Home » The E30 BMW Was Not The Pinnacle of BMW Design

The E30 BMW Was Not The Pinnacle of BMW Design

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Some OEMs are fortunate enough to have a model in their range that’s a crystal-clear representation of everything that defines the brand, a signature product that anchors everything else they build. The Volkswagen Golf. Range Rover. Porsche 911. Mazda MX5. Ford F-150. These cars subtly influence the rest of the range and give them an iconic product. But it can be a double-edged sword: the stylistic legacy of the 1968 XJ became a liability for Jaguar, the company unable to move away from a car that epitomized the brand in the eyes of customers and enthusiasts.

BMW has found itself in a similar situation, the wailing of fans drowning out any reasonable discussion of the company’s current designs. To them, the E30 3 series is a shimmering execution of everything a BMW should be. That is true, but not the way they think. Grab a stein of breakfast beer, it’s time for Damn Good Design.

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[Ed note: A lot of the images and details in this piece come from BMW via Steve Saxty’s new book, BMW by Design, which delves into the design story of iconic models such as the CSL and the first 3 and 5 Series, right through to the latest Vision Neue Klasse.]

To understand exactly what the E30 meant to BMW’s present, we need to look at its past. Before the Second World War, BMW was in the business of speed, making high-end sports cars, motorcycles and aero engines. Six years of conflict fucked all that into a cocked hat and post-war BMW found themselves having to make bicycles and metal kitchenware just to stay in business. This was humiliating for a company that before the war saw itself as a competitor to the mighty Mercedes-Benz. Their misplaced pride meant the first postwar BMW was the 501 – a pompous and extravagant machine underpinned by outdated construction methods that rendered it hard to build and expensive. Despite spinning off numerous variants off the 501 undercarriage, including the glitzy Albrecht Goertz penned 507 roadster, sales remained in the tank and BMW remained in hot water.

Enter Giovanni Michelotti

BMW got its start in the car-making business by building the Austin 7 under license as the Dixi. Undoubtedly holding its nose at having to repeat the exercise to save the company, in 1955 BMW hatched out an egg-shaped bubble car, the Isetta. Substantially re-engineered from the Italian original, the Isetta sold well but as Europe rebuilt and economies recovered customers demanded proper small cars – not fuel-sipping oddballs. By 1959, BMW’s financial problems came to a head. The problem was its entire range consisted of expensive obsolete crocks at the top and weirdo bubble cars for misers at the bottom, with nothing in between. The company needed a new class of car to split the difference.

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E307
Neue Klasse Rendering by Michelotti. Pay Attention to frontal treatment and feature line on the rear wheel arch. Credit BMW by Design

BMW, in the great German idiom, saw itself as an engineering company. Appearance was a secondary consideration. Its pretensions may have been upmarket, but having no design department it was ill-equipped to provide the style those customers demanded. BMW relied on the services of outsiders like Goertz and the prodigious Giovanni Michelotti, the man who put the mechanicals of the Isetta into a proper car, the 1959 BMW 700. Michelotti was stubbornly independent, working for himself after serving time in the traditional Italian carrozzeria. In 1961 he created a car with crisp longitudinal body lines, a raked shark nose, a thin pillared airy glasshouse and subtle use of chrome – the 1500 or ‘Neue Klasse’. With this car, BMW got exactly the modern, upmarket sporting saloon it wanted. Michelotti also did a lot of work for Triumph, and he reused these ideas in a slightly more traditional way on the 1965 Triumph 1300.

E309
1962 Triumph 1300 Designed by Michelotti. Hmmmm. Credit Brightwells

BMW Were An Engineering Company

Wilhelm Hofmeister was Head of Body Engineering, and considered exterior design subservient to the engineering department, so he alone could present ideas to the board. Although he is credited with the creating the ‘Hofmeister kink’, it’s unlikely he conceived it; as Steve Saxty notes in BMW by Design. there are no sketches of his on record. As well as Michelotti, there was Georg Betram, an engineer under Hofmeister with considerable drawing ability. Betram and Michelotti collaborated successfully on the ’02 series of cars in 1965, but by 1970 Betram became frustrated by Hofmeister’s autocratic management and left to join Audi. He wouldn’t be the first to bridle under Hofmeister’s engineering first outlook.

