Avoidable Contact #24: The man who saved BMW.

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"...so we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A Dark Knight."

It feels more than a little trite and melodramatic to begin this column with a quote from a Batman movie, but if the auto business has any profession which lends itself to celebrity culture, it is that of the stylist. Harley Earl set the template: physically enormous and personally outrageous, he created our modern notion of the automobile as aesthetic object. And while there have been many flamboyant "superstar" designers who followed in his footsteps, from Tjaarda to Stephenson, history will surely acknowledge that a few men managed to accomplish more than merely sketching a pretty shape. Bill Mitchell brought us the 1961 Chevrolet, which set a visual template for modern sedans that persists to this day. William Lyons fathered the XJ6, perhaps the greatest sporting sedan design in history, even if he didn't actually draw it. Alex Issigonis invented the "small car" as we know it today, and Giorgetto Giugiaro rationalized it into the unmatchable first-generation Golf. Marcello Gandini created the supercar; Jack Telnack revitalized the Mustang and with it an entire generation of automotive enthusiasm.

Years from now, when the smoke of history clears, another name will be added to that list of designers who were capable of re-imagining the automobile. Born and raised in the American Midwest, Christopher Edward Bangle joined BMW with a rather singular goal in mind: to create what would be only the second major design direction in the company's history. His complete and utter success in this task has permitted BMW to become a major player on the global stage; along the way, he rewrote the design language for the entire auto industry.

Such is the man's star power that, like George W. Bush, Bill Gates, or the Almighty Himself, Bangle is regularly blamed for or credited with the accomplishments of others -- but it isn't necessary. His own successes are enough. To understand them, and to grasp why it is possible to respect or even admire the man himself without particularly loving his creations, we will have to take the advice of David E Davis and open our hymnals...

...not to page 2002, as DED Jr. originally commanded, but to the year 1962, when the BMW Neue Klasse debuted.

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The BMW Neue Klasse would spawn the 1602, and in turn, the 2002.

It seems almost impossible to conceive now, but forty-seven years ago BMW was very far from being an unstoppable market force or a purveyor of so-called "ultimate driving machines". Germany was still recovering from the nightmare of the Second World War, no more distant in time from 1962 than the First Gulf War is for us today and powerfully present in the memories and mindsets of Germans in a way that a brief overseas bitch-slapping could never be for the average American. The floundering Bayerische Motoren Werke had scrimped and saved to create a new family-sized sedan, complete with a rather extravangant one-and-a-half-liter engine. For those efforts, they were promptly rewarded with more business than they could handle, even though the "1500" model couldn't break the hundred-mile-per-hour mark, it had only four cylinders, and it could easily be hidden behind a modern Hyundai Accent. In other words, it was a BMW, but not as we know them today.

Still, the car was a success and it was eventually developed into the two-liter, two-door 2002 that captured the heart of Car and Driver's chief editor and made BMW the expensive, exotic choice of the leather-driving-glove crowd in the early Seventies. By then, BMW was on a roll and had developed a "full-sized" sedan, the most common US-market variant of which was the "Bavaria". The conception of the Bavaria is a story in itself, involving as it does the amazing Max Hoffman, but but suffice it to say that in general size, style, and (six-cylinder) power, the Bavaria set the template for BMW's products in this country. It would be several more years before the 325e brought the inline six to the US-market 3-series, but by then the general idea of BMW -- sporty, expensive, square body, round headlamps, six cylinders -- was pretty well-fixed in the American mind.

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The "Bavaria" was a full-sized BMW, equipped like a German "2500" model but with the larger "2800" six.

The Eighties and early Nineties were good times for the men from Bavaria. In the space of thirty years, BMW transformed itself from a niche company that sold fewer than ten thousand miniscule "bubblecars" and irrelevant, mostly disregarded high-end luxury cars to a solid volume player worldwide. There was just one little problem.

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The successor to the Bavaria was the E23, available in this country as the 730i, 733i, and 735i. As you can see, it was not a major stylistic change from the Bavaria.

