Home » The Strange Wonder Of The BMW 600: Cold Start

The Strange Wonder Of The BMW 600: Cold Start

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You may recall last week we wrote about all the BMWs in the Autopian staff’s various fleets and the relative amounts of delight or regret they provide. My name was not on that list, mostly because I don’t own any BMWs, at least none I’m aware of. That’s because I haven’t been able to find my favorite BMW – a BMW 600 – at a price I can afford or not made out of 75% rust and 25% despair. In case you’ve forgotten how remarkable the BMW 600 was, let’s look through this 1957 brochure to remind ourselves, why not?

The 600 is often mistaken for an Isetta, which it is clearly inspired by, but is actually not really an Isetta. Yes, it has the Isetta’s same idiosyncratic front-face door and general gumdrop shape, but beyond that it’s got very different engineering. It’s a true rear-engined car, unlike the sorta-mid-engined Isetta, and the engine in the 600 is a motorcycle-derived BMW flat-twin; much more substantial than the one-banger in the Isetta.

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And, the 600 is stretched compared to the Isetta, with a real second row of seats and even a door just to get to them, like a king or emperor or sultan might have. And, a decent-sized luggage well behind that!

It’s all so clever! Look:

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Sure, the shape seems weird to us, but really the 600 was a study in making a roomy and practical small car by just ruthlessly getting rid of everything you don’t need. It’s an exercise in nearly kink-like austerity in the same way the Citroën 2CV was, just with a very different approach. BMW was aware of how different the 600 looked from conventional small cars of the era, and played up that difference, as you can see here:

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The blue shaded parts I think represent the traditional three-box style they were pushing away from, though to be fair, the only three-box car this tiny was probably a Vespa 400 or maybe an Autobianchi Bianchina.

The amount of utility possible from this peculiar design is quite impressive; you could think of the 600 as a sort of little van, with a front door, and BMW actually did seem to think that: look at the bottom picture here:

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The show all the normal configurations: rear seat up, rear seat down, and then that last one with a whole freaking ladder in there requires an optional single bucket front seat instead of the usual full-width bench, but in that case you could treat a 600 like a little, front-loading (and side-loading) van!

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Of course, it was mostly intended for people, like those four illustrated people up there, happily egressing or ingressing, like real ballers.

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The brochure also has some beauty shots of the 600, here with a photographer holding a Hasselblad camera, and if we imagine a colossal mirror in front of them, perhaps this is a selfie? Also, note the fantastic front turn indicators integrated into the lines of the bumper. I love that.

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You know what else I love? This page showing that engine and how it relates to BMW’s motorcycle-and-sidecar racers, which are just bonkers-looking machines. I also love how in the English translation of this brochure this picture of the engine (sadly in just black-and-white) is accompanied by this text:

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Oh, I’m sure that’s true. In fact, one of my go-to pickup lines is to find some sexy person who looks interested in technical perfection, and then let my laminated picture of a BMW 600 engine housing “fall” out of my wallet. It never fails me.

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This is also something very rarely seen in car advertising anymore: the diagram of field of vision. I like that it shows a stoplight as a height reference, because that is very useful. Also, with no hood in the way, the forward visibility of the 600 is fantastic.

My friend Jonee at the Petersen Museum once told me, of the BMW 600, that it’s everything anyone technically needs in a small car. And I think he’s right. But, sadly, I think we’re in the minority, because nothing really looks like a 600 anymore. Except that Microlino, I guess.

 

 

 

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Cliffhort
Cliffhort
1 month ago

I had a 600 in college (1960) . It was a blast! It had chrome loop “handles” on each corner of the car. For “fun” members of the football team carried it up to 2nd floor of boys dorm and parked it in front of my room. Not to be outdone, I started it up and drove it down the central staircase and out the front door.
On the highway I could get better than 60 mpg drafting semi’s!
Those were the days.
Cliff Horton

Jochen Dwersteg
Jochen Dwersteg
1 month ago

Ask David Tracy about the forward visibility of the best city car. the BMW i3

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

I love the way the 600 subverts the idea of a two door car.

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