I find the 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics to be an extraordinarily beautiful vehicle. Today I’m going to take a close look at this car, presenting it as a defining element within the BMW sportscar continuum and examining some of the broader aspects that seem to have influenced its shape.
The spiritual antecedents of the Vision ED began in the mid to late 1930s. With much encouragement from the National Socialist government, Germany’s auto industry developed in great strides. While Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were fielding unbeatable monsters on the race track, BMW took a more modestly powered if just as successful approach. Starting with the 2 litre 327 saloons, they produced the 328 roadster and coupe, and developed this range into a series of racecars that redefined the BMW brand.
A race-stripped 328 roadster (top left) was first on the scene in 1935. The roadster was styled by Kurt Joachimson, who never received due credit owing to his being a Jew. From this came the utterly gorgeous streamlined roadster (top right) styled by Peter Szymanowski that became the direct inspiration for the post-war Jaguar XK120 shape. A later version received a crease along the crown of the front fenders and was known as the ‘trousercrease’ (bottom left). This Wendler coupe (bottom right) was from the hand of Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, but I’m not sure of its racing provenance.
The Carrozzeria Touring Coupé, on the other hand, claimed an overall win at the 1940 Mille Miglia and set the 328 legend in stone. Racer Prince Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe had asked BMW to build a coupe but they did not have enough resources, so he turned to Milan for the solution, and Touring produced the body in four weeks.
Another closed-bodied BMW that ran in the 1940 Mille Miglia was known as the Kamm Coupe.
Research defining the aerodynamic benefits of a sharply truncated rear by Professor Wunibald Kamm and Baron von Koenig-Fachsenfeld had resulted in a series of closed-bodied saloons from the FKFS (or Kamm Institut as it was colloquially known). Some of the test cars including the BMW 328-based K1 (top left) and BMW 335-based K4 had proven remarkably efficient in their aerodynamics.
Wilhelm Meyerhuber designed the 328 Kamm Coupe around these principles. While it achieved a Cd of .25, a remarkable improvement over the Touring Coupe’s .35, it was not to prove as hardy during the 1940 Mille Miglia. Note the Kamm Coupe’s elongated roof compared with the more tapered rear of the Touring Coupé behind it.
This image of the BMW Styling studio from 1940 features (possibly) Szymanowski, Meyerhuber and Karl Schmuck attending to the 385 model in styling development. The radius arc profile from the front end of the 328 roadsters and Touring Coupé was used, but Professor Kamm’s longroof form seems not to have been applied.
After the war, the BMW factories were dismantled and the tooling was sent around the world. Bristol received a good deal of this ‘largesse’ and produced a coupe based on 328 underpinnings. In 1951, BMW finally released a new model; the 501 which became known as the Baroque Angel. Styled by Peter Szymanowski, the prototype body (above) was constructed by body-builders Reutter. Streamlining was still part of the visual language, but the rest of the car used essentially pre-war cues. The production model followed this prototype closely.
Rebuilding the company was the priority for BMW management, and it was a slow process. The 501/502 saloons were respectable, well-built – if expensive – cars, but sales were not great and there was little money for a programme similar to that for the 328.
Large ‘three-box’ coupés were eventually introduced into the range, and for the most part of the last 60 years have served as the road-going flagships for the BMW brand.
The graceful but slow-selling 503 coupé by Count Albrecht von Goertz entered production in 1956 (top left). In 1961, BMW engaged Bertone to produce the Giugiaro-penned 3200CS of which about 500 were produced (top right). The in-house shaped 2000C/CS came about as the result of the successful Neue Klasse saloons and was updated to the larger-engined and revised-face E9 coupés. The E9 was ultimately developed into the extraordinarily bespoilered CSL ‘Batmobiles’ that saw much success on the racetracks in the 1970s and represented the factory focus for outright performance during this period. The Paul Bracq styled E24 (bottom left) was the first of the 6-series coupés that continue as part of the range today.
In 1956 BMW also released a roadster. The 507, styled by Goertz, was a beautiful open-top (and coupé) powered by the 502/3’s 3.2 litre V8. It was never developed properly for the track, and spent it’s short life as a desirable though overly expensive boulevardier. This image shows engineer Alexander von Falkenhausen (right) who was in charge of engine development; the blanked headlight fairings and blocked grilles with smaller intakes suggest that BMW might have been considering something more performance-orientated during the time this photo was taken, but the model was a sales disaster and contributed to BMW’s financial straits at the end of that decade.
