Showcasing South African BMWs and its passionate fans


Posted on: 27 January 2024

The car you see here is also known as the Cheetah. It is a 1968 BMW 1800SA (The SA short for Sud Afrika).



We met this car at the Knysna Motor Show last year, and always see it at the George Old Car Show every February.


bmw cheetah


It is the first BMW to be assembled at the Rosslyn automotive manufacturing plant. They were also put together in the old Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia back then).


The Pretoria based factory which has been given a R4.2billion Rand investment boost last year,
is the first ever motor manufacturing plant outside of Germany for the BMW company.


Notice the 1800SA does not have the conventional BMW kidney grille up front, thats because in Europe thyey were never sold as BMWs,
but rather as Glas 1700 models.


BMW 1800SA




The first BMW to land on the southern tip of Africa was, in fact, not a car but a motorcycle brought along by a German immigrant in 1928.


By 1932 another German, Gunter Ludwig, started importing motorcycles to SA as the sole BMW concessionaire.

Ludwig, a garagiste, had formalised his small business the year before, naming it Club Garage, as it was positioned close to the Zwartkop Country Club just outside of Pretoria.


In 1957 it became Club Motors, and by 1958 it imported the first BMW car, the Isetta, and continued to import BMWs until 1968.

Ludwig and his son, together with prominent Pretoria business mogul Johannes Pretorius and several associates, identified an opportunity to manufacture BMWs in South Africa when BMW AG took over the bankrupt Glas factory in 1966.


BMW had almost suffered the same fate! By December 1959, the company was virtually bankrupt, with Mercedes-Benz pounding on the door to take over the BMW brand. Luckily, a shrewd German industrialist Herbert Quandt, who became the majority shareholder during this time, was able to restructure BMW and save it from the clutches of its biggest rival.


That restructure resulted in a revitalised BMW with the introduction of the ‘Neue Klasse’, - the 1500 breaking cover a mere two years after standing on the precipice of bankruptcy, at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show.


It went on sale the following year, together with the 3200 CS, an elegant V8, which had been designed by the Italian Nuccio Bertone and his apprentice Giorgetto Giugiaro (who designed the M1). By 1963 the 1500 had evolved into the 1800, and in later years would be offered as the 2000. In 1965 the 2000 C was launched, and the following year at the Geneva Auto Show, the compact two-door saloon, the 1600-2, was unveiled to the world. It then became very apparent that if BMW was to sustain its growing ambitions, it would need additional capacity. When BMW struck its 50th anniversary, it took over the Glas operation in Dingolfing in November 1966.


bmw 1800


Glas found great success after the Second World War with the Goggo scooter, as demand was high amongst Germans for affordable transportation. This was followed in 1955 with the well-known micro-car, the Goggomobil, which proved popular among Germans still recovering from the war. Glas, however, realised that prosperity was on the horizon and that Germans on the up would be looking for small cars, therefore introducing the Isar in 1958. Aspiring to gain a share of the growing middle and upper class, Glas introduced a mid-sized 1500 (which went into production as the 1700) and 1300 GT Coupé at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963. Aiming squarely at the affluent end of the market, Glas went all-in with the introduction of its V8 in August 1965 with a displacement of 2.6 litres. The V8 had been penned by a wellknown Italian designer at the time Pietro Frua, who, most notably, had also done work for Maserati. The ‘Glaserati’, as it was known, was to be Glas’s swansong. The demise of Glas can largely be attributed to the rapid expansion of its model line-up, targeting too wide of a spectrum of the market and poor quality control. When BMW took over Glas it had pledged to its financier, the state of Bavaria, that it would retain the workforce and continue the production of the model line-up. The 1300 GT and 1700 GT Coupés were rebranded as BMWs and fitted with the engine, gearbox and independent rear axle from the 1600-2 ti, designated as the 1600 GT. The V8 was also rebranded as a BMW and fitted with the 3.0-litre engine that Glas had intended. Production of the small Glas models, together with the 1700, ended with the close of 1967. The rebranded V8 continued until May 1968, and the BMW 1600 GT ceased in October of that year. Surprisingly, the Goggomobil lingered on until June 1969. With the demise of Glas, BMW was able to get rid of one of its rivals, secure a technically skilled workforce, and the capacity to increase production, plus the Glas innovation of using a rubber overhead camshaft drive belt. But this was not the end of the road for the Glas 1700! Gunter Ludwig (head of the BMW concessionaire, Club Motors), together with several associates, joined Johannes Pretorius at Euro-Republic Automobile Distributors (later known as Praetor Monteerders) in 1968 and entered into an agreement with BMW AG to manufacture under license BMWs using the Glas 1700 bodies. BMW provided the Glas tooling for the bodies and shipped components such as engines, gearboxes and differentials. This translated into the Glas bodies of the 1700 being badged as BMWs and fitted with the 1.8-litre engine and running gear from the BMW 1800. BMW must have been relieved to see the back of the Glas 1700, as it posed the biggest competitor out of the Glas range.


