Home » What If Chris Bangle Had Worked On the GMT400 While He Was At GM?

What If Chris Bangle Had Worked On the GMT400 While He Was At GM?

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As much as I want to, I just can’t get excited when the regulars on one of those Discovery Channel shows find the remains of some Etruscan vase in a constructions site. It’s just some old crap that got buried. Who cares? I’m also not particularly turned on by uncovered early screen tests from now-popular actors. Brad Pitt in a school play or Pringles commercialPringles commercial? I’m not interested. But a dog-eared render of a manufacturer’s went-nowhere, long-forgotten concept car? Suddenly I’m geeking out like a Taylor Swift fan finding tickets on StubHub.

More of these things turn up every day, but there are some that I almost wish appeared. In particular, I’d like to find some sketches of concepts from now-rock-star car designers from before they were stars. I’ve imagined what one of these might look like.

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Easily one of the best-known and most controversial designers of the last twenty-five years is Chris Bangle. This American’s tenure at BMW created some of the most polarizing car designs in recent history. Love his work or hate it, Bangle is one designer that truly pushed the envelope of the design at one of Germany’s best-known brands. The linear flanks of “traditional” looking BMWs such as the E39 suddenly took on far more complex contours, a term that the press dubbed “flamed surfacing.” Suddenly rectangular headlamp units became unfamiliar shapes, with lines that flowed from the nose to the rear of the car and terminating in ways never before seen on Munich’s products. “It looks like two separate trunk lids stuck together,” cried some critics of the rear design of Bangle’s first true example of his philosophy, the E65 7-series. The “Bangle Butt” became a major point of contention, yet that controversy certainly got people talking about the brand. Hard to believe that a kid from Wisconsin that started out wanting to be a Methodist minister could cause such an international ruckus in car design.

Bangle
Wikipedia/Jean Baptiste Lebrun, BMW

But where did his career start? Before Munich and a stint at Fiat in Italy, Chris’s first job was at General Motors from 1981 to 1985. While he was known to be working with the Opel division, I’d like to imagine if he had a hand in some well-known GM projects that appeared later in the decade.

We’ve talked a lot about the GMT 400 in the last few weeks, from a design study to looking at the Holy Grail versions of the truck. The GMT400 could quite possibly be the cleanest, most modernist design of a pickup truck ever created, with nearly perfect alignment of every cut and crease around the entirety of the vehicle.

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General Motors

What if Chris Bangle had been involved in the creation of this truck? Bangle is known for disruption, and you can be damn sure that anything he’d bring to the table would upset the apple cart of pure functionalism.

Look at one of Bangle’s most well-known designs from his tenure at Fiat, the 1995 Coupe. Even the wheel “arches” aren’t really arches, with curved masses above them that blend into the hood and rear decklid. Up front, the two separate forms almost creates the illusion that the nose is lower to the ground than it really is.

1999 Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo Plus
Wikipedia/asdfads

You get the sense that if given the opportunity, Chris might have tried to apply this sort of philosophy to GM’s trucks, going counter to the typical “truck” tradition of the bigger-and-blunter-the-nose-the-better. I’ve added the machete-slashed side sculpting that characterized the Fiat Coupe. My guess is that the reasoning to do this would breaking up the slab-sided nature of the truck sides in a way that Dodge did with the fender-bulges on the 1993 RAM. Like the Fiat, the nose is tall yet gives the impression of being lower. I added pop up lights but my feeling is that the lower-lever “Work Truck” varieties might have had exposed sealed beams sunken into these apertures to look more like the Fiat.

Damn, this thing looks strange. Can you see this truck carrying bales of hay on a farm in rural Iowa? I can’t.

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Ah, but what if we imagine a GMT400 concept from later in Bangle’s time at The General? Maybe a few years in, Chris would have refined some of his design language to more conservative play of concave and convex sculpting of the flanks. Also, we’d see the first appearance of Bangle’s signature deck lid where a separate form sits atop the crease line running from the front of the body. The not-as-controversial BMW E60 featured this kind of detailing:

2003 Bmw 520i Se 2
wikipedia/Vauxford

Applying these details to a GMT 400 creates a less bizarre truck than one like the Fiat, with a nose that looks a bit like the Envoy from the early 2000s:

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You can see some farmer coming into a GMC dealership in Salina, Kansas and just staring at this damn thing, slack jawed, and wondering what the hell happened. That’s likely what many owners of large BMWs did when they saw the 2002 E65 under the lights in the showroom with this kind of detailing:

Img20231208 21401454 Nots

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Thankfully, Chris never got the chance to change people’s perception of what a pickup truck might be. Still, don’t get me wrong; I have great respect for what Bangle was trying to do at any of the studios on his resume. I actually bought one of his products in spite of the styling years back, but over the twelve years I spent washing its flanks and “Dame Edna” headlamps I honestly really warmed to the design. Listening to Bangle’s talks on inspiration and the reasoning behind why his creations look like they do, I truly appreciate them and almost start to like them.

