Classic Beemer echoes of '60s

By David Linklater

Beautiful 1600-2 paved way for marque

Beautiful 1600-2 paved way for marque The view from Mt Eden hasn't changed much in the past 46 years, but cars have. Pictures / David Linklater
Beautiful 1600-2 paved way for marque The view from Mt Eden hasn't changed much in the past 46 years, but cars have. Pictures / David Linklater

Now this is something. A pristine BMW 1600-2 is special anyway, but this particular 1967 model is the first brand new BMW sold in New Zealand. Originally owned by Richard Bolt, it was gifted to BMW New Zealand by the estate of John R Leggett in 1997.

BMW NZ gave it some TLC in preparation for its 30th anniversary last month.

The 1600-2 is one of BMW's original New Class models: the forerunner to the 3 Series and the car that saved BMW after troubled times in the 1950s. The 1600-2 was an entry-level model that sat underneath the sedan: 1.6-litre, two doors. It's a feel-good model because it evolved into the 1602 and eventually the legendary 2002.

The 1600-2 makes a modest 63kW/132Nm but weighs only 920kg. So its 69kW/tonne compares favourably with the current entry-level 3 Series, the 318d, at 73kW/tonne. Even if the four-speed gearbox does not!

While I had the BMW I chanced upon a National Film Unit production from 1967, entitled This Auckland. The film was the inspiration for photographing the car at the top of Mt Eden: the view is actually not far removed from the old days, especially with the wide version of the Harbour Bridge - this car would still have been near-new when it travelled across the new clip-on lanes in 1968.

Judging by the city traffic of Morris Minors and Ford Zephyrs in the film, the 1600-2 would have been quite something back then as well. "It is a city of design and disorder, with the planned advantages bearing the scars of boisterous growth ... Aucklanders are proud of their city: its modern amenities, its climate and its continual struggle to be in vogue with modern trends."

It is possible to look back and see that things are not so different now. It's like that with some aspects of the 1600-2: the fruity exhaust note is familiar BMW, as is much of the interior design. The cabin is stark, but the shape of the hood on the instrument binnacle, the slightly concave sweep on the offside of the dashboard and even the strong chrome line that ties the cabin together are all echoed in modern BMWs.

But you also realise how much things have moved on. I'm not a classic car buff, so the chance to spend a few days in the 1600-2 was a great opportunity. Thank you to BMW for that; especially the freedom to use the car as I chose.

But it was a stressful time. Not just because I couldn't ignore the prospect of damaging something so important, but also because motoring has changed a lot since 1967. The 1600-2 is small by modern standards and because it's most comfortable at 50mph (or perhaps that was me), motorway driving meant being monstered by other traffic.

In 1967 the 1600-2 was a high quality car, with presence. In 2013 traffic, it feels flimsy and vulnerable.

There are now about four million cars on the road in New Zealand. In 2011 there were 9804 accidents, with 307 fatalities. Back in 1967, with a quarter the number of cars and significantly slower speeds, there were more accidents (11,817) and 559 deaths.

That's not all down to the cars of course. But it's a sobering statistic for those who dream about the golden years of the 1960s, when cars didn't crumple with the slightest touch and weren't weighed down with nannying airbags and seatbelts.

In many ways, the flavour of Auckland hasn't changed since 1967. But since the days of the 1600-2, cars have entered a space-age of performance and safety. If only they still looked as lovely.

- NZ Herald

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