E3012
1970 BMW Garmisch Concept by Bertone. Credit BMW
E3011
1972 E12 5 Series. Credit BMW

Paul Bracq had already cemented his reputation at arch-rivals Mercedes with the peerless W113 ‘Pagoda’ SL and W108 saloons, and thanks to his connections arrived at BMW in 1970 as the company’s first Chief Designer, a move the board made over Hofmeister’s head. The first Bracq BMW was the E12 5 series of 1972, although this was developed from the Bertone BMW Garmisch concept designed by another maestro, Marcello Gandini. According to ‘BMW by Design’ Bracq was given a free hand to imagine the car that would replace the ’02 – the first E21 3-Series.

Michelotti had provided the foundations and Bracq formalized them into a trademark visual style that could be used across the range on cars like the E24 6 series and E23 7 series. The success of these cars turned BMW into a global player, but Hofmeister saw Bracq as an outsider, a flamboyant artist and not an engineer. Their working relationship deteriorated to the point that Bracq left BMW in 1974 after only four years.

E3013
1974 E21 3 Series. Credit BMW

What the 3 Series Owes Alfa And Triumph

It’s impossible to discuss the design of the E21 without considering other small sporting saloons of the era. The Alfa Romeo Alfetta appeared around the same time as the original E12 5 series in 1972 and shared similar proportions to the BMW in a much sharper form. Lurking in the shadows is Michelotti’s 1972 Triumph Dolomite (in 16-valve Sprint form a genuine BMW competitor), which had a split grille, quad headlights and a version of the Hofmeister kink. Line up all three side by side and the associations are clear. Car designers following fashions is not a new thing.

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E3010
1972 Alfa Romo Alfetta. Credit Car and Classic
E308
1980 Triumph Dolomite Sprint. That front and feature line from the rear wheel arch look familiar….. Credit Car and Classic

When Claus Luthe arrived in 1976, BMW had been operating without a chief designer for two years. Hofmeister retired in 1977 and freed from his influence Luthe began to staff up the design department properly. He headhunted Ercole Spada from Audi and Boyke Boyker from Ford, and together they would be responsible for the design of the E30 3 series. It was important that the E30 kept the visual link with existing models while evolving the familial look forward, because the original E12 5 series and its replacement the E28, appeared identical even though they were different cars. Despite Luthe reporting directly to the board, BMW hadn’t completely shed its engineering first principles – the E30 had to re-use as much E21 content as possible, keep the same wheelbase and for the first time include a four-door version. This was crucial for expanding sales in markets where a 5 series was deemed too big and expensive. Design work commenced in 1978 for a 1982 release.

Careful Evolution Not Revolution

E301
Ercole Spada E30 Sketch Proposal. Credit BMW by Design
E302
Boyke Boyer E30 Sketch Proposal, dated 1978. Credit BMW by Design

Ercole Spada’s E30 front view sketch has more than a hint of Alfa Romeo in the Down the Road Graphic (DRG), even though he didn’t work at Alfa Centro Stile until much later in his career. Boyker’s side view sketch dated 1978 perfectly captures the brief and is instantly recognizable as the car that would be released in 1982. It was softer and more aerodynamic than the car it replaced but represented only the slightest step forward of the trademark BMW look. But compared to other 1982 debutants like the Ford Sierra and Audi 100 which sped forward into an aerodynamic future, the E30 was staid and conservative. This is how Luthe summed it up at the time:

“To maintain our tradition we do not need the ‘way out’ designs’, The important is continuity from the old model to the new model. It is essential that we build a lasting image of what BMW is and not to be swayed by ever-changing fashion trends.”

BMW was not the only company that thought this way. Over in Stuttgart, Mercedes Benz design chief Bruno Sacco expressed a similar sentiment he called vertical affinity “which required that successor models should not make their predecessors look outdated.”