The ‘medium segment’ air-cooled 700 was launched in 1959 and initiated a bit of a rebirth in the sleek BMW sportscar shape. A GT version of the Michelotti-shaped coupé was raced (top left), and that was followed by the factory open-bodied 700 RS racer (top right) able to achieve speeds of up to 200km/h. Racer Willi Martini produced the lightweight Martini-BMW (middle left) around the components of a GT. The factory RS cars were eventually sold to Martini who I believe used them in open and closed form (middle right). The bottom row shows more interesting variants; a concept sketch and a one-off plastic body with Zagato-like roof for a 700 by Luigi Colani.
With BMW having withdrawn from track racing in 1961, it was left to privateers to take advantage of the superb driving dynamics of the 1962-onwards Neue Klasse saloons. In 1966, BMW swallowed up Glas and inherited their Frua-styled fastback. A vestigal twin-kidney grille was positioned up front, their delightful 1600 engine replaced the Glas units and the short-lived BMW 1600 GT was (re) born (top right).
Willi Martini produced a mid-engined 1800-based (bottom left) and a 1600-based racer which he hoped would interest BMW – but without success.
The Neue Klasse had bolstered BMW’s fortunes and brought back some well-earned excitement to the brand. Suddenly coachbuilders were clamouring to clothe a BMW. Frua had enjoyed a strong relationship with Glas, also bodying their handsome 3000 saloons. In 1968, a Frua fastback 3000 proposal was the basis for a similarly bodied, but unsuccessful, BMW 2000ti Coupe (top left). 1969 saw their 2002 GT4 proposal; 1975 a 3.0 Si Coupe (bottom left) and 1976 a 528 GT, but all to no avail.
Bertone used a BMW as the basis for the 1969 Spicup. Designed around a roof that retracted into the C-pillar hoop, it was not received well on the show circuit. They tried again with the three-box 1970 BMW 2200ti Garmisch (bottom left), and Giugiaro at ItalDesign prepared the 1975 Asso di Quadri (Ace of Diamonds) in anticipation of possible production through Karmann, but in truth BMW needed no outside help.
They now had the esteemed Paul Bracq in charge of their styling.
In 1972, almost out of the blue, the BMW Turbo burst onto the scene. Released to commemorate the Munich Summer Olympics, this sleek shape could well be considered Bracq’s masterpiece. Housing a turbo-charged version of the 2000cc mill, this mid-engined beauty drew gasps of admiration from press and punters alike. In some ways, it was an answer to the Mercedes Benz C111 prototypes, but in another way a case of one-upmanship. The C111s, for all their superb dynamics and rotary wonderment, never looked as good as the BMW Turbo.
Like the C111 series, the BMW Turbo was more than a stunning body. It served as a demonstration of BMW’s pragmatism as well as their future view. The dash was presented with a sophisticated visual array of the car’s systems and angled for all controls to be within easy reach of the driver, and a pre-historic version of iDrive was presented – allowing fluid levels and brake wear readings to be available at the touch of a button. Under the rear hatch was BMW’s first turbocharged engine, which would make its way into the lairy BMW 2002 Turbo in detuned form.
This was no racecar, nor does it appear to have been destined for production (which is a real shame). It served simply as a showcase and safety was also part of the Turbo’s remit. A seatbelt-based ignition circuit breaker and collapsible steering column were included in the interior offerings. The body’s structure was designed around crumple units front and rear. To be frank, a lot of these innovations had been developed already, but at this time it was still rare for safety to be such a prominent aspect of a sportscar concept.
Ultimately it’s the mastery of this shape that lingers, and it lies in a couple of areas. The body turnunders were speaking the same language as the Neue Klasse cars. The swayback of the greenhouse and longroof profile was reminiscent of the 328 Kamm Coupe.
Yet it was a slave to neither reference; it was a shape of itself and astonishingly beautiful.
That is, until it copped those rear wheel fairings and that dreadful spray-job.
In the late 1970s, however, BMW finally gave us a production sleekster and it was Giugiaro’s ItalDesign who came up with the shape. While it cannot really be said that the 1978 M1 is unattractive, it fell short in comparison with the Turbo. Where the Turbo is visually uplifting, the M1 is leaden.
The M1 was not really a sales success. Originally planned to be built for BMW by Lamborghini, production was taken in-house due to Lamborghini’s worsening financial position. It spawned a one-make racecar series, but that too failed to set alight. Still, it’s a model that has enjoyed a resurgence in reputation with its own cadre of dedicated fans.
