Though the 1972 Munich Olympics would ultimately be marred by a tragic terrorist attack, it was also a chance for a divided Germany to show off its technological prowess. For BMW, that meant a chance to showcase its first-ever electric vehicle, the 1602e, at a time when an international gas crunch was putting a pinch on petrol supplies.
Keep in mind this was at a time when automotive battery technology was still almost entirely based around the classic lead-acid unit. In the BMW 1602e, 12 of these primitive batteries were lashed together to create one giant battery pack, weighing in at a tremendous 770 lbs (350 kgs), about half what a 85 kWh Tesla battery pack comes in at. Yet despite adding almost 30% more weight to what was once a light car, the BMW 1602e had between 19 and 37 miles of driving range, depending on conditions.
Though that was enough juice to shuttle visitors around the Munich Olympics for a few hours, for day-to-day commuting it would be terribly impractical. The 43 horsepower Bosch motor also didn’t exactly offer what one might call “inspiring” performance, taking 8 seconds to reach 30 MPH (yes, 30 MPH). BMW did, however, make it so the huge battery pack could be quickly and easily swapped for a fresh one. However, there was no way to plug the 1602e in, seriously limiting the practical applications of the technology.
BMW built just two of the electric 1602es as technology demonstrators, and while it did lead to the short-lived BMW LS Electric in 1975, it wasn’t until about a decade ago that the automaker got serious about EVs again. The MINI-E and BMW ActiveE test mules were put into the hands of actual consumers, leading to the development of the BMW i3 and i8.
And it all started with one little electric Bimmer from the early 70s.