Here we go again. Another week, another dispiriting announcement from the Vierzylinder. The new 8-Series however represents a new low.
At least it isn’t an SAV: It’s doubtful BMW’s all-powerful marketers will employ this line in their advertising for the new 8-Series, yet it just might be the sales pitch it deserves.
A curious car to consider in terms of BMW’s stylistic nadir, you might argue, after all what could be bad about a suave, low-slung GT? However, it does not require much study to realise the full extent of BMW’s current styling malaise which is embodied here. Because quite frankly, if this is the best Adrian van Hooydonk’s design team can muster, the crisis at the Vierzylinder is indeed far worse than feared.
While it’s tempting to dismiss meditations upon design as frippery, mere window dressing, it is in fact a powerful metaphor as to the confidence and competence of a motor business. For many years, BMW has been a carmaker who understood its brand and the semiotics of design better than just about anyone, which makes their latter-day retreat into banality even more mystifying.
What the new 8-Series illustrates in the most eloquent fashion is that in today’s motor industry, heritage is for the birds. Furthermore, it underlines that within Harald Krüger’s boardroom, the plot has conclusively been lost. Fundamentally, not only are the car’s forms at odds with one another, they are a repudiation of over sixty years of BMW design history.
At this point it might be germane to examine the nature of that heritage, such as it was. What we can say with some conviction is that without the Italian carrozzieri, BMW design would have not have evolved in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Two names did most of the heavy lifting to cement the BMW visual identity, Giovanni Micholetti and Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Michelotti’s 700-series of 1959 established the familiar angular and upright glasshouse, something which he developed further as consultant to Wilhem Hofmiester for the 1962 Neue Klass series and its descendants. However, it was a neophyte Giugiaro at Bertone who perhaps did even more to codify the BMW aesthetic with the 3200 CS coupé of 1960, a car which also debuted the now definitive Hofmiester knick.
Later, BMW employed the services of Gandini and Zagato’s Ercole Spada. Each brought something fresh, embellishing and enhancing without adulterating the formula – Spada’s work being particularly distinguished. More recently, Pininfarina under Fabio Fillipini offered a plausible and elegant route out the stylistic impasse in which they found themselves in their post-Bangle confusion. One to their eternal discredit, they chose to dismiss.
A huge undistinguished lump of a car, the latest Achter sits rather uneasily, like a wobbly blancmange, dwarfing its massive wheels. Not only is it huge, it looks huge. It’s bad enough that it’s fulsomely adorned with all the visual noise – slashes, scoops and creases that stand in for actual design nowadays, but something far more profound has occurred. The 8-er also débuts the wholesale abandonment of BMW’s lineal form language.
Search as you might for any hint of BMW design identity, and jewellery apart, you will do so in vain. From the unresolved DLO, with the barest squeak of Hofmeister, the weak stance, the flaccid proportions, to the unfortunate and curiously undefined rear haunch – instead of the tension and athleticism it was clearly intended to evoke, it simply appears limp. Make no mistake, even as a homage to Mustang, this is one poorly executed design.
Global Product Manager for BMW, Sarah Lessmann told journalists at the car’s reveal last week the following. “The most important information is this: we have a sports car set-up.” It really does appear nowadays that the mere act of saying a thing makes it so.
From this we can reliably ascertain that it will feature the requisite flatulent popping noises the market now demands from anything with Nordschlife pretensions. Now that it’s impossible to actually drive quickly, what matters is that one sounds as though one is, at all times. After all, is anybody interested anymore in what’s underneath?
More depressing is the possibility the Achter could well be Munich’s last GT of this ilk, given the direction the industry is headed and how luxury manufacturers like BMW are working full-pelt to recalibrate exactly what constitutes a sporting vehicle. The grim likelihood is that its replacement will be some form of raised height fastback, all the better to sell to the preening narcissists who increasingly make up the market for these vehicles.
In order to jettison one’s heritage, one must first discredit it. Having cast its hard-won reputation on the pyre – especially in light of senior management’s retreat over BMW i – the Bavarians now it seems are turning fire on the visuals.
BMW are playing a dangerous game here. Their brand is strong, their image hitherto unassailable. In the right hands they are well placed to transition into the coming post-combustion landscape, but one cannot help feeling, perhaps for the first time, that in BMW’s current masters they are no longer in the right hands.
©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.