The marque: Largely family-owned German maker whose cars have democratised desirability like no others

The history: BMW started by building motorcycles and aero engines (the badge represents a spinning propeller), but it moved into cars by assembling the 1920s Austin Seven and calling it Dixi. Soon it was developing ts own products, culminating in the 1930s with the advanced, beautiful and successful 328 sports car.

The Second World War stranded the Eisenach car factory in East Germany. BMW had to regroup around its Bavarian home in Munich (the name stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke), and lost its 328 engine to the British Bristol company. It started to make grand saloons and, later, the delicious 507 sports car. It also bought the Isetta bubble-car design from Italian maker Iso to prop up a new range of air-cooled small cars.

Neither strategy made money, and BMW was nearly sold to Daimler-Benz. But the Quandt brothers, whose descendants are still the major shareholders, stepped in and in 1961 the "Neue Klasse" BMW 1500 was launched. The public loved them, and still do. Today's 7-series is deeply controversial in look and function, but it is a good symbol of the company's strong independence.

Defining model: The 3-series. That an "executive" car often resides in the British sales top 10 says much about branding's importance.

They say: The Ultimate Driving Machine, and we are sure our design direction is the right one.

We say: Never have such ultimates been appreciated by so many.

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