In the summer of 2003 I drove to Nashville in a new Jet-Black 3.0 BMW Z4 coming in from the north out of Kentucky and into little Tennessee towns. Somewhere among the little hilled hoot-n-hollers I made a wrong turn- backed up and got onto the right road. Next thing I knew I had a state trooper right behind me with his roof lights on. He told me I had blown a stop sign. My license, tags, insurance were all in order. He said, “look, I’ll let you go because this is the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen.” Truth. Sprung for beauty.
And so it was with Christopher Bangle’s cars during his stewardship of some of the most talented automobile designers in the world. We don’t know he if always chose the most avant-garde design that was proposed for a new model….what we do know is that there was always controversy surrounding the concept of beauty and proportion in every BMW that debuted during his 17 years at BMW as Bangle’s ideas and cars took many of us kicking and screaming into the future. For others, Bangle’s designs were the epitome of coolness- of being right in the moment and ahead of the distant crowd.
If most of us can agree that it’s hard being an artist- it must be doubly hard being a visionary artist in a corporate culture. Bangle raised being an automobile designer to cult status- judged not merely by 100 or so cognescenti gathered in an art gallery but by literally millions of informed and uninformed people- many of whom saw the changes to BMW’s as sacrilege to an esteemed brand of cars. What those naysayers missed was that Bangle’s designs mirrored the high engineering criteria that the brand was known for.
Bangle’s cars looked fast, aggressive and perhaps most importantly they were authoritative. There’s not a single BMW that has come out under his tutelage that alludes to wuss and compromise. And perhaps this is what ended it all for him at BMW.
Revolutionary changes inevitably run aground- they, by their fluid nature of change….year by year…model by model….polarize people’s opinions. It’s one thing to drive an automobile with engineering advances. We don’t see them, the car handles better- voila- it’s great. The way something looks……that’s a different proposition altogether. For all of Bangle s efforts to convince people that cars were art- when he showed people what was contemporary half the audience longed for the good old days.
Even those of us who were original Bangle fans got left in the dust as new products were introduced. The constant challenge of the new on our senses is hard work-especially for people who just get tired of constantly having to readjust their thinking, wrapping their eyes around something that simply doesn’t look like the current status-quo.
Chris Bangle is a young 52 years old. There’s plenty of time left for him to be a vital force for changing the way we interact with objects. The way they look and feel and handle and how we can stand back from something and say, “damn that looks great.”