Eternal Flame Surfacing

Chris Bangle – the case for the defence.

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A youngling designer, Photo (c) pakwheels.com

Close your eyes and imagine a car designer who actually has something to say. Who doesn’t just repeat the marketing fluff as dictated by his employer’s PR people. Who understands that there’s a world beyond the automotive, and, simultaneously, a world the car, inadvertently or not, helps to shape. The man this is referring to is none other than one Christopher Edward Bangle.

Anyone who’s ever wondered how Mr B got the likes of Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wolfgang Reitzle to give their blessing to the notorious E65 Seven better take a look at this recent video of the man explaining his views at a motorshow:

Here´s one he did earlier: wikipedia.org

Disregarding one’s view of his body of work and some of his aesthetic choices, what is striking is not just Bangle’s energetic eloquence, but the sheer abundance of concerns he’s addressing. Whether one agrees with him or not – listening to Bangle is certainly not a waste of time, and in sharp contrast to all the gibberish car stylists unleash onto those who’ll listen (or pretend to) in this day and age. If anyone knows of a car designer currently working in the industry with a similar intellectual scope, please drop a line. We need to interview him (or her?).

17 thoughts on “Eternal Flame Surfacing”

  1. Interesting article. The video link does not work though.

    I for one would like to know a bit more about Bangle. It would make a very interesting long form article, especially given his traversal of what was a very different and conservative organisation.

  2. He certainly is an interesting character who knows his own mind and was very comfortable taking brave decisions. The link didn’t work for me either but I’ve seen two interviews with him and his ted talk, all three of which made you want more and drew you in. His passion was also very much there to see. He actually made me forget how much I disliked his cars whilst he spoke. Obviously I remembered as soon as he stopped talking . P.s. great title for the post.

  3. I’m part of the admirer camp. Bangle may even responsible for awakening my interest in car design. The 1st generation 1 series is still one of the most resolved compact car designs in history. Sleek, lean, no gram of fat, and the lines add up nicely.
    It’s pretty much the same story with most of his cars. The E90 3 series, for example, is one of those rare cases where you can see a designer having been thinking three-dimensionally already in the process of skeching, where what’s usually called “surfacing” is in actuality a three-dimensional process in itself and not just the last layer imposed on a pre-existing sculpture.

  4. http://youtu.be/Hs16qhyWqgI Is the video link (the one used in fhe article is a link for embedding the video on the page which doesn’t seem to play nicely with WordPress). If my posted link doesn’t work the video is on the Form Trends youtube channel and is titled ‘Chris Bangle on the Auto Design Industry’

    1. PS: enjoyed the article, Kris, I think Chris Bangle is a very engaging public speaker but I don’t especially like any of the cars that were created under his name at Fiat or BMW. It was interesting in the video (spoiler alert if you’d prefer to watch it yourself first) to see him eagerly talking about progress but his examples were more about confounding expectations, visual trickery and bold graphics. When faced with less visually-conflicted or provocative designs like the Maserati Alfieri and Ingenlath-era Volvos the praise grew faint or he quickly moved on.

    2. I’m in two minds regarding Bangle’s body of work. On the one hand, I detest some of the cars he’s been responsible for (mainly the X6, actually) and find others dull as well as unattractive (first-generation X3). And yes, he’s always been more about creativity than beauty, which is why he’d never have been able to come up with something like the Aston DB9. But he was excellent at inspiring his team and letting them run with their ideas – for better or, sometimes, worse.

      I’ve often judged people in the design business by their dressing senses, and Bangle’s is unquestionably terrible. He’s someone whose jacket can be as far removed from Neapolitan elegance as possible, but it would have some aluminium woven into the fabric or some other reason for attracting Bangle’s attention – possibly. What is obvious is that Bangle doesn’t adhere to what is generally defined as ‘good taste’, which is a worthwhile stance as long as one is standing by it.

