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Story by Andrew mccredie

Since its founding in 1916, the planet’s greatest automotive company has navi- gated bankruptcy, wars, and relentless competition. But is has always come back stronger through innovation, uncompro- mised performance and partners like Brian Jessel,whose dealership celebrates an equally momentous occasion in 2016: three decades of bringing the BMW experience to Vancouver

According to Forbes magazine, Bayerische Moteren Werke AG is the 16th-most valuable brand in the world. BMW, as it is better known, employs over 116,000 people worldwide, operates 14 plants in 14 countries and has annual sales of US$106 billion. The Munich-based company spans a multitude of business segments, including automotive, motorcycles and financial services.

One can only imagine what the men behind the founding of the business 100 years ago would think of the company today. Or, for that matter, the man who steered BMW from the verge of total collapse just over a half-century ago. Could they even have even dreamed such a dream?

Heads in the Clouds

The early years of the 20th Century were shaped and shifted by dreamers of that era, and in the case of German industry, no two more than Karl Rapp and Gustav Otto. Both were obsessed with aviation, and their flight paths crossed in 1916 when their companies — Rapp Motorenwerke and Gustav Otto Flug maschinenfrabrik — set up shop in Munich’s Oberwiesenfeld district. On March 7, 1916, the two entered into a partnership to form Bayerische Flugzeug Werke AG, the precursor to BMW. A year later the iconic BMW emblem is born, incorporating the state colours of Bavaria and the rotating propeller graphic. And it is in the sky that the company made its mark in those formative years, setting a number of climbing records achieved in equal measure by daring—and curious— pilots and powerful and innovative BMW airplane engines.

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Taking to the Ground

Terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War One grounded BMW’s aircraft division, but thanks to the genius of chief designer Max Friz, the company pivoted to motorcycle manufacturing and in 1923 brought its first two-wheeler to market. The BMW R32— featuring a boxer engine with longitudinally positioned cylinders and shaft drive, a concept still used to this day in BMW bikes— was a runaway success on the racetracks and in the showroom.

The meticulous and innovative engineering things like dust-proof sealed valves, a wet sump oiling system, and the world’s first-ever alloy cylinder heads on a motorcycle portended BMW’s high and exacting standards that define their automobiles today.

Lift Of

Permitted to take to the skies again in 1924, the company quickly regained its record-breaking status. Of the 87 world aviation marks set in 1927, BMW engines were responsible for 29. Five years later, a BMW-powered flying boat piloted by Wolfgang von Gronau is the first plane to circumnavigate the globe. The 12-cylinder engine in that plane—the BMW V1—proved so in demand that in addition to a Munich production facility, factories were set up in Japan and the USSR.

The Drive for Cars

Permitted to take to the skies again in 1924, the company quickly regained its record-breaking status. Of the 87 world aviation marks set in 1927, BMW engines were responsible for 29. Five years later, a BMW-powered flying boat piloted by Wolfgang von Gronau is the first plane to circumnavigate the globe. The 12-cylinder engine in that plane—the BMW V1—proved so in demand that in addition to a Munich production facility, factories were set up in Japan and the USSR.

During this time, BMW was also building on its mastery of building internal combustion motors and entered the car business, the segment that would soon eclipse the aviation division and eventually make the brand synonymous with sport luxury automobiles. In 1928, BMW executives expedited their automobile division by taking over struggling German automaker Eisenach, a company with license to produce the Austin Seven, a small English-built car.

Dubbed the ‘Dixi’ in Germany, BMW quickly created its own version in March of 1929, called the BMW 3/15 PS. A year later, the cars won the International Alpine Rally, beginning the first of many international car-racing titles for the company. Emboldened by this initial fourwheeled success, BMW ramped up car production as racing records fell throughout the 1930s at the tires of their increasingly famous motorcycles.

One of the most significant— and longest-lasting—was Ernst Henne’s 1937 land-speed record of 279.5 km/h, achieved on a full-fairing R37 motorcycle powered by a 750cc supercharged engine. That mark stood for an astonishing 14 years. BMW’s experimentation with the nascent concepts of wind resistance during the 1930s helped create the emerging field of aerodynamics and led to such engineering innovations as underfloor paneling, covered rear wheels and integrated headlights.

The highwater mark for BMW’s nascent car division in the ’30s was the 1936 328 Roadster, the fastest sports car ever built at the time. Just 464 models were built, making it one of the most coveted BMWs of all time. Today, the 328 is considered by the company as perhaps the most important milestone in its automotive history.

Its racing pedigree became minted quickly and in the years leading up to World War II, the car won a number of important races, including the Mille Miglia. During the war, the company’s aviation division developed the 003 jet engine, getting it into production in 1944. Following the war, U.S., French and Russian manufacturers used the technology in their own designs, expediting the jet age by years.

From Autoracing to Kitchenware

As Germany entered a postwar rebirth under the administration of the U.S. military, BMW factories were forbidden to manufacture cars or motorcycles.

In their place? Cooking pots, dough mixers, agricultural machinery and a very limited number of bicycles.A secondary facility, a former aircraft engine factory, was converted into a repair shop for U.S. armed forces jeeps and tanks.

Finally, in 1948, BMW was allowed to get back into motorcycle production. Despite having lost its entire library of technical documents along with its specialized work force, the company demonstrated an uncanny ability to innovate and engineer. By 1950, BMW was making 17,000 motorcycles a year, with 18 per cent of them exported abroad.

