1975 was an important year for the Bavarian Motor Works. They were just incorporating in North America( a then just barely burgeoning market for them), they would go on to win the 12 Hours of Sebring with a 3.0 CSL at the hands of Hans Stuck, Brian Redman, and Alan Moffat and BMW debuted the first Art Car. Designed and decorated by acclaimed artist Alexander Calder, the CSL was even brighter and dynamic than the already lively liveries of the 1970’s race cars. To make sure the world saw this movable piece of art, BMW entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The original Art Car would launch a campaign decades long including what are now some of the most noteworthy artists of the 20th and 21st century such a Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Sandro Chia, Robert Rauschenberg and, of course, Andy Warhol with his popular, vibrant M1. The BMW Art Cars symbolize BMW’s support of the art world in addition to creating new and effective ways of exhibiting their vehicles – already works of art in their own right.
Today, BMW have announced that a new art car will premier under the exacting eye of Jeff Koons. Koons, a Pennsylvania native, is known worldwide for his larger-than-life, near-cartoonish and outlandish works of art. Examples are the 1992 work Puppy – a 43 foot tall topiary sculpture located in Bilbao, Spain along with a later work of art, Tulips. Koons work has been, not unlike BMW’s recent design and styling directions, both widely loved and widely criticized making him a polarizing artist. However, that would seem to suit BMW quite well as they’ve recently commissioned Koons to design the 2010 BMW Art Car – which will also, fittingly, run the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June.
However, BMW and Mr. Koons are both artists in their own respects and BMW, wanting Mr. Koons’ perspective, have to give him a very intimate view into what makes these cars so great. There is only one way to understand a BMW, though, and that is firsthand at the wheel.
We were very privileged to be privy to the introduction of Jeff and some of BMW’s finest machines while onhand at the 12 Hours of Sebring test days just weeks in advance of the actual race. BMW had quite the day planned for Jeff in a sort of “crash course” (pun intended) of BMW as a brand and as a history. Upon our arrival we were notified of Jeff’s itinerary and it was quite an impressive one. Jeff would spend the morning receiving a demonstration of the levels of grip and technical prowess of the E92 M3 and X6M on the skidpad of Sebring International Raceway followed by a few laps around the historic circuit in both the X6M and M3. If that wasn’t enough, Jeff would also receive a few laps out on the track in a 1979 BMW M1, ironically a car supplied at one time for the Art Car program, while being chased by the BMW RLR Team’s E92 – a beautiful combination of both new and old in harmony.
After watching Jeff turn hot laps in the M3 around both the track and on the skidpad, we were given the opportunity to try out some of the same exercises Jeff was put through allowing him to become better acquainted with what makes a BMW a BMW. Also, we happened to learn that Jeff proved quite competitive behind the wheel, apparently hanging on to the rear of the X6M while it was being driven by professionally-trained drivers. We took out a beautiful Interlagos Blue E92 M3 and took advantage of the full 414HP on tap by taking the M3 through a series of cones laid out to simulate an emergency lane change maneuver which demonstrated both the quick reflexes of the M3 and it’s ability to maintain composure in extreme circumstances by approaching cones at 50MPH, applying the brakes and quickly throwing the car to the left to simulate the lane change. As expected, the M3’s grip outdid the danger and put us back onto course for the skidpad.
Upon arriving onto the polished skidpad, the M3 was able to demonstrate its first tendency to understeer heavily when pushed to the absolute limit, a safety feature engineered into the car by BMW, which can be sidestepped by a quick lift of the right pedal then snap input of throttle followed by another lift and a bit of opposite lock dialed in through the steering wheel. While powersliding is fun, the exercise also keeps the driver’s eyes focused to the direction they want the car to travel versus down the hood of the car, which will prevent the driver from steering out of the skid. As a result, with the driver cognizant of where to point the car versus where the car is heading, the hands and feet will follow suit and help put the car into the right direction.
After a few dabs of throttle and Scandanavian flicks of the wrists, the car was back on-course and heading for the fast-paced slalom section which again showed off the lateral and forward grip of the M3 as it glided between cones with aplomb. Next, on to the wide left-hander leading us back to the start of the mini-course, giving it a few more rounds and with the M3 performing flawlessly with no signs of brake fade or loss of power from high engine temperatures in humid Florida air.
After becoming just as acquainted with the M3 as Jeff was able to – we moved on to the M1 of David Hobbs, pulled out of the BMW Mobile Tradition collection just for Jeff. We’d seen the M1 earlier in the morning, braggingly parked in front of the BMW RLR Team’s trailer and it garnered quite a lot of looks and comments from younger members wandering the paddock as well as veterans who were reflecting on memories of this car on-track during its heyday. Upon examining the M1, I could not believe how cramped it was behind the wheel. Jeff, being a slightly shorter, thinner man than myself, was able to fit just right into the passenger seat while being piloted around Sebring by M3 GT driver Joey Hand. It was a close quarters engagement to even just to sit in the M1 – much less drive it. The exercise was designed to introduce Jeff to the original, earlier successes of BMW while being trailed by the 2010 M3 GT. Jeff was able to experience the best of BMW, new and old in one incredible stint around the airbase turned racetrack.
Upon exiting the M1 after a handful of laps, Jeff seemed to have quite the understanding of BMW as a brand and as an emotion – Mr. Koons looked quite joyful after his ride in the M1.
Afterward, Jeff spent a few moments speaking with drivers Joey Hand and Tommy Milner and Motorsport Manager for BMW, Martin Birkmann about the experience – from a distance gesturing about the massive grip and chuckability of the old school supercar-turned-racer. BMW’s day for Jeff Koons was a comprehensive but complete one in terms of an introduction and understanding of what a BMW must convey to the its driver.
We are looking forward to seeing what BMW’s inspirational day for Mr. Koons translates to for the forth-coming BMW Art Car – especially when it lands in France this June to take the fight to the Ferrari’s and Porsche’s of the GT class once more.