“Rare” is thrown around quite carelessly in automotive culture. New cars made in small batches are rare by design. Authentically rare cars aren’t just around in limited quantities, they’re barely known. Obscure. This BMW 1600 GT is one such machine—far less famous than the 2002 or E30 M3, but amazing and significant in its own right.
The BMW 1600 GT is what happens when a German car company grows so quickly it accidentally absorbs an independent Italian scooter maker, and turns his lissome design into one of the coolest sports coupes you’ve never heard of.
Designed by Italians and built by Germans, the 1600 GT is part of the BMW family by adoption. It may not look like any other BMW, but the performance is on-point for a company that would go on to define “sport sedan.” And the whole package comes together for a wonderfully rare driving experience.
(Full disclosure: The opportunity to drive this BMW 1600 GT and many other classic vehicles was made possible by Dietz Motorcraft. Rob Dietz and his team maintain multiple classic car collections that are diverse and full of high-quality examples. Their jobs do not suck. )
Oh, you haven’t heard of the BMW 1600 GT? That’s fine, I hadn’t either and I’m a die-hard, unapologetic BMW fanboy. I’ve been to the museum in Munich, I’ve been to Bimmerfest, I fork over money to them every month for the privilege of driving one of their cars and I can kinda, sorta see where Chris Bangle was coming from with his design choices.
I love me some roundel and I still hadn’t heard of this car, let alone laid eyes on one until I found this fastback beauty, tucked into one of LA’s finest private car collections.
I would come to find out that it was a 1967 BMW 1600 GT, a car that just one year prior did not wear a roundel badge or sport the iconic kidney grille.
You see, the thing about the BMW 1600 GT is that it was only a BMW for two years, 1967 and 1968. It was previously known by another name the Glas 1300 GT—and this is where things get interesting.
BMW’s largest factory is this branch in Dingolfing, Germany, but there’s a reason why it’s there. Andreas Glas founded a repair company for agricultural machines in 1895 and would go on to build sewing machines starting in 1905 in Dingolfing.
After seeing a Vespa in Italy in 1951, Glas to build scooters of his own, 46,181 of them to be exact. Production of scooters ceased in 1956 because Glas had begun building a micro-car in 1955 dubbed the “Goggomobil”, which in turn led to the Glas Isar T600/T700 and Glas 1004/1204/1304.
I encourage you to check out these cars because they are unquestionably interesting, but 1300 GT was to be the defining car from Glas.
Designed by Italy’s Pietro Frua, the 1300 GT (and later 1700 GT) was a beautiful sports coupe. Body shells were built by Maggiora in Moncaleri, Italy and then shipped to Dingolfing to be completed by Glas.
Maggiora also did coachwork for a few other notable vehicles, including, but not limited to, the Alfa Romeo 2000, Maserati Mistral, and De Tomaso Pantera. The combination of Italian design and German craftsmanship has produced some of the finest automobiles ever to hit road, and the Glas GT is most certainly among them. Between 1964 and June 1967, Glas produced 5,376 GTs—363 of those being convertible variants.
So here’s where BMW comes in. By the 1960s the then-small regional German manufacturer was seeing success and needed to expand, so it bought Glas and its model line. Starting in June of ’67 the car was badged as the BMW 1600 GT and sported the BMW “twin kidney” grille, as well as round taillights borrowed from the BMW 1602. About 1,300 GTs with a roundel were built and sold as 1967/1968 models before BMW debuted the 2500 CS, which meant the end of Glas.
There is a lot to unpack when it comes to Glas and BMW, but the most important thing to take away is that the absorption of Glas laid the groundwork for BMW as we know it today. So, I think it’s fair to say that the 1600 GT carries with it a healthy amount of historical significance and when you add in those low production numbers, boom: rare vehicle.
With a doubt, one of the coolest parts of the 1600 GT is that it looks incredible from any angle.
High, low, front, rear, or side, the design is pleasing to the eye. Rather than play the “it kinda looks like X, with a little bit of X” game, let’s just agree that it makes use of many design elements that were popular at the time. Classic sports car looks and proportions.