The 1700 was also designed by Pietro Frua, and, it cut quite a handsome figure. Frua was also responsible for the 1300/1600 GT, and also designed the beautiful BMW 2800 GTS Coupé, based on an E3 chassis, though unfortunately, it never went into production, except for a singular prototype. The 1700 was similar in proportions to the BMW 1800, and even sported the ‘Hofmeister Kink’, and came with 80hp on tap. The twin-carb, TS version pushed out 100hp, achieving a top speed of 106mph, matching the performance of the BMW 1800, for less money. Autocar in the UK gave it a raving review stating that: “The interior was well finished and sober, and the car drove outstandingly, yet quietly. The suspension was particularly impressive, as there is little body roll when the car is being hustled through bends, allowing for sure-footed cornering.”


bmw cheetah


In June 1968, the first Glasbodied BMWs rolled off the production line at the Rosslyn facility outside Pretoria, and this model was initially named the 1800 GL. In July of the following year, it was joined by the 2000 GL – shortly thereafter, they were badged 1800 SA and 2000 SA. These BMWs retained the complete body and appearance of the Glas 1700, with only the BMW roundel front and back to distinguish which Bavarian stable it was from. Inside it was a total Glas affair. But underneath, it was all BMW, accounting for the engine, gearbox, differential and front suspension all carried over from the BMW 1800 and 2000, except for the rear suspension, which still used the old leaf spring from Glas.


The sales brochures and advertisements of the time punted that the BMWs were for the sporting, driving enthusiasts with the capability of transporting five passengers in comfort. It also heavily stressed the engineering prowess of BMW, and its racing pedigree, which offered a pleasurable driving dynamic – touting it as the hallmark of this prestigious German marque. It is worth noting that complete knock-down kits of the SA models were exported from SA to then Rhodesia, where they were assembled by Willowvale Motor Industries and sold as BMW Cheetahs until production ended in SA.


bmw 1800sabmw1800sa


By 1972 BMW AG took control of the SA operation, which became known as BMW South Africa, establishing the first plant outside of Germany. Just a year before the E3 2500 and 2800 were put into production, BMW AG was looking to further ramp up output with the introduction of the E12 5 Series. It was therefore decided to bring the SA models more in-line with the outward characteristics of the BMW line-up. Pietro Frua was tasked to bring about the necessary transformation, which would result in the 1804 and 2004. Frua therefore heavily relied on the parts bin of the existing models. In the front, he modified the grille from the E3 Saloon and inserted the headlamps from the E12 5 Series while crafting new kidneys to fit and attaching side indicators from the E9. At the rear, a crafty Frua swapped the lights of the E12 around (left went right and vice versa) and swung them 180°, finishing off with the new badging placed on the boot next to the roundel. On the inside, a BMW steering wheel was installed along with window winders from the 5 Series, and by July 1969 the instrument cluster had been brought in line with the 1800 and 2000 BMW models, which included a rev counter. But there were also changes underneath to improve handling. This resulted in uprated coils, springs and an anti-roll bar in the front and stiffer leaf springs at the rear, which improved road-holding by 30%. Interestingly, Frua had developed a one-off Glas/BMW GL 1800 Kombi (station wagon) prototype in 1968, which he presented to BMW AG specifically for the SA market, but was rejected. The 1804 and 2004 were launched in August 1973 amid the oil crisis of the time. BMW then shrewdly marketed the 2004 as the most fuel-efficient four cylinder 2.0-litre offering in SA. And BMW SA had the receipts to prove it: in a road test conducted by the Sunday Times, the 2004 was the most efficient in its class, achieving 7.5-litres per 100km (37.5mpg) at an average speed of 80km/h, covering a distance of 752km on a 58-litre tank of fuel, quite remarkable for the time.








"Detailing from the very first BMW models that we produced at the Rosslyn plant, using Glas bodies fitted with BMW engines and gearboxes, culminating in the unique 1800 SA and 2000 SA to the 530 MLE, the first BMW to be adorned with the M badge,and the first and only 7 Series to be fitted with a Motorsport engine, derived from the legendary BMW M1.

The iconic 333i and 325iS also feature prominently as they were developed and built exclusively for South Africa and have achieved cult status.

This sensational coffee table book also details how Plant Rosslyn produced the BMW M5 (E28), BMW M5 (E34) and BMW M3 (E36) coupé and sedan, Plant Rosslyn being the only plant outside of Germany to MANUFACTURE M cars. It also reveals how BMW Motorsport played a crucial role in developing the BMW brand, cementing its place as an automotive icon in South Africa." 






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