This 700 is the little St Mary's racer that saved BMW
For sheer variety, you can’t go wrong with the St Mary’s Trophy at the Goodwood Revival. Much like the Gerry Marshal Trophy and Sprint at the Members’ Meeting, it is a heady mix of David vs Goliath battles.
The larger, more powerful machines have it easy on the straight but come the corners, the lightweight machines make the ground back. It’s in the latter category that the little BMW sits with its 700cc engine. Compared to some of the 7-litre-plus machines it is fighting a losing battle until of course, you see that it only weighs 500kg.
BMW has quite a lot to thank the little 700 for. Through the 1950s and ‘60s, the motoring world was evolving quickly. Despite BMW being known for larger saloons, the 700 was its own entry into a market demanding cheap, small and reliable transport. Like its cousins – the Mini, Fiat 500, VW Beetle – it was built for the masses and was the antithesis to BMW’s lower-volume past.
The Quandt brothers – industrialists and shareholders on the BMW board – foresaw this market evolution and, with the disinterest of the other board members noted, oversaw the development and introduction of the 700. The subsequent 300,000 sales rescued a then-ailing BMW from the brink and helped position the Quandt family as the majority shareholder that it is to this day.
The 700 in its layout closely resembles the Beetle, but it’s there the similarities end. Sit the two next to each other and the pretty and sleek Michelotti-styled saloon is a far cry from the utilitarian design of the Beetle, giving away little indication of its near-identical rear-mounted boxer setup.
This particular car was found in a barn several years ago and restored for historic racing. It’s been a regular at Goodwood at the hands of former Formula 1 driver and team owner Jackie Oliver. His interest and insight in the corporate story of the 700 was intriguing. He also told of an unfortunately unconfirmed, but nonetheless intriguing potential, Ickx connection. “I see Jacky Ickx quite a lot, he told me. “He said once ‘I used to race that car’. Of course, his early career was driving 700s.”
“They are extremely difficult to drive”, he continued. “The two-stroke engine sits over the back axles and when you put the brakes on and lift, the weight transfers forward and the engine braking locks up the rear tyres.
“If you come across traffic, you’ve got to have the technique right in which to stop it. You feel it and de-clutch in order to get rid of the extra braking you don’t need. Clutch down and brake at the same time…
“We tease my partner in crime, Richard Shaw, who prepares the car, because in a race a couple of years ago he came across someone in the St Mary’s, lifted, and it took three weeks to find him in the wheat-field.” He still likes it, though, even if it’s not the most competitive car in the St Mary’s anymore.
“It feels like a 35/75 weight distribution. It’s a fun challenge. A nice little car. We can’t get the performance out of it because of the small engine so we can’t do what the A35s do and the big American machines. We’re happy to find ourselves in the top 10.”
“There isn’t a category for it. It’s only with the St Mary’s ‘50s saloons that we race it. It won at Mallory Park in a ‘50s saloons race, though.” So where does it sit in relation to all the other exotic cars Oliver has driven? He smiles: “A novelty, a total novelty!”