From 1972 to 1981 BMW sold the E12, part of its small range of sport saloons. We think of them as quintessentially German. Are they?
When I saw this recently I couldn’t help noticing the almost subliminal Italian feel along with a certain French lightness. How would that be explained? If you look into the car’s design history you discover the 1970 Bertone 2200i Garmisch:-
Bertone presented the Garmisch at the 1970 Geneva motor show and it used the mechanicals of the 2200 Ti. The rectangular lamps, oddly placed vent and honeycomb rear screen didn’t get anywhere. The character of the profile and the exaggerated shark nose did though BMW designer Paul Bracq adjusted them for a larger package and some realism. Perhaps Pininfarina were also inspired by the profile for the 1975 Peugeot 604? I tend not to think so but some contemporary writers did.
The subtle angle of the Bertone car’s waist was reduced to horizontal to give the BMW a more neutral attitude. The production car has a clam-shell bonnet.
At the front, BMW’s dual lamps were placed on a black plastic louvred panel, one of my favourite design details; the “grille” is really a large badge or symbol. When Lancia used their shield grille on the Gamma it was much the same concept.
The vent on the Garmisch looked too unusual for Bracq so the vent is at the base of the C-pillar on the E12.
Notably, it’s not being used to hide a weld. The crease leads from the base of the windscreen under the vent and turns up to meet the base of the c-pillar. Note how strongly the Hofmeister kink is expressed.
It’s compared to that kind of boot profile that Mercedes’ W-201 looked so unsettling.
It doesn’t look it today. Our design norms are fluid.
The chrome frame of the E12 is interesting in that today BMW still place the lower bar over the rising bar, a shingle, and don’t have one piece or two flush-fitting pieces.
The chrome trim is very well finished and evidently very labour intensive.
Overall the car has a rich set of influences, French and Italian but with German characteristics tying it all together. And it then became an exemplar of German design. In truth, a Saab 99 and XJ-6 are more Swedish and British respectively than the 525 is German – though that’s definitely not a criticism. All three cars are multi-layered objects of very considerable interest, palimpsests in metal.
The car is markedly different from the W-123 Mercedes and its predecessor; it is unlike the Jaguar XJ-6 too (inside and out). Alfa weren’t really fielding a comparable car and the Six of 1979 clearly drew its inspiration from the 1972 BMW. Oh, the shame. By 1982 BMW renewed the E12 for another decade (E28) and secured their place as a maker of serious and well-assembled sport saloons.