5 of BMW’s Greatest Art Cars

In 1975, French racing driver Herve Poulin hatched an idea. Take a BMW racing car and commission a famous artist to design a livery. It was a simple plan with no restrictions. The artist could create whatever they wanted to be based on their own ideas and style. At that moment, the BMW Art Car was born.

Since the first art car made its debut, 19 other art cars have followed. The most recent is the Jeff Koons 8 Series, which will go into production for a lucky few this year. BMW has a long history with art cars, initially starting with racing cars and then including production road cars. To celebrate the latest Art Car, here’s a look at five of the most famous designs from the project.

Alexander Calder – 3.0 CSL – 1975

A 3/4 front view of the Alexander Calder painted 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL race car with a black background.
Alexander Calder designed 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL | BMW

This is genesis. The Alexander Calder designed BMW 3.0 CSL was envisioned by French racing driver Herve Poulin and actually raced in the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans. Calder is an American sculptor who became famous for his abstract mobiles. The design of the 3.0 CSL uses the same bold colors and blocky patterns that characterize Calder’s sculpture.

The BMW 3.0 CSL is one of the most legendary race cars BMW produced. Powered by a straight-six-cylinder engine with 480 horsepower, the CSL was capable of hitting 180 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Without the vision of Poulin and the creation of this car, BMW’s Art Car program may have never started.

Andy Warhol – M1 – 1979

A 3/4 profile view of the Andy Warhol painted 1979 BMW m1 race car. Shown parked on a street with stone buildings in the background.
Andy Warhol painted 1979 BMW M1 race car | BMW

The BMW M1 supercar, painted by Andy Warhol, may be the most famous Art Car in existence. It may also be one of the most valuable cars in the world, thanks to Warhol’s fame. 

Andy Warhol painted this car himself and applied over 13 pounds of paint to the mid-engine supercar in just 28 minutes. The result is an iconic design that is as beautiful as it is fast.

The Warhol M1 race car competed in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 6th overall. 

Esther Mahlangu – 525i – 1991

A 3/4 front and overhead view of the Esther Mahlangu painted BMW 525i from 1991.
Esther Mahlango painted 1991 BMW 525i sedan | BMW

In 1991, BMW commissioned South African artist Esther Mahlangu to design the twelfth Art Car. Mahlangu was also the first female artist to take part in BMW’s project. The car is a standard 525i sedan, but the artwork is absolutely stunning. 

As quoted by BMW, Mahlangu described the design as, “how my tribe decorates their houses,” and is known as the Ndebele pattern.

Unlike the Warhol or Calder designed race cars, the 525i was meant purely as a display piece.

Sandro Chia – M3 GTR – 1992

A profile view of the 1992 BMW M3 GTR race car painted by Italian artist Sandro Chia.
1992 BMW M3 GTR painted by Sandro Chia | BMW

Italian artist Sandro Chia approached BMW in 1992 about creating an art car. The car he chose as a canvas is just as legendary as the art he applied to it. 

Only five E36 M3 GTRs were ever built. A pair competed in the ADAC Masters Championship, one for endurance racing, one for street use, and Sandro Chia’s art car. All of these cars are still owned by BMW.

Chia’s artwork is as visually impactful as the performance of the M3. The car is covered in faces, and Chia had this to say about the artwork, “All eyes are upon an automobile. People look closely at cars. This car reflects their gaze.”

Jeff Koons – M3 GT2 – 2010

A profile view of the 2010 BMW M3 GT2 race car painted by Jeff Koons with a black studio background.
The 2010 BMW M3 GT2 race car painted by Jeff Koons | BMW

If you are a fan of sports car racing or grew up playing racing video games, you’ll instantly recognize this car. Commissioned for the 2010 24 Hour of Le Mans race, the M3 GT2 stunned the crowd with its looks.

Koons wanted to convey a sense of speed with his design, and he certainly succeeded in that regard. The colorful stripes make the race car look as though it is going 200 mph even while standing still. 

Unfortunately, the actual race did not go as well as the design. The Koons M3 GT2 retired from Le Mans after just 53 laps with a fuel sensor problem.

BMW’s Art Car project has created some of the most stunning vehicles and artwork since a French racing driver first came up with the idea in 1975. The cars remain on display to this day, and thanks to the project’s popularity, we can expect many more in the future.

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