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Behold: some of BMW's finest ever concept cars

Fired up by that lovely new Z4 concept, here are some of Munich’s best flights of fancy

  1. BMW lists many milestones throughout its 100-year history, though one stands tall amongst the rest: the rescue of the entire company by a short bubble car.

    You see, though BMW was very good at making aircraft engines during WW1 and WW2, and produced some iconic cars including the stunning 507, by the end of the 1950s it was facing financial ruin, teetering on the brink of being sold.

    Were it not for the success of the humble little BMW 700 - and its Isetta predecessor - we might inhabit a world bereft of an M5, an M3 or even a 3.0-litre CSL. And that would be a dark, dark world.

    So we must doff our caps to the tiny rear-engined, rear-drive BMW, for it paved the way for the company’s burgeoning success and allowed it financial independence; the freedom to grow, build, experiment.

    Which, in a roundabout way, is the root of the design flourishes we are presenting here. It’s a line-up of BMW’s finest concept cars, inspired by the newly unveiled Z4 concept.

    Thing is, though it’s a gorgeous looking thing, it’s not the most outrageous, nor outrageously cool prototype BMW has built. Read on for the very best…

  2. 1969: BMW Spicup

    Unveiled at the 1969 Geneva Motor Show, this was the brainchild of ill-fated design house Bertone. Based on a modified 2000 CS, the Spicup features two retractable stainless steel roof panels that stow away into the roll bar.

    Up front though, it’s pure Alfa Montreal and Lamborghini Espada (Marcello Gandini was the man responsible), and underneath sits a 2.5-litre BMW straight-six. The concept car shown at Geneva even came up for sale a few years back, too.

  3. 1972: BMW E25 Turbo

    Look familiar? That’s because it is. This is the predecessor to the lovely BMW M1, built for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich as a rolling test platform for new technologies, including an advanced radar system to warn against curbs and hippies and other hazards of the day.

    Paul Bracq’s design language would later find its way onto the M1, 8 Series and even the Z1 (yep, the Z-roadster with those doors).

  4. 1991: BMW Nazca concept

    This is much, much more like it. The BMW Nazca M12 concept was the design debut of a 26-year old named Fabrizio Giugiaro, who took his inspiration from Formula One and Group C racers. A fine palette to paint from, if you ask us.

    The frame and body were carbon fibre, along with light alloy components throughout to keep the kerbweight at a very, very lithe 1100kg. The Nazca’s bonnet and boot were made in one piece, and it featured a wraparound windscreen and 360-degree visibility.

    Oh, it also featured a 300bhp, 5.0-litre V12 lifted from the 850i, here mounted in the middle and matched to a five-speed manual, powering the rear wheels. Also has gullwing doors, and is therefore excellent.

  5. 1995: BMW Z18 concept

    This little oddity was the first off-road roadster developed by BMW. You will also notice it is the only off-road roadster developed by BMW, and probably for good reason, despite its magnificent weirdness.

    It had a V8, four-wheel-drive, a plastic body mounted on a frame structure made from steel and featured a reconfigurable interior.

    BMW, please, please make this a reality. It’s not too late.

  6. 1999: BMW Z9 Gran Turismo

    This was the design study that heralded the return of the BMW 6 Series to the company’s modern line-up. Penned by Chris Bangle, it was introduced in 1999.

    Inside, there was an early iteration of BMW’s iDrive, while even further inside sat the 4.0-litre diesel V8 that would later find its way into the 740d.

    The outside, of course, was built of the requisite carbon fibre over an aluminium space frame, though with one vital addition: GULLWING DOORS! Why BMW never made a 6 Series with gullwing doors is beyond us.

  7. 2001: BMW X Coupe concept

    A surprise at the 2001 Detroit Motor Show, the X Coupe remains a surprise to this day. This is BMW’s idea of challenging preconceptions and pushing the boundaries, and boy, doesn’t it?

    The X Coupe was a bonkers, X5-based four-wheel-drive coupe powered by a 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine, featuring a rear-end that hatches almost completely off to expose everything inside.

    Miles off the mark? Not quite. In a strange sort of way, this previewed the X6. And, indeed, many other coupe-SUVs. Talk about landing the first blow. Still looks like a weirdo.

  8. 2006: BMW Concept Coupe Mille Miglia

    BMW’s Mille Miglia concept coupe is surely how people from the 1950s imagined the future would look, and it looked good.

    Clearly taking its shape from that classic 328, this concept utilises a carbon fibre body wrapped over the chassis of the Z4 M Coupe. That’s a very merry 3.2-litre straight-six producing an even merrier 340bhp, the same engine you got in an E46 M3, too.

  9. 2007: BMW Concept CS

    With dimensions on a par with the 7 Series, this was a BMW that truly made us sad. Why? Because though we got excited when BMW started making noises about putting it into production, it was cancelled at the end of 2008 because of, well, 2008.

    Still, the CS remains a proper Thing; all fast, flowing lines, hints of a “power unit befitting its dynamic character” and a low-slung, shark-nosed profile. Nice.

