Roundel columnist Melissa Cunningham shared her experience attending the “Celebrate Bob Lutz” event held on Saturday, July 29, at the Willow Run Airport B-17 bomber hangars in Belleville, Michigan.

Saturday dawned with showers and cloudy skies. As rain pounded against the tarmac of the Willow Run Airport in Belleville, Michigan, cars gathered for a celebration of one of the most influential automotive executives of all time, Bob Lutz, and the rain abated. The meteorological seesaw reflected Lutz’s career; he took the helm of marketing or design at multiple car manufacturers during times when those companies faced a crisis, and repeatedly turned the company around to better days.

BMW is probably the best example. Lutz worked for BMW from 1971 to 1974 and served as executive vice president of Global Sales and Marketing at BMW AG in Munich. In that short time span, he orchestrated powerful changes that still resonate today, including the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mentality; if customers saw a manufacturer’s car win races, they flocked to the dealership showroom to own some of that winning excitement. Thus was born BMW’s Motorsport division.

At Willow Run Airport, Lutz, 91, wanted to keep attendance small in order to interact with as many people as possible. Still, the event spanned two empty airplane hangars, with a display featuring cars from the various car companies at which Lutz worked during his long and historic career. BMWs included a nice mix of vintage and modern models, including a 1973 2002, an E12 5 Series, a 2019 i8, an Alpina Z8, and even a new 7 Series.

The BMW CCA enjoyed a significant presence; the M Chapter filled ten vehicle display slots, further ensuring a wide range of BMW cars in the display, and BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMW MOA) displayed bikes under the wing of a plane in one of the hangars. Thanks to both MOA and the M Chapter for providing a great showing of BMW motorcycles and cars!

[Photo by Nate Rose.]

Frank van Meel, the head of BMW M GmbH, flew from Germany to speak of Lutz’s lifetime achievements. Expressing his admiration and respect, van Meel called Lutz an icon of the industry. Additionally, speakers from many car manufacturers provided stories and memories from their time spent with Lutz. 


Ever the marketing guru, Lutz also decided to simplify the naming of models at BMW. Lutz developed the 3, 5, and 7 Series naming system. Examples of these chassis were part of BMW’s display at the event, including the BMW CCA Foundation’s beautiful 1977 E23 7 Series.

[Photo by John Keep.]

Lutz’s contributions at BMW included the 2002 Turbo—the quintessential pocket rocket—which lives on today with the current M2. In his closing, van Meel mentioned how Lutz championed the phrase “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” explaining that Lutz specifically wanted to use the word machine instead of car. “Machine conveys a sense of substance under style and solid engineering,” said Lutz.

[Photo by Nate Rose.]

The entry fee and an auction of Lutz items at the end of the event raised money for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which has provided scholarships for Marine families over the last 60 years. Lutz himself joined the Marine Corps in 1954 and served as a fighter pilot. More than 55,000 scholarships have been supplied by the nation’s oldest and largest provider of need-based scholarships to military children—and over $22,000 was raised by the Celebrate Bob Lutz event.—Melissa Cunningham 




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