This week, BMW Classic shared a new video which takes a look at a previously-unseen concept vehicle that went on to become particularly influential in the brand’s design language and model lineage. The concept is called the ZBF 7er, and it was conceived in 1996, in the midst of E38 7 Series production. Once one looks beyond the large, vertically-oriented kidney grilles, it’s not hard to start noticing E65 similarities, which are even more prevalent on the inside, but the front end design remains the one thing that really can’t be ignored.
When looking at the history of BMW dating back to the prewar 328, it becomes clear that vertically-oriented kidney grilles are not a new element in the brand’s design language. BMW drew the comparison when the current 4 Series coupe was unveiled last year, posing the then-new G22 between an E9 coupe and the 1939 328 Mille Miglia coupe. BMW Classic’s latest video seems to avoid discussing the grille design, but it’s obvious that the look has a lot more in common with what the brand is selling these days than the models of yesteryear. This might lend credence to the theory that, considering how long the ZBF 7er has been around, BMW has been planning the big grilles seen on cars like the new M3 and M4 for quite some time. Perhaps it’s taken that amount of time to work up the courage to give them on a shot on as large a scale as we’re seeing now.
Looking past the grille, there are a lot of individual details and elements about the ZBF 7er that are worthy of further examination. The interior is illustrative of just how ambitious the E65 ended up being, and how BMW was really going for something new with the design and engineering of the fourth-generation 7 Series, which was subsequently applied to the rest of the lineup, just as the ZBF 7er name implies with its initials, which stand for future BMW family, with the family part signifying the 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series.
The details about the ZBF 7er are also quite interesting: Although it’s not a polished production car, it was a running and driving concept when new, and it features an early version of what would eventually become iDrive, complete with the rotary knob concept everyone is familiar with today. The sheet metal of the body is hand-beaten aluminum produced in Italy, and the wheels measure nineteen inches in diameter and are wrapped in Dunlop tires with a hand-cut tread pattern and siping that are unique to the concept. Check out the video to get the full story from Joji Nagashima, the designer behind the ZBF 7er and other iconic models such as the E36 and E90 3 Series generations, the E39 5 Series, and the Z3.—Alex Tock
[Photos and video courtesy BMW AG.]