‘Imagine yourself walking into a private collection of barely seen cars and exhibits of never-glimpsed BMW creativity and history. Off in the dimly lit distance is a ’70s-style slide projector that’s flickered to life with previously unseen images, while an adjacent tape player delivers the voiceover…’
This is how Steve Saxty sets the scene for BMW’s Hidden Gems, one of a trio of new books grouped under the title of BMW Behind The Scenes. They explore the history of Munich’s design department, told through its most important cars and concepts, with contributions from famous names, such as Paul Bracq, who helped shape them.
Steve Saxty is a motoring author best known for his Secret Fords series of books – featured previously on Motoring Research. And it turned out BMW design boss Adrian van Hooydonk was a secret Ford fan, too…
Behind closed doors at BMW
“I was at home in New York one Sunday morning. It was brutally cold and there was snow on the ground outside,” recalls Saxty. “The phone rang and it was [Dutch car designer] Harm Lagaay. He’d just had lunch with Adrian van Hooydonk, who had mentioned buying a copy of Secret Fords. So I wrote a letter to Adrian – it had to be a proper letter, Harm said, not simply an email – and he invited me for an online meeting.”
That first conversation on Teams lasted more than an hour, and the project that followed would take two-and-a-half years – including numerous trips to Munich and 120 interviews with BMW insiders and past luminaries. Saxty was granted unprecedented access to the design department, along with the company’s huge archive near Garching.
“I camped out in the studio for weeks,” he explains. “Around 400 people have keycard access, but I was the only outsider allowed in. It’s their heritage and their legacy, but they said nothing was off-limits.”
Paying Hommage to the past
The main BMW by Design book, which stretches to nearly 300 pages, focuses on the story of BMW styling since the 1950s, told primarily through its concept cars. “These vehicles aren’t made for us on the outside,” says Saxty. “They are built to spur the designers’ creativity. Within the company, designing a concept is as important as doing a production car.”
Concepts featured range from a futuristic take on the vintage 328 to the modern 3.0 CSL Hommage R (pictured above) – a tribute to the legendary ‘Batmobile’ CSL. Saxty has unearthed hundreds of beautiful design drawings, including 40 hand-drawn sketches by Paul Bracq, with insightful captions to explain every detail.
The second book, BMW’s Hidden Gems, is shorter and easier to dip into, pulling together 10 untold stories or rarely seen cars. The gems include the BMW Garmisch concept (Marcello Gandini’s submission for the original E21 3 Series) and an exploration into “the jewellery of cars”: paint, badges and alloy wheels.
Lastly, the third book in the collection, BMW Art by Design, sees Saxty “dropping into the background and letting the designers introduce their own work”. It also comes with a folder of 18 art-quality BMW prints, ready for framing.
‘Driven to be different’
If you are a BMW enthusiast or simply interested in car design, BMW Behind The Scenes is an essential addition to your bookshelf. Beautifully presented and engagingly written, it does justice to the creativity of the cars within.
You might not like where BMW design has gone in recent years, but it has been a fascinating journey. “BMW is driven to be different,” Saxty concludes. “They see it as their absolute duty not to take the easy path.”
BMW by Design is available separately for £79.05, or you can order one of 1,500 individually numbered and signed copies of the three-book set for £237.21. Both are available from Steve Saxty’s website.
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