Regarded as one of the leading manufacturers of luxury and high-performance cars in the contemporary world, BMW has a history that dates back over 100 years. The German auto brand was founded in 1916 and initially produced aircraft engines used in World War I. Soon after the war ended, the company swiftly worked its way up to become an auto manufacturer with its first-ever motorcycle, the BMW R 32, produced in 1923.
Eventually, by 1952, BMW established its roots in the field of car production and launched the 501, a luxury sedan that marked the beginning of BMW’s journey in the automobile industry. The company started to expand its range of vehicles and quickly gained the respect of drivers around the world. Since then, the German brand has produced a long list of cars that became widely famous and set benchmarks for other competitors in the industry. To sum everything up, here are the best 15 BMWs of all time.
1955 BMW 507
FernandoV/ShutterstockIntroduced to American drivers in 1955, the BMW 507 was a roadster based on the company’s previous 501 and 503 models (via MotorTrend). The car made its debut at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City and even before it landed in the U.S., it already carried a massive reputation of being the “most beautiful car in the world.” Munich’s dream car was developed with the aim to compete against the highly regarded Mercedes-Benz 300SL. The frontman behind the 507 was Max Hoffman, a New York-based luxury car dealer who influenced the development of a European sports car especially tailored for American buyers.
The 507 was packed with a 3.2-liter, V8 engine that produced 150 horsepower. It had a top speed of 122 miles per hour (mph) and could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 11.1 seconds. This was a perfect car in every sense. It was built and assembled by the best technicians in Bavaria and was loaded with best-in-class materials. Due to this, the cost of production of each unit came close to a whopping $10,000, almost double its projected cost price.
BMW incurred a loss on each unit it produced and in 1960, the model was pulled out of the brand’s lineup, MotorTrend notes. Although the car couldn’t survive in the market, it now collects above $1 million from buyers. Fun fact: a 1957 BMW 507 sold for $5,040,500, making it the most expensive BMW ever sold.
1956 BMW 503 Cabriolet
Gaschwald/ShutterstockDesigned by Albrecht von Goertz, the BMW 503 was a luxury two-door Grand Tourer that was developed alongside the 507 roadster. With the aim to establish the German brand as a luxury automaker in the American market, the 503 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show as a car that delivered both power and comfort (via TopSpeed).
The 503 was the most desirable BMW in its era and that was because of its “ahead of the time” design, TopSpeed notes. It boasted a vertical, slim two-piece grille that was flanked by two other horizontal grilles that were smaller in size. Large, round-shaped headlights fitted into rounded fenders that enhanced the car’s front look. A thin bumper completely made of chrome was placed at the front. The hood of the car had a slight slope towards the rear, which gave the car its aerodynamic look.
Talking about power, the BMW 503 ditched the old-school 2.0-liter, six-cylinder engine and packed a 3.2-liter V8 instead. The motor produced 140 horsepower. Flat out, the car could reach 60 mph in 12.8 seconds and could attain a top speed of 118 mph, TopSpeed notes. The German marque hoped the model would add to the company’s sales in the post-war era, but it again ended up incurring heavy losses. Finally, in 1959, BMW stopped its production. A total of just 413 units were produced throughout, available in both coupe and convertible variants.
1962 BMW 3200 CS
Rudiecast/ShutterstockIntroduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961, the BMW 3200 CS marked the end of an era for the German company (via Google Arts & Culture). It was the final model based on the brand’s luxury platform in the early post-war era that started with the 501 in the 50s. The sports tourer was manufactured from January 1962 to September 1965, and 603 units were produced in total. The two-door coupe had a beautiful design that showcased an Italian flair, something that was quite prevalent at the time. It was designed by Italian automobile company Bertone, based in Turin, Italy. The two-door coupe boasted the then famous vertical slim grille with a horizontally-shaped grille at each side. Large, round BMW headlights made their way to the model and were fitted into rounded fenders. From the sides, the 3200 CS carried a clean and elegant look.