E304
Boyke Boyer (left) and Claud Luthe with a quarter scale E30 model. Credit BMW by Design
Less Aggressive Front Graphic
Credit BMW

So the E30 is a cautious evolution of the E21, without its treacherous handling. To improve this the E30, engineers wanted to soften the front suspension and increase travel. This meant a higher hood line and the E30 having significantly a bit less ‘wedge’ in profile than its predecessor. The flatter profile of the trunk makes the E30 look boxier than the E21. The shark nose has almost disappeared, and the prominence of the kidney grilles is reduced. It’s very formal and brusque, but less aggressive and sporty than the E21. Quad headlights used to signify six-cylinder models from lowly fours; now they’re a permanent feature, giving the classic BMW DRG the final part of its identity.

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Looks Spartan
Credit BMW

Moving the license plate up onto the rear fascia introduces an expanse of body painted metal between the lights. They were probably aiming for a feeling of spartan efficiency–very Germanic qualities–but the actual effect makes the rear view of E30 look cheaper and thanks to the bigger taillights, more cluttered than the E21. This slight backwards step would be remedied when the E30 got its facelift in 1987 (or Life Cycle Impulse – LCI as BMW wankers insist on calling it like it’s a code word for some secret club of insiders). The rear end got tidied up with the help of a black plastic infill panel, the bumpers became body color and nearly all the external chrome trim was removed. It’s one of those rare occasions when the facelift does improve the car – these changes helped the E30 look warmer, more modern and progressive; a small precursor to the much bigger leaps BMW design would take in the future.

Flatter Boxier
Credit BMW

Another new car that appeared in 1982 was the W201 Mercedes 190E, Stuttgart’s first compact executive sedan. Compared to the E30 it’s much more modern looking but still unmistakably a baby Benz in both appearance and character. The E30 is a good-looking car, but it is an utterly pedestrian piece of design. Instead of defying the three-box convention it dogmatically embraces it. It doesn’t usher forth new ideas of form or surfacing.

Light doesn’t dance across its bodywork in new and interesting ways. Were it not for the lack of rear legroom its homeliness would be a welcome sight on a taxi rank outside the Hauptbahnhof. Its appeal lies in its build quality, driving experience, engineering integrity, and carefully managed image thanks to clever marketing and blue-chip motorsport background. Its real importance to BMW was, for the first time, that enabled the company to offer a diesel engine, four-wheel drive and a wagon, all vital for increasing sales.

E306
Holy Ride Height, Batman! Credit BMW

What the E30 represented was a turning point, not a pinnacle. Its quad headlights were illuminating a future roadblock BMW management couldn’t quite see yet – the coming realization within BMW that the old engineering-led approach to building and designing cars had run out of road. As a company, it wanted to be more progressive in its designs, but it didn’t fully understand on an institutional level what designers could contribute beyond creating sheet metal for body structures. Combining design and engineering in parallel during the development process was anathema to them. By the end of the nineties, BMW eventually found itself in a design cul-de-sac; unable to progress and shackled by what it had done before. To break itself out of this impasse once and for all, in 1992 the company hired another outside designer with a multi-disciplinary outlook and a head full of fresh thinking.

A precocious young American called Chris Bangle.

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Additional research from Fifty Cars that Changed the World, by London’s Design Museum.

For further reading:

BMW Designers: BMWism

Driven to Write on the E30 3 Series

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Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago

Bangle, and to some extent Sacco, took their respective marques’ distinctive design character and brilliant designers (Michelotti and Geiger) and smeared them with lumpy, sticky shit.

That 1978 sketch by Boyer looks a LOT like the last pre-Bangle 7-series, aka the pinnacle of 7-series BMWs.

Both BMW and MB lost their way, and except for very few flashes of brilliance (8 series, i8, Z series, SLs) they just became big ugly cars for stodgy middle aged men and rich boy racers.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Still want

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago

Sacco did brilliant work when he was allowed to.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

His best work was quitting.

