Every year in Fulda, Germany, leading European firms in the emergency service and response industry convene for RETTmobil. The trade fair, which encompassed 530 exhibitors from over twenty countries this year, lasted three days, and was expected to draw more than 28,000 attendees through over 750,000 square feet of hall space. Those familiar with the European automotive industry will be acquainted with RETTmobile for another reason though, and that is because the trade show is where BMW and others get to show off their latest emergency and service vehicles.
BMW has a long history with building emergency response vehicles, a tradition which dates back more than 65 years according to the automaker. This year was no different, with BMW unveiling six new special-purpose vehicles for fire services, paramedics, and police. The selection, all-new for 2019, includes an X3 and 2 Series Gran Tourer for rapid medical response, along with an X1 which can act as a fire command post. There’s also an F 750 GS motorcycle for fire response, along with an i8 dedicated to a German safety campaign. The most interesting one of the lot is easily a repurposed 3 Series though, which fills the roll of an unmarked response vehicle.
Looking beyond vibrant and eye-catching Melbourne Red metallic—the launch color of the M235i back in 2014—the stealth 3 Series special service vehicle is equipped with hidden front flashers integrated within the kidney grille, while a third magnetic flasher can be fixed to the roof. Based on the new G20, the specific model used for the stealth 3 Series is a 320d xDrive, so you know you’ll never see one on U.S. roads.
With the magnetic mars light stowed inside and the front independent flashers turned off, the stealth version of the 3 Series looks as unassuming as any other new G20. Sitting in the cabin is a bit different however, as options and packages are decidedly upmarket over a conventional base model, and there is also a professional business package, along with extra controls for the various lights in the driver’s side cupholder.
While an ambulance ride in the U.S. typically entails a trip in the back of a Ford Econoline-based unit or perhaps an F-Series Super Duty, things are considerably more varied in Europe, with a host of different types of vehicles used to respond to different situations. One prime example is the 2 Series Gran Tourer that BMW aims for paramedic use. One of these was shown at least year’s RETTmobil, but the 2019 version has been updated. In addition to the newest tech and driver assistance systems, including a HUD, the 220d xDrive base vehicle is also given a permanently installed charger for multiple batteries, and comes with a steel partition grid, a necessity to satisfy industry requirements. The exterior is bristling with lights, and wears iridescent vinyl with reflective foil.
A new X1 intended for firefighting operations command is also part of the lineup. The X1 xDrive18d features all-wheel drive, and is wrapped in high-visibility fire brigade livery. Lighting is extensive, and beyond the flashers in the kidney grill and light bar which shares a design with that used on the 2 Series Gran Tourer, there are additional lamps for signaling. A second battery is onboard for a radio pre-wiring setup, and BMW touts reliability, versatility, efficiency, dynamic performance, speed, and maneuverability as strong points of the X1 fire operations command vehicle.
BMW’s specialized service vehicles have earned a unique level of appreciation from enthusiasts over the years. While BMW has perennially marketed itself as offering the ultimate driving machine for sheer driving pleasure in the U.S., a foreign police, fire, or paramedic 5 Series from 30 years ago always attracts attention. What special equipment does it have? What sets it apart from the conventional counterpart? Turbocharging, and now electrification, have changed the automotive landscape significantly over the decades BMW has been producing specialized versions of its products, but today the automaker is still producing a purpose-built vehicle for nearly any emergency situation.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]