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Top 5 best BMW car designs

Top 5 best BMW car designs

Munich's Bayerische Motoren Werke started as an aero engine-maker but went on to produce some of the most desirable car designs ever.

BMW has celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, celebrating a century where the Munich-based company went from creating aero engines to motorbikes and then cars. Its early auto years were inauspicious, including license-built Austins, bubble cars and big sedans, and it wasn't until nearly halfway through BMW's life that its cars made their mark.

By that time, the New Class lineage had cemented many design and engineering cues that would become BMW trademarks – the kidney grille, rear-drive, inline engines, and even weight distribution front-and-rear – which led to some delightful, daring and downright aggressive designs. Here are our five favourites.

BMW 507

05 BMW 507

Barely a speck on the sales sheets while it was produced in the mid-to-late 1950s, the 507 was the wrong car at the wrong time for BMW. It was advanced (it contained the first ever aluminium V8 engine), it was handsome, but it was expensive and it had the wrong badge for that type of car.

Time has been positively altruistic to the 507, however. To 21st century eyes it looks stunning, and its design legacy to modern BMWs is vast. The avant-garde wide kidney grille treatment looks much like the modern i8, and every production BMW Z-model owes something to the 507's long bonnet, chunky hips and cab-backward silhouette. If good design improves with age, the 507's steep upward trajectory since its production ceased assures its place in history.

BMW 2002

04 BMW 2002

Arguably the ultimate evolution of the New Class executive saloons produced in the 1960s was the shortened, sporty 02 series – and the ultimate 02 series was the 2002. The shortening of the New Class chassis did not tamper with the elegance and delicacy of the design, and if anything the trademark BMW face and hockey-stick shaped C-pillar line (or 'Hofmeister kink') were even more pronounced.

If any car was the start point of BMW's long-standing advertising slogan, "The ultimate driving machine", it was the 2002. The brutal 2002 Turbo with its aerodynamic addendum may have been the wide-boy's hero, but the pre-facelift 2002ti is probably the best expression of this delightfully-proportioned sports saloon.


03 BMW M1

BMW's Motorsport division was set up in the early 1970s to run the company's racing programmes, but in 1978 it launched a road car with some help from Lamborghini - the M1. A race car for the road (or, more accurately, a race car only put on the road for homologation purposes).

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the M1 has the distinctive wedge profile of many 1970s supercars (some also styled by Giugiaro) and it was BMW's first mid-engined car, featuring the glorious M88 straight-six. The M1 was not a massive success either on road or track, but the design was so un-BMW that it's almost funny. And Andy Warhol created a multi-coloured 'art car' version, so if it's nothing else the M1 is a Pop Art masterpiece.


02 BMW Z1

The Z1 was a concept car built to showcase a number of technologies including a new rear suspension system, aerodynamic features and safety systems. However demand for BMW's first true sports car since the 507 was high so it was put into production using 3-Series running gear. A very futuristic-looking car when unveiled in 1986, it also featured an M1-style sloping nose with small kidney grille and balanced design.

But let's talk about those doors. The doors retract downwards into the Z1's body instead of swinging out, with the car's high sills offer enough crash protection that it could be driven legally and safely with the doors in retracted position, giving a true feeling of open-air driving akin to a beach buggy. US legislation prohibited this, however, and that led to the early demise of a car that still looks modern to this day.

BMW i8

01 BMW i8

With emissions, economy and environmental impact becoming prominent influencers in car manufacturers' strategies in the 21st century, many car enthusiasts have feared for the imminent demise of the supercar. BMW decided to allay those fears in 2013 when it unveiled the i8 - the first plug-in hybrid supercar.

Despite hitting 0-60 in under 5 seconds and hitting 155mph, the i8 has a fuel efficiency of 134mpg (UK) and CO emissions of just 49g/km. But with a design that is still teenage bedroom wall-worthy, featuring broad kidney grille and traditional Hofmeister kink fused with radical surfacing and cutting-edge carbonfibre construction, the i8 could be the future of stunning fast cars.