In 2008 BMW introduced its 1 Series to the North American market with the US getting the 2 door coupé and convertible. BMW marketing was all abuzz with the 1er being heralded as the second coming of the 2002. They went so far as to send out a ‘baby book’ to buyers of the first model year cars – complete with a duplicate VIN sticker, certificate of ownership, lots of text and pictures as well as a reprint of David E. Davis’ famous Car & Driver article. When looking at a 1 Series Coupé and a 2002 side by side you would wonder how anyone could think of a link between them. But BMW was insisting there was and had gone out of their way to proclaim it. What was the link between the 2002 and the 1er? “BMW by Design” and “BMW’s Hidden Gems” books provides an explanation.

The Precursor To The BMW 1 Series

In the early 1990’s BMW had purchased the Rover Group – after having made an attempt to purchase Porsche. The rationale for the purchase was that the company needed to expand its production (and sales) to keep from being absorbed by another company – as had almost happened to BMW in 1959. Ford had approached the Quandts in the late 1980s in an attempt to add BMW to the Ford empire, so the pressure was real. BMW was focused on reviving Rover’s fortunes in the mid 1990s and had spent a great deal of effort trying to rationalize Rover’s product. This absorbed a great deal of design effort and put other potential products on the back burner. One of these projects is described in Steve Saxty’s, “BMW’s Hidden Gems.”

The 1,000 kg Ultimate Driving Machine

With the year 2002 approaching, BMW designers proposed a modern equivalent to the sixties era 2002, the 2K2. The 2K2 gestated at about the same time BMW was trying to fix Rover. The 2K2 was designed to be a two-door, three-box car based on a pared-back composite bodied version of the E46 chassis then under design. The BMW 2K2 project was less about being an entry-level car than a back to the pure spirit of a 1000kg light super fun to drive machine.

What a wonderfully convoluted tale the 2K2 is; how the designers kept after it and through successive iterations of drawings, and an update to the 3 series platform from E46 to E9x, what finally emerged was the 1 series. It passed through the hands of three senior designers: Andreas Zapatinas (later head of Alfa design), Thomas Plath (was effectively Bangle’s number 2 and former Ford designer of the RS1700T and Sierra XR4i) and Chris Chapman (later head of Hyundai design). Of course, you see some of the retro design cues in the BMW 1 Series Coupe because Chapman had 2K2 in his head and so designed it as a two-door. Later, the hatch spun off it.

Photo courtesy of Steve Saxty / BMW

What a great story the 2K2 is and it’s reinforced in Chapter 3 of BMW byDesign. Steve Saxty has produced a set of books for anyone wanting to get into the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of BMW. On its own the text would suffice but the illustrations, pulled from BMW’s archives, greatly magnify the experience. Steve Saxty describes the constraints, corporate, financial, physical, that either whittle away or refine concepts. The material, text and pictures, tell the unique story of BMW’s design processes – almost as if you were granted a tour of the FIZ design studios guided by the designers themselves.

[Photos courtesy of Steve Saxty / BMW]