The entire reputation of BMW, particularly in the United States, was based on the Neue Klasse sedans and the derivative "02" coupes. Among BMW enthusiasts, the 2002 was widely understand to be the "heart" of the company. For that reason, every successive BMW was required to pay visual homage to the Neue Klasse, which meant round headlamps, a relatively square profile, a big greenhouse with a kinked rear window, and a set of proportions best suited to a small car.

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More than twenty years after the first big BMW sedan debuted, the E32 735i was still required to "sample" the proportions and details of its predecessors.

This required styling relationship to a sedan which had been hastily designed for a 1961 introduction into the German family-car market was both blessing and curse. Bimmers (for the record, a "Beemer" has two wheels until you cross the pond to the United Kingdom, where they call everything from Bavaria a "Beemer") were instantly recognizable worldwide and as such possessed very powerful branding. It would be virtually impossible for a Rip van Winkle from 1962 to recognize a 1993-model Chevrolet or Ford, but he would have no trouble picking out a BMW from the crowd.

On the debit side of the equation, BMW was rapidly starting to look a little, well, stodgy. Audi had long since embraced avant-garde aerodynamic styling, a change undertaken in somewhat more reserved fashion by Bruno Sacco and his W201 "baby Benz". The Japanese had launched three luxury brands with flagship cars that simply looked far more modern than any Bavarian box ever could. When the E38 large sedan and E39 midsized sedan were introduced in Europe, the press started to grumble that, just maybe, BMW was being a little conservative in its visual approach. CAR magazine went farther, referring to the E39 as "depressing and timid". Truth be told, they had a point: the E39 was virtually identical to the outgoing E34, and the very few styling changes it did have were generally held to be unfortunately executed.

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The 1997 E38 big BMW probably represented the nadir of BMW's styling paralysis; it looked like a squished E32, with a relatively cramped interior and crass-looking headlight assemblies that became even uglier in the "baggy-eyed" mid-cycle refresh.

Faced with the prospect of perpetually redrawing the same basic car, an approach memorably described in the UK press as "selling the same sausage in three different lengths", the board members of BMW AG made what had to have been an unbelievably difficult decision: they looked to the outside for help. That assistance came in the form of a man who had recently gained notoriety for drawing a series of bizarre-looking Fiats, someone who said that design leadership consisted of taking the customer where "they don't want to go". Chris Bangle had worked at Opel prior to his Fiat engagement, but it was with the Fiat Coupe -- a raw slash of a car which would later donate much of its fundamental proportion and design thought to the infamous "X Coupe" concept -- that he caught the attention of BMW's management.

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This was not your grandfather's Fiat. As it turned out, it wouldn't be your kid's Fiat, either. His Fiat would be the New 500, which was a retro rip of your grandfather's Fiat.

The attractiveness of the Fiat Coupe could certainly be debated, but its originality and vision were plain to anyone with a bare minimum of aesthetic sense. The BMW board, in many ways a puppet whose strings were pulled by the mysterious Quandt family, gave Bangle its full public support. No matter what happened, the new design direction would be pursued to its conclusion.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Europe, another "luxury" manufacturer was returning from a frustrating, unprofitable dalliance with modernism. Jaguar had built its seminal XJ6 sedan with fairly minor alterations from 1968 to 1986, having considerable success along the way and escaping the hellhole known as British Leyland, but the successor "XJ40" had been publicly crucified for its "digital dash" and -- horrors! -- square headlights. Shortly afterwards, Ford rescued the company from a financial collapse which was more or less entirely the XJ40's fault and immediately threw in a quick "retro" restyle to bring the "X300" into visual line with the 1968 original. Sales went up, customers were happier, and plans were made for the "X350" successor to imitate the retro look. Although the X350 was a technologically daring aluminum-unibody sedan in the mold of the Audi A8, it would not be permitted to visually differ from the X300, which was itself intended to be nearly indistinguishable from the 1968 XJ6.

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Well, this looks different, doesn't it?