Of course, about an hour after the podcast ends, I look at an E65 and sort of cringe. Sorry Chris, but I’d much rather have an E38, thank you.

 

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Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
2 months ago

“BMW” used to stand for “Bangle muß weg” (German for “Bangle must go”).

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
2 months ago

Although a very bizarre article idea going into this, I looked at the renderings and immediately thought a bizarre GM take off the Ford jellybean F150 mixed up with late J body, Pontiac Sunfire vibes… Wala there you go

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
2 months ago

NO. No, no, NO.

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
2 months ago

Im a big fan of Chris Bangles designs, although I never understood what he was aiming for with the E65s original headlights, pretty much everything else is great.

Beyond his talent in design, I think he must’ve been even more talented at persuasion. Can you imagine persuading the board of a risk averse, conservative, German company like BMW that they needed to bin off their understated, one sausage three different lengths approach for their range and go wild with E65, E60 etc.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
2 months ago

I praise you in Cold Start and then I see this nightmare-inducing hallucination. Of course, you did redeem yourself with the E38 comment at the end.

In all honesty, portions of the Bangle era have aged a little better than one might expect. I still think the Bangle 6-series is a pretty decent looking car, and certainly his designs have had an influence moving forward.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

You did very well. And I want to gouge my eyes out.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

YIPES, those are hideous!

Still better looking that the current Silverado.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

The current Silverado is such a low hurdle. It’s not really a fair comparison.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

That’s a good point. I’ve seen wrecked vehicles that were still more attractive than the current Silverado.

SLM
SLM
2 months ago

I think his design of the Fiat coupe functions because it makes the nose seem lower (what you want from a coupe), the low nose being hard to realize with a modern car.
If you translate this concept for a truck the idea would be making a low nose (better aerodynamics and pedestrian protection) looking higher (what the consumer wants).

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
2 months ago

I think the Fiat-inspired design works on a much, much smaller scale. Think new-age GMC Caballero/Chevy El Camino.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago

Considering the hot garbage that BMW is putting out these days, maybe they need Bangle back.

William Domer
William Domer
2 months ago

What? You don’t like the kidneys that are the size of small planets? /s

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  William Domer

Not small rocky planets. Big-assed gas giants.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

Bishop, your E65/GMC mashup is like what would have happened if GM had looked at blobby version of the F150 and said “Hold my beer.”

Goblin
Goblin
2 months ago

Please be very, very, VERY aware that the E65 pictured above is an LCI/Updated/Watchamacallit version, with the taillights reworked to (almost) save the design of the Bangly Butt to something pallatable and not-so-ugly looking.

The original Bangle Butt’s atrociousness was exacerbated (probably on purpose) by the taillights thrown to the side, and the two thin light stripes slapped there to remind us how small they are and how twerk-worthy the Bangle Butt was in its fat nudity.

In this LCI version, the taillights sort of hide (a little) the fat sloppy hanging automotive flesh that the original Bangle Butt was proudly displaying in all its waves and nooks and crannies of fat flesh-ness.

In sort, these taillights are like that cut-out booty shorts just becoming an inch or so longer.

If anything, this picture is proof of Bangle-ism releasing a few sails after having hoisted them all and almost drowned the boat.

DysLexus
DysLexus
2 months ago

Maybe Bangle did draft up some designs in the 80’s in his spare time. Alas, they would’ve all ended up on the cutting room floor anyway with GM being GM and doing a full “committee chop” on it.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 months ago

I actually really like the Fiat Coupe, and of course I’m a huge GMT400 fan. But try putting the two together, and it’s like when two beautiful people have an ugly kid…

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
2 months ago

You created the full size 2nd Gen S10 and a truck that’s had a first gen GMC Acadia grafted onto the front.

So, I definitely see GM doing that… but… why.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

The second one is ALMOST the Isuzu Hombre version of the 2nd gen S-10.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
2 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Everyone steals design cues from everyone else? I got nothin. Strange as hell, though.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
2 months ago

TIL that Chris Bangle is from Wisconsin.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

You can see some farmer coming into a GMC dealership in Salina, Kansas

I have family up there so I know it’s pronounced “Salina” and not “Salina”.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
2 months ago

Cool thought experiment. While not all of Bangle’s works have aged well (some of them didn’t start out well either) I do think overall his designs are great. I’d love to see him do a quick sketch of what he might have come up with for the GMT400.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago

While I normally enjoy articles from The Bishop, as a devout GMT400 fan, I felt my soul leave my body upon laying eyes on that GMC Sierra/Fiat Coupe mashup.

The Bishop
The Bishop
2 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

That one really needed a WARNING: Sensitive Viewers Avert Your Eyes warning. My apologies.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I am in awe of your intestinal fortitude while creating that nightmare.

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