Book Review: ‘The BMW Century: The Ultimate Performance Machines’ by Tony Lewin
BMW turned the big 100 this year, and its fans are ready to celebrate. 100 years is a long while in car time, and through the century BMW has built motorcycles, cars, airplane engines, and more. It has also brought several other automotive brands into its auto group, like MINI and Rolls-Royce. To join in the the wave of goodwill for the German automaker, author Tony Lewin and publisher Motorbooks have produced this beautiful coffee table tome to commemorate the anniversary.
The BMW Century: The Ultimate Performance Machines
By Tony Lewin
Product Details: Hardcover, 240 pages, 10.1 x 1 x 12.2 inches
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
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This tome opens with a foreword by Tom Purves, the chairman of Britain’s Royal Academy Club. He reminisces about how he feels about BMW’s long history, and then the book jumps straight in to the birth of the company 100 years ago. The book is broken into chapters that follow the eras and brands of BMW, and then the subsections break out specific models or product offerings that BMW has created.
In the beginning, BMW was known for its work with motorcycles and airplane engines. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that BMW built its first car, and has continued to run with these three products throughout this history. When it comes to airplane engines, BMW built the best airplane engines in World War One. After a manufacturing break due to the Treaty of Versailles, BMW built engines throughout World War Two. After Germany’s loss in that conflict, BMW turned their focus away from airplane engines, but did develop two post-war jet engines and works with BMW AG member Rolls-Royce to build civil aircraft engines.
In terms of motorcycles, the ones BMW built became staples of German transportation, including several models that had service in the World Wars and racers that impressed crowds worldwide. BMW’s motorcycles have continued to develop into the present day, and have a very devoted fan base.
BMW’s focus on automobiles really took off when they decided to focus on six-cylinder engines in a time when the Third Reich was promoting private car ownership and mass mobility. From small cars like the Dixi DA1 and the BMW E1 to larger cars like the BMW 326 and the BMW 7 Series, this book covers the evolution of BMW into the brand it is today. The book even covers concept cars and the famous BMW Art Cars.
This book is a large hardcover, and is certainly meant to be showed off on a coffee table or in a book case. On the inside, pages are in full and vivid color, and the paper is glossy and thick. It’s very easy to read the text, and none of the fonts are so stylized that they are difficult to comprehend. The cover is very strong, and the dust cover is actually pretty durable. It’s a matte cover, and was folded to fit on a a book much like the brown paper bag covers we used in school, making it so the edges resist wear much better than traditional hardback books.
This book is a great addition to the library of any BMW collector. However, if the cover has you hoping for artistic shots of BMW models you might be let down. Early on, I was impressed by the quality of the older photos, but then as I made it through the book I began to suspect why. The modern cars are clearly represented by stock photos (many of which we regularly use here on The News Wheel), so I suspect the older photos are also readily available through the brand’s archives. While they do show the cars in a good light, the dramatic cover made me hope for more. I would not have objected to stock photos if they were accompanied by original photos, but that does not seem to be the case.
The text is very informative, and is great for readers that might not know about the details of BMW’s past. There are plenty of details about the engineering behind the vehicles highlighted in the book, without being so technical as to alienate casual car lovers.
While Lewin does not shy away from discussing the automaker’s role in the First and Second World Wars, some parts of it are glossed over, especially in the case of the Nazis. The author does detail what engines and motorcycles BMW built for the Nazis, but not who built them and in what conditions. Later, at the beginning of chapter five, “War and the Postwar,” Lewin says, “In 1945, when it was all over, there was an appalling price to pay in terms of obliterated assets and, for many, a certain disgrace from being labeled an arms manufacturer and employer of forced labor.” Then he moves on to talk about how hard it was for BMW to pick up the pieces of its operation after it was destroyed by the Allies.
Before its big birthday celebration in Munich this year, BMW acknowledged and expressed regret for its use of Nazi slave labor, and more details are emerging about the family that owned BMW at the time, the Quandts, and how they benefited from assets seized from Jews sent to concentration camps. Lewin needed to make a choice when writing this book about a German automaker between fully addressing what happened during the war, or ignoring it to focus solely on BMW’s products. His wishy-washy mention of slave labor and then how it made things hard for BMW, instead of the people enslaved, feels pretty callous.
My rant aside, this book is a decent purchase for automotive fans that love BMW and are looking do a way to share their love in their home or office. It’s not a bad book, there are just some things that could have been done better to make it excellent.
The BMW Century is available through the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and other retailers.
Product provided for review by publisher.
- Rebecca BernardEditor
A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac's Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Jerome to the song they're playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or taking an adventure on the open road. See more articles by Rebecca.