The first production "Bangle BMW" was the "E46" 3 Series, but anybody who had bothered to take a look at the concept cars being shown at the same time, most notably the aforementioned X Coupe, should have known that the real future design direction of BMW had yet to appear. When it did, it literally shocked the world. The "E65" 745i full-sized sedan looked like no BMW in history, which made it quite a departure from the company's previous practice of having all BMWs look like every BMW in history. (Understanding, of course, that "history" started in 1961.) The E65 could hardly be accused of being beautiful, but it struck a chord with buyers. For the first time in most peoples' living memories, a genuinely new BMW was available.

Naturally, the always-fickle Press As A Whole completely forgot their vicious panning of the previous-generation 740i in their unseemly haste to dogpile this "challenging" new Bimmer. The BMW board never blinked in their determination to back Bangle; the E60 5-Series which followed was an uncompromsing extension of the styling themes seen in the E65. "Flame surfacing" entered the automotive enthusiast vocabulary, along with the less complimentary (and utterly inaccurate) "Bangle Butt".

The man behind the aforementioned Butt held fast in the face of criticism from all quarters. Although Bangle had not styled the new generation of BMWs himself, he cheerfully served as the lightning rod for the storm of negative reaction, the board continued to back him, and sales continued to climb. The leather-driving-glove crowd was eventually won over by the sheer mechanical excellence of modern Bimmers, although the "Letters" section of Roundel continues to boil over even today with cartoonish indignation. While Mercedes-Benz writhed in quality-control turmoil and Audi plotted a future renaissance, BMW quietly assumed the title of the world's premier mass-market automotive brand.

Jaguar released the sublime and satisfying X350 in 2003, complete with perfected "homage" styling calculated to satisfy the most ardent Jaguar traditionalist... and the car fell on its face, setting off a chain reaction of events that would eventually result in the brand's sale to an Indian industrialist. Meanwhile, BMW went from strength to strength; the long-awaited arrival of the "Bangled" 3-Series (a tag which ignored the fact that the 1999 3 Series had also been "Bangled") proved to be an unqualified success. Still, there was a sense that BMW was pulling the reins tighter on its maverick design team; each new BMW appeared just slightly less daring than the one before. Who could blame them? After all, it's one thing to bet the farm, but it's quite another to bet the farm, win the bet, and leave your chips on the table to do it all again.

In a conversation I had with Mr. Bangle at the 2008 NAIAS, he noted rather caustically that his "old" E65 was still the most "challenging" car on the market, years after its release. The 2009 release of the relatively conservative new 7 Series (castigated as "timid" once again by the ever-schizophrenic UK press) does nothing to invalidate that statement. The past half-decade has also seen the fundamental principles of Bangle-era styling stolen, excuse me, "appropriated", by everyone from Audi (with their "emotional surfaces") to Toyota and Lexus (the LS460 and current Camry, in addition to looking exactly like each other, also look like generic-label versions of the E65). Even Jaguar has finally wised up and delivered a car -- the new XF -- which contains just enough "flame surfacing" to look vaguely modern.

What would a BMW without Bangle be like? It is hard to imagine that even the most doggedly mundane of stylists could have squeezed two more generations of sausages from the Neue Klasse tube, but had they done so, the highways would look very different today. We simply take it for granted that the "man from Ohio" solved a variety of automotive styling problems on our behalf. Ever notice just how tall cars are today? That's a packaging requirement, and it can be done awkwardly (the non-flame-surfaced 2008 Taurus) or invisibly (the flame-surfaced 2010 model). Ever bothered to read the Euro pedestrian impact standards? They forced blunt noses and tall bonnets on sedan makers, who were then able to look at a BMW to get a sense of how to meet those requirements. Have you noticed that the trunk on a 1999 740il is a "two-person" trunk while the new 750il has luggage room for four? That's courtesy of the "stacked" trunk profile popularized by you-know-who.

My friends in the blogosphere are stage-whispering to anyone who will listen that Bangle was "forced out" or "pushed", but anybody with a lick of sense can see that it was time for the man to walk away. What's left for him to do? He has saved BMW from a Jaguar-esque retro-fate, re-imagined the way cars are styled in the twenty-first century, and lived to see his critics either dwindle into irrelevance or voluntarily engage in shameless "copypasta" of his ideas. Why not walk into the sunset? His parting phraseology -- that he is moving "beyond automobiles" -- could be an indicator of anything, or of nothing.