Interestingly, TopSpeed notes that it was the first-ever BMW to feature the Hofmeister Kink — an automotive design element that consisted of a forward-angle made at the base of the C-pillar of cars. The BMW lineup especially carried the element and it soon became associated with the German giant. The rear end of the 3200 CS had two circular-shaped taillights that were encompassed with circular patches of chrome. The car was powered by a 3.2-liter, V8 engine that was further mated with a four-speed manual transmission. The 3200 CS had a top speed of 124 mph and could do 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds.
1973 BMW 3.0 CSL
Simlinger/ShutterstockThe most powerful CS ever made, the BMW 3.0 CSL, was the track version of the already-existing coupe series under the name of BMW E9. The first car from the E9 series was the 2800 CS, carrying a 2,788-cc engine that peaked at 6,000 revolutions-per-minute (rpm) and produced 168 horsepower. The second coupe from the series was the 3.0 CS, introduced in 1971. It equipped a 2,986-cc engine that pumped out 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. While these cars were more about comfort, BMW introduced the star in the lineup — the 3.0 CSL — to fill the vacuum of a designated sports car.
According to Ultimate Specs, the CSL sported a 3,153-cc engine that could produce a whopping 206 horsepower and reach a top speed of 137 mph. While the engine remained one of the key reasons behind this success, the build of the car, with lightweight materials, remained the most significant factor for its impressive performance. In fact, the “L” from CSL stood for “Lightweight.”
BMW efficiently used aluminum to make the doors, bonnet, and boot lid of the car. Even the chassis was built with thinner sheets of metal to reduce the overall weight of the car. Result: an outstanding power to weight ratio of 6.1 kg/hp. Apart from its unmatched performance, the most intriguing feature of the car was the specially-shaped rear spoiler, which gave the car the nickname — “Batmobile” (via BMW)
1978 BMW M1
Gerd Schifferl/Getty ImagesRegarded as one of the most iconic BMWs ever produced according to CarBuzz, the M1 was an excellent machine, both for the road and tracks. It carried the powerful character of a sportscar and contributed immensely to BMW’s racing journey. Interestingly, it was the first BMW to wear the ‘M’ badge and all the 460 copies ever produced from 1978 to 1981 were hand-built (via Hot Cars). This makes the M1 one of the rarest BMWs of all time.
With a 3.5-liter, straight-six motor stuffed under the hood, the M1 produced 277 ponies and 243 lb-ft of torque output at 5,000 rpm (via Ultimate Specs). The engine was paired with a Kugelfishcer-Bosch mechanical fuel injection system, which allowed the car to reach a top speed of 162 mph. Realizing M1’s potential, BMW’s racing division created a racing version of the car known as the M1 Procar. The latter was a designated sports car exclusively designed for the world championships and the M1 Procar Racing Series.
For this, the designers tweaked the body of the street-ready M1 and integrated a big-rear spoiler, prominent mudguards, and redesigned front bumpers. The six-cylinder engine was further developed by BMW M engineers in accordance with the Group 5 Racing Regulations and the results were outstanding — an 850 horsepower engine that could reach a maximum speed of 192 mph. The BMW M1 Procar was not a commercial hit, though it became one of the most iconic BMWs in the racing world (via BMW).
1998 BMW M Coupe
Heritage Images/Getty ImagesThe BMW M Coupe was the high-performance variant of the Z3 coupe produced by BMW’s racing division, BMW Motorsport (via Car and Driver). All the units of the M Coupé were manufactured and assembled in BMW’s Spartanburg plant in the US, although parts like the engine and transmission system were imported directly from Germany, according to Hatch Heaven. The car was developed under the leadership of BMW’s lead engineer Burkhard Göschel.
