2016 marks BMW’s 100th Anniversary. No small feat in autodom.
Known as Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (Bavarian Motor Works in German), the company has thrived where others have gone quietly and ignonimously into the night.
The marque has gone from selling four models in 1975 — when they opened their first American dealership — to an astounding 100 models today, ranging from the fuel-sipping i3 and the affordable X1 crossover to the monster BMW X5 M performance SUV and a 7-Series that has enough technology to rival NASA.
Today, we take the time to celebrate not just BMW’s commitment to performance, but also to design and creativity, with the best concept cars they’ve ever created.
Here are 10 of the finest to take to the stage … if not the open road.
Bertone-BMW 2800 Spicup (1969)
Designed and built by the Italian design house Bertone, the Spicup was the rare concept built to actually be driven on the road. Based on the excellent BMW 2000 CS chassis and equipped with a 2.5-liter inline six mill, but its most notable aspect was the retractable steel roof that folded into the rollbar behind the cabin, giving occupants more space. The green paint job and alien green interior add more drama where perhaps none was necessary.
BMW E25 Turbo X1 (1972)
This low-slung gullwing beauty was created to celebrate the 1972 Olympic Games hosted in Munich. The chassis and motor were from the BMW 2002, and it actually functioned with 200 HP that launched the car to 60 MPH in 6.6 seconds and topped out at 155. Elements of the nose, hood and tail sections went on to create the legendary M1 supercar in 1978.
BMW X Coupe Concept (2001)
Here, controversial designer Chris Bangle created a strangely upright and oddly proportioned coupe with contradictory angles and a dramatically upswept tail. What truly set it apart was Bangle’s “flame surfacing” that played with light from different angles. The X Coupe’s design elements would go on to join BMW’s line in the mid-2000s.
BMW M1 Hommage (2008)
The BMW faithful pined for a new version of the original M1 supercar, and BMW delivered (at least in concept form) a beautifully contemporary version known as the M1 Hommage. The company later used it as a design study for the future BMW i8 hybrid supercar, which borrows heavily from the M1 Hommage in the slim kidney grilles and headlights, the contoured rear quarter panels and the floating roof.
BMW Gina Light Visionary Model (2008)
In what qualifies as one of the most unique concept cars in history, the Gina (Geometry and functions In ‘N’ Adaptations) had a flexible fabric skin that adapted to the underlying modular frame. Nearly every part of the Gina could alter its shape, including the hood, headlights, doors and rear spoiler. Even the center rib of the hood opens to reveal the engine. No instructions on how to wash it were provided, however.
BMW 328 Hommage (2011)
To honor a motoring legend on its 75th birthday, BMW built the 328 Homage to commemorate the BMW 328 Touring Coupe that holds the longstanding record for the highest average speed in the Mille Miglia endurance race. BMW’s modern version paid its respect with a vintage, open-top style like the original, tall kidney grilles and leather bonnet straps. The 3.0-liter inline six engine, huge perforated wheels and deeply sculpted sides were there to add a healthy dose of modernity.
BMW Vision ConnectedDrive (2011)
As racy as this roadster concept was at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show was, it was the technology that superseded all else, hence the name. Replete with full color display in the instrument cluster, a 3D head-up display that pulled data from sensors in the head and taillight and even the ability to read building address numbers without the driver taking his eyes off the dash. The exterior fiber-optic mood lighting is just showing off.
BMW Zagato Coupe (2012)
Based on the excellent Z4, The Zagato Coupe was created by Milanese coachbuilder Zagato for the famous Concorso d’Eleganza at Italy’s Lake Como in 2012. The entire body was handcrafted and received a complex paint job that ranged from black to bright red, depending on lighting conditions. If you look closely enough, you can see the Z-patterned grille that pays homage to its creator.
BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage (2015)
Giving the modern nod to a vintage icon isn’t easy, but BMW did it with the CSL Hommage concept that’s a 21st century interpretation of the 1970s 3.0 CSL. Then it was a lightweight coupe racer with ample use of aluminum and plexiglass, while the newer version was infused with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic and enough scoops and wings for a whole line of concept cars. The wood strip across the dash and the vertical kidney grilles give a nod to the car’s history, while just about everything else is from the very rapid present.
BMW Vision Next 100 (2016)
BMW’s most recent concept car might be its most outlandish. The multi-faceted, multi-textured Vision Next 100 showed up at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year to show off full fender skirts that completely enclose the wheels, intelligent mesh that moves with the changing shape of the car depending on driving conditions, a holographic windshield display and advanced gesture controls. Autonomous driving? That’s a given for the next century, and likely the next decade.
All images via BMW