Closed sportscar bodies were mostly off the BMW agenda for the rest of the 80s and 90s. They did offer a series of roadsters that held the ‘exotic body’ mantle for the marque. The Z1, with doors that sank into the sills, begat the Z3 with its overtones of the 328 roadsters and the Z8 with its much-less-subtle reinterpretation of the 507. The closest BMW came to the sleek closed-body sportscar was the 8-series, though this was really a 6-series coupe with a BMW Turbo nose. Admittedly handsome, it was not a real success but – like the M1 – now has its own band of devotees.
It’s not as if BMW was slumming, however. The driving dynamics of their Neue Klasse saloons had been sustained and developed into their cars of the 1970s and onwards. The Ultimate Driving Machine – a brilliant piece of copywriting from Martin Puris – came to define the essence of the BMW brand for even those who had never driven one. The 1980s brought the M-series of greatly uprated performance saloons and coupés. This in-house effort had the competition frantically rebooting their bread and butter ranges to compete.
When you hold the zeitgeist with such assurance, when motoring critics hail each successive model as the perfect car, when customers wait with giddy anticipation for their order, why waste time and money with some head-in-the-clouds concept car?
That didn’t stop others from playing with sleek shapes. The brilliant 1992 McLaren F1 (top right) shaped by Peter Stevens was the brainchild of Gordon Murray and – along with its direct inspiration the Honda/Acura NSX – set new standards for what could be expected from a sportscar. BMW supplied a specially prepared V12 for the project which was originally conceived only for the road, yet went onto win Le Mans in modified form. Giugiaro’s BMW powered (and kidney-grilled) Nazcas never reached the same heights.
BMW concepts, on the other hand, were focused for the most part around more practical aspects of personal transportation, two examples of which are the Z13 from 1993 and the X5 E53 Hybrid Concept of 2001.
Eventually BMW’s rivals were able to come up with some semblance of competition for the M-series, and it was back to the concept car to drum up that extra media exposure and excitement.
Chris Bangle’s fascinating ‘Gina’ was one such attempt. It was a unique anthropomorphisation where components protruded like muscle and bone, where skin wrinkled at the joints and where innards were revealed with the parting of folds. It was started in 2001 but not seen until 2008.
In 2008, BMW also revealed the ‘M1 Hommage’. Styled by Benoit Jacob, it marked the transition from Chris Bangle to Adrian van Hooydonk at the apex of the BMW styling hierarchy. Van Hooydonk was in fact was the stylist responsible for the infamous ‘Bangle Butt’ that was first seen on his Z9 concept and later applied to the 6 and 7 series road cars. In 2004 van Hooydonk was placed in charge of BMW’s styling while Bangle oversaw the output of the whole BMW Group. And in 2009, he took over from Bangle who left to set up his own design consultancy.
This concept car was a 30 year anniversary celebration of the original M1, but it also used visual cues from the Turbo. The M1 Hommage succeeds mostly at its cleanly aggressive front end, and while it’s prettier than its namesake, it’s not as accomplished a shape as the Turbo.
The M1 Hommage also served as an anticipatory measure for a far more significant car, the Vision EfficientDynamics. First seen at the 2009 German Motor Show in Stuttgart, the Vision ED was the embodiment of a new visual language as well as of the EfficientDynamics philosophy underpinning BMW’s future vehicles.
The exterior was the work of Mario Majdandzic and the interior came from Jochen Paesen. You have my humble adoration and eternal gratitude, gentlemen.
When I first saw images of this car, I was struck by its silhouette and proportioning. It came across as a logical progression of the BMW Turbo, and those all-glass doors reminded me of another drop-dead classic; Bertone’s 1967 Lamborghini Marzal.
But being so enamoured with the overall shape of the Vision ED, it took me a while to realise the complete genius of this design; a form that comes across as a water droplet suspended in a constantly shifting and unravelling outer shell. Just as the Gina concept queried our assumptions of what constitutes a car’s skin, the Vision ED took a tangential approach to the same question.
The language used to answer this question came from the world of architecture; more specifically the work of Zaha Hadid. Hadid is one of the world’s most prominent and influential architects. A signature styles of hers is the use of a ribbon effect; surfaces flowing cleanly in one direction then taking an evenly curved deviation to continue in another direction.
Never has the juncture between automotive design and architecture been so seamless. Of course these two disciplines have intersected since the early 20th century, from 1920s art deco through the age of gorp in the 1950s to the brutalism of the 1970s, but it tends to reveal itself mostly in detail rather than totality. When I try to think of another specific architectural motif that’s been incorporated so effectively into car design, all I can come up with is the Rolls-Royce grille.
This detail from one of Hadid’s buildings in Azerbaijan is almost indistinguishable from this Vision ED interior detail. Majdandzic and Paesen took Hadid’s visual language and used it create a dynamic sculpture of interlacing and overlapping volumes and layers.
