Hervé Poulain, a French race car driver and auctioneer, introduced the concept of The BMW Art Car Project in the early 1970's. His idea was to invite an artist who would turn a mere car into a work of art. By 1975, the project took off and he recruited Alexander Calder, both a friend and an American artist, to be the first in line to paint the first of many BMW art cars. The first model was to be a BMW 3.0 CLS that Poulain would take to the tracks for the 1975 Le Mans endurance race. Following Andrew Calder’s three-dimensional work of art on wheels, numerous well-known artists from all over the world took part in the project, including Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Frank Stella, Jeff Koons, Jenny Holzer, Olafur Eliasson, Robert Rauschenberg, Robin Rhode, and Roy Lichtenstein. These artists have been chosen carefully by a panel of international judges.
To date, between race cars and production vehicles, there are a total of seventeen BMW’s that have been turned into works of art and are officially included in the BMW Art Cars Project. Over the years, the project’s mission has evolved. It began as a creative endeavour solely for race cars, void of any public relations efforts. However, since the creation of the BMW Art Cars Project, it has developed tremendously, in which some of the vehicles are now used as a promotional mechanism of the company’s artistry, creativity, and commitment towards alternative and renewable energy sources.
10 BMW 3.0 CSL: Andrew Calder, 1975
Influenced by his passions for engineering and sculpting, Calder’s greatest challenge was in leaving his artistic imprint on a three-dimensional mechanism that he did not engineer, nor sculpt, himself. On the outside, the BMW 3.0 CSL boasts his unique style of artistic expression, with whimsical high-pigmented colours and various curves and lines. On the inside lies a powerful 6-cylinder engine that produces 480-horsepower and a top speed of 181 miles per hour. Calder was invited to attend the Le Mans endurance race of 1975, where he had the opportunity to see his art on the go.
9 BMW 3.0 CSL: Frank Stella, 1976
Frank Stella, who typically has an unsystematic style of painting and is highly associated to pop art, sought to create a work of art that encompassed the car’s character, in all of its technicalities. In turn, he came up with a black and white patterned grid, which covered every inch of the vehicle evenly and precisely, in a way that appears like it could be cut out into pieces and then reassembled. Dotted and lined, the exterior of the BMW 3.0 CSL is comparable to large graph paper. On the other hand, the interior is packed with a powerful 6-cylinder engine that produces 750-horsepower and a top speed of 212 miles per hour.
8 BMW 320i Turbo: Roy Lichtenstein, 1977
The third installment of the BMW Art Car Project was realized by the infamous comic-style artist, Roy Lichtenstein, who seemingly created a reenactment of the car-experience. From the painted road lines, which lead the car’s way, to the representation of blurred scenery, as a car swiftly passing by. There is much detail to the piece, as he even included the sky and sun shining bright as it rises. Just looking at it, one can experience its flow of movement. Lichtenstein’s style of comic art is visible throughout his Art Car; from the dotting-work to the long strips of colour contours. Under the hood of this machine is another work of art, a 4-cylinder engine producing 300-horsepower and a top speed of 160 miles per hour.
7 BMW M1 Group 4: Andy Warhol, 1979
This artwork on wheels embodies all that Andy Warhol is. From front to back, the M1 boasts bright, striking, and vivid strokes, depicting a sense of speed as everything turns to a blur. The 6-cylinder engine can produce a crazy rush of 470-horsepower, racing this captivating and powerful canvas to a top speed of 190 miles per hour. Many of the previous BMW Art Car artists began by painting a rough outline on a scaled-down model, and then had their assistants transfer the work to the actual car, all while under the supervision of the artist. However, Andy Warhol took it upon himself to paint everything himself.
6 BMW 635CSi: Robert Rauschenberg, 1986
For Rauschenberg, a pioneering pop artist, creating a drivable gallery on wheels was a dream come true. Unlike the Art Cars that came before it, the 635 CSi was the only vehicle embellished with photographic images and built as a normal production car. On the right side, an image of an Ingres painting is displayed, while the left side is decorated with the works of Bronzino and pictures of swamp grass from the Everglades, which were taken by Rauschenberg. Under the hood lies a 6-cylinder engine with a power output of 211-horsepower and a top speed of 136 miles per hour. This unique realization is extraordinary from, both, the inside and outside, and stands out from the rest.
5 BMW 850 CSi: David Hockney, 1995
The fourteenth installment to the BMW Art Car series sought to depict the inner contents of the car to those on the outside. As a result, the exterior of the automobile boasted a contour of a driver on the door, as well as a dog, and other details that the vigilant would notice. Hockney, a British-born artist, has had an influential role in the world of art, stunning many with his magnificent pop art since the early 1960's. The 850 CSi packs a V-12 engine that produces 380-horsepower and a top speed of 155 miles per hour.
4 BMW V12 LMR: Jenny Holzer, 1999
The BMW V12 LMR may seem plain and white from afar, but take a step closer and the provocative messages that extend along the bodywork of the fifteenth Art Car stand out more clearly. Ever since the start of her influential career, Holzer has favoured the use of words over imagery, standing out against traditional art forms that usually display symbolic images, suggestive abstract art, and satiric minimalism. Using a light and shiny foil for the lettering, Holzer evaded increasing the weight of the vehicle, which allowed its 12-cylinder engine to potentially produce a beastly 580-horsepower with a top speed of 211 miles per hour, as it should.
3 BMW H2R: Olafur Eliasson, 2007
This is where the automobile industry meets global warming. The sixteenth car in the BMW Art Car Project really left a lasting impression, blatantly confronting some of the most critical issues of our time. Setting a creative stage, the H2R’s body was dressed in an intricate translucent steel mesh and then covered in reflective steel panels and layers of ice. Combining a passion for driving and environmental politics, Eliasson’s hydrogen-powered prototype vehicle was built with the intention of achieving record speed congruently with the use of regenerative fuel. The transformed H2R car creates an opportunity to discuss and speculate the potential of our future and how human beings journey through this world seeking balance.
2 BMW Z4: Robin Rhode, 2009
Using a 300-horsepower paintbrush, Rhode created a vibrant expression of joy with BMW’s Z4. Unlike its fellow art cars, the Z4 is painting a canvas rather than being the canvas. Through performance art, it functions as a catalyst for innovation and forward thinking. Inspired by emotion, industrial creativity, and technology, Rhode’s succession of distinct artwork has resulted in creating quite a name for himself in the industry. The powerful Z4 Roadster packs a 3.0-litre twin turbo I-6 engine with a top speed of 130 miles per hour, or 150 miles per hour with the optional Sport Package.
1 BMW M3 GT2: Jeff Koons, 2010
The M3 GT2, the latest model in the BMW Art Car series, is highly acclaimed and pays great tribute to Andy Warhol’s M1 masterpiece of 1979, by bearing the racing number 79 on its side. The vivid colours that dash along the body of the car demonstrate a powerful sense of energy and supersonic acceleration, without interfering with the race car’s aerodynamics and weight. Under the hood is a 4.0-litre V8 engine that can produce 500-horsepower and a top speed of 186 miles per hour. As one of the world’s most thriving concept artists, Koons successfully created a piece that exemplifies its bursting energy, even when standing still.