Chris Bangle has taken a million morons' hatred, ignorance, and misunderstanding squarely on the chin and kept moving the art of automotive design forward, often alone, always under fire. From the crucible of fifteen years' effort and battle, he's emerged as more than just a "hero" or "celebrity" designer, more than just an opinionated controvery artist. If you ask me, he's earned a rest. And if you love BMWs in particular, or just cars in general, he's earned your thanks, as well.


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Jack Baruth

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  • Wonderful article. Finally someone to actually look a second to look a the bigger picture rather then continuing bashing the bangle-butts. I personally think that the 2002 7 Series is the best BMW produced in well… forever… :/

  • …and even though Bangle’s design direction was a complete departure for BMW, what i love is that they’re still instantly recognizeable as a BMW. you don’t have to keep the same design language, you just need a few characteristic carryover elements (the twin kidney grille and the hofmeister kink).

    that’s what bothers me about the new Jag XF… without the badges, you really have no idea what the hell it is. if anything, it looks like an Aston. i’m not saying it needs to look just like every other Jag, but give me something to work with. brand heritage is an important thing, i think.

    and to all Bangle critics: as Jack says above, look at how far his work has proliferated in the industry. anyone who ISN’T using his techniques looks dated. that says a lot, no matter what you think about BMW.

  • Jack Baruth is the first person I’ve ever read on the intarweb who cited perhaps the single most important piece of automotive journalism, at least to BMW the carmaker, in history, when he mentioned Davis’ 1968 Car and Driver road test of the then-new 2002 (“Open your hymnals to 2002…”). Some folks credit this piece as the “door opener” for BMW into the American marketplace, as do I. Kudos, Jack; you’re a well-read fellow, but you already knew that…

    Bangle is an enigma to me. I’m either enraptured by his designs or repulsed, but never anything in-between, and that’s probably a good thing overall. To me he’s almost like a modern-era reincarnation of Virgil Exner (why did you not include him in your listing of singular designers?), in that he is truly an inspired artist in metal, but also in that he sometimes has a tendency to mangle rather than massage it into its final shape, but that’s just my bias speaking. He certainly has left his mark on the industry, though, on that we agree. A “Staff designer” he is not.

  • Hi Larry,

    Exner absolutely deserves a mention; however, his influence did not persist into what I think of as the “modern age”, which in my opinion was ushered in with the ’61 Chevy, so I figured that if I had to mention him, I’d also need to mention a couple other standouts of that era, up to and including Malcolm Sayer.

    Someone else who deserves a mention was Elwood Engel; his Continental set a design direction for Lincoln that persisted all the way to the tribute “shoulders” on the MKT. Ironically, the new MKS owes much more to Bangle than to Engel.

    The Exner-Bangle comparison is well-done, particularly when we think about “Forward Look”. That was a re-imagining of the basic sedan form. If I could rewrite the article, I’d mention it, because Chrysler was in a very similar situation to BMW’s Nineties situation in the postwar era.

  • Yup. BMW had shaken just about all the fruit out of the Hofmeister Kink Tree that they could. They needed something, just about anything, to pump some oxygenated blood into the company’s aesthetic arteries. I disagree with some of Bangle’s notions about design, but then again I’m not paid gargantuan amounts of money by a multinational automaker to create those ideas, either, so perhaps I will bow in his general direction out of pure respect if not outright admiration.

  • I can understand the need to break free from a styling dead end, but it’s possible to do so in a way that gives us attractive cars as well.

    It’s hard to appreciate a car as unattractive as the 6 or 7 series. Does that make me a simpleton?

    You allude to it, but much of the ire at the Bangle BMWs has to do with the change in character of the company. BMW of the 90s did no-nonsense sports sedans. Their styling was bland, but unoffensive and they were truly the Ultimate Driving Machine.

