The BMW 1600 (and its 2002 variant) was of course a milestone car. It’s what cemented BMW’s image and drastically expanded its sales. Up to that point, BMW had been selling the somewhat larger “Neue Klasse” four door sedans with modest success, although to considerable critical acclaim. The timing of the 1600 was perfect, as in the late sixties the second (and final) import boom was really building momentum, and a growing number of enthusiast car buyers were shunning Detroit’s offerings, despite some of them being quite compelling.
This double review of a 1600 and a 2000 Tilux puts BMW’s then current situation in perspective. Not unlike how the Tesla Model 3 offers most of the Model S’ capabilities, so does the 1600 in relation to the 2000, despite being almost 50% cheaper (I even called the BMW 1800/2000 the Model S of its time). No wonder the 2000 was a rather uncommon sight on the streets in the US, whereas the 1600 quickly became a hot little item. Priced at $2613 ($20k adjusted), it was a bargain, thanks to the old 4:1 fixed mark-to-dollar exchange ratio.
The 1960 Corvair is acknowledged as the primary source of stylistic inspiration for this family of “Neue Klasse” BMWs, and the new smaller 1600 continues the theme quite faithfully.
The 1600 weighed a full 510 lbs less than the 2000 Tilux, which meant that it was only a tick or two slower in acceleration, despite the 40 hp difference. The 2000Tilux used a higher output version of the larger 2 liter variant, using a pair of two-barrel side draft Solex carbs vs. the 1600’s single Solex downdraft. A 1600Ti would soon join the lineup, but was not sold in the US, where importer Max Hoffman instead urged BMW to utilize the basic 2 L engine in the lighter 1600’s body, creating the 2002.
With 96 hp, the 2050 lb 1600 was a lively performer, willing to rev to 6500 rpm, although R&T conservatively chose to shift at the indicated 6000 rpm redline. 0-60 in 11.6 seconds was a brisk for the times, especially since R&T noted that it used conservative starting techniques for the test runs, refusing to abuse the machinery. The engine’s liveliness and smoothness was noted.
The 1600 also was praised for its fine quality build and interior materials, which was only a bit below that of the Tilux’. The driving position and seats were excellent, and of course the visibility was unbeatable. And of course the suspension was “no less than excellent”. This is where the little Bimmer really shone, with its ability to take on rough roads, bumps and choppy surfaces without losing its composure. R&T repeated its mantra of the times: “Detroit simply isn’t in the same league when it comes to ride and handling in the same suspension package”.
The 2000Tilux was the ultimate evolution of the four door sedan family that first arrived in the form of the 1500 back in 1962. It combined the high-output engine from the 2000Ti with a higher level trim and features, such as hand-rubbed walnut on the dash, nicer upholstery, and some standard convenience items. The four round sealed beam headlights had to replace the two single rectangular units used in Europe; R&T found them “hardly as pleasing” as the European versions; oddly enough, I find them more pleasing, and ironically, they were a forerunner of the quad round units used so successfully on the new six cylinder sedans that arrived a year or so later, as well as the 2800CS coupe. They gave both of them a decidedly more dynamic and distinctive look.
These four-door four-cylinder BMWs were relatively minor players in the US market, but they did re-establish the brand in a critical way, creating a basis for huge future growth, starting with the 1600.