BMW racing has thrilled auto enthusiasts for decades with the powerful engines and aerodynamic chassis designs it brings to the track. Motorsport is about more than just mechanics, though; the artistic element that goes into decorating each car is often as important to fans as the engine specs. After all, without the signature detail provided by each car’s color scheme and decal arrangement, how would they stand out from any other machine on the track?

Some cars are such a perfect blend of performance and artistry that they stand out without even trying. Where would the record-breaking, trend-setting BMWs we all know and love be without their world-class aesthetics and car decals to help them finish in style?

Here’s some of the history tied to the best-dressed cars in BMW racing.

2012 BMW F30 335i

1. 2012 BMW F30 335i

The F30 3 Series car has a clean design inside and out. South African Anthony Taylor, supported by a local pit crew, drove it to its first victory in its first race — 2012’s Cape Town WesBank Super Series. Not only did he inspire a bit of national pride in the locally-made BMW, he proved that understated elegance in a vehicle can sometimes really outshine everything else. Despite being the first of its kind, the car was a success after only 2 months of assembly. ADF Motorsport contributed their talents to the development stage. The car’s decals are simple, and the color scheme is classically BMW. Plus, all of its parts are accessible enough that any owner of a regular 335i could modify his car to match the racer, inside and out.

2013 Hatsune Miku Z4


Other times, though, the opposite of “understated” runs away with the prize. The 2013 Hatsune Miku Z4 looks like it got caught in an explosion of kawaii, but its distracting design didn’t keep the Japanese Good Smile team from their second Super GT first-place win in May 2014. This car’s popularity and success definitely opened the world of auto racing to a new demographic: extreme nerds and Japanese anime fans. This is fitting for a design featuring Hatsune Miku, whose wildly dedicated fanbase uses her programmable performance talents as a cathartic outlet for their own creative aspirations. Unlike Miku’s musical repertoire, though, the Z4’s races are handled by professionals, including Tatsuya Kataoka and Nobuteru Tanaguchi.

2010 Jeff Koons M3 GT

3. 2010 Jeff Koons M3 GT2

Jeff Koons added his signature to the list of BMW art cars with his 2010 M3 GT2. His exciting, starburst-reminiscent rainbow design was entirely applied through digitally-printed vinyl decals to ensure truer colors. To enhance his artistic sensibilities, he even took the car for a test drive before its official reveal so he could better convey “speed” in the colors and placement of the stripes. The car was designed lightweight and as aerodynamic as possible by BMW engineers for its run at the Le Mans 24-hour event. This followed the tradition begun by driver Hervé Poulain, who first commissioned a design from Alexander Calder in 1975 to make his car a moving piece of art at the historic race. Though Andy Priaulx was unable to take the car to the finish at Le Mans due to fuel miscalculations, it still left art lovers everywhere drooling.

1970 ALPINA 2002ti

4. 1970 ALPINA 2002ti

The vintage Alpina-tuned 1970 2002ti racer stands out anywhere in its bright orange-and-black racing getup. Decals are sparse, out of respect for the car’s history; they include its original number 21 and prominent decal advertisements for Castrol. Despite being a senior citizen of the racing world, it boasts 220 horsepower and a list of drivers like Nick Craw and Danica Patrick. It first saw daylight after its refurbishment at the 1996 Monterey Historic Races. The restoration to its original colors and stickers came later, in time for its 2015 auto show debut in New York.

1999 Jenny Holzer V12 LMR

Art cars took a new turn with Jenny Holzer’s 1999 V12 LMR, which introduced her love of text-based art into the BMW world. Thought-provoking statements like “Protect me from what I want” and “The unattainable is invariably attractive” put into words the dangerous appeal of ridiculously fast cars. Phosphorescent foil decals give the text an otherworldly glow under various lighting arrangements, as well as keeping the car from riding any heavier than necessary. Though this special-edition V12 was only shown in the Le Mans pre-qualifying lap, another BMW of the same model scored the trophy that year.

The aesthetic qualities of these fabulous cars not only give us a new appreciation for terrific decal design; they remind us of the engineering excellence that gave BMW the road presence it enjoys. Without an impressive racing history, a fleet of fancy cars would be a meaningless embellishment for a mediocre company. Fortunately for BMW fans, this is not the case.

Which of these cars (or any other spectacularly designed models we couldn’t fit in here) would you own if you could? Tell us about your dream racer below!