    The Era of Bangle ushered in i-drive, SMG, electrical variable-ratio steering, and BMW’s SUV lineup. If this were just about sheetmetal, the ire would be less justifiable.

    I wonder, what do you make of Porsche, then?

    They haven’t deviated from the 911 cookie cutter, and go so far as to cruelly stretch the 911 face over the front of a Toureg. Are we to believe they need a wakeup call as well?

  • Porsche only occasionally “designs” their products in recent years, at least in my view. Cayman was admirable if only for its beautifully added-on roof to the existing shell of the Boxster, and the rest of their products just seem to be assorted 911 caricatures in varying shapes and configurations, as you note with the Cayenne’s hideous 911-ish “face stretchover”. Ick. The actual 911 is still very attractive, but honestly, how “designed” is a car that is little more than the 999th evolution of what originally took place in the early 1960s? That Carrera GT thing…don’t get me started on that. I’m trying to eat my breakfast.

  • Great article. It is difficult to argue with success and BMW has seen plenty of it during Bangle’s employ. Despite the fact that i-Drive is still being refined and that the BMW interiors are 2nd or 3rd place compared to Audi and MB, BMW products stand out in a specific way that appeals to car buyers. That is the designer’s one and only job: To create desire. The 7-series became instantly recognizable. The 5 and 3 followed, and so did the cash flow.

    He did his job commendably, and will do well in his future pursuits. Best of luck to him, and thanks for having the desire to share his vision with the automotive world.

  • You’ve convinced me. I have to say, though I’ve never been a fan of BMW’s execution of Bangle’s vision (Lexus seems to have found a nice design language that addresses the awkward indirection of Hooydonk’s work), Bangle has made a huge impact. So I grudgingly give him my respect. Hope he enjoys his retirement from cars.

  • Touche to Jack Baruth’s sentiments. Actions talk louder than words and Bangle delivered on every count of his job – gave a company a new design language, created an instantly recognizable theme that is the hallmark of any great design and created an emulatable benchmark for others. Critics can talk, but the voice of a powerful design trumps all else.

  • First, i must say i adore the works of Paul Bracq. He put his hands on some of the most sought-after classics, like the W113 Mercedes.

    If Bangles design will become such classic is something we will be able to see in 15-20 yrs.
    But what you call a fresh design is just “copied Lexus Design” for too many old or young BMW enthusiasts around the world – thanks for the “moron” compliment, dickweed. ;)

    The new 3series rear looks very similar to Audis, the E60 face looks beautiful – if there’d be a Mitsubishi badge on its grille. And seriously anyone with a sense of aesthetics would rage over the E65 “Bangle Butt” – like a beautiful girl with a grotesque shaped ass.

    It IS possible to put modern design and tradition together, just see Alfa Romeo’s da Silva design or the 911 (Rage among customers ensued when they changed the shape of its headlights), but Bangle failed it, and being impervious to advice and customer preferences doesn’t make someone a hero. Damn, wheres the driver oriented dashboard?

    And i totally disagree on you view on the E38 Facelift – its very beautiful in my eye and: Bangle was responsible for this exact facelift you dislike so much. ;)

  • Incidentally, I wanted to point out a mistake I made in the original text; after an article’s been up more than an hour or two, I don’t like to make “silent fixes”.

    In our conversation with Mr. Bangle, it was the E60 5-Series he pointed out as the most avant-garde sedan on the market, not the E65 7-Series. This was a typo on my part that I managed to completely overlook during proofreading.

    A brief series of notes on our initial meeting can be found at the bottom of this article, which was part of our NAIAS 2008 coverage:


    Thanks to everybody who has stopped by to read us; we hope you’ll return again and again, if only to leave caustic comments :)

  • I read this with interest, but also with an Internatonal perspective, as I’ve lived in many countries – and have admired and owned BMWs in all of them.

    I was surprised with the angle taken, as it painted the beginnings of BMW and its becoming ‘more than a bubblecar factory’ after the war far too simplisitcally- apparently to explain styling changes at the manufacturer in a particular way.

