Raking the Embers [2] : Love Is Lost

In defence of the Siebener.

Image: Carpixel

Calendar pages numbering two hundred and forty months have turned since the E65 BMW 7 Series rocked the upper automotive echelons. With sober feelings toward most blue and white propellers, along with puzzlement as regards their food additive nomenclatures (they begin at 100 – curcumin), this fourth generation flagship has never been a common sight for this particular author. Engaging though, when seen. 

To these now more nuanced eyes, time’s hand has been gentle, keeping that deportment smooth with appropriate treatments liberally applied – difficult for granite-made objects. One cannot deny both the heft and gravitas of the machine: move over, coming through.

The Bavarian range topper cleaved opinions practically 50-50 on matters of importance to the average auto enthusiast. Love it, or as many see even today, lost it in the stakes of styling. Customers and commentators alike have lasting memories when the moniker Bangle or much over-used phrase ‘flame surfacing’ climbs the parapet. Is it not time to allay such misguided vehemence?

Agreed, the spilt decision over the E65’s looks will forever be a matter of opinion. But search a little deeper within your heart. Crack open the smallest hatch in your soul, and allow those aggressive feelings to dissipate. I’m not expecting you to love this car (I do not), only please appreciate what has been lost forever; clean, simple lines unadorned with ineffectual accoutrements that festoon today’s behemoths, not even of the same class. How the statesman-like saloon’s toes become more trodden upon by the unruly utility mob.

The tick boxes marked large, heavy and complicated are ingrained atramentous. Those with more understanding of engineering principles than this scribe becry the unreliability tropes. How childlike the iDrive doctrine; how derisive such youths of today would be towards that dial, those submenus. These fingers are yet to twiddle said dial. These eyes never gazed into instruments orange. As a thirty year stripling, such plutocratic objects were as distant as thoughts of retirement. Years pass, tastes and accents change, personally and objectively. 

There are moments of beauty. Those Angel Eyes remain esoteric. Today’s LEDs contain all the emotion of a laser beam. Cannot modern materials bring forth such joys from yesteryear? Another instance of love lost. Inside, once steered away from the sombrely divergent black lay a dashboard that whilst far from overt contains an impact nowadays bordering clean, functional. An early vision of the modern elements of a haptic nature. 

Now, to the Seven’s derrière; the most contentious issue? Tired of naysaying augury it wasn’t the best then and that remains – deal with it.

The E65 as a musical analogy has the air of an album from a superstar of old. A mature recording, if not grandiose as earlier outpourings, creativity levels remained high. Yet the album falls under the radar in general – one for the aficionado, perhaps. Those too young and unaccustomed to realise more accessible material exists from a previous life. 

A score of years is more than enough to maintain a grudge. Set the Siebener free – learn to love again.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

23 thoughts on “Raking the Embers [2] : Love Is Lost”

  1. The E65 is always worth another look, I would agree. And it also has an interesting place in design history (an example of the Great Man theory) which is something you can´t positively say about the successors. The other curiosity is the impact of the car which exceeds by some margin the degree to which it was ever seen in the metal. Much like the Aztek it has a life larger than its road footprint. All that said, I wish BMW had offered us an example of something more than how not to do it. And you could say that it´s a reverse case of the Escort-then-Focus reaction. BMW had a bad experience with the E65 and have never gone anywhere near the crazy markers since that period, not with the main stream cars. The i3 seems to be a cuckoo in the nest, a charming, modern and modernist design that evidently evaded all the filters that result in the mainstream BMW range being mostly a 21st century equivalent of Detroit´s Malaise-era stodge. BMW tried to be “heroes” just for one day, I suppose, trying to make the most of their small plot of land.

  2. Good morning Andrew. There’s no doubt that, viewed against the cacophony of visual noise that is commonplace in automotive design today, the E65 Siebener is positively and commendably mute.

    Regarding the details of the E65’s design, I’ll keep my powder dry until tomorrow, but one thought occurs to me: if Bangle’s signature ‘flame surfacing’ was defined as the interplay of convex and concave surfaces, then was the E65 really an expression of this style? Apart from the area surroundings the wheel arches (which is commonly concave), I cannot see any concave surfaces at all on the body.

    In contrast, the E60 has lots of concave surfaces; the lower bodysides, the area immediately below the DLO, the tail of the car:

    Just a thought…

    1. Daniel, I don’t think that Bangle meant for ‘Flame Surfacing’ to be thought of as the general term for the generation of designs which are now attributed to him at BMW (actually, the E46 was, I believe, the first design for which he took any credit). ‘His’ 7 never looked that way to me.

    2. If I’m not wrong, the “flame surfacing” isn’t really a feature of the E60/63/65 – the X Coupé concept and the E85 are supposed to be the first expressions of it. On the E60, the surfaces and sharp, slim creases are very linear instead of having a flame-like movement like on the X Coupé, MK1 and MK2 Z4, GINA and the upper sill line of the first 1-Series, though the very watered-down version of flame surfacing that appeared on later models isn’t dissimilar to the design language of the E60, or the front end of the Z9 and E63.

  3. I recall reading that Chris Bangle made what was either a throw away comment, or a throw-out challenge to motoring journalists at launch that the design brief for the 7 had such demands regarding interior packaging, engineering and legislation that he could see no other solution for the way the 7 looked than what he and his team had produced in the E65. The challenge was along the lines of, if you can see a better way of solving for them all, then please have a go.

    I can’t see how those design ‘hard points’ explain the wilfulness of some of the details and body-forms that are so controversial in the E65, but, for the general volumes, profile and forms of the car, I am sure he had a point.

    1. I’m pretty sure that there are no regislatory requirements for headlamps with eye bags or for boot lids that sit on top of the car rather than in it.