Back On the Road

The 1950s were characterized by BMW’s corporate vision of beautifully engineered automotive products setting high bars for luxury and drivability. The car that epitomized the era more than any other was the 1955 507, a roadster with a hardtop and powered by a 150-horsepower aluminum 3.2-litre V8. With a top speed of 220 km/h and styling to leave even Italian sports cars of the era in its dust, the 507 is today one of the most coveted and expensive automobiles on the planet.

Dark Times

Despite thisand other forwardthinking designs, BMW plunged into financial peril at the end of the decade. The only cars keeping the company afloat were the 700 and the Isetta, an Italian-designed micro car that BMW bought the rights to build.

How bad was it? At the darkest hour, the company had to choose to either declare bankruptcy or convert the company into an autobody builder for archrival Mercedes-Benz. If not for the courage—or, as it was dismissed at the time, madness—of shareholder Herbert Quandt, both endings to the once proud brand were foregone conclusions.

At a shareholder meeting on Dec. 9, 1959, Quandt and a few others convinced the board to consider a third option: letting him acquire nearly 50 per cent of all the shares of the company. Under Quandt’s guidance, BMW negotiates the early 1960s back to mass-produced winners like the 1500 and 1800 models. Second only to saving the company, Herbert Quandt’s greatest achievement for BMW was hiring Eberhard von Kunheim as managing director.

In 1969, it was he who positioned BMW as a premium brand, one that could go toe-to-toe with MercedesBenz for global market share in the luxury automobile space.

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Just a few short years after von Kunheim took the reins, a 25-year-old Toronto car broker arrived in Vancouver with a dream of becoming a big wheel in the West Coast city’s burgeoning automobile scene. Armed with nothing more than the Lincoln Continental he drove across the continent, $1,000, his wits and work ethic, Brian Jessel didn’t waste much time building on the plan he’d planned his entire adult life.

His first dealership was a used car lot at the corner of Burred and 1st called Consumers Auto Mart, specializing in European sports cars. Jessel went on to open a number of new car dealerships during the next decade—starting with Fiat and including Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and Ford—when in 1986 a good friend convinced him, against his own better judgment, to take over a two-car showroom BMW dealership in Abbotsford.

30 years of brian jessel bmw


Brian Jessel buys an existing BMW dealer ship in Abbotsford


Jessel moves from Abbo- tsford to Langley onto property previ- ously held by Brian Jessel Hyundai.


The dealership moves to a former tire shop property in Coquitlam


Jessel finishes second in Western Canada in sales for all BMW


Jim Murray is hired as sales manager


The dealership sells the most new BMW vehicles in Canada


Ford dealership on Boundary Road acqu- ired and renovated


Jessel finishes second in Western Canada in sales for all BMW

Brian Jessel BMW is Born

Jessel sold just 144 BMWs that first year. But it was still more than twice the best annual total achieved by his predecessor and BMW Canada took notice of this new West Coast dealer in their midst. Two years after getting the Abbotsford dealership, Jessel convinced head office to allow him to move to Langley—into a three-car showroom—but the dealership struggled during the economic downturn of the early 1990s.

Things got so bad that Jessel added a Subaru dealership to the Langley property to make ends meet. But just as BMW AG stared into the abyss in 1959 and didn’t blink, Brian Jessel BMW persevered, and in 1996, received approval to move ‘across the river.’ That move from Langley over the Fraser River to a former tire shop in Coquitlam was the competitive advantage Jessel was waiting for, giving him better access to the well-heeled customers of Vancouver proper and the West Side.

Harnessing Vancouver

Late-’90s Vancouver was booming, with a flood of Asian money turning the one-time resource-based town into a destination metropolis with a thirst for the finer things. The timing couldn’t be better to be selling BMW products, either.

The company’s models of the late-’90s and early 2000s represented some of the best luxury sport vehicles in the world—a separation from competitors that BMW still enjoys today. The company’s heritage of innovative engineering and design philosophy was paying big dividends in BMW showrooms around the world, none more so than Brian Jessel BMW.


By the time the dealership moved into a state-of-the-art, purposebuilt property on Boundary Road in Vancouver in 2004, it had claimed No. 1 top BMW retailer status in Canada for a couple of years.

In the next 12 years it would be top dog for all but one year. In 2015, the dealership added the No. 1 M brand retailer in the country title to its banners hanging from the showroom ceiling. Brian Jessel says his secrets to success are simple: out-hustle the other guy and look after his customers.

“If you look after your customers, they’ll look after you,” he says, adding that he’s also had a great team around him to help create his vision of the Brian Jessel BMW brand. A story that Jessel’s business partner relates underscores how successful Brain Jessel has been in achieving that vision. “Quite often when BMW Canada executives from Toronto are in Vancouver on business,

when they tell people they work for BMW, the first response from locals is often, ‘Oh, for Brian Jessel?’” managing partner Jim Murray says with a chuckle. Forbes does not include Brian Jessel BMW in its rankings of world brands, but suffice to say if it did it would be at or near the top for its segment. It seems only fitting that a company founded by two visionaries a century ago is still guided by those who seek to reach for the sky in pursuit of uncompromising excellence.


Boundary Road locati- on opens


The dealership is exten- sively renovated


Brian Jessel BMW Pre Owned Centre opens. With sales of 1,621 pre-owned vehicles, it quickly establishes itself as the most successful dealership of its kind in Canada


On March 7, Jim Murray attends the BMW Centenary Event at the Olympic Hall in Munich. At end of celebration, the BMW VISION NEXT 100 concept car is unveiled

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