Goblin
Goblin
5 months ago

Putting Bangle and Sacco in the same bag is like putting a monkey and a nuclear physicist in the same bag.
w124, w140, r129, c111, r230, and even the w210 and w220 are not exactly akin to lumpy sticky shit, especially compared to a pre-LCI e65 or a z8.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

I’ll allow the w124 and w126, but compared to his boss, Sacco was an utter hack.

Last edited 5 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
5 months ago

I personally like the Z4M Coupe the best.

Or the current Supra.

(ducks)

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

It needs to be a coupe too. The Supra is a mess, and I can’t stand convertibles.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Maybe it’s a contractual agreement with Toyota?

It wouldn’t bother me if they hadn’t glued dozens of fake vents and a comedy false nose on the Supra. I even went to see one in real life in case it only looked terrible in pictures. A fake intake in the door of a front-engined car makes me physically cringe too hard to allow me to get my wallet out.

AlterId
AlterId
5 months ago

I’ve sometimes wondered what might have happened to Triumph and Rover had Leyland remained independent rather than being forced into merging with BMC – they were still profitable, after all. Assuming the eventual collapse of BMC didn’t bring down the entire network of suppliers (as Toyota and Ford feared would happen had GM and Chrysler not been salvaged), could Triumph have become a smart and sporty brand that was a bit more expensive than Ford and Vauxhopel but offered performance and panache to private buyers and a means for junior sales reps to show they were a little more with it in their slightly smaller 1.5TI than the drones bouncing around in a Granada 1.8 Ghi-ish, while Rover trendied up the stockbroker belt with an SD1 that would run and Land Rover hopped on the SUV boom early with US homologation for tasty American dollars during the Reagan years?

But I’ve wondered up a lot of “What if…?” scenarios in my life and it’s gotten me nowhere.

Maymar
Maymar
5 months ago

Is it reasonable to assume though, that Claus Luthe’s personal issues and departure might have forced BMW’s hand, and they might not have gone as radical on their early 2000’s styling otherwise?

DDayJ
DDayJ
5 months ago

Good article. For me the E46 is my 3 series pinnacle. E39 is my 5er. May be my age but these cars seem to have the perfect blend of modern tech and styling, but have the old school BMW formula to them.

AverageCupOfTea
AverageCupOfTea
5 months ago
Reply to  DDayJ

Another vote for E46, it was elegant and beautiful in its all body styles.

W Bizarre
W Bizarre
5 months ago

The e30 is a kind of “pinnacle” by virtue of being one of the last examples of that era of BMW design, though it’s not the prettiest. The key turning point for BMW was the e36 – the first time they’ve put the headlight pairs under a single piece of glass. BMW wasn’t the first to do the quad-headlight look, but adopted it so wholeheartedly that it became iconic, and one of the most identifiable faces in car design. The round sealed beams had to go in the name of aerodynamic efficiency and modernity, and it would have been so easy to just throw some rectangular reflectors behind rectangular glass like everyone else was doing. But BMW made the critical choice to inscribe the 4 circles inside a glass frame. That showed their keen understanding of the importance of branding and iconography. This brought the BMW fascia into the 90’s and set it up for the next big step lighting design: the corona rings/halos.

Last edited 5 months ago by W Bizarre
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Boyke Boyker, Pinky Lai, and Harm Lagaay. Now you’re just making up names to see if anyone notices.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
5 months ago

The e30 may be the one to own from a simplicity perspective, but the e36 is the iconic BMW.

The Hofmeister kink dates at least to the 1949 Cadillac Series 61 and innumerable 1960s American cars had four headlights in a horizontal grille, including splits with good ol’ Pontiac.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Racer Esq.

Nah E32 and E38 are the icons.

JumboG
JumboG
5 months ago

e24 and e38, and e21 and e46 from the 3 line.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
5 months ago
Reply to  Racer Esq.

My E36 Coupe was pretty, but also the least reliable car I’ve ever owned.