    Specifically, design phases are expained using only some models, ones that at the time suit the writer’s view. In reading it, I kept asking, ‘what about the e12′, the ‘e21′, the ‘e30′, the ‘e24′, the ‘e28′ the ‘e36′ and so on as it described those periods. These were key models, not just bread and butter, but the 3 and 5 series cars which defined niche segments in the sedan market that other manufactures are still following today.

    This is important as each of these required massive, considered design effort and more resources than the company had ever devoted to the task before, it was hardly all about the larger 7 series cars.

    Aside from ignoring such mainstream models, this article goes on to describe the styling of the e32 and e34 as bland. This is just plainly ridiculous! 1987 was a year when other manufacturers wre unable to transcend chrome with any panache whatsoever. At this point, and in many ways even still, their competition makes designs that are outdated by the time they **reach** the showroom. At this point in time, not one other manufacturer made a car that stodd teh test of time. Yet BMW made an three entire ranges of class-defining cars that each last 7-10 years in the market with just one facelift… to massive commercial success.

    Yet still it gets lampooned unfairly.

    For example, the BMW ‘L6′ engine that powered the bavaria and is still produced today has an extraordinary heritage, one that goes back before WWII. It was used widely in vehicles and trucks, as BMW was, to a large degree an engine company, making airplane and boat engines as well.

    BMW was big in motorbikes and planes. Automobiles (sports sedans) and the Isettas (“bubblecars’) production were a very small part of the company’s output and it was close to the wall for a long tiem after the war. Hoffman’s designs establikshed the brand amongst the mavens, and gave the brand credentials on which to grow. The 1602 was a hardly a segment entrant for BMW either- they made the 1500 and the 2000 from 1962. In addition, the small sports cars had been in production since the war, and Hoffman’s 507 was just one.

    Styling wise, their big sedan, the E3 (2500/2800/3.0/’Bavaria’) did not come to be just like that. It was the major effort that called on every resource BMW had, once the smaller cars were in production. It arrived in ’68 six years after the 1500 and at the same time as the 2002.

    By this point, 1968, they were becoming big car company in Europe.

    BUT, small cars were where the volume was. VW, Fiat, Ford and many others were making this clear. BMW wanted a part of this, so once in the 2002 and the bavaria were in production the team set about designing car to compliment the smaller 1602: a medium sized sedan. A niche entry, the E12 5 series (which included the 528i) re-defined the performance sedan segment and when introduced in ’74, paved the way for the ‘terrifically successful’ 1602/2002 replacement, the E21 3-series compact sedan (which included the 323i). The E24 6-series ‘shark-nosed ‘coupe came next and wooed a generation of enthusiasts swelling towards the marque.

    The e23 7 series (the e3 replacement) was the last to be added to the e12/e21 lineup. However it was the first to be replaced as it was was far too conservative and an already aged design. Successful when released, the conservative styling worked well, but was not modern enough to last. It was an example of BMW’s inhouse design teams being too efficient and perhaps was a pre-cursor to the woes that contnued and left them stumbling for styling direction.

    The e21 however had represented probably more than BMW had ever spent before designing a car. But they had plenty of inspiration and at this point it was boiled over as the e26 (M1 Supercar- as if the e24 wasn’t enough) was approved for production. Also fresh on the drawing board was the e28 (new 5-series) development. Whilst really only a facelift on the e12, e28 was a big thing as this segment was becoming increasingly important and lucrative.

    To dismiss these cars as not close enough to concept demeans their importance and a large amount of what the automotive industry copied for years afterward. There was nothing like any of them before, e21, e24, e28 and e30, but unfortuantely e23 was too like it’s predecesor to be legendary.

    Yet this is the example Jack uses to explan all this amazing design. Whether it was the stress of the upcoming e21 and e24 projects that affected the e23 so adversely, one wonders just how much work was going on behind the scenes in desiging and developing so many cars in the space of only 10 years with such a small team. e23 was hardly a flop, it sold well for 7 years or more. It’s only problem was that it wasn’t a class leader against what Mercedes others and were producing.