  10. 2008: BMW GINA concept

    The simple stuff first. This concept sits on the Z8 roadster platform. And, there ends the simple stuff.

    The skin… well, it’s a flexible texture that stretches over a metal wire structure reinforced with carbon fibre. The idea was to allow the driver to ‘change’ the shape of the car on the move.

    At the time, designer Chris Bangle reckoned this was the future of car design, allowing customers to create their cars around their own requirements. A quick look at the local Halfords car park suggests Mr Bangle’s predictions may have been a little off the mark.

    Perhaps, Top Gear suspects, because of the potential damage caused by scissor-wielding hooligans.

  11. 2008: BMW M1 Hommage concept

    BMW rather likes its history, and with cars like the M1 littered amongst its timeline, why the hell not?

    This blast of Tango emerged at the 2008 Concorso d’Eleganza, marking 30 years since the original BMW M1 - the company’s one and only true supercar - was launched. So this one gets similar proportions, all low, wide seventies arrogance with a flair of modernity thanks to then designer Chris Bangle’s flame surfacing.

    No word on the powertrain - it was just a design exercise - but oh, how we wished for a mighty V12 under the bonnet. Just imagine…

  12. 2009: BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics

    The VED arrived in 2009, and instantly became one of the most talked-about concepts in recent memory, not least because it was full of layers. And tech, too.

    Underneath sat a turbo hybrid drivetrain that promised M3 levels of performance while emitting less than 100g/km of CO2. That’s like eating lots of cake and not getting very fat. Or something. And it’s reached reality in the shape of the i8. Even better.

  13. 2011: BMW Vision Connected Drive

    This is BMW’s vision of the future, in which cars seamlessly become your brain, though without the painful lobotomy that accompanies such ambition.

    No, this VCD, unveiled in 2011, is the company’s idea of a connected, networked car future. Things like a 3D head-up display, an ‘emotional browser’ that captures information about the neighbourhood you’re driving through, and even multi-coloured fibre optics on the bodywork. Literally mental.

  14. 2011: BMW 328 Hommage concept

    Yes. So much yes, it’s difficult to know where to start. The 328 Hommage concept is an, erm, homage to the classic BMW 328 from the 1930s, one of the company’s finest ever racing cars. We also like to think it’s a nod to the fine, fine E36 328i Sport. We suspect we might be wrong here, but whatever.

    Built of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic and packing a 3.0-litre straight-six, it is a mix of aluminium, leather, power and nostalgia all wrapped up in a two-seater package. Just… yes.

  15. 2012: BMW Zagato Coupe concept

    Another debutante at the Concorso d’Eleganza, this little Z4-based beauty arrived in 2012, with ambition to reignite the coach-built racers of old.

    How? The entire body is hand-built - much like the tailor-made BMW 328 coupes of the late 1930s - here crafted for a ‘Vmax concept’. Which means ‘going quickly’. There’s BMW’s classic kidney grille up front, a double-bubble roof and that famous Kamm-tail. It was also formed using a single mould, which we imagine was internally codenamed ‘excellent’.

  16. 2013: BMW Vision Gran Turismo

    OK, so this one’s a bit of a stretch, because it was ‘built’ (read: designed) for Gran Turismo 6. And that’s about all we know.

  17. 2015: 3.0 CSL Hommage concept

    The original CSL remains a permanent fixture upon BMW’s Wall of Excellence, and with a nickname like ‘Batmobile’, you don’t need much persuasion to see why. This concept - unveiled at the 2015 Villa d’Este Concours in Italy - is a yellow-hued salute to that fabulous 1970s racer, and it’s certainly a Thing.

    There’s lots of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, and a design that nods to the original CSL’s signature notes, while inflecting BMW’s newer design philosophy into a wide-arched package of fury. Box, consider yourself ticked.

    So that’s it for our list - a few honourable mentions (if you have the time to Google them) must also go to the BMW Hurricane concept of 1964, the BMW 528/502 concept, and the sole M8 that lurks around BMW’s HQ…

  18. 2016: BMW 2002 Hommage concept

    Officially at least, the first concept to emerge from BMW in 2016 was that lovely i8 Roadster, followed by the future-proof Vision Next 100. Both fine, fine things. But it’s this M2-based nod to the original 2002 that got us most excited. It’s called the 2002 Hommage, features the chassis and drivetrain from the 370bhp M2 (which means a fancy turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six), the exhaust from the M235i Racing and a body made almost entirely from carbon fibre.

    Oh, and a snowplough. Handy for clearing the drive on those snowy winter mornings…

  19. 2017: BMW 8 Series concept

    Less a wild adventure into the jungle of design, more an achingly gorgeous, near production-ready coupe set to fill the void left by the old one. Yep, the 8 Series is back, in a big, big way.

    This is BMW hitting the re-set button, and beginning a whole new design cycle. What you see here isn’t just 90 per cent of what you’re going to get on next year’s all-new production car, it’s premiering an approach that’s going to inform the next wave of BMWs, up to and including the ones that can drive themselves.

    Click here for the full debrief…

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