He is known as the most famous, controversial and reviled automotive designer of the decade, or perhaps of automotive history. He is an American designer who stepped into one of the most prolific German automakers and revolutionized or destroyed the design language of their products (depending on which side of the coin you look at). His name is Chris Bangle.
Chris Bangle, the decade’s most influential automotive designer? I think so.
He stepped into the limelight when he was appointed Chief of Design for BMW in 1992, and in 1999 when he introduced the Z9 Gran Turismo concept car followed by asymmetrical X-Coupe concept two years later. And from then on, the world was treated to Bangle’s revolutionary “flame surfacing” design language.
The 1999 Z9 Convertible & Coupe Concept, inspiration for the 2nd generation 6-series.
The 2001 X-Coupe Concept, progenitor to the Z4.
Although the accreditation of the “flame surfacing” belongs to another fellow American designer named Chris Chapman working in Bangle’s design team. But since Bangle was the head of the design team at the time and as such having the last word in the approval of such designs, it can be said that the accreditation also belongs to Bangle.
The “flame surfacing” design is the use of convex and concave curves that proceed from one end of the car’s body along with the use of sharp lines that joins both ends. This design language is alike to a ‘square peg in a round hole conundrum’ of design, and as a result, it makes the car look ungainly and sagging at the sides from certain angles. However it can be argued that it does add real dynamism to the body’s design and overall looks. This strange mixture of alternate lines gives a feeling of tension and as some pundits point out, creates strange and unique surfaces. It was this mixture of sharp lines and concave curves in a single design that stirred the hornet’s nest. But the hornets only stung back in 2002 with the introduction of the E65, or to the layperson, the 2002 7-Series.
The 2002 7-Series was the car of particular infamy; it was the first production car from BMW to introduce Bangle’s design language, and to the disapproval and derision of many of BMW fans. This went to a point where BMW fans started an online petition to have Bangle removed as Chief of Design from BMW. But as far as we can see, to no avail has this online petition succeeded in overthrowing Bangle. Strangely the man who was responsible for the E65 designs was never ‘persecuted’ by BMW loyalists; in fact Adrian Van Hooydonk had a bigger hand in the design of the car that will eventually carry the infamous ‘Bangle Butt’.
Oh God, reminding ourselves of how bad it really was.
Even so as any designer worth his salt should, Bangle has aggressively defended his designs, and so has the BMW board of directors shown their support to his designs. Much to the frustration of die hard BMW loyalist, who as a matter of fact, doesn’t understand or notice the significance of Bangle’s ideology.
As a result, Bangle went on to set the style for the 1-series, the X3, the Z4, restyled the 3-series, 5-series, 2nd generation X5, and the realization of the Z9 concept in the form of the 2nd generation 6-series. Not only BMWs, but he was responsible for the Rolls Royce Phantom, a car which successfully resurrected the brand, and the iconic new Mini, another savior of another British icon. And after amassing such a CV of car designs, he announced his resignation as BMW Chief of Design, leaving it to his right-hand man, Adrian Van Hooydonk to carry on the task of continuing his legacy.
The Dutchman, Adrian Van Hooydonk, the one who got away.
Many who were divided over Bangle’s love/hate design era will mourn/rejoice over the loss of one of automotive history’s most influential designers. Whether you like it or not, Bangle’s vision and goal of changing the image of BMWs’ model range was achieved, even with his resignation, BMW has stated that his design language shall stay on until 2010.
But to me he is a designer that deserves a place among the greats. He may not have approved or designed a beautiful car, but his design language was as revolutionary to the car market as Marcello Gandini’s Countach concept was to the supercar fraternity. With every design that came out during the Bangle era, every other automotive manufacturers followed suit, trying to duplicate the success BMW enjoyed during his design direction.
It was not beautiful, but it was the car that defined supercars for the next three decades, the Lamborghini Countach.
