The letters BMW stand for Bayerischen Motoren Werke (Bavarian Engine Works). BMW started off as manufacturers of aircraft engines in Munich in 1916. The first vehicle, the R 23 motorcycle, appeared in 1923. BMW quickly established a reputation form reliability and quality. In 1929 they took over the Dixi works in Eisenach and started manufacturing the Modell 3/15 PS, an Austin 7 clone built under license. The car sold well and the range was soon expanded. In 1933 BMW introduced their own straight six-cylinder engine which they fitted to various compact yet elegant motor cars.
The 328 roadster started a new line of sleek sports cars which are very sought-after today.
After WWII the car factory in Eisenach came under Soviet influence but for some years continued to manufacture pre-war models, albeit under the name of EMW (Eisenacher Motor Werke). BMW didn't re-start until 1948 when they brought out the R 24 motorcycle, a pre-war design. It took until 1951 before BMW introduced their first post-war car, the 501. This was a large saloon fitted initially with a 2 litre six-cylinder engine, later with a 2.5 litre V8.
Post-war austerity meant poor sales and the company very narrowly missed being taken over by Mercedes-Benz and was on the brink of going bankrupt. It was the Isetta bubble car and BMW 700 that just managed to keep the company going until a new class was introduced in 1962: the BMW 1500. With its attractive design the car sold well and evolved into numerous other models, not least the highly successful 2002.