The Good Oil: It's a BMW M-car, but is it art?
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The very first BMW M model was also a BMW Art car. Although it wasn’t the first BMW Art Car.
The first proper M-car was the M1, a mid-engined homologation special, developed with assistance from Lamborghini in the first instance but then taken over completely by BMW Motorsport. It’s one of M’s most rare and unusual machines: only 453 were made (53 for racing) from 1978-81 and the company didn’t make another mid-engined production car until the i8 plug-in hybrid in 2013.
But we’re here to talk about Art Cars, which predate even the M1. In 1975 racing driver Herve Poulain (pictured above right, in 2015) got American sculptor Alexander Calder to create a work of art on the panels of his 3.0 CSL racing car, which then competed at Le Mans (well, it was a DNF). The car/art combo wasn’t BMW’s idea, but the company certainly ran with the PR opportunities.
In 1976 artist Frank Stella was let loose on another 3.0 CSL, which also raced at Le Mans. And the next year pop artist Roy Lichtenstein applied his “Ben Day Dots” signature style to a 320i. Which also raced at Le Mans.
By that stage BMW Art Cars were very much a thing. But the M1 painted by Andy Warhol in 1979, the fourth in the series, is really something special. For a start, it was actually painted by Warhol; the first three Art Cars were designed by the artists but not personally finished (BMW painter Walter Mauer created the finished Calder and Stella cars).
“I attempted to show speed as a visual image,” said Warhol of his M1. “When an automobile is really travelling fast, all the lines and colours are transformed into a blur.”
Warhol applied 6kg of paint to the M1 in just 28 minutes. And then it was of course… raced at Le Mans.
The combination of the M1’s status and numinous painted-by-hand nature of the Warhol Art Car make it the most special of 20 such works created since 1975. The artistic innovation has evolved, although the racing theme is now more occasional than essential.
The two most recent BMW Art cars are an M6 GT3 by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei, which must be viewed through an app to see the digital effects, and this year’s M2 Art Car (below) painted by graffiti artist Futura.