The team had to keep the cost of production as low as possible and therefore, the M coupe shared a majority of its bodywork with the Z3 coupe, Hot Cars points out. Although, no compromises were made to the power-producing unit of the car, and the quad-exhaust tips under the rear bumper were a clear indication of that. Initially, the M coupe was offered with a 3.2-liter, straight-six high-revving engine designed by BMW M. The engine, also known as S52 had a power output of 321 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, and it took only 5.4 seconds for the car to reach 60 mph.
The top speed of the car was electronically limited to 155 mph, showing the potential power of what could have been. In 2001, the company upgraded the engine to S54 which was rated at 321 hp and produced 261 lb-ft of torque (via BMW).
1999 BMW Z8
Rudiecast/ShutterstockDeveloped with the codename ‘E52’ from 2002 to 2003, the BMW Z8 was a two-door roadster co-designed by Henrik Fisker and Scott Lempert. Originally, the Z8 was designed to celebrate the BMW 507 from the 50s, TopSpeed notes. Several prototype models were produced between 1996 and 1999, and one concept was previewed at the Tokyo Motor Show under the name Z07. The successful response and overwhelming popularity amongst BMW enthusiasts led to the commercial development of the Z8. The car was even featured in the James Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough,” released in 1999.
Talking about its performance, a 5.0-liter, V8 engine could pump out 400 horsepower at 6,600 rpm, TopSpeed notes. The engine, designed by BMW Motorsport, was internally known as the “S62” and was placed right behind the front axle, providing the Z8 with a 50/50 weight distribution. BMW Z8 could reach a top speed of 180 mph, although an electronic speed limiter kicked in at 155 mph.
An acceleration time of 4.7 seconds was claimed by the company, though the U.S.-based automobile magazine Motor Trend found the time to be 4.2 seconds. Car and Driver tested the car thoroughly and found that the car’s benchmark scores had outperformed the highly regarded Ferrari 360 Moderna, especially in terms of acceleration, braking, and handling. About 5,700 units of BMW Z8 were produced between 2000-2003, out of which half were shipped to the U.S.
BMW M5 Touring
BMWReleased in 1992, the BMW M5 touring was essentially a sports car wearing the body of a comfortable and luxurious tourer. The car was a perfect representation of a stunning sedan, a comfortable wagon, and a powerful sports car, all blended together (via BMW-M). The aim of the designers was to present a highly comfortable vehicle with characteristics such as a spacious interior and a ton of boot space and combine all of this with the sportiness of a BMW M car. The race-based technology of the car was sourced from the M5 sedan with minimal changes.
The M5 Touring was assembled mostly by hand at the BMW M plant in Munich (via BMWM Registry). Interestingly, it was the last series of BMW cars to be assembled manually. Coming to the thrilling nature of the M5 Touring, the five-seater wagon equipped a 3.8-liter straight-six DOHC petrol engine that could produce 340 horsepower at 6,900 rpm, according to Carfolio.
The engine was the best-in-class. Even today it could be regarded as a great six-cylinder motor. It took only 5.9 seconds for the M5 Touring to reach 60 mph and it could go up to 155 mph (electronically limited). Interestingly, only 891 units ever left the production facility, making the M5 Touring the rarest of its kind.
FernandoV/ShutterstockThe BMW 2002 is a vintage car that dates back to the 1960s (via Road and Track). Widely regarded as one of the best-looking BMWs of all time, the BMW 2002 wore a clean and elegant design. The slim chrome bumpers, shiny paint job, and compact shape won the hearts of many. The round headlights and the small vertical front grilles added more character to the design. Although, the car was significantly underpowered considering the nature of BMWs. Initially, the 2002 had a 2.0-liter engine which was good enough to produce 100 horsepower with a single carburetor (via Silodrome).
