Since 1975, the BMW Art Car program has brought us nearly two dozen unique perspectives on blending the automotive and the artistic. The influence and draw of the program is undeniable. It’s inspired everything from highly collectible miniature models to wraps on street-going models. With the next BMW Art Car debuting in just a couple of months – the BMW M Hybrid V8 designed with Julie Mehretu – we decided to take a look back at some of the most unforgettable and inspiring BMW Art Cars over the last 49 years.

Andy Warhol’s BMW M1 Group 4 Race Version

It was only the fourth-ever Art Car, but it’s certainly one of the most historic. How could you go wrong when you pair one of the most interesting artistic figures of the 20th century with the awesome style of the BMW M1? Though the vehicle only raced in one race – the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans – it finished sixth overall and second in class.

Warhol was an obvious choice for an early Art Car artist. He had already established a career of finding inspiration in non-traditional objects (i.e., soup cans). It tracks, therefore, that he was the first artist to paint everything himself instead of using a scaled-down example and a team of assistants. He did so quickly, too – applying over 13 pounds (six kilograms) of paint in under 30 minutes.

César Manrique’s BMW 730i

BMW Art Car number 10 was a colorful one handled by Spanish avant-garde artist César Manrique. Manrique – an accomplished architect, graphic designer, and sculptor – sought to blend technology and nature in his Art Car. He collaborated with artist and race car driver Walter Maurer, who also assisted Warhol, Stella, and others with their Art Car designs.

Since Manrique’s design was applied to a road-going car, there isn’t a long list of accolades to bestow. But the design clearly illustrates his inspiration – the Spanish subtropical island of Lanzarote. Manrique’s steadfast dedication to mobility and sustainability makes his design one that continues to be relevant to the world – and brand – even 30 years later.

Jenny Holzer’s BMW V12 LMR

Arriving right before the turn of the millennium, the fifteenth Art Car had to be evocative. Dubbed “Protect Me From What I Want,” Jenny Holzer’s V12 LMR featured thought-provoking – and on-brand – phrases on simple white paint. Some of these could’ve been written by BMW’s PR department themselves, like “lack of charisma can be fatal” and “the unattainable is invariably attractive.” The Art Car raced in Petit Le Mans, finishing 5th place. Overall, the V12 LMR program had a moderately successful racing career, seeing 18 races and celebrating seven wins.

Jeff Koons’ BMW M3 GT2

It’s hard to believe, but this iconic Art Car is now over 15 years old. But Koons’ interest in designing an art car goes back even further, to an interview in 2003. Koons collected images of race cars, speed, and explosions when considering his Art Car design. “There is a lot of power under that hood and I want to let my ideas transcend with the car – it’s really to connect with that power,” he said. He even hopped into a car at Sebring to get a firsthand experience of the race car.

During the 2010 Le Mans race, the car wore the number 79 as a tribute to the Warhol M1 that raced in 1979. It completed 53 laps before being retired due to technical issues. Koons later tried his hand at the BMW 8 Series – dubbed “The 8 x Jeff Koons” – which featured a design influenced by his Art Car. It commanded an MSRP of $350,000.

Alexander Calder’s BMW 3.0 CSL

You can’t talk about Art Cars without mentioning the vehicle that started it all. In 1975, Alexander Calder – fresh off painting an airplane in 1973 – finished one of his grandest and final projects before his death in November 1976. While this Art Car did compete, it finished only seven hours of the 1975 Le Mans 24 Hours, retiring due to a damaged driveshaft.

Calder was friendly with the man who originally pitched the Art Car program, Herve Poulain. Poulain, in fact, raced this exact vehicle in Le Mans. As he did with his mobiles and sculptures, Calder used vivid colors and curvaceous shapes liberally. The results speak for themselves – even nearly five decades later.

What Are Your Favorite Art Cars?

While it’s hard to narrow down to just five, these are certainly some of the most important of the 19 (soon twenty) official Art Cars. We eagerly look forward to what Julie Mehretu cooks up for the BMW M Hybrid V8. Which ones are your favorite?