Before this, BMWs or indeed all German car designs were conservative; they would prefer a sleek and contrived design, instead of going down the path of Italian flair or French peculiarity. What Bangle did was made the designs confrontational and aggressive. Love or hate, you cannot help but be drawn to the way the light played out across the body of one of Bangle’s designs. Or the way the car just looks ostentatious and at times vulgar like the Rolls Royce, but you can’t help noticing it nevertheless. Bangle saw that in order to sell, you need to make a car that shouts at you, that gathers attention from the street, a design that instantly stands out from the crowd. Indeed after a faltering public opinion on his designs, he opted for a more conservative design when he approved the new E90 3-series, and to many the design was a bit of a letdown, ironically it showed that the world was at last warming up to his design language and gradually accepting it.
When he listened, he went a little conservative, and the world went WTF?
It can be said that Bangle, being American, came from a society where automotive designs weren’t there to be subtle or mere rolling pieces of sculptures. People who bought cars in America are people who like to shout out about their proud ownership of a private motorized transport. These were the people that gave us the ostentatious Hummer, the utterly vulgar Dodge Viper, the humongous Cadillac Eldorado, the pointy Corvettes, in-your-face Mustangs, and the loud-&-proud Harley Davidson. From a nation with bad foreign policy, chrome fittings, inventors of the term ‘bling-bling’, and teen idols with near religious adoration, Bangle came from a society where getting attention is part and parcel of life. To see his cultural origins in such light would make sense as to how he can approve such controversial, and often vilified (among European car enthusiasts) designs.
Take a look at the latest offering from their fellow countrymen, Mercedes has restyled their cars’ design to be sharper, Audi’s grown a mammoth grille on all their range, and Porsches are beginning to show a little quirkiness in their designs. Even the American car manufacturers are taking note of the waves he is causing in the world of car design. American brands are rediscovering what makes their cars so unique and popular, cars like the new Cadillac CTS, the Ford Interceptor & Iosis Concepts, and the Lincoln MKS. Proof that carmakers saw the need to stop being polite in car design, and be little rude.
Even the infamous ‘Bangle Butt’, subject of much hate and jokes has been copied by many automotive manufacturers. In fact, BMW’s own arch nemesis, Mercedes seems to have copied the protruding boot lid design for its Maybach and later its smaller sibling, the W221 Mercedes S-Class. Even copies of the boot lid were made by Japanese automakers, the market has spoken, Chris Bangle has made his mark, and it is here to stay.
The pronounced boot lid sticking, otherwise known as the ‘Bangle Butt’.
The ‘Bangle Butt’ appearing on the S-Class, even though it should be noted that it came from the Maybach which came out at the same time as the E65 7-Series.
Even Honda with their Legend and Nissan with their Latio have strapped on the prolific boot lid.
Such is the impact Chris Bangle has left on the world of automotive design. His departure from the world of automotive design will be heartfelt. Like it or not, his designs are here to stay, and continue to be an inspiration to other auto manufacturers for years to come. In the end has achieved more than just his goal of redesigning cars in his 16 years in BMW. He has managed to redesign the rules of car design.
Autoindustrie editor's comment : BMW and Chris Bangle were just a little ahead of their time when the E65 (and E66) 7er came out. On hindsight, the "Bangle Butt" was the only way a designer could harmonise the contrasting needs of crash safety engineers and aerodynamicsts. Increasingly rigid crash safety regulations meant that cars have to get bigger, bulkier. People are also getting bigger in general, and cars these days even from the humble Golf and Focus are required to feature SatNav and electric / powered everything. The cars had to get bigger. While the push for greener more fuel efficient vehicles necessitate the need for a higher trunk / boot lid line to reduce drag. But you can't have trunks / boot that are too high which would be make loading / unloading of items difficult.The fact that almost all new large cars feature a variation of the "Bangle Butt" is a testament of BMW's lead and foresight into the future. It's just that the earlier works were a little bit unrefined and the public has yet to warm up to such looks.
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