The most significant update that 2002 ever got was the Turbo addition. It was introduced in 1974 and was the “bad boy” in the lineup. For this variant, BMW turbocharged the 2.0-liter engine which boosted the ponies to 170 and produced 181 lb-ft of torque output, significantly more than the original 2002. The 2002 Turbo was also given a visual revamp. The front bumper was replaced by air intakes and the body was painted with the classic BMW tricolor shade of dark blue, light blue, and red to bring out the sporty character. Before the existence of BMW M, the 2002 Turbo was a renowned go-to sports car and to this date, it remains one of the most in-demand vintage vehicles.
Heritage Images/Getty ImagesSuccessor of the limited production car BMW Z1, the Z3 has been a symbolic model for the Bavarian brand ever since its debut in 1996 (via BMW Akron). The two-seater open-top car has played a significant role in establishing the Z family in BMW’s lineup. Built on the heritage of the 503 roadster, the Z3 wears a classic silhouette from the 50s which was molded in a dynamic and timeless design. The letter Z stands for “Zukunft” which means “futuristic” in German and undoubtedly, Z3 was ahead of its time.
The structure of the car followed the classic BMW recipe for roadsters: a long bonnet, slanted windshield, and a driver’s seating position pushed back to the rear. Designed by Joji Nagashima, the sportscar was also available in a two-door coupe model. At that time, the automotive market lacked the existence of attractive and high-riding cars (like SUVs these days) and the Z3 helped the brand to fill the vacuum with its gorgeous design and a sporty driving experience.
Close to 300,000 units were produced in total, making it the first Z series car to be mass manufactured. According to MotorTrend, the initial Z3 offered a 4-cylinder M43B18 engine that was rated at 114 horsepower and 124 lb-ft of torque output but eventually got its engine upgraded to a six-cylinder M52TUB20. The M variants of BMW Z3 which were later introduced in 1999 packed a straight-six S50 motor that produced 316 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of peak torque output.
BMW M6 Cabrio
Philip Lange/ShutterstockIntroduced first in 2012, the M6 Cabrio was the second-generation performance version of BMW’s 6 series (via Auto Evolution). Around that time, a list of high-performing convertibles was incomplete without a BMW, and the M6 Cabrio served as the ideal representative for the Bavarians. The car was a great blend of looks and power and stood right in the middle of a sportscar and a roadster. It featured an aggressive stance at the front that distinguished the M6 convertible from the rest of the 6 series.
The M-package included a chrome-worked kidney grille, “M” badging on the front fenders, and a quad-exhaust setup. 20-inch wheels were a standard part of the deal along with enlarged fenders and a pronounced front bumper, notes Auto Evolution. The inside was filled with leather upholstery and high-quality materials, increasing the car’s luxury. Since it was a high-performance sports car, bolstered seats were installed at the front to help the driver and co-passenger to maintain their seating position at steep turns.
Although, the real magic of the BMW M6 cabriolet is underneath the hood. The car equipped a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine with direct fuel injection. The system altogether could pump out 560 horsepower while producing a peak torque of 500 lb-ft. The power from the engine was enough to offer a top speed of 155 mph, although an additional M-driver’s package was available that boosted its top speed to a whopping 190 mph.
2011 BMW 1M Coupé
Johnnie Rik/ShutterstockNot many cars have the potential to set a benchmark in the world of high-performance cars soon after their launch. However, the 2011 BMW 1M Coupe was no ordinary car. This compact-sized coupe that was light in weight and carried the power of a BMW M won the hearts of many car enthusiasts. On top of it, the car was a rear-wheel-drive machine paired with a manual transmission system — a combination that hardcore auto lovers live for. The results were outstanding: 6,331 units sold from a single year of production, according to Stratstone. Although BMW initially planned to manufacture only 2,700 units of the 1M Coupé, the cap was removed due to its overwhelming response.
The 1 series M coupe was significantly different from the rest of BMW’s 1 series, both in terms of design as well as power. The former sported the typical ‘M’ elements on the body such as the signature wing mirrors and a prominent front bumper. For the first time in a production car, air-intakes were used to improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle. The back of the car featured a rear spoiler that was subtly integrated into the boot lid and quad-exhaust tips, highlighting the sporty nature of the car. A 3.0-liter straight-six motor was installed on the 1 M Coupe. It packs 340 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and delivers 330 lb-ft of peak torque output. Flat-out, the car can reach 62 mph in just 4.9 seconds (via Ultimate Specs).
