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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

BMW – German model for innovation

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

BMW, which stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, Bavarian Motor Works in English, is a German multinational corporation that produces luxury vehicles and motorcycles. BMW was founded as a manufacturer of aircraft engines, but after World War I, it was forced to shift its focus to producing motorcycles and engines for cars.

BMW was founded by three men: Franz Joseph Popp, Karl Rapp and Camilo Castiglioni. Popp, a former general director of the Austro-Daimler company, Rapp, an engineer who had designed engines for aircraft and Castiglioni, an investor. The three men first formed a company, in Munich, Germany, called Rapp MotorenWerke GmbH in 1913 and began producing aircraft engines.

One of Bayerische Motoren Werke's (BMW) most famous aircraft engines is the BMW 801. It was a powerful radial engine that played a significant role during World War II. The story of the BMW 801 is intertwined with the development of one of Germany's most iconic fighter planes, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

The BMW 801 was chosen to power the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a formidable German fighter aircraft designed to outperform its contemporaries. The Fw 190 combined excellent maneuverability, robust construction, and firepower, making it a formidable opponent for Allied aircraft.

In 1917, the company changed its name to Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW for short. After the end of World War I, BMW was banned from producing aircraft engines by the treaty of Versailles, so it turned its attention to producing motorcycles and engines for cars.

In the 1920s and 1930s BMW became known for producing high-performance motorcycles and luxury automobiles. Its early successes included the BMW 315 which was the company’s first car, and the BMW I-3 to which was its first motorcycle. BMW cars were known for their innovative design, precision engineering and exceptional performance.

In the early 1930s, BMW, a company primarily known for its motorcycles and automobiles, recognized the potential of aircraft engines and began developing them. The BMW 801, introduced in the mid-1930s, was designed as a large displacement, air-cooled, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. It featured a two-stage supercharger and produced around 1,600 to 2,000 horsepower, depending on the variant.

During World War II, BMW produced engines for the German military. After the war, the company was banned from producing aircraft engines and was forced to focus on motorcycles and cars. In the post war era. BMW faced financial difficulties, but it still managed to recover and expand its product line.

The BMW 801 was chosen to power the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a formidable German fighter aircraft designed to outperform its contemporaries. The Fw 190 combined excellent maneuverability, robust construction, and firepower, making it a formidable opponent for Allied aircraft.

The BMW 801 engine played a crucial role in the Fw 190's success. Its power allowed the Fw 190 to achieve impressive speed and climb rates, making it highly effective in combat situations. The engine's reliability and performance at high altitudes also made the Fw 190 a capable interceptor and fighter-bomber.

The Fw 190s were such an issue for Allied air superiority, that a commando raid was devised to capture one intact at a French airfield and fly it home for evaluation. Luckily this proved to be unnecessary when in 1942 a confused German pilot accidently landed his Fw 190 completely intact at RAF Penbury, an airfield in Wales. The pilot, Armin Faber, incorrectly thought he had landed on a German base in France, even wiggling his wings in celebration as he flew over those on the ground looking up in disbelief. The British inspected the aircraft to the last nut and bolt, in order to develop a counter.

The BMW 801 engine, however, was not without its challenges. It had a complex design and required skilled maintenance. Additionally, the production of the engine faced difficulties due to resource shortages and Allied bombing raids on German factories. Despite these challenges, the BMW 801 engine and the Fw 190 proved to be a formidable combination on the battlefield.

The BMW 801-powered Fw 190s served on various fronts during World War II, engaging in dogfights, ground attacks, and bomber interception missions. The aircraft's superior performance and the engine's reliability contributed to its fearsome reputation.

The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 was widely believed to be the best fighter aircraft of World War II. As the war went on the FW-190 was manufactured in no fewer than 40 different models. The appearance of the new aircraft over France in 1941 was a rude surprise to the Allied air forces.

By the war's end, over 20,000 BMW 801 engines had been produced. The engine's legacy extended beyond its wartime service, as it played a role in post-war aviation development. Some variants of the BMW 801 engine were used in other aircraft, including the Focke-Wulf Ta 152 and the Blohm & Voss BV 155.

The BMW 801 engine stands as a testament to BMW's engineering prowess and its successful foray into the field of aircraft engines. Its association with the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, one of the most iconic German fighter planes of World War II, ensures its place in aviation history.

In the 1960s, BMW introduced its new class of compact cars which helped establish it as a major player in the luxury automobile market. In the 1970s, BMW introduced its first turbo-charged engine and began producing the BMW 3 series, which became one of the company’s most successful models.

Today BMW is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of luxury vehicles and motorcycles. The company’s product line includes a wide range of cars, SUVs and motorcycles, and it is best known for its commitment to innovation, quality and performance. BMW continues to be headquartered in Munich Germany and is led by a team of executives who are committed to keeping the company at the forefront of the automotive industry.


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