BMW developed an awareness of its own history during the very first years of its existence. As early as in 1922, the first products were displayed as not-for-sale souvenirs in a room in the Munich plant. This developed into the plant museum, which was upgraded with a new historical exhibition in 1966.

At the end of the 1960s, the BMW board decided to build a new administration centre. The Viennese architect Prof. Karl Schwanzer won the international competition. BMW has him to thank for the forward-looking BMW Tower ensemble in connection with an independent museum building in the form of a silver-grey bowl. The BMW ensemble was officially opened on 18 May 1973.

The exhibition in the new house was characterized by a fairly simple display of the exhibits which did not intrude on the characteristic architecture of the museum. Over the years, the increasing number of visitors turned the BMW Museum into one of the most frequented company museums in Germany. It displayed three permanent exhibitions during its first 30 years.

Signs of the Times (1980 - 1984)

The Museum was completely reorganized for Zeitsignale (Signs of the Times), from 1980 to 1984, where the focus was placed on BMW exhibits. Eberhard Schoener and the theatre director Prof. Wilfried Minks were responsible for the artistic concept and they made the entire interior disappear into mystical darkness, illuminating the scenes of German history as if they were on the stage.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors made their way through an artistic history of the twentieth century enriched with aspects of politics, traffic and fashion as well as prominent witnesses of the age, including Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe.

Motor of the Times (1984 –1991)

The second exhibition, Zeitmotor (Motor of the Times), from 1984 to 1991, was a complete contrast, illuminating the interior of the bowl in dazzling white. The original conception staged BMW vehicles in front of the background of technical innovations and their influence on people. This new dramaturgy was the work of the film architect and Oscar prizewinner Rolf Zehetbauer, who brought with him a great deal of experience from Munich’s Geiselgasteig film studios. For example, the visitor was given a view of a workshop from the 1930s and could compare it with the functions of a state-of-the-art assembly robot.

Numerous BMW vehicles were exhibited on the curved surface of the bowl. The complexity of automobile construction was demonstrated by a BMW 320i, stripped down to its individual components, which covered a large section of the wall. In addition, a design tested in a wind tunnel represented the car of the future. A cinema was installed on the filth platform, where a film by George Moorse showed the perspectives of responsible technology.

Horizons of Time (1991– 2004)

Zeithorizonte (Horizons of Time), from 1991 to 2004, was also conceived by Rolf Zehetbauer and devoted to major environmental and research topics. Which type of progress is possible and which is sustainable? In addition to historic BMW vehicles, the focus was on the 21st century. An interactive exhibit presented, among other things, a futuristic car cockpit equipped with all kinds of electronics.

Methods for handling mass transportation in the future were explained using an electronically controlled traffic management system. Another highlight was the Museum’s cinema, which showed a ten-minute journey around the world – together with an appeal to make our planet worth living on for future generations and to deal with modern technology responsibly.