April 15 2009

It's been a while since we've had any new books come across our desk, but recently a pair of them showed up for our consideration. While each has BMW in its title, the two books couldn't be more different. One examines the inner workings and history of BMW's automobile manufacturing facilities, while the other is a hardbound compendium of BMW motorcycles both classic and modern. Each, however, is a pleasant diversion from the reality of today's automotive environment.

Inside the BMW Factories, by Graham Robson

For anyone who loves cars, a day inside the factory walls is to watch them being built is a field day. Sure, we all know that at the most basic level, cars are really just assemblages of metal, plastic and rubber parts that by themselves have no particular soul. But to actually witness those individual components coming together to form a complete car is a magical, emotional event on par with an expectant mother's first ultrasound. Well, for some of us it is, and that's why Robson wrote this book.

At nearly 200 pages, Inside the BMW Factories is largely a photographic tour of BMW's numerous plants around the world. The images alone could tell most of the story, in part because they are all stock images provided by BMW that cover decades of carbuilding. But while the photography may not be original, it's Robson's extensive knowledge of BMW's history that pulls the snapshots together into meaningful chapters.

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The first half of the book is almost exclusively black-and-white and includes numerous pictures of cars, motorcycles and airplanes in various states of construction. Early chapters are devoted to the earliest factories at Munich and Eisenach, the latter of which BMW would eventually fall behind the Iron Curtain following World War II. Robson accurately accounts for the expansion of BMW factories through its continued acquisition of smaller companies, such as the Glas werks in Dingolfing that would go on to become the point of origin for every 5 and 7 Series.

Naturally, Munich is the spiritual home of BMW as we know it today, and the mid-section of this volume is filled with various generations of iconic BMWs on the company's main Milbertshofen assembly line in Bavaria's capital. E30s, E21s and even 2002 turbos can be seen rolling down the line.

Later chapters cover the modern era at BMW, including North American, South African and English facilities, but oddly exclude Indian and Chinese assembly facilities. Nevertheless, the contrast of modern automobile manufacturing to that of the early twentieth century is eye-opening.

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The Art of BMW by Peter Gantriis and Henry von Wartenberg

In contrast to Robson's book, the Art of BMW is entirely about BMW motorcycles; it also contains no stock photography and is significantly lighter on word count. Instead it is filled with large, high-quality original images of some of the most interesting bikes ever built by BMW.

The subject of the book is the entire private collection of American enthusiast Peter Nettesheim, which includes thirty-four bikes in all ranging from a 1925 R32 to a clutch of 2007 R, K, and F Series bikes. The book's layout emphasizes the artistic nature of this project, with large images meticulously trimmed and laid on stark white backgrounds. Looking in the reflections in the paint, it's obvious that most of the photography was shot outdoors, and considerable time and effort went into the intricate trimming of the images to achieve the desired effect.

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Henry von Wartenberg, the photographer who shot the bikes for this book, has captured the true mechanical beauty that makes BMW motorcycles rolling sculpture. From crankcase closeups of a 1974 R90S to the patina'd exhaust pipes of a 2007 F800ST, the imagery tells a far more emotional story than does the accompanying text.

It helps that von Wartenburg had such impressive machinery to shoot. Nettesheim's collection includes such characters as a 1950 R51/2 with a Steib S350 sidecar, a 1969 R60/2 Polizei in its green-and-white German police splendor, and a very cool 1941 R12 wearing its weathered and worn (but original) WW II-era paint.

Anyone with an interest in vintage motorcycles should have no problem disappearing into The Art of BMW for an hour at a stretch. And those especially hung up on two-wheeled BMWs can admire the passion of one very lucky, very sensible collector.

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Inside the BMW Factories - Building the Ultimate Driving Machine
By Graham Robson
$40, hardcover, 192 pages, 150 color & 50 b/w photos
Motorbooks.com

The Art of BMW- 85 Years of Motorcycling Excellence
By Peter Gantriis, Photography by Henry von Wartenberg
$40, 192 Pages, 142 color & 2 b/w photos
Motorbooks.com