    And this is where the article seems to go off-track, as it fails to even mention the compacts, where BMW has always spent so much effort, both in development, profit and in reputation. The e12, e21 and later e28s were all seminal cars in BMW’s entry into their market segments. The e24 6 series was developed in this time also, but barely registers in comparison to the other’s volumes and importance to the BMW’s success. Of all these the smaller cars represent an incredible design effort, each being bigger that the last, with e30 and e36 doing the same all over again.

    Yet the article dismisses them in one sentence by descrbing the e23 to be stylistically the same as the bavaria (E3). This is where what one might have experieinced in the US view point is so different, because the e23’s main advanced were technical, and the chassis and design completely different. How it is stylistically similar I don’t know, except it was a luxo-sedan with conservative lines.

    But the big sedan was, at this point, off the radar in terms of a dsign direction- that was being driven by the smaller cars. Although any new model can define a new look and have lots of marketing budget (e60), it it was not the defining design, nor would it ever be. BMW does this in its mass-produced cars, which is why th e65 is now being copied by all the others and why Bangle calls it the most avant-garde sedan. In the e65, again preceeded by a more conservative 7-series, Bangle only delivered what the e12/28/34 /e3/e23/e32 series had done before, exactly.

    And this lack of styling direction that is so contravrsially discussed now he is out, is exaclty the pickle they were in last time. At theis same point last time, before Bangle, the big Bavarian was terified it would fail to capitalise on the extraordinary success of their recent 3, 5 and 6 series cars- each of which had been getting rave reviews and was raising the bar for every car manufacturer.

    I guess the American market, not such a big consumer of compact at the time, didn’t see this dynamic. But then, it forced the outsourcing of the most tired designs to an a new, external man. **This** was where BMW redefined its design- as the e32 (7 series) and its stablemate e34 (5 series) stole the market and again took the lead on every technological front, not just styling. These cars set the standard again.

    BMW always treads a tightrope of efficiency and contemporary brilliance, which although these days is becoming more fickle, is what they’ve always done. What remains to be seen is whether the Banglisation will become synonymous with Bling-isation craze and if BMW’s reputation will be damaged by such bling interiors, etc.

    Hopefully, it wil be able to do it all again, but better ;)

  • ThreeM30s,

    Thank you for your comment, and for the additional “international” perspective.

    There was a reason I used the “big” BMW as my example: the E65 7er was the first of the “radical” Bimmers, and it was the one that set the design direction.

    As you’ve pointed out, the issue is more complex than I can develop in a single 2500-word article. Comments like yours are important to help flesh out the rest of the story.

    The only point I’ll argue with you is my characterization of the E32 and E34 as “bland”. Neither one of those cars, as pretty as they were (and the E34 is my personal favorite BMW, looks-wise) did enough to advance the state of BMW styling. Their primary styling innovation was to introduce the raised trunk to BMW — but Mercedes-Benz had done that years before with the W126 and then with the W124.

  • There are very few “defining” moments in our lives, where years or even decades later, we can re-visit them in story, describing everything in great detail. At that very instant, the music playing in the background, the color of the carpet and style of decor, the scent of perfume…..all of which I can destinctly recall the first time I truly fell in love with an automobile.

    It was the 2002 NAIAS. With photoshoped press-pass in tote, and a five o’clock shadow that realistically took me five *days* to grow, I slalomed between the photogs, no doubt destroying a dozen or more potential magazine cover shots in the process. I had pulled it off….a 16 year old looking 23 year old had managed to blend in with the industry professionals. But as I entered the Audi booth, and stumbled upon the white Audi TT, the sound of my lower jaw slapping against the pergo floor alerted to everyone in the room, that I was waaaaay too inexperienced at poker to play at the same table as Chan.

    The white Audi TT. Love at first sight. “Sorry sir, we just ran out of press packets. Sorry sir, you cannot sit in it. Sir, please put your pants back on.” Two years later, before I had made my first student loan payment, secured health care, or even really had a place to live, I bought that car. I had never even sat in one, let alone driven one… yet, when a low-mileage white TT with fat-fives popped up on ebay, (on my 3rd day at work), I didn’t hesitate for even a second to hit “buy it now” and fly my press-pass-faking ass down to Dallas to pick it up.

