After spending a bit of time on BMW’s move to front-engine, rear-drive platforms recently, I’d be remiss to not cover one of the more important steps in that development. That was, of course, Hans Glas GmbH, which introduced the world to the belt-driven overhead camshaft engine, which would go on to be the standard…well, pretty much everywhere. But most importantly for BMW, the links – and eventual takeover – of Glas gave them the technology to move from their air-cooled, rear-engine 700 into the Neue Klasse.
So here we have one of the first cars to emerge with that new engine design, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t previously heard of it. The S 1004 developed out of the 994cc overhead cam engine being mated with a prototype fiberglass body in 1961, and production started in 1962. You didn’t get much; it was slightly odd in proportion, especially compared to the very pretty 1300 GT that emerged the next year. But here was the blueprint for the small BMW – an overhead camshaft engine up front with a fully-sychromesh four-speed manual driving the rear wheels. Sounds trite, but this was unheard of in a small car before the S 1004. Of course, since this all became standard on other cars nearly immediately, the S 1004 is relegated to the history books, having sold only around 40,000 examples in all configurations before it was discontinued. Today, there’s one of these rare bits of German motoring history for sale in Uruguay:
Continuing with some 1960s vintage BMW history, we have to of course look at BMW’s major acquisition follow its successful staving off of Mercedes-Benz takeover. That company was Hans Glas GmbH. In the 1960s, this company briefly moved away from its bonds as constructor of sewing machines and licensed Goggomobils to produce some seriously pretty coupes; the 1300 GT and 1700 GT were the first and better known, but the 2600 and 3000V8 were no less striking. Glas employed same tactic as most major manufacturers for the designs, hiring an Italian to pen the lines. It was Pietro Frua who was responsible for the GT’s design, and while neither his name nor that of Glas resonate with the same authority as Pininfarina, Bertone, Ghia, Italdesign and Giugiaro, Gandini or even Michelotti (who produced a very similar design in the Triumph GT6), the combination was nonetheless a beautiful outcome for the German firm.
BMW purchased Hans Glas GmbH outright in 1966, gaining access to their Dingolfing plant and engineering team (incidentally, one of the first to use timing belts!). In the process, BMW’s technology and Glas’s designs merged, giving us the BMW 1600GT. The upgraded Glas 1700 GT offered 100 horsepower, and about 5,400 Glas-branded GTs were produced before the nameplate was eliminated in 1967. BMW produced a further 1,200 1600GTs before retooling the Dingolfing plant for E24 production in the mid-1970s.
Some fifty years on, that makes any of these cars quite rare, so even though this particular Glas isn’t the most pristine out there, it’s worth a look:
The Goggomobil TS400 isn’t the kind of car you see every day. In fact, it’s not the kind of car that pretty much anyone ever sees. It’s the kind of car you might expect to see Jerry Seinfeld show up with if he invited you out for coffee, or perhaps the camera might pan by one in Jay Leno’s garage. They’re obscure, but they’re also odd – so you probably won’t see Wayne Carini seeking one out. Yet the model played a very important part in the development of German car manufacturers pertinent to our interests.
That’s because of where they were produced. Goggomobiles were bubble cars produced by Hans Glas GmbH in Dingolfing, Germany – in the heart of Bavaria. Yes, that’s the same Glas that built the beautiful 3000 V8 Grand Tourer and lovely 1700GT. The Goggomobil was far less glamorous, but no less important in the survival of the Dingolfing plant – in total, over a quarter million sedans and coupes were produced, and a few were even brought stateside. Like many bubble cars, the technology was 2-stroke motorcycle-based, which kept production costs very low and the car affordable to the masses. Goggomobiles even outlasted Glas itself, as BMW swallowed up its competitor in 1966 and used the Dingolfing plant for some of its newer models.
Goggomogiles are quite rare to find today, despite their relatively prodigious production (consider, for a moment, that there were only about 8,500 DeLorean DMC12s produced – and that this car ended production only 12 years before the gullwing time traveler emerged on the market!) so it’s neat to remember their quirkiness:
Two names appear in this post that aren’t nearly as widely recognized as they should be. The first is Andreas Glas, the proprietor of Hans Glas GmbH. In the 1960s, this company briefly moved away from its bonds as constructor of sewing machines and licensed Goggomobils to produce some seriously pretty coupes; the 1300GT and 1700GT were the first and better known, but the 2600 and 3000V8 were no less striking. That’s because of the second name involved in this post; Pietro Frua.
Frua isn’t nearly as well known as the other great Italian designers of the 1960s, but he had a unique style all his own. Well before Gandini and Giugiaro capitalized on the angular wedge era of automotive design, Frua’s low, long and flat lines stood sharply apart from the rounded arches that dominated Pininfarina, Ghia and Vignale. Glas used the designs, along with the pioneering use of timing belts, to offer a slightly different vision of German transportation. It was more emotive, more flowing and, frankly, more pretty than just about anything else in period from the major manufacturers. Indeed, many compared Frua’s work on the 2600 to the Maserati Sebring – exotic company, indeed, and fitting given that the designer went on to work on several of the Trident’s designs.
But Hans Glas GmbH was bought out outright by BMW, mostly for the procurement of the Dingolfing plant and engineering crew. Before BMW closed the chapter, though, they updated a few of the Glas designs with new Munich power, stuck some BMW badges on them and Viola! A new catalog of cars! This 1967 BMW Glas 3000 V8 is an example of the seldom seen period of BMW history: