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BMWs early flirtations with the electric car, the BMW 1602 Elektro-Antrieb

Posted by Noel Alderman on

When you think about BMW and electric cars, perhaps the BMW i3 or i8 come to mind. But BMWs experimentation with electric vehicles goes back all the way to the original BMW 1600 model. Reimagined with the primitive battery and motor technology of the time, behold, the 1602 Elektro-Antrieb

BMW 1602 Elektro

The 1602 Elektro-Antrieb used one 32 kW (43 hp) electric motor, front-mounted driving the rear axle. The same layout used in the standard 1600 model. The battery had a total capacity of 12.6 kWh electric vehicle battery , and the batteries can be charged or replaced with a freshly charged pack. The battery pack alone tipped the scales at a hefty 771 pounds

BMW 1602 Elektro electric car

Swapping out a 772 pound battery pack . . . doesn't sound that easy

BMW 1602 Elektro battery pack

As you would imagine, the massive weight penalty commanded by the batteries took its toll on the car’s performance, with the sprint to 31 mph taking eight seconds en route to a top speed of only 62 mph.

The BMW 1602 Elektro-Antrieb was first unveiled at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

BMW 1602 Elektro electric car

BMW wanted to take advantage of the major event in 1972 to get some good publicity. It presented the 1602 Elektro to the general public at the Summer Olympic Games organized conveniently that year in Munich, home of BMW’s headquarters.  Two examples of the trendy BMW, painted in sparkling orange, were used to to shuttle VIPs and serve as support cars in various long-distance events like the marathon

The two cars deployed at the games were rated with a range of 19 miles (30 kilometers) during city driving. BMW said the Varta batteries had enough electric juice for as much as 38 miles (61 km), but only when driving at a steady 31 mph (50 kph). The 1602e had an early form of regenerative braking as the electric motor also performed duties as a generator, so the energy generated during braking was stored in the battery.
With such a short range and without a gasoline engine to kick in after that like in today’s i3 REx, the concept was not feasible for production.
In reality, BMW had no plans at that time to launch an electric vehicle. It was a pure ‘R&D’ study launched in 1969 and carried out jointly with Varta, and Bosch.  A kind of prospective study to test the validity of an electric alternative
The electrical technology of the time encountered two major pitfalls: weight and autonomy.  The very heavy batteries, combined with a very short lifespan and the ridiculously short range of no more than 19 miles, and an electric motor churning out only 44 horsepower, and if so, drastically reducing the vehicle’s range and autonomy.

With such a technological level, it was hard to imagine the future of such a vehicle, but BMW wanted to take advantage of the Olympic spotlight to demonstrate its research and development capabilities. 

Tragically, nothing would go as planned.  On September 5, 1972, at 4:30 am, eight Palestinian commandos, members of the Black September organisation, took Israeli athletes and their support staff hostage within the Olympic village.  The following day, the news was monstrous: 11 Israelis, one German police officer and five terrorists were killed in an attempted rescue operation.

BMW refrained from making any publicity effort for the 1602 BMW Elektro.  Under any other circumstances the vehicles would have received the advertising that they deserved, performing faultlessly their intended jobs during the marathon events.  But even the sporting events were overshadowed by the horrific tragedy that took place during the hostage-taking drama. The two 1602 Elektro were stored away by BMW never to be heard of again.


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