The little-known and rarely seen BMW 700 Coupé is arguably one of the most important models in BMW’s post-war history. The first of the series and highest-selling variant in the 700 family (Coupé, Luxus LS, Limosin, Cabrio), the 700 Coupé was the brainchild of Austrian BMW importer and racer Wolfgang Denzel. Denzel convinced the BMW Board to allow him to have a new, more stylish body designed for the BMW 600’s drivetrain. Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned to design this new shape in January 1958. A completed prototype was presented to BMW in July; the Board then had their in-house stylists, led by Wilhelm Hofmeister, refine the design and at the same time develop a saloon version. While BMW’s first unibody design was being fine-tuned, the engine was also receiving attention from Alexander von Falkenhausen, BMW’s head of engine development. His team eked 30% more power from the flat air-cooled twin, making for a truly sporty car.
The 700 debuted at the 1959 IAA (International Auto Show) in Frankfurt – 3 Coupes and a Limousine; test drives around the building were even offered. While the car lacked traditional BMW styling cues – kidney grilles and the Hofmeister Kink – it captured the public’s attention. Here was an affordable, stylish BMW with good performance – the first since the war, and BMW’s last economy model until 2002’s MINI was introduced.
At the Frankfurt show, 25,000 purchase orders were written, assuring the success of the model. BMW, in danger of a forced merger with arch-rival Mercedes-Benz, was seen as having a bright future based on the 700 and another Michelotti design, the soon-to-appear Neue Klasse sedans. Dealer and investor Herbert Quandt saw the potential, and upped his stake in BMW to 50%, keeping BMW an independent company. The Sport Coupé hit on a winning formula for BMW – it was a reasonably-priced car with distinctive, modern styling, decent performance, and enough competition success to make people notice. The 700 enjoyed remarkable success as a road and race car, finally giving way to the new 1500 sedan in 1965.
Manufacturer: BMW AG
Country of Origin: Germany (also license-built in Belgium and Italy)
Drivetrain Configuration: Rear-engine, Rear-wheel drive
Engine: Air-cooled,697cc, flat twin, 40bhp (early, single-carb models were 30 or 32bhp)
Transmission: 4-speed manual (a Saxomatic semi-auto was available from 1963)
Top Speed: 77mph
Years Produced: 1959-1965
Number Produced: 185,582 all types; 8213 Sport Coupes
Cost: 5200 DM; (approx. $1250)