Here’s Why The BMW Multi-Trailer Is The Coolest Accessory You’ve Never Heard Of

Multi Trailer Topshot

I love it when car manufacturers stop making sense. Giving in to dreams gave us the Isuzu Vehicross, the Volkswagen Phaeton, and the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. While the pursuit of some dreams result in great success, most don’t quite land in the marketplace. Take the Nissan Pulsar NX, a modular car that could be a liftback coupe or a shooting brake depending on which hatch was installed. Despite modular cars never catching on, someone from BMW presumably took a look at a Nissan Pulsar NX and thought something along the lines of “what if we did that, but with a trailer?” Say hello to the BMW Multi-Trailer, one of the weirdest OEM accessories of the Y2K era.

Multi Trailer Brochure
Photo credit: BMW

So what exactly is the Multi-Trailer? Well, it’s a sleek flatbed trailer offered through BMW dealerships around the turn of the 21st century. Manufactured by Westfalia, the trailer incorporates bespoke tail lights that tie in nicely with BMW’s ‘90s styling language and has a nice handy slot for storing optional loading ramps below deck. Simply drop the number plate panel, slide the ramps in, and you’re on your way. The Multi-Trailer’s brakes are simple drums, although a 5x120mm bolt pattern allows for fitment of popular OEM BMW wheels. As for suspension, it’s a lot more sophisticated than the leaf spring setups commonly seen on small trailers. If we take a look at a handy parts diagram, we’ll see that the BMW Multi-Trailer is actually suspended by coil springs and divorced dampers using a semi-trailing arm suspension setup. Weird. [Editor’s Note: This is incredible. Trailers usually use very, very simple leaf-sprung solid axles. -DT]

Multi-Trailer Underpinnings
Photo credit: BMW

Why would anyone do this? Conventional wisdom is that weight is better distributed through the length of a semi-elliptical leaf spring setup than through a coil spring. However, this is BMW we’re talking about, a company known for doing the wrong things to often achieve desired outcomes. This is a company that’s only ever arranged six cylinders in a straight line for passenger car use, packaging be damned. A company that stuck with MacPherson strut front suspension despite the camber curve benefits of double-wishbone or multi-link arrangements. Sure, running plastic cooling systems at two bar and automating a six-speed manual gearbox didn’t work out so well, but BMW was really experimenting around the dawn of the new millennium. Independent rear suspension allows for better individual wheel control than a live axle and thus a smoother ride. Considering this trailer was meant to be pulled behind luxury cars, a smooth ride seems important to clientele.

Despite the independent rear suspension and the fancy bodywork, the Multi-Trailer weighed a reasonable 235 kg, or roughly 518 pounds. Taking a maximum gross weight of 1,000 kg (2,204.6 pounds) into account, that leaves a maximum load capacity of 765 kg (1,686 pounds). However, trailer weight could easily pile up if a client started adding options to the trailer, and this trailer had more options than a Pizza Hut buffet.

Multi Trailer Resize
Photo credit: BMW

BMW may be famous for its cars, but the Bavarian brand made its name through its motorcycles. While an F650 sounds like a fun way to get outdoors, hours of highway riding on a dual-sport bike requires titanium butt cheeks. Thankfully, BMW thought of that and made a motorcycle kit for the Multi-Trailer. Consisting of a front wheel hoop and some tie-down hardware, it honestly looks like a great way to pull a bike behind a sports sedan. If a customer preferred their bikes to be human-powered, anchors compatible with bike racks were on offer so that Multi-Trailer owners could tow the world’s bulkiest bike rack.

A more useful option was the optional canopy which turned this motorcycle hauler into a lockable storage container that wouldn’t clip the beams in an underground parking garage. Plus, the canopy had roof rails so that all manner of roof rack attachments were compatible. Bike racks, snowboard racks, a roof box, you name it. With this canopy, the Multi-Trailer offered the utility of two trailers in the footprint of one. Pretty handy for anyone with limited space. Best of all, the canopy was painted the same Alpine White as the trailer, and both could be resprayed to match your BMW.

Multi-Trailer with canopy
Photo credit: BMW

So why didn’t the Multi-Trailer take off? For starters, removing and installing the optional canopy sounds tricky. The weight of that attachable hard shell clocked in a hefty 75 kilograms, or roughly 165 pounds. It seems difficult enough to remove the hard shell due to its cumbersome size, so weighing as much as an adult human likely didn’t help. BMW did offer a cable lift system and a kit to attach the cables to the shell, but that only makes removal easier rather than easy full-stop. Then there’s a matter of cost. According to a period brochure, the Multi-Trailer carried an MSRP of $3,600 without any of the fixings. Because modular things are like baked potatoes, you’re going to want lots of fixings.

Multi-Trailer Specs
Photo credit: BMW

First, a disclaimer. The following list prices come from Maximilian Importing Company, a BMW parts store that offers a pretty close clone of BMW’s parts catalog. The BMW 2002 community seems to have liked the company for a long time, so I’ll give them a fair shake and say that their prices are most likely accurate. As with any parts prices, a common caveat applies: dealer may sell for less, dealer may sell for more, dealer may say that there’s no way in hell it’s stocking this stuff.

