Can Heritage Hurt The BMW Brand?

Interesting | October 27th, 2014 by 12
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Recently, while as a group the BMWBLOG team was mulling over the design of the 3 Series – *ahem* – 4 Series we found a …

Recently, while as a group the BMWBLOG team was mulling over the design of the 3 Series – *ahem* – 4 Series we found a moment of pause. During the discussion, Chuck Vossler brought up a hilarious yet poignant quote from Todd Lassa of Automobile Magazine in reference to the accompanying press release with the teaser shots of the 4er:

“BMW’s self-description of the 4 Series reads like a Biblical chapter describing the second coming of the 2002, though with that car’s Teutonic flavor replaced with tasteful dollops of satin finish chrome, and with leather from the world’s most supple cows.”

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More than anything, the statement made us laugh – but it does point to a bone to pick with both car manufacturers and car enthusiasts alike.  I’m guilty of this too but the complaint that all car companies’ halcyon days are behind them in terms of building “drivers” cars still exists. Many manufacturers reinforce this mindset by wheeling out the previous iterations of the model next to a new car with a “wink wink nudge nudge – know what I mean!” to highlight not so obvious similarities. That – or trying to force a tangible connection between cars that ought not have one.

Upon my arrival at Laguna Seca Raceway two years ago, I was greeted by a line up of one of every BMW 3 Series ever built: E21 all the way up through the E90. It’s a cool statement to see the whole of the 3 Series legacy lined up at once – do I really think there’s a tangible link between an 2013 F30 328i and a 1983 E21 320i? Of course not, nor is there really one between the Holy Grail that is the E30 3 Series and F30 3 Series. After 30 years I would hope there’s some progress made to move the 3 Series forward(or any car model for that matter).

It’s a bit ironic that the week before my arrival in picturesque Monterey, I spent a good bit of seat time at M School thrashing the twin snails of the littlest M car: the 1 Series M Coupe  – heretofore referred to as the 1M. Unequivocally the 1M is my favorite BMW, new or old, I’ve driven. From the punchy engine to the short-yet-swingable rear-end – the car is one of the most fun coupes available under the $100k mark – assuming you can find one. However, when the 1M was launched in 2011 – there was heavy emphasis on a comparison of the 1M to the E30 M3.


My question is: Why?

I understand the importance of linking both past to present in order to maintain a cohesive message across a product line that’s constantly evolving. BMW certainly does not stand alone as a manufacturer who expends a great deal of time and money to keep that link alive and arguably BMW’s core enthusiasts are some of the most vocal and outspoken when it comes to models of yesteryear and “what’s missing in new BMWs.” Believe me, I know because at times I’ve been one of those outspoken car nuts. However, in the case of the E30 M3 and the 1M is trying to compare a 4 cylinder homologation special from 1988 to a 2011 turbocharged inline-six powered parts bin car really a legitimate comparison? Perhaps not – but that shouldn’t detract from either car as both are highly regarded for their respective times and for good reason.

Brands like Hyundai are just now establishing themselves with cars like the Genesis or Veloster while Toyota is re-establishing itself as a purveyor of performance cars with the simple, humble but lovable GT86 throwback. Hyundai especially is breaking new ground in terms of appealing to new segments but a lack of heritage in performance cars isn’t and shouldn’t detract from their ability to build impressive cars. Would we have anything revolutionary if we refused to buy new products from a car maker?


To the point, are enthusiasts setting their expectations so high that car manufacturers must try to demonstrate that “yes, we’ve completely redone this car – but not so much that it’s very different from the last car.” Or do manufacturers just perceive that expectation from the general car buying public? Either way, the forced effort to draw connections between future and past models seems to occasionally brush aside mind-bending technological advancements achieved in the span of a few short decades as if that’s ancillary to some prede natural engineering discipline that’s kept the DNA of the car nearly identical generation after generation…except for when they changed the tire sizes, track of the car, suspension, engine specs, etc…

I write this knowing full well that it’s hypocritical as a car enthusiast that I essentially pushed ethereal motors like E30 M3 or 2002 to the side in lieu of the latest turbocharged offerings from BMW. However, surely other enthusiasts see the fact that BMW would cease to exist if it continued to only build the 2002tii and 3.0CSi while Audi and Mercedes-Benz are fine-tuning their navigation screens, iPhone integration and onboard apps. Having recently driven an early 1970’s Ferrari 365 Boxer Berlinetta – I can assure you Ferrari wouldn’t be producing the F150 hypercar if they hadn’t moved beyond their first mid-engine efforts. They’d be defunct and Fernando Alonso would be vying for a ride with a soft drink company!


