Earlier this week, BMW pulled the wraps off the production version of its i3 electrically powered supermini, and it raised more than a few sets of eyebrows. The wild styling of the i3 Electric City-Car Concept — originally unveiled in Frankfurt in 2011 — came over to the production version nearly unchanged, including all the sharp angles and futuristic cues. But this was not the first time that BMW has pushed the limits of its cars. Sure, not all have made it to production form, but BMW has had a rich history of concepts that push the limits of styling and automotive design. Here are our ten favorite BMW designs:
If you grew up in the 1990’s, then you know this as Steve Urkel’s ride on Family Matters, but the Isetta’s roots go much farther back than the heyday of TGIF. Of course, the Isetta’s basic design didn’t come from BMW at all. It came from the Italian firm Iso SpA, and BMW perfected it with a more robust engine. The Isetta was perfectly tailored for city driving, and is credited with keeping BMW from being taken over by Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s. Today the car enjoys a cult following and is sure to turn heads even today.
BMW’s first and (arguably) only true supercar was completely a BMW. The body was designed by Giugiaro and assembled by Lamborghini, but the engine is all Bimmer. The dual-cam M88-designation motor is a 3.5-liter inline-6 that would go on to power the first M5 and M6, and is essentially the formula around which an entire brand would be built.
We here in the States would eventually get the Z3 roadster, but not before Europe got the Z1. The innovative little runabout had a unique slide-down door, and could be traced back to this car, the Z1 Coupe Concept. Employing then-leading materials and construction techniques, and the shooting brake design would not be seen in a BMW again until the BMW Z3 Coupe and M Coupe.
Like a more refined Plymouth Prowler, this open wheel roadster certainly diverged from anything BMW had designed prior. The 100-horsepower engine was sourced from a BMW K1100 motorcycle, proving that less power combined with lighter weight can be supremely fun.
Say what you want about BMW designer Chris Bangle, but he helped turn the automotive world on its head. The toast of the 1999 Paris Motor Show, the Z9 helped to define BMW styling for the next decade, and you can clearly see inspirations for the 6 Series coupe and convertible in its cues.
When I say, “BMW compact crossover,” you may think of the X3 or X1, but there was a high-riding Bimmer before both. It only had two seats, but boasted eight cylinders, as it featured the 4.4-liter V8 that would later appear in the first BMW X5.
What happens when you combine the chassis of an X5 with the styling cues of the Z4 roadster? This high-riding and revolutionary X Coupe. It debuted at the 2001 North American International Auto Show, and featured an aluminum body and a 3.0-liter turbo diesel inline-6.
The Mille Miglia was an endurance road race held in Italy between 1927 and 1957. It was a harrowing test of man and machine, and BMW won it in 1940 in a BMW 328 Coupe. This concept was meant as an homage to that car, and from every angle, the resemblance is uncanny, yet completely modern in its own way.
This concept was not merely a design study, but a chance for BMW to explore new forward-thinking production and assembly methods. The body is actually a flexible fabric, stretched over a movable lightweight architecture. Underlying structures and panels are mobile, hence the need for the flexible outer skin.
For some time, the argument over most beautiful BMW was split between the Z8 and the iconic 507. That was until this Coupe Concept burst onto the scene at the 2012 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Designed in partnership with Italian design house Zagato, it’s almost painful how perfect and beautiful this coupe is. Painful only because production plans have not been announced.