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BMW: the ultimate driving machine

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/18/2006 | Auto and Trucks

BMW was originally an aircraft engine manufacturer in Germany. When the Treaty of Versailles prohibited the production of aircraft in Germany BMW switched to manufacturing motorcycle engines and by 1933 BMW started producing cars. Over the last several decades these three letters have come to symbolize excellence in the field of cars and motor-cycles. Interestingly, the BMW logo is still a stylized representation of an aircraft propeller and it has the colors of the flag of Bavaria.

The post-war history of the BMW passenger cars starts with the 1952 BMW Z3.  By the 1970s, BMW was commercially successful and in December 1971, moved into its present headquarters in Munich. Later, it expanded its production base and started manufacturing units in South Carolina, USA, and in Rosslyn, South Africa. Since October 2003, BMWs are produced in Shenyang, China.

The current BMW model lineup is split into what the company calls "Series". Each series stars with a numeral or alphabet and represents all the cars produced under that series. The following are the important cars rolled out by BMW under the different series:

-- 1 Series: This is a small car launched in Europe in 2004 and is proposed to be launched in the US in 2006. It is the only rear wheel drive vehicle in its class.

-- 3 Series: It is a luxury sedan. The E90 line is currently available in the 325i  and the 330i  as well as the AWD-versions. Also available is the all wheel drive Touring (wagon) model, the 325xiT.

-- M3: The M3 series is the motor-sport division's race-inspired version. Currently available only in the E46 body style and with a 3.2 L engine producing 333 hp. A new revision is expected in 2007 with a 400 hp V8.

-- 5 Series: A mid-size sports/luxury sedan this car is available in three different engine styles: the 525i, the 530i, and the 545i, producing 325 hp. For the 2006 model year, the 545i will be replaced by the 550i.

-- M5: The new M5 (E60) is powered by an F1-inspired V10 engine, producing 507 hp and is mated with a 7-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) transmission.

-- 6 Series: This is a coupe version of the 5 series, and is currently available only in the 650i version with a 4.8 L V8 producing 360 hp.

-- M6: A high performance version developed by BMW's M Division, it is powered by 5.0 L V10 507 hp engine. It is currently available in Europe and will also be sold in the US.

-- 7 Series: This is an executive class, luxury car meant to compete with the Mercedes-Benz s-Class, Audi 8-A and Jaguar XJ. The 7 series comes in the 750i and 750Li and in the 760i and 760Li. Models. Incidentally, the 760Li is also made in a bulletproof version.

-- X3: This is a small SUV with emphasis on practicality and affordability

-- X5: This was launched by BMW as its first SUV to compete against the Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes M-Class.

-- Z4: This is a two-seater roadster and coupé that succeeded the Z3. It is available in 2.5 L and 3.0 L models.

Some of the models like M1, Z3, 8-Series, Z1 , Z8 and Z9 are now out of production.

The BMW, however, continues to be a mega car maker. Most of its models are status symbols and great examples of its tagline: the ultimate driving machine.