For context: I’ve daily driven an RX7 and a 70’s Citroen. The E36 was just the worst.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
5 months ago

God’s Chariot. 🙂

R53 Lifer
R53 Lifer
5 months ago

The pinnacle of BMW design is….MINI. Only car they make that you can drive around in without looking like a…BMW driver. They even come with turn signals!

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

The E30 is the archetypal German automobile. It is crafted to a high standard and has exactly what you need and nothing you don’t. As an engineer who values efficiency and function along with great driving dynamics, it IS the essence of what BMW design should be. Since BMW has risen to far greater heights by making less and less focused vehicles, I am obviously not the norm.

Plesiomorphus primitivus
Plesiomorphus primitivus
5 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

That’s because BMW is no longer an engineering company but a marketing company. As far as I am concerned, the E28 and E30 were the last great BMW driver’s cars.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

My grandfather had a Dolomite Sprint. The build quality was, well, good enough for government work, but it was a hoot to bomb around London in.

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

A good friend has a Dolly Sprint. It is ok but I wouldn’t trade my 2002.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
5 months ago

Not the first machine from Germany used to bomb around London…

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
5 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

The Dolomite is from Coventry. It’s a Triumph.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Oops, my bad :’/

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Worth it for a Blitz joke

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Did anyone notice a difference though

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Hahahahahahaha

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
5 months ago

I’ll agree that the E30 is nothing special design wise. It’s a brilliantly engineered car but the styling is conservative. Of course this resulted in massive sales so it’s not a bad design, just not a great design.
I think the prettiest post 1960 BMW car is still the E9 coupe and the most ground breaking motorcycle style was the R100RS

Mike F.
Mike F.
5 months ago

Whatever the design meant to BMW, it seems to have aged well with the public. I’ve seen a number of restored E30s around here just lately that look brand new. I don’t see that with E21s or E36s, at least as of yet.( Might be a good time to look for a not-too-trashed E36.)

Thanks for another well written and enlightening article, Adrian.

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike F.

It is very hard to find a nice non-M E36. They sold so many of them and it wasn’t really that expensive, that they became sub $10K cars after 5-6 yrs and then the 2nd & 3rd owners trashed them. When I used to check pull-a-part lots there was always a ton of them. Lots of very nice E36 M3’s but they are garage queens and not seen much. But if you find a 328is 5spd in good condition let me know…

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
5 months ago
Reply to  Brian Ash

I see a lot of non-M3 E36s around here…they are popular drift cars

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
5 months ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

Another reason for dwindling supply of collector quality e36s.

Mike F.
Mike F.
5 months ago
Reply to  Brian Ash

I had an ’88 328is 5MT a number of years back. No engine mods but it had the Dinan Stage 2 suspension (much to my wife’s discomfort). It was a wonderful car, but I finally sold it at 230K miles to some kid who I’m sure completely trashed it within six months. Would love to have another one someday.

JumboG
JumboG
5 months ago
Reply to  Brian Ash

I don’t see nearly as many e36s as say 5 years ago. Now they’re e46 and e90s.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike F.

I was just at my local BMW dealer getting my e36 M3 state inspected. As I left there was a salesman in the parking lot showing a family of 4 a brand new BMW when one of them spotted my M3. As I drove by they all stared at it smiling and the salesman was just giggling.

Indeed non M e36s are hard to find in good shape. I have a 99 328is which I bought for $3k as a project car years ago. It’s in decent shape and I’m considering putting it back together in stock form to have a nice non rusty e36 to drive around.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Because the handling was atrocious, the styling was just a bit off – and at the end of the 70’s/early 80s most US buyers who had that kind of money to spend, but couldn’t make the jump to a 5er or a Mercedes-Benz needed 4 doors.

So families like ours went to Volvo 240 – others went to Saab 900, Peugeot 504, VW Passat….

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
5 months ago

Yeah, the E30 really wasn’t amazing from a pure design standpoint. It’s a bit too conservative and I feel was a step back compared to the E21.
I do rather like that design sketch by Spada. It looks a bit more rakish and exciting, even though it reminds me a little of an Austin Princess.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
5 months ago

I’ve never understood the British obsession with pretending that companies are plural, as if when referencing BMW we’re referencing each person who works there individually, and not the entity as a whole. It’s one company – BMW. Even throughout the body of the article, the company is treated as a singular entity. But then we get the wholly incongruous ‘BMW Were’ as a sub-heading. Is it just an ingrained British thing that refuses to go away, or is there more to it?

