Before BMW acquired Rolls-Royce in 1998, the company had their own plans and aspirations for an ultra-luxury line above the 7 Series flagship. In Steve Saxty’s third book, “BMW Art by Design” he explores a design concept called “ZBF 7 Series,” short for “Zukunftige BMW Familie.” The crucial point here is that the concept wasn’t devised as a direct proposal for the upcoming E65 7 Series; rather, it was crafted prior to the project as a visionary exploration aimed at forecasting the future direction for the entire BMW lineup.

Image Credit: BMW Group Classic

Amid this creative exploration, one design stood out for its audacious reinterpretation of luxury and presence — Joji Nagashima’s ZBF 7 Series. Nagashima’s concept defied conventional design norms with an imposingly large grille set before a succinct hood, a deliberate choice to enhance passenger space. The interior was a departure from tradition, showcasing a radically fresh style that positioned the ZBF 7 Series not just as a successor to its predecessors but as a harbinger of a futuristic 9 Series.

This groundbreaking design was brought to life as a non-running model, encapsulating Nagashima’s bold vision for a next-generation 7 Series that transcended the familiar bounds of luxury sedans. The project’s ambition didn’t end there; in 1996, a second car materialized into a running prototype. This prototype captured the imagination of BMW’s R&D boss, Wolfgang Reitzle, to such an extent that he expressed a desire to take this prototype for a spin to his golf club.

A Massive Kidney Grille

Despite featuring the iconic round headlamps that later emerged as a hallmark of BMW design, the concept distinguishes itself with two inner lamps of noticeably greater size. Paired with a massive, prominent grille—accentuated by a V12 badge—this design element bestows upon the ZBF the distinguished air of a classic luxury sedan, reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce, well before the BMW’s acquisition of the high-end luxury brand.

The most captivating feature is undoubtedly the huge kidney grille that extends downward, reminding us of the G80/G82 BMW M3 and M4, alongside the all-electric i4 and iX. Whether the company foresaw this grille in production models twenty-five years into the future remains doubtful. However, this serves as evidence that the latest design trends are not as novel as they might seem.

“BMW by Design” Books

Over the years, “The ZBF” transcended its initial role, becoming a revered reference point and a source of inspiration within the BMW design studio. In a testament to its enduring legacy, “The ZBF” found a new home in 2020 within the hallowed halls of BMW Classic and you can see it in the video below. If you’re interested in reading more BMW design behind-the-scenes stories, then the “BMW by Design” three-volume boxed set will be available soon – at a pre-order price of $299.95/€270/£78.11. Alternatively, the principal book, “BMW by Design” is available immediately for $99.95/€90.02/£88.10; all with free shipping in USA, UK and EU.

[Images: BMW Group Classic]