When the BMW 700 was launched in August 1959 it took 25,000 advance orders based mainly on looks. Did it live up to the promise on the road? Contemporary road test reports indicate that it did. Amazingly, it was praised for its performance, which today would seem laughable – 28 seconds to 100 km/h. But many of its competitors were slower. Whilst the road tests were complimentary about its handling, agility and generally good road manners, they did pass comment on the clutch, best described as “short and sharp”.
But how does it feel today?
Well, not as slow as the stats would indicate. It can keep up with modern traffic most of the time. It is not over-endowed with torque so a hill often requires a down shift. And anytime the engine is under load at lower revs it sounds like it is “missing”, as in mis-firing. But in fact it is just missing two cylinders! Very different engine note. Overtaking may require a carefully calculated space, as yet not attempted but contemplated – discretion is the better part of valour!
Getting it off the line is an acquired art. The clutch is adapted from a motorcycle clutch, which are usually pretty short travel and limited slip, but hauling a lot more weight. To add to the difficulty the clutch pedal needs to be pushed pretty well to the floor to disengage the clutch, which squeezes the pedal between the central hump in the floor (not a transmission tunnel as rear engine rear drive, but for the heating ducts) and the steering column. Broad work boots are not a good idea here. It takes a second or two for the synchromesh to do its thing before first gear can be silently engaged, and it takes a firm push to get it all the way in, before starting to engage the clutch.
The bite point is at a sort of “knee point” in the travel and I have to wriggle my foot a little to transition from being able to hold the clutch pedal down and having control over the bite point. There is also a little bit of clutch judder and transmission wind up which makes a kangaroo start only too easy.
But I have managed a hill start without the handbrake. The best results seem to be to engage the clutch at minimal revs before accelerating away in the rather short first gear.
The speedometer has marks for suggested gear change points, first is meant to be good for 12 mph, about 19 km/h, but I find it more comfortable to change before that. Which means reaching for 2nd almost immediately you get moving.
All of which makes for a busy drive in any sort of traffic.
But on more open roads it is fine. Even on a 30 degree day it is not too hot with a pretty good flow of fresh air as long as a window is open to let it out at the back.