    2. Agreed: the package might have been a given but the bootlid concept wasn´t and nor were the fussy headlamps. And generally the character of the car lies in the way the last 2 cm of the evelope was treated which means plenty of room for alternative ways to style the car.

    3. Do you know something about tomorrow’s article, Daniel? 😉

  4. I am reminded of my favourite automotive headline, for an article in Britains’ oldest motoring weekly – “The Cars Bangle Spannered”

    1. That’s almost in the league of the Sun’s “Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious”.

  5. I read this series of articles on the BMW E65 with particular interest, as it brings back many memories of my time as a young professional and junior consultant at a renowned Swiss brand agency. BMW was one of our big clients at the time, for whom we were allowed to manage the entire brand management. From time to time we were also called in as trouble shooters when they wanted to use communicative strategies to prevent projects from getting completely out of hand.

    The BMW E65 became an issue for us about a year before the launch. The exterior design had long since been approved, but with a view to the launch it caused increasing uncertainty among the top management team.

    I still remember the meeting in the BMW design studio when we first saw the car. It was preceded by an extremely lengthy talk by Chris Bangle, in which he pulled out all the stops of his quite impressive rhetorical skills in order to somehow create a positive basic understanding of what was waiting to be unveiled next to him on a turntable under a cloth. But the whole arc of tension collapsed the second the sheet was removed from the vehicle. Incredulous horror probably best characterises the mood.

    For the next 12 months, this vehicle and its launch made up a large part of my day-to-day business. 12 months in which I was able to learn a great deal about the vehicle and its creation. Much of this is well known and does not need to be repeated here.

    One aspect, however, was an almost perfectly guarded secret in the company itself, which until today had hardly leaked out. In the course of our work, I gradually learned that there was originally a completely different design whose mastermind was Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle himself. There was always talk of the “Reitzle Fahrzeug”, which was only spoken about – if at all – behind closed doors.

    Now we all know that Dr. Reitzle (regrettably) left the company at the beginning of 1999 or was virtually forced to hand in his resignation in an almost dilettantishly arranged boardroom ranch.

    Up to this point, there are said to have been two camps in the company: Those who supported the “Reitzle Fahrzeug” and those who insisted on the design that gave rise to the BMW E65. After Dr. Reitzle’s departure, legend has it that his version of the BMW 7 Series came under political fire from the former opposition. Design models were reportedly put under lock and key and/or destroyed.

    1. Good evening, Mark. I’ve heard this story from someone within the BMW organization a couple of years ago. I would have loved to have a look at the ‘Reitzle Fahrzeug’.

    2. Mark N: Thanks for your illuminating recollections. The intrigue surrounding the E65’s design backstory is one we will return to in the final of this series of articles.

      Readers may observe a few areas of overlap between the four pieces this week. The reason for this is that the various authors each wrote their offerings without reference to the others. If you feel that the E65’s exterior design receives more than its fair share of coverage, I think there may be good reason – for this car more than most.

    1. Does this count for or against the E65?
      Looking at the results of this particular designer I know which way I’d count it and it does the E65 no favour (deservedly so).

  6. I always wanted to like the E65. There is something intriguing, radical and bold that speaks to me, somehow. But then I come across one, and … no.

    While I could live with that butt („That‘s what shee said!“), I cannot get over the tragedy that is the face („Shady!“), which only got worse with the facelift. But what really puts me off is the arc in the roofline/DLO, which I find strangely incoherent with the linearity of the rest. It just doesn’t work for me.

    However, I find it logic for BMW to have applied the new direction to the flagship first: unlike Renault betting the house on the radical Megane II (which I hold for one of the best designs of the last 30 years), they took a low volume halo model to start with. The 7er was and is „special interest“ and never was a line for conquest sales. As witnessed various times in my vicinity, BMW-people will always BMW anyway, no matter how horrid the thing is inside or out. And everybody else would rather not buy a 7 Series BMW in the first place and go for the good Star on all roads right away.

    1. As with the Lancia Thesis, it’s a shock when I first see it and I have to work to become acclimatised to it (and then sometimes quite like it). Then, if I don’t see it for a while, I have to go through the whole process again. I don’t think that’s a sign of good design.

      It’s not like other ‘challenging’ designs, like the original Citroën Ami, for instance. I don’t have the same problem with that car, although I certainly wouldn’t call the Ami beautiful in a traditional sense. I wonder if it’s something to do with ratios and proportions.

  7. “The E65 as a musical analogy has the air of an album from a superstar of old. A mature recording, if not grandiose as earlier outpourings, creativity levels remained high. Yet the album falls under the radar in general – one for the aficionado, perhaps. Those too young and unaccustomed to realise more accessible material exists from a previous life.”

    it reminds me of Elvis Costello’s “When I was cruel” – released in, wait, 2002.

    but while I really like this Costello album, I can’t say the same about the E65 – although I fully agree with “appreciating what has been lost forever”.

    1. Eduardo: Around 2001, I can’t quite recall the exact year, but it was prior to the release, I saw Mr. Mc Manus perform a couple of tracks from the ‘When I was Cruel’ LP at London’s Royal Festival Hall. He was sharing a bill with a number of other fellow-Meltdown curators, and didn’t have a band with him. In fact, it was just him, a selection of guitars, a drum machine and some tape loops. I previously had Elvis down as a bit of a smartarse (a talented one, but nonetheless), but that night he was mesmerising.

    2. Eóin, what a night it must have been! I saw him in Brazil in 2005 but his set, was basically a best-of one, since he was playing in the country for the first time, and backed by the Imposters. Even so, it was mesmerising, too.

      If you saw him with a drum machine and tape loops and he played some songs from “When I was cruel”, chances are great that you saw him playing the title track – which samples one of my favourite songs ever:

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