EXL500
EXL500
5 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

It comes down to whether a corporation is legally considered a singular entity, as it is in the US, or as a plural entity, as it is in England (and generally elsewhere). Hence in the US a corporation is legally viewed as a ‘person’. The English interpretation predates ours.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
5 months ago

Great write up! Fascinating the steps they (seemingly reluctantly) went through to transition. I had an e21 as a project car, sold it 4 years ago. I loved the look, the delicate thin pillars, the slightly classic, slightly modern mix of styling. Just never could get the mechanical fuel injection to work correctly. Wonder of the guy I sold it to ever figured it out?

Root
Root
5 months ago

Excellent write-up. I was the second owner of a 1987 325is, pre-facelift but with the “i” 6 (M20) engine. Still regret selling that car. I honestly like the look of the pre-facelift car because of the thinner tail lights and my “is” came with the BEST front air dam – way better than the overbite-looking one that came on the facelift cars.

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
5 months ago
Reply to  Root

I always thought the cow-catcher on the front of the the ’87 325is and the very similar 86′ 325es were under-appreciated. It’s a shame that a lot of those air dams were trashed for late model valance swaps.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
5 months ago

As always with your writing, I have learned a lot and enjoyed doing it. At one point I had six windows open just to compare the call-out cars.

Flatisflat
Flatisflat
5 months ago

Oh s***, Adrian’s getting us ramped up for a legitimate Bangle design defense and I am HERE. FOR. IT. (*gets popcorn ready*)

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
5 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

Right? This is like the end of a Marvel film (or credits scene) where a new character shows up to foreshadow the next movie.

Except in this case it’s Chris Bangle.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
5 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

I’m looking forward to this as well. Adrian always forces me to take a fresh look at things—to consider elements I never paid attention to.

EXL500
EXL500
5 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

Me too! E36, E60, E82 for the win as some of the best looking BMWs. And that’s before the Z4 and 6 series.

Last edited 5 months ago by EXL500
Noahwayout
Noahwayout
5 months ago
Reply to  EXL500

The E36 was already in production by the time Bangle joined BMW in 1992. That’s a Lai/Boyer design.

EXL500
EXL500
5 months ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

Thanks for the correction. It sure was a break from the E30 though.

EXL500
EXL500
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Thank you, I must have missed it.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
5 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

I’m here for it, too. I don’t particularly like Bangle’s designs but to deny his influence would be silly and it wasn’t all bad. Certainly they have held up better than I think the new designs with nostrils the size of a continent will hold up. And let’s be real, the 7-series successor to the virtually perfect E38 design was pretty much always going to be a downgrade and I guess the same applies with successor to the iconic E39.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
5 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

I’ve never been able to get past the perfect BMW decade. My family has owned three e38s, two e36s, and an e39. Still have an e38 and both e36s.

I’ll never forgive BMW for the e60 5 series and how they ruined automotive headlight design.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
5 months ago

the best BMW designs are the 318ti and Isetta 😀

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
5 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Except the Isetta was not really a BMW. They bought the rights from Italian manufacturer Iso and even kept the name.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
5 months ago

It’s true BMW bought the rights from Iso but they ended up redesigning so much of it that the result is really more of an Iso-inspired BMW than it is an Iso-licensed Isetta. Admitted the VELAM Isetta strays even further from the original but for practical purposes one may as well think of all of them as similar, but distinct, designs.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
5 months ago

shhhhhhhhhhh I don’t care 😉

Ok fine, other than the Isetta, the E36 platform had some awesome cars, like the 318ti Compact with the canvas sunroof to the Z3 shoe car. Just too bad they never made an M3 Compact, and that they didn’t offer the 1.9 shoe over here 🙁

The E36 was also the first M3 available with 4 doors.

