A car is first and foremost a car; it is meant to be driven, to take us places that are too far to walk. I realize that “too far to walk” is subjective, and that sometimes it means New York to California and other times it means to the end of the driveway to get the mail when it’s snowing. But the bottom line is that cars were born as a means of transport. They were not created as works of art.
At least not at first.
Let me be up front: I am not an artist. I never took art history or art appreciation in college. What sums up my expertise on art is the line, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”
And I like cars.
I like cars that go fast, handle well, stop quickly, and are fun to drive. If you can get all that in a car that is comfortable, fine. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Many if not most BMWs fall within that description. I also like cars that strike me as beautiful or stunning or breathtaking; in other words, cars that to me are works of art. Again, I don’t know art, but I know a great-looking car when I see one.
For example, my three favorite race cars based on looks are the Ford GT40 Mark II, the Shelby Daytona Coupe, and the Reventlow Scarab. It doesn’t hurt that all three were super-successful racers, but I appreciated them for their design before I ever knew their records.
The Scarab was the first car I ever considered beautiful. Its Topps trading card may have been my first glimpse of this work of art when I was still in grade school.
The GT40 and the Daytona Coupe are getting attention these days because both (or, rather, replicas of both) are in the Ford v Ferrari movie. The GT40 is the star, but the Daytona can be seen in the back of Shelby’s garage if you look hard enough. By the way, Ford v Ferrari is a fun film that gets many of the facts right in the story of Ford’s campaign to win Le Mans. Purists may notice some actions on the track that probably didn’t happen, but what do you expect? It’s Hollywood.
These three cars that are—in my opinion—works of art are also unobtainable. Remaining originals are in museums or private collections and replicas, while available, command stratospheric prices and as a rule, aren’t ideal street cars anyway.
BMW did not invent the car as art. Hippies in the ’60s beat BMW to that with flower-power VW Beetles and Microbuses. But BMW did bring the term “art car” into the automotive mainstream—even though it wasn’t actually BMW’s idea.
A French racing privateer and art dealer named Hervé Poulain was buddies with renowned modern artist Alexander Calder. Poulain wanted the 3.0CSL he had purchased from BMW to race at the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans to stand out from the other cars, so he asked Calder to design a paint scheme. Calder did so, BMW painted the car, and Poulain started the race. He retired in the ninth hour with a bad transmission, but in the process he had invented the BMW Art Car.
BMW thought that it was so neat, that in 1976, it commissioned artist Frank Stella to design another 3.0CSL. Forty-three years later, the BMW Art Car Collection officially contains nineteen cars painted by world-famous artists. So I must consider at least nineteen BMWs to be works of art, because BMW says they are.
I do find many of them beautiful, but some, I think, would look better if they were re-sprayed to plain Alpinweiss again. I’m sorry, but Jenny Holzer’s art car is just a 1999 BMW V12 LMR with words slapped on it; I don’t see it as particularly artful, and that’s a shame, since Betty and I witnessed its debut at Le Mans in 1999. Another BMW V12 LMR—#15, which ran the actual 24-hour race —was festooned with numbers and sponsor stickers, but it was very artfully driven to BMW’s only overall victory at Le Mans, so I appreciate it—and its appearance—a lot more. Remember, I may not know art, but I know what I like.
Of the other BMW Art Cars, I like the original Calder 3.0CSL, the Jeff Koons M3 GT2, and the Lichtenstein 320i Turbo. I acknowledge the rest as works by famous artists, but if I had a BMW M1, I would never in a million years be tempted to reproduce Andy Warhol’s design on it. Fortunately, there is zero chance of ever having that option, since I can’t afford an M1.
That brings me to cars that I consider works of art not for their paint schemes, but for their design lines. And while there are many beautiful cars out there that are not BMWs, I don’t envision buying them anytime soon, so let’s stick to BMW cars.
Of all the BMW cars I have seen, many are nice, but few strike me as works of art. I like the lines of the E24 6 Series, the E31 8 Series, the E36 3 Series, and the E39 5 Series, but not to the extent that I would classify them as art. For that, I would start with the BMW 507.
A decent 507 will run you $1,500,000 and up, but it’s a beautiful BMW that many enthusiasts—me among them—believe to be one of the prettiest BMWs ever. Of course, even if I had $2,000,000 to spend on a car, it wouldn’t be a ragtop; my wind-in-the-hair days ended when I sold my Austin-Healey Sprite.
The soft top also doesn’t stop me from declaring the BMW Z8 to be one of the most beautiful Bimmers ever made. Its design strongly harks back to the 507, but I also see a tiny bit of the Daytona Coupe in there, too, especially if the Z8 is blue. It’s simply drop-dead gorgeous.
My third candidate for a BMW car as a work of art is the BMW i8 Coupe. I think it’s beautiful from any angle, and from any distance. A really good photographer here in Kansas City, Tim Lair, asked to do a photo shoot of my car; now I have proof that the i8 is not only a work of art, but also it can be the subject of a work of art.
The i8 as art, and in art.
In retrospect, it appears that my idea of a car as art gravitates toward sports cars and race cars. Is it a coincidence that the cars I admire most for their beauty I also appreciate because they are exciting or fun to drive? I think not. I also don’t expect everyone’s taste in cars as works of art to be the same as mine.
All I know is that I may not know art, but I damn sure like these cars.—Scott Blazey
[Photos courtesy BMW AG, Mecum Auctions, Tim Lair, Revs Institute, YouTube/Gumbal, Topps, and Scott Blazey.]