40 Years of BMW Art Cars


2015 marks forty years of BMW Art Cars, a unique collection of cars conceived by Hervé Poulain. The first car was commissioned in 1975 when Poulain asked his friend Alexander Calder to paint a car. Calder was well known for his kinetic sculptures & mobiles, and for his twisted-wire creations, but his body of work includes jewellery, works on paper and paintings

Poulain asked his acquaintance Jean Todt for help sourcing a car. Todt referred him to Jochen Neerpasch, head of BMW Motorsport, and the Art Car series was born

Calder’s design was painted directly on to the model BMW Poulain took to demonstrate his idea. It was implemented by BMW bodywork specialist Walter Maurer and the finished car was shown at the Musée de Artes Décoratifs in Paris and the Haus Der Kunst in Berlin. This was no show car, though, as it was built to race in the 1975 Le Mans 24-Hours. Despite his amateur status, Poulain was amongst the drivers that year but the car was sidelined by mechanical problems

Next year Poulain recruited Frank Stella to design the second car in the series. Again, his striking Graph Paper design was recreated on the car by Walter Maurer. The CSL went on to race in the 24 Heures du Mans in 1976, this time without Poulain

The following year Roy Lichtenstein created his wild design for the BMW 320i Group 5 race car, an equally wild confection of splitters, box arches, wings & spoilers. His design evokes movement and the passing scenery – “The design also shows the scenery as it passes by. Even the sky and sunlight are to be seen … you could list all the things a car experiences – the only difference is that this car mirrors all these things even before it takes to the road“. The car was shown at the Centre Pompidou and raced at le Mans in 1977, recording a class win and ninth overall. At the wheel - Hervé Poulain and Marcel Mignot

For the fourth Art Car in 1978, Andy Warhol proposed two designs, neither of which Poulain would accept. In the end, Warhol flew to Munich and painted the car in person, reportedly taking just 34 minutes to create his work

Photo credit
BMW Art Cars shot in the Great Eastern Street Car Park, Shoreditch, London, Summer 2012, © Nicholas Froome
Courtesy of Bolide

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