      One thing is certain to me, beyond any interpretation or analysis: I’d have loved to have had Bangle as my boss. Despite my own predilections apparently being quite contrarian to his own, I’m convinced that he’d established a working environment that would get the best out of most employees. The careers of Bangle’s alumni appears to confirm this impression, as does the fact that he didn’t force each and every designer to unnecessarily pursue the wildest of ideas at all times. Allowing Ian Cameron, Marek Djordjevic et al to design the Rolls-Royce Phantom in a style drastically different from the parent company’s is all the proof one could want for that.

  5. In hindsight some of Bangle’s cars worked quite well. The Coupe Fiat is still fresh as is his 5, the Z3 and 120i. The 7 didn’t work: not refined enough, especially the lamps and boot.
    He is an expressive chap, I agree. Evidently he doesn’t like claccisism which is sometimes the right approach to take. I try judge designs on their own terms as every car is a result of specific conditions. He would prefer boldness for every model which is as mistaken as insisting every car be as serious as that benchmark of control, the W126 or late 90s Audi.

    1. Agreed, Richard. We can also blame Bangle for all those epigones who imitated the style, but added nothing of creative substance to it. Bangle’s certainly made car design more irritating in the process.

      But for every X3, there was at least an E63 Six series – a car that baffles me to this day by combining the sublime (the bonnet’s gaps running into the headlights, the sheer audacity of that boot) with the silly (the bloated stance, the extreme wheel sensitivity). BMW under Bangle used to be extremely unpredictable, which isn’t something I could say about any manufacturer at the moment.

  6. Hi, that’s the updated 7-Series, the original was even more – well – original. I’m a big fan of his, overall. I don’t think any of his designs were perfect, but I feel he moved car design forward and openly discussed the challenges presented to designers by demands of the time.

    1. That’s right, and it’s also the last Seven with any allure, I’d claim.

      The one area Bangle never got quite right was interiors, I believe – or at least BMW interiors. The E65’s was awful and the E60’s even more so. iDrive obviously set the precedent for modern car ergonomics, but in terms of perceived quality and ambience, Bangle seemed to be even farther removed from his clientele’s tastes than with regards to the exteriors. van Hooydonk seems to be making a better fist of it, even if his cars on the whole lack the inspiration of Bangle’s milestone designs.

    2. SV and I continue our attempts to champion Bangle’s E65, not an elegant car, but a car with presence.

      The way Bangle has polarised opinions baffles me. His designs aren’t perfect, but who’s are? All he did was fiddle with a few rather dull looking Bavarian saloon cars, and he was suddenly the antichrist of car design. Generally, I’d have said that all he did was what other designers ought to do – try a bit harder. But, unfortunately, when the rest actually did try harder, the results were often incoherent, in a way Bangle’s work generally wasn’t.

      I’ve fixed the link by the way.

    3. In hindight Bangle´s achievements are less profound than they seemed at the time. It didn´t help that Bangle was tasked to shake up the design of a firm who were doing perfeclty alright. They sold stacks of cars and generally the preBangle cars were well received. Where was the harm in that? There are other people who might usefully have hired Bangle instead of BMW. Nissa, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Peugeot? Someone in America like Lincoln or Cadillac? As it stood, the three German firms were doing very well so in a way Bangle´s talent and mission were misapplied.

    4. Yes, BMW were doing alright, but you wonder whether their design language would have ended up in a Ford era Jaguar dead-end of ‘heritage values’? What would the BMW (and Mercedes) of today have looked like sans Bangle? Although his cars don’t really interest me that much (much as I felt about the appearance of pre-Bangle BMWs), van Hooydonk does seem to be managing the balance better.

    5. BMW were being under heavy fire, courtesy of the German press, for their ‘salami slices with varying thickness’ styling by the mid-90s. As a side effect, the average age of BMW owners had reached disconcertingly high figures. All of this must have played a role when management decided to give Bangle the leeway he asked for.

    6. That’s an important point, Kris!
      And it hasn’t done them any harm, has it?

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