BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) builds high quality motorcycles. BMW bikes are considered by many to be the finest motorcycles money can buy, combining grace, performance and precision German engineering.

They also build cars of similar quality and distinction. Older BMW cars are cherished for their durability and styling. Newer BMW cars are basically status symbols.

"BMW is fortunate--we don't have too much of a dilemma as to what we're going to call our cars." McDowell (vice president of marketing for BMW) is referring to BMW's trademark naming system that consists of the product line number and the motor type. For example, the designation "328" tells you the car is in the 3 series and the engine is 2.8-litres in size. BMW has found this naming system to be clear and logical and can be easily understood around the world. The Z and X series don't quite fit in with this system. BMW had a tradition of building experimental, open-air cars and calling them Z's, and hence when the prototype for the Z3 was built, BMW decided to continue with the Z name. For the sport activity vehicle, BMW also used a vehicle didn't fit with the sedan oriented 3, 5, and 7 series. Other then the Z3 (the third in the Z series) and the X5 (named 5 to symbolize its mid-sized status within that series), the BMW branding strategy is quite simple, unlike the evocative names many car manufactures choose to garner excitement for their new modals.

The BMW logo looks roughly like this:

   /       \
  /   -+-   \
 /  /  |  \  \
 | |---+---| |
 \  \  |  /  /
  \   -+-   /

The outer ring is black, while the segments of the circle inside are alternating between blue and white. This is supposed to be a stylized image of an airplane's propeller; in their early days, BMW made mainly engines for airplanes. Also, white and blue are the traditional colors of Bavaria.

BMW stands for Bayerische Motorwerke, German for Bavarian Motor Works. The German pronounciation is bay-em-vay, which rolls off the tongue much smoother than bee-em-double-ewe. Its headquarters is located in Munich, Germany.

Bob Marley was rather fond of BMW's. Although in general, he condemned the Babylon System of seeking material things, he owned quite a few BMW's. Apparently, his fans forgave him driving around an expensive foreign car because it is said he could park his car in any ghetto with the doors open and no one would touch it.

As for why Bob Marley was so fond of this particular style of car, it was because BMW stands for Bob Marley and the Wailers, of course.

For a number of years, BMW's have not followed the naming scheme (as mentioned by Hyperi0n above) where the last two numbers of the model represented the cars engine size (also used by Mercedes-Benz as well - although they also no longer always follow the scheme). The first number still always represents the series, however the cars engine size is not necessarily related to the following numbers.

All non standard models (e.g. Touring, Sport etc) are assumed to have the same engine size as the standard specification, unless otherwise stated in the non standard specification. For the cars with the badges removed (of which there are many in the UK), a basic test is the exhaust - the smaller engine sizes have a single tail pipe, the higher models have twin pipes.

The Z3, Z4, Z8, and X5 do not appear on this list as they do not follow the accepted naming scheme.

Update: The information now applies to the 2004 reissue of the 5 and 7 series, as well as including the long awaited remake of the 6 series.

3 Series Compact:

  • 316 : 1.8L
  • 318 : 2.0L
  • 320 : 2.0L
  • 325 : 2.5L
3 Series (standard specification):
  • 316 : 1.8L
  • 318 : 2.0L
  • 320 : 2.0L
  • 325 : 2.5L
  • 330 : 3.0L
3 Series (non standard specification)
  • 320i SE : 2.2L
  • 320i Sport : 2.2L
  • 320i Sport Touring : 2.2L
  • 320d SE Touring : 2.2L
  • 320Ci : 2.2L
  • 320Ci sport : 2.2L
  • M3 : 3.2L
5 Series (standard specification)
  • 520 : 2.1L
  • 525 : 2.5L
  • 530 : 3.0L
  • 535 : 3.5L
  • 540 : 4.4L
5 Series (non standard specification)
  • The M5 is awaiting release (May 2005), with a 5.0L V10
  • 545 (V8) : 4.4L
6 Series (standard specification)
  • 630 : 3.0L
  • 645 : 4.4L
7 Series (standard specification)
  • 730 : 3.0L
  • 735 : 3.6L
  • 745 : 4.4L
  • 760 : 6.0L

Model information correct for October 2004 line up. Source : Top Gear (June 2003) / Test Drive + Top Gear (October 2004) Thanks to TallRoo for the suggestion

Every BMW motorcycle model name starts with a letter designating the engine family, then a number for the engine displacement, then letters describing the model type.

BMW currently has three engine families:

K "Brick"
A liquid-cooled, inline engine. Originally there were three- and four-cylinder versions; now only the four-cylinder remains. Older bikes with this engine get called "flying bricks". It makes a distinctive whining sound when running.
R "Boxer"
BMW's renowned horizonally opposed air cooled twin started its life as an aircraft engine. After World War I, Germany was banned from producing aircraft, so BMW, started building motorcycles around its existing airplane engines. This heritage should give the reader some idea of the level of stamina and reliability BMW riders expect from their machines. The current R engine is air- and oil-cooled and is available in various states of tune, depending on the application.
F "Thumper"
A liquid cooled single. Unlike the R and K, the F engine and transmission use a shared oil bath and a wet plate clutch. With this layout, the traditional shaft drive layout BMWs have had since 1923 had to be abandoned: F bikes use either a chain or a belt for the final drive.

Current model types include:

Cruiser. Low-slung, grunty, sexily styled, with a laid-back riding position.
Gelandestrasse, meaning roughly "on the land or street." Rugged, enduro-style motorcycles designed to handle both pavement and rough, unimproved roads. The R1150GS has been described as the Swiss Army knife of motorcycles.
The Roadster is BMW's standard.
Rally Sport. A sport touring bike with the emphasis on sport.
Rally Tour. A sport touring bike with the emphasis on motorcycle touring.
Luxury Touring. BMW's K1200LT is a serious competitor to Honda's GoldWing.

BMW motorcycles have an excellent reputation among serious motorcyclists. Their owners tend to be safety-conscious, experienced riders. The most seasoned BMW pilots think nothing of riding two hundred miles to some remote mountain road, dragging the pegs through the twisties (humiliating the wannabes while the wife dozes on the pillion seat), breaking for lunch, then heading back home.

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