    Never before then, and probably never again, will I make such a love-crazed automotive purchase.

    Transportation designers live in this wierd sort of automotive purgatory, so I’ve learned during my relatively short tenure within the league. See, the problem isn’t a lack of desireable cars on the current market, rather it’s knowing what’s not only coming out next year, but what’s on the horizon *five years* from now. Inherently, that passion for the car coming down the pipe quickly fades…..and by the time they all actually become obtainable, they’ve lost that loving feeling…in favor of the next one coming down the pipe….in bite-sized increments, evolving to be something better than it’s predicessor. When it comes to actually buying a car, we’re lost…..or we eventually just settle for one that happened to stand out *extremely* well.

    With that in mind, when Bangle took over the reins at BMW, and shook out the 7 series from the bowels of Dancer and Vixen, it left the Automotive Design community scratching their heads. In an era of “safe design”, lead by clinics, and “refined” by the corporate committee, how in the hell did he sneak that through?! With relatively narrow margins of profit, and an even more narrow magin for design risk, how did he get permission to roll the dice with soo many chips on the table? It was so bizarre, especially for BMW, that we couldn’t imagine what they could *possibly* be working on for “five years from now”. Then came the Z4. We didn’t know what Bangle was smoking, but he was sharing it with the rest of Bavaria, and we all wanted a hit.

    The best part about taking something perhaps a bit too far, is that you can always turn it down a notch. The next chapter in the book of Bangle was the 3 series….and most notable to us, the Coupe. The Coupe, followed closely by the 1 series, if I’m not mistaken, slapped me across the face and sent me into a hot flash, all the way back to the sights, sounds, smells, and condescending Audi rep of the 2002 NAIAS.

    Bangle has accomplished so much in his time spent at BMW. A game-changing automobile is few and far between. An automobile that not only stops the consumer dead in their tracks, but also steals the breath out of every other designer in the business, is once or twice in a lifetime. Chris Bangle did it with an entire brand. He took us to the edge of our seats, then eased us slowly back into a much more comfortable state of rondel bliss. The cars he’s put on the road a half decade ago, are as every bit as fresh as the cars that the rest of the design community has been stammering for, for a half-decade to come.

    The white One Series. Baby, baby…I get down on my knees for you.

  • I disagree. Simply drawing something new isn't the same as drawing something beautiful. There is a reason the Pantheon, or an E Type, is well regarded–they are classically beautiful. Having been copied doesn't mean a design is beautiful. Alienating the BMW fan base in the interest of satisfying an ostensibly fickle journalism guild is no mark of wisdom. I've yet to meet a person who bought a Bangle car for its looks; but I know plenty of enthusiasts who've spent their money elsewhere because of them. Beauty is more than chrome door surrounds, or flame surfacing, or looking 'new'. It has to do with proportion, symmetry, balance, and cohesion. The old bimmers represented these values, and made of them a doctrine.

    Take for instance round headlights. There was a time when every manufacturer had 'moved on' to a more 'modern' look; but BMW kept the faith with classic and soulful round headlights. Now, you'll not find a car with square or rectangular lights. Beauty ought not be conflated with faddishness.

  • I think I have to disagree with the characterization of the E32 and E34 as not advancing the state of design at BMW and as being "bland". It's easy, some 20+ years later to see the E32 and E34 as an example of a smooth aerodynamic car that was the primary stylistic language for 15+ years.

    However, we forget how big a stylistic change that was in 1987 when smooth aerodynamic surfaces were not common and the entire industry was trying to find a way to design around those attributes. Take a look at an E28 and then at a E34. This was a huge step forward.

    I bought an E28 in 1989 when there were loads of unsold E28s on the lots; cheaply. Why? Because the E34 was out. I really wanted one, but it was a lot more money than the heavily discounted E28. I only managed to buy an E34 in 1995 (a M5 though) and it remains the one car (other than my E9) which I will try and never sell.

    I do have an E39 as well, and while I like it, I do agree it was a slightly warmed over E34.

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