“The goal was to bring it back to life, in a German rally/mafia car-like manner,” says Jim Huff of his BMW Neue Klasse sedan. “Having seen articles on the TI/SA version of the NK (Neue Klasse) cars and many vintage race photos of early NK cars, I knew it needed to evoke this kind of feeling while being a street car as well.” In fact, his classic BMW sedan hits all the right notes, from the understated aesthetics to the upgraded but still period correct driveline. It would be easy to believe that this car was built in period rather than within the last decade.
Unsurprisingly, Huff is no stranger to classic BMWs. His daily driver is a 1970 2002 that’s powered by a 6-cylinder M20 and backed up by numerous chassis upgrades. The ’02 is also put to use on classic car rallies like the Snow Ball Rally and California Mille. Huff discovered the Neue Klasse when his wife bought him a scale model of the unusual sedan. Upon closer inspection, he realized that though the nose looked similar to a 2002, elsewhere it looked different. “I flipped it over and ‘BMW 1500’ was stamped on the bottom.” When he came across a real Neue Klasse for sale locally in the Bay Area that was listed on Craigslist, Huff ended up taking the car home as his next project.
Though the BMW Neue Klasse sedans are a mystery to most, its actually a pivotal model for the German car company. In 1959, BMW was on the edge of bankruptcy when a last minute financial infusion from Bavarian financier Herbert Quandt and his half-brother Harald Quandt saved the company from an uncertain fate. The two brothers knew that the company needed new models to continue operating profitably, so the Neue Klasse (New Class) sedan was introduced at the Frankfurt auto show in 1961. Production on the 1500 began in 1962, but the model was replaced in 1964 by the 1600, which used a bored-out version of the 1500’s motor.
Huff had just become the owner of one of these important sedans, which is a relatively rare sight in the U.S. “It was not so great looking,” he admits. “But it seemed worthy to bring back to life.” The BMW had a blue body, a gold hood and tan trunk lid, but was pretty much rust free. “I had the mindset of wanting to get this thing on the road on a timely manner in order to drive the crap out of it,” says Huff. For inspiration, he used the factory 1800 TI/SA sedans that BMW had built for competition.
The first step involved painting the exterior in Bristol Grey, a non-metallic hue that suits the sedans clean, simple lines nicely. Inside, a new carpet kit was installed from a company in the Netherlands and a pair of vintage Corbeau race seats were bolted in with custom brackets. Elsewhere are 3-inch laps belts and a sportier Nardi wheel. “The rear seat is from an E30,” says Huff. “It fit with some slight mods and is sleeker looking than the cushy stock seat.” The crocodile dash front that the BMW left the factory with remains in place, and a new dash top was sourced from BMW expert John Barlow of Vintage BMW Source. The NK sedan’s gauges have also been restored.
Huff next turned to upgrading the BMW’s performance with the help of Ryan Gangemi of Gangemi Motorworks. Huff and Gangemi turned to Mano Aguilan of Manofied Racing for the powerplant. Aguilan sourced a 2.0-liter M10 from a 2002 and proceeded to upgrade it with 10:1 compression ratio pistons mated to the stock crank. An M10 head from an E12 5-series provides a little more torque, while a higher revving, 284-degree camshaft bumps up the power and provides a more entertaining power band. Fuel is delivered to the motor via a Carter electric fuel pump and a pair of sidedraught DCOE 40 Weber carbs.
Spent engine gases exit through a “shorty” header and a larger than stock diameter two-inch exhaust and glass-pack muffer. Huff estimates that the tuned M10 is putting out about 155 horsepower. Ensuring that the engine remains cool duringmulti-day rallies is a larger radiator from an E21-generation 320i with a pusher fan mounted to its front. The 1600’s original 4-speed was also replaced with a close-ratio Getrag 245 5-speed and a stock clutch from an E21 320i.
Custom made Ground Control coilovers ensure that the big sedan corners confidently. These were made with the help of Ground Control, who wanted to help develop the suspension when they heard what an unusual car they were going on. “When I told them what kind of car they were going, they said they were definitely interested in helping with the project,” says Huff. One of the most unusual modifications to be found on the car is the entire E30 rear end that was installed by Ryan Gangemi. Huff says the 1600’s original differential is pretty weak compared to newer BMW diffs, so Huff and Gangemi had been looking into various upgrade theories, but hadn’t come up with a solid solution. One day Gangemi called him and told him that he had test fitted an E30 rear end that was laying around the shop and that it could be made to fit the 1600’s chassis with some fabrication.
“The wheels are off of a 2000CS, steelies that are 14x5.5,” says Huff. “Stock are 4.5-inches wide and TI/SA wheels are 6-inches wide. I have a set I will eventually widen to 6.5-inches.” Sumitomo HTR T4 tires that measure 185/70-14 provide plenty of grip. 320i rotors from an E21 generation 3 Series were installed work in conjunction Volvo calipers. The rear uses E30 brakes that were already installed on the E30 rear end.
“It really glides down the road and reacts quite well in the twisty roads,” says Huff of the BMW. “Even though it’s a four-door, it’s only eleven-inches longer and four-inches wider than a 2002.” That and the fact that the wheelbase is only one-inch longer than a 2002 means that the sedan feels surprisingly compact even on narrow roads.
Huff’s Neue Klasse provides an upright driving position thanks in part to the Corbeaus, which are positioned relatively high. In comparison to the later 2002, the 1600 is more spacious, with a wider interior and deeper dash. The short aluminum shifter is a quick and convenient drop from the grippy Nardi wheel. Turn the key in the ignition, pump the gas a couple of times and the M10 under the hood comes to life. Blip the throttle and there is a little intake snort coming from the Webers, but overall the exhaust is mellow and civilized enough for daily use.
Big Tujunga Canyon just east of Sunland, CA is made up fast, wide open sweepers and the occasional hairpin as it winds its way towards the Angeles Crest Highway. It’s an ideal road to drive Huff’s Neue Klasse on. At speed, the BMW is both comfortable and stable. The chassis and road feel is similar to a 2002, but the added wheelbase and overall slightly larger dimensions of this model means that it’s even better and soaking up bumps and surface irregularities. Around fast corner, the coilovers ensure that the car stays flat, with a minor amount of body roll before it takes a set and a nicely neutral stance around faster corners. The transplanted E30 rear end is stable and predictable too, which encourages faster cornering speeds. When we wind the car out on straights, the built M10 has revs enthusiastically towards 5,000-rpm, after which power tapers off. The hybrid E21 and Volvo brakes work fine too, slowing the BMW predictably enough.
After a spell behind the wheel, we can see why Huff is planning on using the car on multi-day rallies. It’s not the fastest BMW we’ve driven, but it offers a fun and Spartan driving experience. It’s the kind of vintage car that won’t leave the driver rattled and exhausted after a day of driving. “I have driven it to LA recently and the ride is much better than one would think and on the twisty roads it steers with ease into the corners while the E30 rear end really bites the road,” says Huff.