The only comparison I will make is the one I arrived at after spending a few hours with it and that is to the Ferrari “2+2". It’s like a smaller version of that glorious Italian machine, both in how it drives and how it makes you feel when you stare at it.
Other touches that made me say “Well, that’s fucking neat” included the original Becker Radio with “City”, “Suburb” and Country” settings, frameless glass rear pop-out windows, fender mounted mirrors, and the fonts used in the gauges.
I like to think that people were just was enthused with these things in 1968 as I am today, but it’s more likely that they were too busy hooning the crap out of the car to sweat the small stuff. That’s right, the 1600 GT is more than just another pretty car from the 1960s—it’s legitimately fun to drive.
The first thing I notice about the 1600 GT is how quiet it is. Maybe it’s because I’d just been out in an Alfa Giulietta Spider (more on that soon), but even if I’d just been in a 2017 Maybach, I still think I’d have found it serene inside the GT.
More than once I thought the car had died because I couldn’t hear or feel it idling. At once I understood that this was a true gentleman’s GT car, fit for a refined evening out and ready for hours of grand touring.
At nearly 50 years old, I wouldn’t fault the 1600 GT for losing some of its competitive edge even though it has only covered a mere 29,000 miles. Not only did it exceed my expectations in terms of quickness, but it seemed happiest when screaming towards the top of the tach, much like my M235i. As is the case with my car, it’s also stupid easy to drive, even when you’re pushing it.
Of course you have to put in more effort in the 1600 GT because it’s a classic car with classic car technology, but it’s still a relaxed experience at any speed.
Much of that “chill vibe” could be attributed to the length of the throws of the four-speed stick rivaling that of center field to home plate at the Polo Grounds, but rowing through the gears was still a delight and I never found myself lost. That relaxed feeling gearbox (that can still be found in modern BMW’s) is a direct line to the 1,573cc four-cylinder that BMW installed when they rebadged the Glas GT, rated at 103.5 horsepower back in the day.
I can honestly say that it still felt like all 103 (and a half, don’t forget the half) horses were running at full tilt and were eager to be pushed. It was so easy to get caught up in the moment, engine humming away, sunshine pouring into the airy cabin, I momentarily forgot I was in a classic car, with classic car brakes.
Fortunately, BMW fit the 1600 GT with a semi-trailing arm rear axle with coil springs, an advanced setup for that era, so rounding a late apex corner with a little too much gusto didn’t result in disaster. Instead, the car leaned, then bit the pavement and as soon as it did, I got back on the gas, and away we went in grand fashion.
It has character, that quality so elusive in modern cars. I’m particularly conscious of this because my personal car, a 2015 BMW M235i, has very little character, though its purpose is quite clear—and that purpose is relatively cheap thrills and enough practicality to be usable every day.
I can’t help but wonder if people who bought the 1600 GT back in the day felt the same way. To me it’s a phenomenal example of what attracts me to classic BMWs: a high level of driver engagement in an attractive, understated package. However, to those who bought it new, maybe it was nothing more than an affordable way to get into a sporty car that didn’t skimp on practicality.
It has far more in common with a base 2 Series than my M235i, in that it will surprise you again and again with its ability to overachieve when you ask a lot of it. There’s something to be said for being surprised by a car, and the driving experience delivered by the 1600 GT is one pleasant surprise after another.
It may be adopted, but it fits right in with the family.
Who am I to pass judgment on a historic vehicle like the 1600 GT? I spent but a couple of hours with the damn thing and part of that time was spent photographing it. I haven’t driven it from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, or Aberdeen to Inverness, or from Saville to Lisbon. No, I only ran it around a meandering Southern California road with a few tight sections of curves and some elevation change.
However, the mere fact that a brief stint behind the wheel sent my mind to those far-flung locales should tell you what my verdict is. This is a very special car indeed, possessing all the traits one should hope to find in a classic.
It has historic significance, is a joy to drive in a spirited or non-spirited manner, is stylish inside and out, and the value isn’t going anywhere but up thanks to those low production numbers. If you own one of these cars, you’re a very happy camper.
If you’re now lusting after one as I am, I’ll be forming a support group; maybe we can all pitch in and pick one up to share?