Lago Como, Italy
We’re here at the annual Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza, where we look out over Lake Como as spring comes to Italy. Some of the most beautiful cars in the world are being displayed here before us, and some of them are actually new instead of old.
For example, let’s name her the BMW 860i. The beauty in bronze metallic bodywork on the black-over-chrome stiletto-style wheels is a genuine what-if concept car, a vision of the future rather than a simple design exercise.
As in, what if BMW decided to take on the upcoming Mercedes S-class coupe and the still-to-be-revealed Audi A9? What if the BMW marketing department resurrected the fondly remembered BMW 8-series coupe, perhaps in combination with a full-size four-door sedan with a coupe-style roofline? What if the Bavarian product planners went ahead with a new halo car that would be a belated successor to the all–aluminum BMW Z8 sports car? What if BMW built a large and luxurious 2+2-seater again, a flagship reminiscent of the BMW 503 and the BMW 3200CS by Bertone?
What if the BMW board of directors funded a limited-edition series of this Pininfarina-designed concept car called the BMW Gran Lusso?
BMW Designers Dream of the Future“For us, this would be a dream come true," says a beaming Karim Habib, the man in charge of the BMW brand design. "But right now, this dream is still only exactly that. The next step towards reality is to gauge the response at the launch during the Concorso d´Eleganza."
The story of project BMW Gran Lusso began here at Lake Como one year ago when a couple of Pininfarina designers approached their BMW colleagues. Was there any possibility of a Pininfarina design that might be shown here alongside BMW’s customary Zagato-designed styling exercise? Only three months later, a small team had been founded, the timing established and a budget approved.
“The liaison manager between Munich and Turin has been Joji Nagashima," explains Karim Habib. A long-time BMW designer, Nagashima traveled to Italy at least once a week to coordinate the gestation process. Early on, Pininfarina submitted two different proposals. One was quite subdued and subtle, while the other one was much more expressive and extroverted. “We opted for the more elegant and more pragmatic version," Habib says.
A Coupe with the Bones of a BMW 7-SeriesNot surprisingly, the Gran Lusso concept car’s dimensions are closely related to the BMW 7-series sedan. It measures 197.4 inches in overall length, 76.5 inches in width and 55.4 inches in height, and it rests on a wheelbase of 119.2 inches. What these numbers don’t reveal are the relaxed proportions, the sharply horizontal wraparound waterline, the beautifully sculptured roof, the shrunken windows of the cabin and the full-length skylight.
“The Gran Lusso is not just a larger edition of the BMW 6-series coupe,” says Habib, a Canadian who worked many years for BMW before briefly defecting to Mercedes-Benz in 2009 only to quickly return again to Munich in 2011. “Instead, the collaboration with Pininfarina has yielded a more progressive form language. While Zagato is known for its minimalist, almost mechanical design, Pininfarina's approach is simple and pure as well as sensuous. The result is a unique mix of German precision and Italian emotion.
“It is our declared aim to fuse style and craftsmanship at the highest level - which was the main forte of La Carozzeria Italiana, the way we used to know and love Italian design during its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Remaking the Future of BMWWhat does it take for the BMW Gran Lusso to evolve into a production-ready BMW 860i?
For a start, BMW would have to make certain strategic changes to its model range. No, not only at the bottom end of the market where the Mini and the forthcoming new BMW 1-series will celebrate the virtues of front-wheel drive. There is also need for action in the upper echelon, where profit margins are healthy and the brand image is forged.
Back in the old days, BMW’s high-end models were always potent sports-luxury coupes such as the BMW 3.0 CSi, BMW M635 CSi and BMW 850i. More recently, the BMW 7-series sedan has been the cream of the crop, but we think there is plenty of room for a more exciting BMW 8-series above this. (Below it, the overweight and excessively big BMW 6-series needs to be reinvented, presto.)
“It’s high time for BMW to create a new icon," a BMW board member tells us (though he declines to be identified). “By icon, I mean a car which complements the new BMW i8 without cannibalizing or counteracting it. A spacious and gracious coupe – which could in a second step be turned into a convertible – may be exactly what we need.”
A Plan for the Future?At this point, there exist plenty of different scenarios for the future, but there is no viable business plan. It is clear that a BMW 8-series would be derived from the next–generation 7-series, which will be lighter for improved efficiency and agility thanks to the use of carbon-fiber bodywork. The still provisional timing for the new BMW 8-series suggests a start of production in early 2017.
Unlike the 7-series sedan, the two-door 8-series would be built in modest volumes. Think 5000 examples over its life-cycle, a total that represents less than the volume to which the BMW Z1 and BMW Z8 were built. The asking price will be in the area of $250,000, sources say. This depends to a large extent on the type of engine used. The three options currently under discussion are a tweaked twin-turbo V-8, a high-performance V-12, and a plug-in hybrid with a V-12.
“It’s been a long-standing BMW tradition to build our most exclusive models in small numbers," notes Karim Habib. “Low-volume production could in fact become a pattern for the future, especially with a strong partner like Pininfarina, one of the biggest names in European coachbuilding.”
Habib continues, “In a way, production is the wrong word. Manufacturing and craftsmanship are better terms. After all, we’re talking high-end luxury goods here, items which are rare, beautifully put together and only available in limited quantities. All this applies to the Gran Lusso, which is really different inside and out from all our more mainstream offerings.”
In the Presence of BeautyThe BMW Gran Lusso has more presence than past BMW coupes thanks to the comeback of the classic shark-nose front end. The Pininfarina design also has street cred, as you can see in the full-width front air intake and the matching full-width taillights. Sportiness is further conveyed by the 21-inch wheels, which carry 245/35R-21 tires in front and 275/30R-21 tires in the back.
There are the usual BMW styling cues as well, like the Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar and the way the rear quarter panels sweep upward. There is more space behind the front seats than past coupes thanks to the generous dimensions of the wheelbase, and access to the rear is also good thanks to the long doors. At the same time, a tautly drawn roofline compromises rear-seat headroom as always, while the trunk seems too small and the vented taillights are only a gimmick.
The only reason why the Gran Lusso features a familiar cockpit design is the pending arrival of the redesigned 7-series, which must remain a secret for almost three more years. If you’re looking for signatures of the future in this car’s interior, note the innovative materials like the submerged tropical wood prepared by Riva 1920, the blend of both shiny and patina-style leather provided by Foglizzo and the upgraded sound system engineered by Bang & Olufson. In addition to the usual LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights, we also find LED interior dome lights on either side of the glass skylight.
There is no doubt that this Pininfarina-designed BMW Gran Lusso is not just a styling exercise. In principle, this car is for real. If it gets the thumbs up from the usual opinion leaders, we think BMW will have to respond with some kind of production-ready version based closely on the next-generation 7-series sedan. With this car that we envision as the BMW 860i, the BMW brand would take a small but essential step towards a complete portfolio of premium products. And in this way, there would be at last an effective bridge between Munich and Goodwood, where BMW-owned Rolls-Royce carries you ever upward.