The BMW Century Book Review

The BMW Century by Tony Lewin Book Review | Rider's LibraryTony Lewin’s new history of BMW–The BMW Century–is, admittedly, not limited to motorcycles. Indeed, they are only featured in only two of the book’s 20 chapters and appear as sub-parts or images in others.

Nonetheless, the book weaves the crucial role motorcycle manufacturing played in the company’s complex history into a cogent tapestry covering the last century.

Lewin covers BMW’s beginnings as a manufacturer of high performance aircraft engines during World War 1, which Lewin describes as having an official creation date of March 7, 1916 in detail in the first chapter.

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The founding fathers of Bayerische Motoren-Werke, GmbH, what would become known officially as BMW, AG in 1922 were engineer Karl Friedrich Rapp, manager Franz Josef Popp, and Max Friz, engine design whiz credited with both the early high-altitude aircraft engines and boxer motorcycle engines. Gustav Otto was also a key figure in the earliest days of BMW, having been the man who was involved in early aircraft manufacturing.

Germany’s defeat in WWI forced radical rethinking and retooling at BMW as the armistice prohibited German manufacture of anything of military significance, including planes and engines. Part of the strategy to survive the post-war period was to move into small industrial engines and motorcycles.

Friz’s early 500cc boxer engines were installed in chassis built by Victoria in 1919 and later, Helios, but with the engine installed longitudinally, not transversely, making cooling of the rear cylinder a concern. By 1923, BMW rolled out the R32, the first motorcycle with engine, transmission and chassis entirely of its own design and manufacture. With it, the engine was installed in transverse position, shaft drive was standard and BMW’s most long-lived template for motorcycle design was established.

Lewin covers the evolution of the boxer twins and addition of vertical single-cylinder models (R2, R3, R4, etc.) in the 1930s and post-WWII models in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 12 rounds out the motorcycle portion of the BMW story all the way up to the intro of the C600 and C650 scooters in 2012, the R NineT in 2013 and the G310R in 2015.

In addition to the superb information and images of motorcycles, the book includes many historic automobile and motorcycle images from the BMW archives, images of striking concept and prototype vehicles as well as historic achievements in racing and record-setting.

For the BMW aficionado, this book covers the brand in impressive fashion. To have even more depth of background on BMW motorcycles specifically, Motorbooks also has released Ian Falloon’s latest book we reviewed, The Complete Book of BMW Motorcycles, Every Model since 1923.

Book Data:

  • Title: The BMW Century
  • Author: Tony Lewin
  • Published: 2016 hardcover, 240 9.75” x 12” pages, color and black & white images.
  • Publisher: Motorbooks, Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA
  • ISBN: 978-0-7603-5017-1
  • MSRP: U.S. $50.00 U.K. £35.00 $65.00 CAN