Well known UK journalist Chris Harris is back with an insightful article on BMW’s former chief of design, Chris Bangle.
Born in the US, Christopher Bangle has been Head of BMW Group Design Development from October 1992 until February 2009. After studying at the University of Wisconsin and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, he began his working life in Rüsselsheim, where he worked for Adam Opel AG. In 1985 he joined FIAT, where he became Director of the FIAT Centro Stile in 1992. Shortly afterwards he left the Italian automaker to come to Munich.
His resignation in 2009 has taken the design industry by surprise and many have speculated that he was forced out of the company.
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.
Some believe Bangle mangled the butt of the E65 7 Series, and flamed out by applying flame surfacing on the Z4 and E60 5 Series, a design approach that has been highly controversial yet embraced later by the entire automotive industry. Styling cues that shouted ‘BMW’ started appearing on a number of Asian vehicles.
We’ve interviewed Bangle back in 2012 via Skype from his villa in Italy, and it has been one of the most fascinating one-hour long conversations we’ve ever had.
Now Chris Harris takes the floor and gives some compelling reasons why Bangle was and is one of the best designers in the automotive industry.
At the time, or at least in the build-up to that evening, I thought Chris Bangle was at best a madman, at worst a criminal. He’d taken the finest mainstream design language of them all — the demure yet purposeful BMW saloon — and sodomized it with a special brutality. When we saw the E65 7 Series we could barely contain the contents of our stomachs. He parried the criticism by insisting that BMW needed a new direction and that only a complete schism with the past would provide suitable change. So he went bat-shit-crazy with the Seven. Which looked terrible in 2001. And which now, especially the facelifted model, so-help-me-Lord, looks pretty damn good to my eyes.
The Houdinery deepened with the 2003 E60 5-Series. Born with a face for radio, I thought it was a crime against Bavaria – gone was the Hoffmeister kink, gone was the driver-slanted centre console, gone was all the BMW DNA; incoming was ‘flame surfacing.’ I interviewed Burkhard Göschel just weeks before he left the company and he laughed demonically about the situation: “What do you think of our flame surfacing, hohoho-hahahahaHAHAHAHA.” he asked, shaking his head in mock disapproval — his not knowing what to think confusing me into not knowing what to think either.
There are some brilliant stories about Bangle’s legendary ability to create an evangelical following among his staff and team – perhaps even the board of BMW. Go and look at a first generation Bangle-BMW Z4, then spy the previous Z3 and tell me how the hell he managed to get that past the suits. He must have spiked a few drinks. Like so many Bangle shapes, it’s looking really quite good now. My favourite completely non-verified tale involves the sign-off for the E63 6-Series. It is alleged that several different design proposals were considered and after some tantric downtime in a green spot, he randomly chose the one we have now. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I sincerely hope it is. Guess what? The E63 6-Series is looking very cool these days. Especially as an M6
A BMW board member as perplexed by BMW’s design language as the rest of the planet in 2004.