Where is the line drawn then? In 20 years time when the 2002 is pushing 70 years old – will press releases and photo shoots still allude to the Neue Klasse or the E24 6 Series, E46 3 Series? I certainly hope not. But is this a matter of the enthusiast contingent needing to adapt to a world of stricter emissions and safety standards pushed on manufacturers or do the manufacturers need to cut the cord of history a bit and let go of the past while showing us the way of the future?


12 responses to “Can Heritage Hurt The BMW Brand?”

  1. CDspeed says:

    When the Lambrogini Aventador premiered I remember not being excited, I though “it doesn’t really feel new, it’s just another big Lambo with a mid mouted V12, and sisor doors”. And the same goes for a lot of cars, what is a new 5-series, it’s just a new version of a car they have been producing for thirty years or so. Then when they started producing the 5-Series Gran Turismo it was instantly branded as ugly by people who had never actually seen one, and was said to be pointless when compared to more traditional shapes (sedan, touring). Every time a manufacturer tries to debut a new concept or style, so called “enthusiasts” hate it in favor of the same old shapes, and do keep manufacturers thinking inside the box. I remember when the X5 premiered “enthusiasts” thought BMW had gone crazy, and I actually heard people say “they should only ever produce the 3, 5, and 7-series” can you imagine how boring that would be? I’ve come to love new concepts, I don’t want the same old sedan, if the shape or powertrain isn’t unique I’m just not interested anymore. I’d still like the car to identify with its brand, but producing new versions of the same old thing is no way to move forward.

  2. Crux says:

    They can tinker all they want with the regular models but they need to keep that feeling of exclusivity. Especially when it comes to the might ///M brand. It should always be a million miles better than AMG, F, RS’s and all the other wannabe luxo high performance manufacturers. i6 TwinPower engine just sounds like its having asthma, pathetic noise.

    • Albert Jason Gerstenhaber says:

      BMW forgoes this exclusivity when they make the branding available to the masses with “///M-Sport” packages and quasi-M branded cars. And the fact of the matter is that the exclusivity you’re referring to for the last five-ten years (since all the luxury marques branched out their sport offerings) is ONLY tangible in one market – the compact sedan. The verdict typically has been for the last few years that dollar for dollar, the E63 stands up to the M5, the RS7 holds its own against the M6GC and BMW has never had a solid competitor in the “power-barge” class unless you count offerings from Alpina, which I do not. Only the M3 remains a pinnacle car for BMW – especially because the other brands have moved onto other markets. BMW has no direct competitor for the RS3 and the CLA45 – and they won’t unless they make an M2 four door, which is highly unlikely because it would cannibalize on M3 sales.

      • Horatiu B. says:

        You’re right in part. But next M5 and M6 should level the ground.

        M2…well. We all wish they made a 4 door.

        M SPORT packages are a necessity unfortunately. To win customers that can’t afford a full M car

        • Crux says:

          Hopefully with this new CFRP process they can make the all new G30 platform for the upcoming 5 series, ridiculous. I love them 5ers.

          • Albert Jason Gerstenhaber says:

            Out of curiosity, why do you think that the chassis code will be G30?
            @Horatio, I wasn’t talking about whether or not those things were important, just talking about them in the context of status.

        • Ivor Watson says:

          Many customers who can afford a full M (like me) don’t need one (like me) but want some of the M or near M goodies. What’s wrong with that? Besides, that’s not the point of the article. I test drove F80 M3 just recently and I was bored to tears. It was fast, beautiful and a technological gem, but it had no soul. I had to go drive my E46 to get that joy back.

      • Crux says:

        Yeah you’re right pretty much… ///M brand has been diluted all in favor or volume.

  3. Happy Guy says:

    Great article. I believe the ONLY car company that has truly held on to its heritage (for dear life, even) is Porsche holding onto its holy grail 911. From the shape to engine placement, it’s still recognizable as a 911. With the exception of obvious technology improvements: water cooled, ABS, traction control + electronic controls to handle 400+ HP. A little larger, heavier and very much faster. But unlike the M3 that’s jumped from i6 to v8 to i6 to hybrid (?), Porsche is holding on to as much of its legacy as it can get away with (for better or worse). However, to balance this blind devotion to legacy, it is also meeting the needs of the latest and greatest trends – whether its mid-engined performance or super sedan greatness, it’s not afraid to venture outside the box with newer models.

    BMW could do the same. It can evolve change the 3 series all it wants but call it a something else, while holding on to that original spirit of a super-light 2002 type car. Truth be told, the current 1/2 series is the true successor to the original 2002 or E30, but by calling it a 1/2 series, BMW has cut off that relationship. The similarities between the 1/2 series and E30 is far greater than the current 3 series (which more close resembles the 80’s era 5 series in size, weight and intent).

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