I also like the E80 1-series hatchback.

Too bad they never made an E36 4-door hatchback. I found this rendering of one:
https://s1.cdn.autoevolution.com/images/news/rendering-5-door-bmw-e36-compac-73208_1.jpg

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
5 months ago

Thanks for the fascinating look behind the scenes of my favorite BMW era. Having owned E30s and E28s I agree they aren’t beautiful, more of a purposeful design free of frills. Although compared to the Alfas you could rephrase that as being free of excitement. In my eyes the E28 was a better looking, more dynamic design than the E30.

JDS
JDS
5 months ago

Thanks for this. I agree, the E28’s were the pinnacle of “looks like a Bimmer” styling. I still miss my E28, destroyed in a hit-and-run while it was parked on the street.

I still have the trunk roundel from that car. When State Farm totaled it, I pried the roundel off, glued some magnets to it, and stick it to my fridge.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
5 months ago

People hype up the E30 endlessly, but in my opinion, the E34 5-series was the perfected version of the look. The bumpers were properly integrated into the design (whereas the E30 LCI still felt like an afterthought), the lines were a little softer, and the proportions just worked a lot better on the bigger 5-series. Far better build quality too, as BMW was in a war with Mercedes over who could build a better midsize sedan. That was when BMW really got the sport luxury sedan nailed down, and would further perfect it with the much-praised E39.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
5 months ago

Glad I’m not the only one – E34 has always been my favorite. Throw in the bonkers engine lineup, and they’re about perfect. The drive an awful lot like a Mercedes though.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
5 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

In stock form, the E34 is a little mushy and floaty, but once you ditch the 15″ wheels and put on some more aggressive wheels + tires it sharpens right up. I’ve had a few that were setup with coilovers and other racey bits and they handled super well on the track and in the canyons.

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
5 months ago

Agree the E34 is a better version of the look than the E30. Though as an overall package the E34 still wins vs the E39 because of aesthetics, so glad the threw the first BMW V8 in over 40yrs & 6spd in it for the last 2 years. Loved the E39 during it’s time, but then came V10 and sure the E39 looks better than an E60, but V10. Perhaps some day I will own a E39, but I consider buying E34s a lot more. But I am extremely biased towards the E34 as the best 5 series of all time because it wins mostly on looks….. as long as you ditch stock wheels and put some nice 17s on it.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
5 months ago
Reply to  Brian Ash

Having daily driven an e39 M5 for three years, I can assure you the S62 V8 is a phenomenal way to power a car. I feel like the e39 is the ultimate balance of looks, performance, and luxury of any vehicle ever built. I would like to experience the V10 someday but really despise the looks of the e60, really I want to go for one drive in one.

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

I’m at E12 man myself. I just like the softer tail more. I had one that made it to 200k miles and that 6 was just as silky when I sold it to the next caretaker.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

Very interesting read. I didn’t especially care for this design, but it wasn’t offensive, either. Aesthetically, I preferred the 2002. I do get a kick out pretending that, post war, BMW stood for Bicycles and Metal Wares.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
5 months ago

What a dive in their history Adrian! I learned more than I thought I would, so thank you.

I don’t have any strong love for BMW’s, so I don’t have something to fight over, but I know that this series fanbase (well every series has their own fanbase) will voice their opinions. I do agree that the design of this series was a very positive move for the company. I still like the previous series design a bit more, but these look good to me.

My question: Adrian, do you have a favorite series of BMW’s?

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

In the late 70’s, I accompanied my brother to a high-end restoration shop to pick up some trim or supplies, and they had three 507’s in various stages of restoration. BMW made those !?! I said to my brother, Yeh, but not many, the reply. Still smitten, still can’t afford.

Al Camino
Al Camino
5 months ago

Adrian’s column should appear weekly.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Yep. I look forward to them.

Al Camino
Al Camino
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Great! Your expertise is appreciated!

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

No need to rush. Each piece is an education, the research, writing and editing make it worth the wait, and it’s always entertaining to witness your heart beating away on your sleeve.

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