By on February 3, 2009

When it comes time to chart designer Chris Bangle’s contribution to the BMW brand’s aesthetic, few pundits will praise his pulchritudinous perversion of pistonhead passion, or thank him for the aesthetic affectations for which BMW is now known. In other words, the “Bangle Butt” will be Chris’ lasting legacy. Of course, this is also the man who removed the words “flame surfacing” from art school and placed them on the tip of his detractors’ tongues. That and Axis of White Power. (Oh! How we laughed!) Equally improbably, the Buckeye State native helped the expression “Dame Edna glasses” cross into the automotive lexicon. Yup. It’s been a wild ride. Literally.

Bangle may not have been the most pretentious pontificator to ever describe an “ow-tow-mobile,” but it’s hard to imagine who could challenge him for that distinction. The vehicles he birthed were almost as intellectually challenging as the words he used to describe them. But not quite.

The gallery above is a snapshot of the kinda post-Bangle era; all photos ripped straight from today’s BMW website. Strangely, revealingly, most of BMW’s model photos do NOT show the most popular viewing angle: front three-quarter. Those that do are almost all computer generated. It’s a tacit admission that Bangle’s designs lack the kind of cohesion which was once the marque’s defining visual characteristic.

The brand’s Bangle-related fall from sheetmetal grace coincided with two major developments.

First, iDrive.

It’s easy enough to surmise that Bangle had no say in the matter of whether or not his engineering-obsessed paymasters would equip “his” cars with their fiendishly complicated multi-media controller. But one can guess that he welcomed the device as a break from the past, signaling his own arrival.

In any event, the iDrive appeared in Chris’ first major work: the E65 7-Series [see: main picture above]. The iDrive was a disaster. It drew attention to the brand’s move away from its core, technologically illiterate customers. The iDrive and Bangle’s creased sheetmetal drew attention to each other—and not in a good way. Bangle was off to a lousy start.

The second major event: BMW’s success.

Success has many fathers, and it won’t take a DNA test. There are plenty of pundits who have no trouble putting aside their personal distaste for Chris Bangle’s showy designs to credit him and them for BMW’s dramatic rise in the sale charts. I hate it but I’m a snob. Das volk have spoken.

The counter-argument: false synchronicity. You straighten your tie a car horn beeps. Two events related in time, unrelated in cause and effect. We’ll never know if BMW would have enjoyed more success without Bangle’s rude awakening.

Countering the counter argument, you could argue that BMW’s are still instantly recognizable vehicles, right across the now-vast model lineup. For better or worse, it’s probably for the better. The Japanese have been struggling with this overarching brand aesthetic issue—and failing—for decades. For example, L-Finesse is this decade’s best design language, but Lexus’ badge-engineered sedans and SUVs still don’t speak it well, if at all.

Regular readers can guess my take on this matter: in terms of a car company’s long term health and survival, branding is all. There’s only important question: did Bangle’s tortured designs help or hurt BMW’s Ultimate Driving ethos?

I’m thinking neither. During the Bangle era, BMW maintained its well-deserved rep for driver-oriented mechanical engineering. Not reliability. Fun. Passion. Performance. The latest M5 lost all its visual sang froid. Every. Last. Bit. It’s an ugly, self-referential, over-wrought, arriviste pastiche. (AND it’s cursed with both iDrive AND the world’s worst gearbox.) But the über-5 still goes like hell and corners like the ultimate handling metaphor.

Again, other carmudgeons chiming in on the Bangle bamboozle will have a kindler, gentler take. Members of the autoblogosphere reporting Bangle’s exit, stage right, are sure to couch their criticism carefully, deploying their own obfuscation via words like “challenging,” “daring” and “controversial.”

Truth be told, Bangle took a car company best known for its oxymoronic Oberbürgermeister chic and turned it into an upmarket blingfest. His successor Adrian van Hooydonk has dialed it back a bit, but Bangle lingered long enough to make sure no one cancelled his contract with Fifty Cent. Maybe now they will. Here’s hoping.

Bangle’s departure raises the Lilly Pulitzer question: did he fall or was he pushed? Either way, is his acolyte now, at this very moment, using the ultimate office shredder? Will the Bangle schtick stick? BMW’s Board has been behind Bangle in the most Wagnerian of ways. But their willingness to dump his predecessor’s designs for something entirely new speaks of a new design direction.