Let’s start with the most basic addition to any flatbed trailer, a loading ramp. If you wanted the correct one that stows neatly below deck, you’d be looking at an additional $514.65. It makes the motorcycle kit look like chump change at $176.75, doesn’t it? Speaking of accouterments on the more reasonable end of the spectrum, Transport Module 1 retailed for $129.60, while Transport Module 2 retailed for $152.73. However, even the pricey loading ramp pales in comparison for the retail price I found for the really cool enclosed canopy. Maximilian Importing Company quotes the list price of the Multi-Trailer canopy at $2,940. You could probably buy two clapped-out Bavarias for that sort of money back when Good Charlotte released Little Things. Only a particular sort of customer would likely put up with that level of expense, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the Multi-Trailer was marked as “ENDED” in BMW’s parts catalog in 2004. Still, if you find one up for sale and happen to own something like an E39 5-Series, why not pick up the ultimate Y2K BMW accessory?

Lead photo credit: BMW

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28 Responses

  1. A lot of folks in Europe use small utility trailers for all kinds of errands – in my family it almost always involved delivering a load of old junk from the gap behind the shed in the backyard (where it accumulated over a couple of years) to the dump. The cycle then repeated. The modular design is pretty smart, I bet there is still a decent market for this – though maybe not with the fancy suspension and Bavarian pricing.

    UHaul rents utility trailers and Cargo trailers, but something that combines the best of both would be pretty appealing to me.

  2. One big advantage of the independent suspension over a solid trailer axle is the opportunity to lower the deck height in the centre of the trailer for more easily loading something like a motorbike. In that cutaway diagram of the suspension, imagine reshaping that crossmember the trailing arms mount to with a deep U in the middle, so the centre section of the trailer floor can sit as low as possible (allowing enough ground clearance so the ends of the trailer won’t scrape going in and out of driveways). This would make it very easy to roll a motorbike up a shallow ramp into the trailer. Make a panel to drop in over the low centre section so for ‘regular’ use you have a wide flat bed, and it would be a good multi-purpose trailer. I’ve been contemplating building something like that for ages – first step would probably be going to the local Pick-a-Part and scouting around for a suitable IRS setup to build a trailer around.

    1. You want a Timbren Axle-Less Trailer Suspension System.

      Ready made in a variety of weight ratings, with or without brakes, ready to bolt onto the bottom of your trailer frame rails.

      I’m pretty sure there are other brands, too.

  3. I *do* own an E39 5 Series—a sparsely equipped 2000 528i 5MT—and had no idea this existed. I’m sure it’s as rare as hen’s teeth, and probably costs more now than it did when new.

  4. “Bespoke taillight” – aren’t they from the E36 Compact? Remember these trailers being in the accessories catalogues in the early noughties. Wondered why anyone would pay the premium, just like for a BMW branded child seat, then a good friend bought two BMW child seats colour matched to his car interior…

    1. Exactly – the taillights were „borrowed“ from the E36 Compact. The triangular reflectors that are required for trailers in Germany (Europe?) and are typically integrated in „real“ trailer taillights had to be added separately.

  5. I have one these. I bought it on Ebay in 2004, just incase my BMW broke down. Never happened. It has been used for the riding mower, furniture, etc. Tows like a dream with my small Suzuki, no surging and the brakes are smooth. The wide ramp normally hides behind the license plate and works well with two-wheeled trucks for loading. The parking brake is pretty convenient too.

  6. Yes,good,interesting.
    Adding that I used euro style hitch/ball on my ev to tow boat. Well the bubbas in my part of the swamp would heehaw over that euro hitch. Writing this, maybe they were falling in love ????

  7. Torsion axles exist and work well. This design does lend itself to being serviceable. A torsion axle is serviced by replacing it when the torsion bands wear out.

    Dropping stuff from the ceiling is a pain even with a good lift system. It’s fine for once in a while items. Aligning a heavy item onto a trailer isn’t fun to start. Having to jockey the trailer under something needing a specific place takes patience and attention to detail. Not exactly items in abundance when wanting to go right then.

  8. BMW missed an opportunity to eliminate the loading ramp. The most common application of independent suspension on small trailers where the suspension can “kneel” to drop the load deck on the ground.
    Interestingly the trailer is carrying a 97-04 BMW R1200C “Chromehead” their first attempt at a cruiser and not very successful. These probably made more sense in Europe where utility trailers are more popular although even there the lack of a pickup style bed for hauling material makes it less useful

    1. I’ve never used a kneeling trailer, but always figured that the constant push uphill while trying to secure the bike would make it more difficult. Ramps aren’t perfect, but once you get the bike on the trailer, at least it’s flat and easy to deal with. Maybe it’s a non-issue for kneeling ones…

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