2016 BMW M2
Roman Vyshnikov/ShutterstockThe BMW M2 is the high-performance variant of the 2 series lineup that was introduced in the market in 2014 (via Motor Trend). Both the 1 series and 1 M series were replaced by BMW’s 2 series, making M2 the entry-level variant in BMW’s M lineup. The world saw the car for the first time in the famous video game “Need For Speed: No Limits” in 2015, a year before it got into the market. For the buyers, the car was introduced at the North American International Auto Show.
The M2 was made for delivering uncompromised performance and undoubtedly, it stood up to the mark. The two-door rear-wheel-drive coupe sported a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine that produced 365 hp at 6500 rpm and 343 lb-ft of peak torque. The 2016 M2 equipped with a manual transmission system can accelerate from 0-62 mph in just 4.5 seconds (via Car and Driver). With the dual-clutch automatic transmission, the number falls down by .2 seconds. Top speed of the car is electronically limited to 155 mph, but those who want that extra thrill can opt for the optional driver’s package which boosts the top speed to 168 mph.
2018 BMW M5
Raymond Boyd/Getty ImagesOne of the most uncompromising cars in BMW’s lineup, the 2018 M5 is a luxury sports sedan that carries the reputation of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” quite seriously. Undoubtedly, it is the best make offered by the German brand’s high-performance lineup that demonstrates the traits of a business sedan fused with insane power and ultimate tech. Known as F90 in BMW’s generation terms, the model is the first in its family to have the “M xDrive” all-wheel-drive mode as standard, providing the ultimate torque distribution to each wheel and efficiently putting its horsepower to great use in diverse terrains. Although, the hardcore auto enthusiasts who want the thrilling wheelspin experience can switch to the fully rear-wheel-drive mode with the M dynamic buttons. This mode offers a pure track experience — screeching tires, drifting, burnouts, you name it. BMW recommends unleashing this mode only on designated tracks and closed circuits.
Talking about its unmatched performance, the BMW M5 equips a 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine that produces that monstrous 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of peak torque output. The ridiculous acceleration of the M5 pushes you hard against the seat and takes just 3.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill. Yet, the 2018 BMW M5 is not only about the performance but also offers the executive experience of a luxury sedan with its dynamic exterior and best-in-class interior.
BMW M8 Gran Coupe
North Monaco/ShutterstockUndoubtedly the most aggressive-looking sedan in BMW’s performance lineup, the M8 Gran Coupe is the four-door coupé variant of the high-performance 8 series. Unlike its sister variants which are only offered in two-door models, the M8 Gran Coupe is a more practical pick given the longer wheelbase and no compromise on power. Designers from the German giant have worked ambitiously to make the range-topping variant the ultimate car in the lineup and they did it exceptionally well (via Car and Driver). Talking about the design of the M8 Gran Coupe, the exterior of the sports sedan speaks aggression from each angle. Be it the bumper at the front with massive air-intakes for the high-performance engine (coming to that soon), the mean-looking headlights, or the rear diffuser that hosts the quad-exhaust system, everything will remind you of the monstrous nature of this vehicle.
Although, the real monster actually sits beneath the hood. The car features a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that roars 617 horsepower and produces 553 lb-ft of peak torque output, offering an exceptional G-force experience while driving. With the performance package, BMW M8 Gran Coupe can go from 0-60 mph in just 2.7 seconds, quicker than you could pronounce the name of the car! The lusty engine is paired with an 8-speed M automatic transmission system (although you can manually shift too) and with BMW’s xDrive system, you can switch to the rear-wheel-drive mode to enjoy the ultimate driving experience (via BMW).