The Vision ED’s outer skin effect is not just a visually interesting solution; it has specific attributes that aid the aerodynamic efficiency of the body as well. But whereas Professor Kamm was seeking to determine how best to move a car through the air, the Vision ED also addresses a more recent application of aerodynamics; how to move the air though a car.
The evolution of the Ford GT40 provides a great demonstration of one aspect of air travelling through a car body. The early versions featured an underside aperture for airflow to the radiator, but testing had shown that the pointed nose was producing uplift at the front-end. A rudimentary hole was cut into the leading edge on this 1964 Le Mans racer (bottom left) and later models featured a redesigned leading edge with larger apertures for air to enter and exit, a change which provided more significant downforce over the front wheels.
An ingenious attempt to address airflow through a car was used on Jim Hall’s CanAm series Chapparal 2J racecar. Air was channelled into the body, and fans at the rear extracted this air to help create a low-pressure area effectively sucking the car down to the ground. This resulted in significantly quicker lap times for the 2J, but it was eventually outlawed.
If there was one manufacturer consistently pushing the boundaries ot automotive aerodynamics, it was Colin Chapman at Lotus. For anyone interested in this subject, I highly recommend Karl Ludvigsen’s book ‘Colin Chapman: Inside the Innovator’ that documents Chapman’s progression in all aspects of his 30-odd years building race and street cars, including aerodynamics.
One example of this progression is the Lotus 79 Formula One car above, with side mounted tunnels designed to channel air through and around radiators, and produce low pressure and downforce though the use of a venturi type of tunnel shape. Ludvigsen does note that a lot of the principles used by Chapman from this period derive from the work of Peter Wright and Alec Osborn on a stillborn 1968 BRM Formula One project.
Interestingly, Ludvigsen also mentions idiosyncratic stylist Luigi Colani for his efforts in trying to channel air through a car. Colani was applying an inverted wing section to the shape of some of his vehicles in order to generate downforce rather than uplift, but as Ludvigsen states it was the lack of sideskirts to control airflow leakage that was Colani’s failure. Bottom right is the Colani BMW M2, a version of the M1 prepared for Le Mans driver Jean Rondeau with an integrated front spoiler for stability.
The 2002 Ferrari Enzo was a designed with the specific intention of omitting any external spoilers whilst maintaining the maximum in stability and adhesion. Air was channelled through the twin front nostrils then over and around the cockpit, as well as also being channeled through the aperture ahead of the rear wheels and exited through the rear panel. The clean flat foor with raised rear surface was another application of the ground effects principle.
But while the overall result was admirable, the car was plain ugly.
The Vision ED used its outer skin along the lines of the cars just mentioned. Air travelled through the nostrils and over the windscreen for frontal stability, and through the gap between the cockpit bubble and rear wheel panels for rear stability. It attained a reported Cd of .22.
A three cylinder turbodiesel was mated with two electric motors to produce acceleration of 4.8 secs to 100km/h (62 mph) and a fuel consumption of 3.76 litres per 100km (75.1 mpg) though probably not both at the same time. Of course, the car is also loaded with technology including a 3D head-up display, energy re-generation from the brakes and suchlike; but none of that influenced why I so love this car.
The shape of the Vision EfficientDynamics has found its way to the street in the form of the i8 all-electric car. The silhouette and most of the volumes are retained, but something is definitely lost in translation. Of course, this shape needs to exist in the real world, conforming to real world limitations and parameters.
But for me the difference between these two cars is that one is completely and utterly riveting, filling my aesthetic sensibilities with rapture; and the other is simply a nice looking sportscar.
Yesterday, BMW launched their CSL tribute at the Villa d’Este, which is what prompted me to bring this article to the front of my CC worklist. Visual cues from the Vision ED are apparent, and while the silhouette is nice some of the details are overly fussy.
The great majority of car shapes that I love were produced sometime between 1950 and 1980. But I’ve never really been convinced by the ‘retro’ thing; more often than not these creations come across like a grotesque sex-toy version of a movie star.
Like the 328 Kamm Coupe and the 1972 Turbo, the Vision ED carries a glimpse of the past but is focused on the today and tomorrow.
I find it impossible to put in words why I find a car entrancing. There’s no formula for the combination of proportion, line, volume and detail that elicits a strong visceral response within me. And whatever car triggers that response within me may have absolutely no effect on you.
The 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics is one of the most beautiful pieces of automotive sculpture I have ever laid eyes on.
I just wish they’d given it a better name.