The deadly COVID-19 coronavirus has caused plenty of pain, heartache, and death since March.
But for the members of the BMW Car Club of America Foundation in Greer, it produced one blessing for its latest exhibit, according to operations director Neil Baer.
The owner of an extremely rare 1930 DA2 Cabriolet, owned by Colleen Sheehan of Costa Mesa, Calif., had planned to show off her prized car at a summer wedding.
But the wedding was postponed due to COVID-19. So Sheehan allowed the car club to be among the 20 cars and four motorcycles showcased in the recently opened Genesis exhibit, toured as the most comprehensive collection of early BMWs ever seen in North America.
“It’s fascinating to look at the cars,” Baer said. “Stylistically, they’re gorgeous — works of art. I find it fascinating that some are still in existence.”
The 9,000-square-foot exhibition is in the club’s home, just two miles east of BMW Plant Spartanburg and the BMW Performance Center at 190 Manatee Court along Highway 101 in Greer.
It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $12 for adults; $6 for children ages 6 to 17; and free for kids under 6. Facial masks are required, and social distancing is practiced.
Foundation chairman Bruce Hazard said Genesis was set to open in May, but the coronavirus had other plans.
“We think this is our most important exhibit,” Hazard said. “It’s just really unfortunate it happened this year, with everything locked down.”
Jackie Jouret, the Foundation’s passionate creative director and author of “Genesis: BMW from the Beginning,” said the BMWs from 1927 to 1965 reflect a number of important 20th-century events.
Featured are vintage photos dating to World War I when BMW of Germany emerged as a maker of advanced airplane engines through its expansion into motorcycle and automobile production during the 1920s.
The exhibit looks at BMW’s motorsport success of the 1930s, its role in supplying the German military during World War II, and its rebirth as a peacetime company in the 1950s through the 1960s.
Motorcycles include BMW Classic’s R47 sportbike, “a beautiful, compelling machine,” and a sidecar and trailer-equipped 1942 R75, Jouret said.
Among cars on exhibit are a 1951 EMW 340 that was built at BMW’s former factory in Eisenach under Soviet control, and likely the only model of its kind in the U.S.; a 1957 507 roadster ordered new by Oscar Liebmann, BMW’s first motorcycle dealer in the U.S.; and a 1960 700 rear-engine racer known as “the workman’s Porsche,” which continues to race today.
“As a BMW enthusiast, you’ve never seen the full continuum in one place,” Jouret said. “Now you can see that in one room.”
Just as fascinating, as the history of BMW’s engineering feats, are the ownership histories, Jouret said.
“The (1957 roadster) 507 was bought by Oskar Liebmann, who came to the U.S. in the 1920s as a machinist. He became BMW’s first motorcycle dealer in the U.S. He had great connections in Germany. He drove it around, then brought it home. It was a one-owner car.”
Many BMWs were also brought back to the U.S. from Germany by servicemen after World War II, she said.
Years later, some were even found in junkyards, bought cheaply and beautifully restored, Baer said.
One owner, an orthopedic surgeon in Colorado, purchased a 1940 327/28 Cabriolet in 2001.
“He loves working with his hands and restored it by himself,” Jouret said. “It’s not inexpensive to restore a vintage car — it takes a lot of dedication and work.
“There’s so much love in these cars. People have really struggled to keep these things and alive so they didn’t end up in the scrap heap.”
► For more information and a preview of the exhibit, visit www.bmwccafoundation.org., or call 864-329-1919.