context – the British market, which was then rife with tariffs to ward off those nasty Continentals (and I’m not talking about Lincolns). But still, the 1800 TI shines. And according to all sources I’ve perused, the level of build quality put it head and shoulder above all the rest, save perhaps the Benz and the Volvo, neither of which had the BMW’s amazing engine. The Alfa and the Lotus Cortina are far closer to the Bavarian Wunderwagen in this respect – before rust and other maladies take their toll, anyway.

In the West German market of the mid-‘60s though, the BMW was hard to beat. Over there, it was cheaper than the fuel-injected Peugeot 404 or the futuristic Rover 2000. It also had to contend with the Glas 1700 – probably its closest rival. But those weren’t imported in the UK, so… And BMW bought Glas in 1966 anyway. Problem solved.

Amazingly enough, this is a Japanese market car. There was a (tiny) crowd of well-heeled connoisseurs here back then. Like we’ve seen on a couple of ‘60s cars (such as this Cadillac), the importer (I’m guessing it’s them, though I have zero evidence for this), in his infinite wisdom, chose to keep the standard left-door-mounted rearview mirror as was, but pair it with a fender-mounted colleague on the right side. Quirky.

BMW produced over 135k units of the 1800 from late 1963 to 1971, plus about 18,000 of the TI version, whose lifespan in the range was a lot shorter.

Some people on the Internets wax lyrical about the 1800 TI, calling it “the original M car.” The TI/SA might be called that, but that’s still a stretch. Far more prosaically (and logically), the 1800 TI is the first of a long line of sporty BMW saloons – including the -02 T-with-a-small-“i”-(and/or-with-a-double-“i”), as well as their non-Ti-badged successors – that came in the groundbreaking Neue Klasse’s wake. But that’s not the whole picture.

The BMW 1800 TI is not the M’s ancestor or the Ur-Alpina, it’s much more than that. In its mid-‘60s context, it was a distillation of BMW’s newfound confidence in their automobile branch, after having lost Eisenach in 1945 and botched up their postwar range with overambitious V8s and almost gone under. It’s also a potent symbol of postwar West Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder, which by this point was plain for all to see. Nice to see one of these migrated to Japan, which was in the midst of its own Wirtschaftswunder at the time.    


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Curbside Classic: 1964 BMW 1800 Neue Klasse – The Car That Saved And Made BMW, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1964 BMW 1800 “New Class” – The Tesla Model S Of Its Time, by PN