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By Design: BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage Concept

By Design

Before Albrecht Goertz drew the brilliant 1956 BMW 507 roadster, no BMW held any aesthetic charm for me. The 328 roadsters of the late '30s were mechanically interesting, but they were also stubby and dumpy. The big 501 sedan of 1952 (the first car sold by BMW after World War II) contributed its hardware to the 507, but it was a frumpy machine with little charm apart from the 502 variant being the first postwar car from Germany to get a V-8. BMW was on its way out of business in the '50s (due in part to the expense of building the 507) until Herr Herbert Quandt bought control in 1959 and brought in foreign stylists, initially Giovanni Michelotti, who shaped the 1960 Corvair-inspired New Class compact sedans that saved the company.

At the beginning of the '70s, Frenchman Paul Bracq created the initial look that ultimately led to the shapes of the 3, 5, 6, and 7 Series. Bracq was always frustrated by the aero drag from the "motorboat" front ends that BMW management insisted on preserving from Michelotti's design for the New Class. Good as they were, Bracq's cars were the epitome of the "one sausage, many lengths" school, and this design approach was stifling BMW before Chris Bangle took charge in 1992. The truth is that Bangle's cars handsomely outsold their predecessors, however much the press and even some BMW execs might have complained about their radical appearance.

These days there are three touchstones for BMW style: the "double-kidney" grille (first seen in the early '30s and then transformed in the '50s by Goertz into its present horizontal format); the rear quarter-window "kink" (an element created post-Michelotti by Wilhelm Hofmeister); and complex sheetmetal surfaces (created by Chris Bangle, although the so-called Bangle Butt of the 2002 7 Series was actually imagined by Adrian van Hooydonk for the 1999 BMW Z9 concept car). Hofmeister's identity mark and the twin grilles will endure in perpetuity, and I suspect the extraordinarily imaginative skin shaping first exemplified in Bangle's "flame surfacing" will also persist as long as BMW does.

It's all present on the BMW CSL Hommage concept, along with a mild dose of nostalgia that just manages to avoid the taint of being excess­ively retro. Recapitulating the paint stripe of the 1972 CSL on a hidden surface is both visually striking and amusing. The aero-strake overlays on top of the fenders, so cleverly integrated into the overall body form, emphasize that this new CSL is an organic composition, while the '70s CSL coupes were an agglomeration of scoops and wings brutally tacked on to the body.

I've enjoyed BMW's several "hommage" cars. (J Mays, former Ford designer, called this approach retrofuturism.) They have provided a way for successive BMW designers to integrate the entirety of the firm's past production into a coherent stylistic whole, and this CSL Hommage concept even includes the trucklike grille from BMW SUVs. Not all BMWs are great-looking, but the totality of what has been produced is definitely well on the positive side of the ledger.

1. Slim little slots for admitting cool air are not as dramatic as the rectangular boxes stuck on the sides of the '70s CSLs, but they're certainly far more elegant.

2. This slat across the back of the roof that diverts the aerodynamic boundary layer might be a near-perfect crib of the original CSL, but it was cool then and it's still cool today.

3. Another cool touch is the centrally mounted, racing-style single wiper blade, always available for action.

4. Aero strakes recall those on the CSL of yore. And who knows? They might actually have some useful aerodynamic properties.

5. To me, this too big, too coarse, and SUV-like grille is the least attractive element of the CSL Hommage.

6. The eyebrow slots separating the fender overlay from the underlying body suggest that the tires and engine compartment might be exposed under the added skin.

7. A nice evocation of the truncated round headlamps from a decade or so back, with LED running lights added artfully.

8. Presumably these un-grilled diagonal slots are for brake cooling. They look effective, anyway.

9. Six inverse louvers look like a detail from the '30s, their function obscure in this context.

10. Textured inlet slots under the paint break plus the round grilles outboard imply enormous internal airflow requirements.

11. Two simple, round exhaust stubs from the old CSL have been subsumed into an elaborately styled finishing piece that's more Cadillac than race car. But this is a GT, right?

12. These wheels seem a bit too froufrou for a serious performance car, but they show the huge brake discs nicely.

13. No question, this is pre-nostalgia but very nicely executed and properly evocative.

14. I love the trick of painting this traditional stripe on the underlying body then covering it with appended but nicely integrated fender skins.

15. Making the leading edge of the rear fender into a point derived from the slim slots that separate the fender from the body is quite elegant, especially in pure side view.

16. A much-admired quarter-window profile. It looks absolutely right only on a BMW, though. (Designers of Asian cars, please note.)

17. Incorporating the fins and wing into beautifully modeled surfaces respects modern sensibilities as well as the spirit of racing-style modifications of the '70s.

18. The black bumper is no doubt a regulatory requirement, but it also punctuates the sharp surface change nicely while framing the CHMSL.

19. The fluid forms of rear lamps that surround an air channel through the body must have been really fun to draw and then to model. They must have been hard to make, though.

20. Differential cooling? Appropriate for a racing car. There are far fewer square inches of outlet area on the back of the car than for the inlet area at the front.

21. This hard line describes the entire perimeter of the rear face, with a slightly less hard parallel line running just inboard. Altogether it looks like it would be a sensual pleasure to wash this car, with its many softly rounded surfaces.

22. Why this outlet is present is not obvious. Styling, engineering, or both?

23. Airplane- and F1-style steering yokes surely must come to street cars, but will they arrive before all steering becomes autonomous?

24. More Hommage homage, this time to a swath of wood, as in the '70s models.

25. The seats are magnificent in contour, trim, and comfort. If you're exactly the right size, that is.

26. It's nice to see five-point racing belts, although they'd be a real pain in a road car.