Before BMW built convertibles, they worked with coachbuilder Baur to build BMW Baur convertibles
Much of BMW’s success the past several decades has been the result of the BMW 3-Series. The convertible 3-Series has been a big part of that success. One would think that the convertible 3-Series was a part of the line-up going back to the very beginning. However, that is not the case. Before the convertible 3-Series, there was the BMW Baur convertible.
Convertible versions of the BMW 02, E21, and early E30 were made by specialty coachbuilder Baur Karosserie. Their design, while not for everyone, is a solution to a very real problem that threatened the existence of convertibles in the United States, and by default, the rest of the world.
What is the history of BMW and Baur?
Since 1910, the Baur Karosserie (German meaning coachbuilder) has worked on Germany’s most ambitious automotive projects. Baur, located in Stuttgart, created the bodywork for the BMW M1 and Porsche 959 and critical suspension components for the first Audi Quattro. Nonetheless, this now-defunct coachbuilder is best known for its unique methods of converting ordinary automobiles into cabriolets.
If you’ve ever had a convertible, you’re well aware that they come with many flaws, the most serious of which is a leaky roof-window interface and a lack of structural rigidity. However, these issues don’t affect cabriolet conversions done by Baur. Baur cabriolet conversions retain the roofline, B, and C pillars of the underlying vehicle. In this respect, Baur cabriolet conversions are more like sedans than convertibles.
The benefits of increased rigidity, of course, come at a price. Unfortunately, that price is a less “convertible” experience in terms of “wind-in-your-hair” and everything that comes with it. However, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
When it comes to Baur cabriolet conversions, they are mainly known for their work on BMW 2002s, e21, e30, and to a lesser extent, the e36. However, they also converted Opel Kadetts and Mercedes Benz G-Wagens.
What is the origin of the BMW Baur convertible conversions?
To understand how Baur started with its interpretation of a cabriolet, we need to go back to the late 1960s, when automobile safety was a hot subject in the United States. It was, after all, the largest market for many automobile manufacturers. As a result, what happened in the United States, often had global ramifications.
In the late 1960s, Americans had every right to be concerned about automotive safety. It was a time when Ford Pintos were prone to spontaneous combustion, and the Chevrolet Corvair was prone to rollovers. The environment was such that convertibles were targeted as “rollover risks” by consumer safety advocates and would be banned outright.
The birth of the Targa
Porsche was one of the first automobile manufacturers to come up with a solution to the inherent rollover risk of convertible vehicles. Their solution was the Porsche Targa, a partial convertible with an integrated roll bar and removable hardtop.
BMW hired Baur to make convertible versions of its iconic 02s. However, when tensions grew, BMW opted to build their cabriolets with an “integrated” quasi-roll cage.
The conversion was straightforward since the A, B, and C pillars were all retained from an engineering standpoint. As a result, structural reinforcement of the body or frame was not needed since the vehicle’s integrity remained intact.
What is the Baur TC1?
In 1975, the E21 generation of the 3-series replaced the 02 models. Because the E21 was only available with a fixed roof, Baur was free to create its version of the E21 cabriolet.
Called the “TC1”, short for “Top Cabriolet 1”, the TC1 was available with every engine configuration offered with the E21, ranging from the 75 horsepower 315 to the 6-cylinder 323i.
Over its seven-year production run, 4,700 units of the TC1 were made.
What is the Baur TC2?
In 1982, the TC1 was replaced by the “TC2” based on the BMW E30. Production of the TC2 continued despite the introduction of the BMW E30 convertible in 1987. However, sales took a significant hit, and production continued, albeit in minimal numbers until the E36 replaced the E30.
After the BMW E30 production had ceased, Baur took a calculated risk and built a prototype of what they called the T3. It had an aerodynamic shape built on a tube-frame chassis using the mechanicals from a BMW E30. Unfortunately, BMW rejected it in favor of their roadster, the BMW. The T3 was to remain a concept car.
Baur’s follow-up to the T3 and final BMW conversion was the T4. Built on a BMW E36, the T4 was a Landaulet, converted from a 4-door BMW rather than a two-door sedan. Unfortunately, the market for the Landaulet did not materialize and only 310 units were produced over its entire production run.
By 2002, Baur had run its course and declared bankruptcy. Its final project was a G-Wagen Landaulet that looks remarkably like the much more recent Maybach G-Wagen Landaulet.
While Baur is gone, their conversions are still around and very desirable amongst a small group of collectors. Having seen several Baurs over the years and almost bought an 02 at one time, I love them. I think they are very unique vehicles and would very much like to own one at some point in the future.
The BMW baur convertibles are not for everyone. However, they represent an era of automotive history when the US Government was seriously considering banning convertibles. When the Government didn’t ban convertibles, Baur continued producing a vehicle for those who wanted the safety and rigidity and the openness of a convertible.