BMW is at a turning point in its existence. Not only is it preparing to launch its first-ever front-wheel drive model, it is also on the verge of introducing a sub-brand that will exclusively sell electric vehicles.
The German automaker has been dabbling in EVs since 1969 when it started designing an all-electric variant of the 1602. Over the next couple of months, engineers built two functional prototypes that were presented to the general public at the beginning of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
Visually, the two electric 1602s were almost identical to gasoline-burning models. Stickers aside, the most noticeable exterior difference was that the EVs did not have an exhaust system so the rear apron did not feature an opening for the tail pipe.
The similarities stopped there and a look inside the car revealed that it was not your average Neue Klasse sedan. The gear lever was replaced by a small joystick mounted between the front seats that controlled whether the car was moving forwards or backwards and the instrument cluster featured a charge gauge and several warning lights.
BMW engineers removed the gasoline-burning drivetrain and fitted a drum-shaped 32-kilowatt electric motor developed with input from Bosch in the car’s transmission tunnel. Linked to the rear axle via a driveshaft, it doubled as a generator and recovered kinetic energy to charge the battery pack.
Speaking of batteries, the motor’s juice came from a dozen twelve-volt batteries mounted on a small pallet in the engine bay. Although bulky, the pallet setup meant that the battery pack could easily be removed and replaced with the help of a fork lift, reducing the down time between charges.
The battery pack weighed a whopping 771 pounds (350 kilos) and the motor tipped the scale at 187 pounds (85 kilos). The extra weight had a terrible effect on the Bimmer’s performance figures: When propelled by electricity, the 1602 accelerated from zero to 31 mph (50 km/h) in around eight seconds and reached a top speed of just 62 mph (100km/h). If driven in dense city traffic it had a maximum driving range of 19 miles (30 kilometers).
BMW regularly dispatched the two electric prototypes during the 1972 Munich Olympics and the cars were often showcased during marathons and other similar events. However, the drivetrain’s primitive technology had many drawbacks – most attributed to the immense gain in weight and the very limited driving range – and the electric 1602 was never seriously considered as a candidate for mass production.
All photos courtesy of BMW’s Classic Center.