At the moment, BMW fans are foaming at the mouth with rage, over the design new 4 Series, M3 and M4 grille. The two massive beaver teeth that adorn the front of said vehicles are shocking to say the least. However, this isn’t the first time BMW debuted a controversial design, one that wasn’t exactly loved at the time of its release. In fact, there was one that was so different and unusual fans actually put criticized the man they thought responsible. The car was the E60 5 Series.
The E60 posed a massive shift in design thinking from its predecessor, the E39. Not only was this shift in thinking drastically different but it was also replacing one of the most beloved BMW designs of all time. So fans were upset and they blamed the man they thought responsible for the design — Chris Bangle.
Bangle was BMW’s head of design at the time and the figurehead for the brand’s styling. His was also the only widely recognizable name on the design team. So he’s naturally going to take the blame. However, Bangle didn’t design the E60, he only signed off on it. It’s actually a bit more of a complicated story that just that and it’s a story that no one has heard until now, one that could (and should) at least change your perspective on the car.
Usually, when a car is designed and the board green-lights it, the design then gets changed and modified for a variety of different reasons; regulations requirements, technology requirements or even just the lead designer wanting to put their stamp on it. However, the E60 went fairly unchanged, from the original drawing to the showroom floor, due to the man that designed it.
The man who actually put pen to paper was a man by the name of Davide Arcangeli, who was a young Italian designer that worked under Bangle at the time. Arcangeli was not only a very talented designer but he was also beloved by the rest of his team. Shortly after Arcangeli penned the E60 5 Series, it was taken to the board and immediately approved. So not only did Bangle give the design his blessing but so did the brass at BMW. Only days after the E60 was green-lit, though, Arcangeli died of Leukemia.
According to Bangle, Arcangeli’s death deeply affected the entire team but also galvanized them to push his design through to production without changing a single thing, to honor their lost friend. However, don’t assume that the team felt the design needed changing. Bangle, as well as the rest of the design team at BMW, was impressed with the design and Arcangeli’s creative problem solving.
“Davide’s approach to the project was, I think very unique” Bangle told us during a recent interview. “BMW’s design team was tasked with creating a car with a huge amount of mass, on top of wheels that were the same size as before.”
“[Arcangeli’s] idea behind it was, ‘we really play up the idea of negative surfaces’ which had been, up until that time, considered a taboo”. Bangle said. “[The idea was to] use the negative surfaces instead of lines, to give you a different idea of what the vehicle is”.
One of the more heavily criticized elements of the E60 5 Series was its sort of scooped out side panels, which lacked a lot of definition. However, Bangle goes on to say that the concave side sections of the car created what they called a “Spoon Design” because the reflections in the sides were akin to those seen when looking into a spoon.
Bangle praised Arcangli’s clever ability to take out a vast amount of visual weight that was being asked to be put into the car, due to package changes. So when Arcangeli died, the team was determined to put that creative design into metal and get it onto the road.
“When a designer is lost at that stage in the project,” said Bangle “it can be, and it was in that case, that everyone on the team felt extremely dedicated to his memory and that meant ‘don’t change anything'”.
Not only does that make the E60 5 Series a touching story on wheels but it’s also one of the very few cars that remained pure to the designer’s intent, all the way to the production line. So whoever drives an E60 5 Series is actually driving around in one of the most pure automotive designs, without the corruption of corporate nit-picking.
Personally, I’ve never liked the E60 5 Series, I’m just not a fan of it (also, there may be a bit of rebellious teenager left in me, as my parents drive one) but this story changed even my stubborn opinion on the car. Not only is it more creative than most fans give it credit for, myself included, but it’s also a tribute to a special man that was beloved by is colleagues and unfortunately passed away far too soon.
So the next time you see an E60 and want to criticize its design, maybe take a second to remember why it looks the way it does and appreciate it for what it is: pure automotive design, based on clever problem solving and a little bit of love.
Listen to the full podcast with Chris Bangle: