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It’s been 40 years since BMW commissioned its first art car. The world’s most famous artists from Andy Warhol to Roy Lichtenstein were called on to create these rolling canvases, of which 17 still exist today. Many weren’t just pretty rides either — some participated in prestigious races, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And several have been on display at the world’s top museums (Warhol’s and Lichtenstein’s creations even temporarily showed at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery in 2007). Here, some of our favourite examples of art meeting machine.
BMW M1 1979
It is said that the eccentric artist took less than half an hour to paint what is perhaps one of the most famous art cars all by himself. Unexpectedly, some automotive purists slammed his creation at the time, believing that the paint job masked the M1’s lithe contours. But Warhol silenced his critics when he said: “I love the car; it’s better than the work of art itself.” We disagree.
BMW 3.0 CSL 1976
CSL: Coupé, sports, lightweight – the combination of three words that make us light-headed. This car was to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race (where it averaged 300kph) right after the American artist had finished it. He kept the car black and white, he says, because he knew it would be the cynosure of all eyes on Day 1 (especially among the press) – and those were the colours that printed the sharpest on the pages of the dailies.
BMW M3 GT2 2010
BMW’s most recent art car isn’t painted but rather wrapped in vinyl, for a few reasons: artist Jeff Koons had only two months to create it, before it was slated to race at Le Mans, and a wrap would be lighter, letting the car go a little faster. The explosion of colour represents the power that comes from flooring the M3 GT2.
BMW 850CSi 1995
British artist David Hockney was reportedly born with chromesthesia – a form of synesthesia in which he can see specific colours in response to sound. With that motorsport-tuned V12 under this car’s hood, we reckon all he needed to do for inspiration was fire up the engine and pick up his paint brush.
BMW Z1 1991
A. R. Penck
The Z1 convertible will be best remembered for its fantastic doors: At the push of a button, they would retract vertically into the body – a first for the car industry. German artist Penck was commissioned to immortalize the convertible as an art car when BMW decided to phase it out after just two years of production, and juxtaposed that ultra-modern engineering with prehistoric cave-like imagery.
BMW 320i Group 5 Racing Version 1977
One of the world’s most famous pop artists, Lichtenstein (he of the Whaam! comic book fame) regarded the car as a sentient piece of metal, depicting sights the ride might experience out in the world. Hence, the stylized imagery of the road, the sky and the sun on its body. How much would this full-sized art car be worth today? Consider this: a 50”x40” Lichtenstein canvas sold for .1 million two years ago.
BMW 3 Series Racing Prototype 1992
The Italian painter wanted his art car to reflect the curious fascination gorgeous rides, especially thoroughbreds like the 3 Series, are often subject to. Which is why he painted dozens of faces staring intensely and wide-eyed across every bit of the car’s body.
BMW 635 CSi 1986
Rauschenberg’s idea was to create a museum on wheels. To this end, he used photographic material of two famous paintings – Ingres’ “La Grand Odalisque,” and Bronzino’s “Portrait Of A Young Man” – on either side of the car. He also created original art on the bonnet and hubcaps.
BMW V12 LMR 1999
Holzer’s art car isn’t a psychedelic riot of colour. It’s instead a cocaine white racing machine painted with pearls of unpunctuated truisms including “The unattainable is invariably attractive”, “Protect me from what I want” and “Lack of Charisma can be fatal”. Our favourite? The one that probably alluded to this car’s win at Le Mans: “You are so complex you don’t respond to danger”.
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