Meanwhile, BMW says Chris Bangle is quitting “to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry.” Note: not “outside.” “Beyond.” Egomaniacal to the end, it seems that Mr. Bangle is ready to ascend to a higher plane, beyond mere “automobiles.” We wish him luck in his self-imposed exile from main street.

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82 Comments on “Editorial: BMW’s Bangle Blows Town...”

  • avatar

    The truth be told, Bangle took a car company best known for its oxymoronic Oberbürgermeister chic and turned it into an upmarket blingfest.

    Very true. And yet, unfortunately, it’s what the “new” BMW buyers, i.e. the new rich, really wanted. I still consider the E39 5-series one of the most perfect sedans, but its successor makes me puke, even after 5 years on the market.

    Bangle rode the upmarket swing very well from a marketing perspective, and I’m now curious to see how much buyers move away from bling, in the “recessionista era”.

  • avatar

    He was design lead on the E46 and it’s M3 variant, so all is forgiven.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure how anyone could say that 90% of his work was not a raging success for BMW. Considering that a business exists to make money, I don’t see how by what measurement anyone could deny this.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    I love the Automotive News picture showing him holding up “air quotes”. It’s a perfectly appropriate illustration of his “designs”.

    Perhaps the 3-series will go back to looking like the ultimate driving machine instead of an angry Japanese interpretation of a Jetta. I can’t bring myself to want such an unattractive car, no matter how good the powertrain is.

  • avatar

    Couldn’t agree more, however to make your point you should have used some of the more hideous examples of Bangle’s oeuvre like the Coupe Fiat, pre-facelift 7 series or 6 series.

    A white, three-door 1 series hatch is actually quite attractive imo.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Vega :
    A white, three-door 1 series hatch is actually quite attractive imo.

    That’s what I thought when I saw that picture.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    A white, three-door 1 series hatch is actually quite attractive imo.

    Really? The grille and headlights carry a surprised and confused look which I find profoundly ugly. The rest of the design is OK, but a white GTI is even more attractive and looks considerably more upmarket to my eye.

  • avatar


    As the [ever so stylish] Cylons would say, by your command.

  • avatar

    The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. With that in mind, it’s OK to admit that the 6-series (E63) and 7-series (E65… the pre-facelift) are two of the most fugly cars ever built. Once BMW has it’s 90-day chip free from Bangle, I’m sure the classic, timeless designs of the past will once again resurface.

  • avatar

    The 5 series has grown on me, and now I find it to be one of the more attractive models in BMW’s lineup. And I’ve always liked the Z4. What he did to the 3, 6, and 7 series, though, is a tragedy.

  • avatar

    I personally don’t like BMW’s. However, I must admit BMW has been the exterior design leader for most this decade. I know Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti, and Mercedes have been vying for innovation in design, but it’s been Bangle who’s lead the way, with the sales numbers to prove it.

    Now if only he could have done something about BMW’s hideous interiors.

  • avatar

    Shouldn’t you have put “contributions” in “air quotes”?

  • avatar

    So…now that BMWs may again begin to look like the UDMs they once did, I wonder what Bangle’s impact REALLY was on product mix.

    He gets blamed for a lot – and I am not defending him – but did Bangle invent the SAV? Or did some product planners with reams of GM-style consumer research draw up the specification and give it to Bangle with a: “Here! Design zeese!” memo?

    It will be interesting to see what design and product mix direction BMW takes now.

    Hopefully they’ll look one heck of a lot less like Pontiacs…if Pontiac still exists.

  • avatar


    He was design lead on the E46 and it’s M3 variant, so all is forgiven.

    Was he in charge of the now infamous E46 3s subframe/differential mount design that tends to rip away, or are the bean-counters responsible for that (future class action lawsuit) disaster?

    Link to video

  • avatar

    Style is the eye of the beholder. Chris Bangle designs may have gone to far for some, but he was trying to push BMW styling. For me, some of it worked and some it did not. It is easy to sit back and say something is ugly. Designers have to try different things and sometimes it will be a hit and other times it will be a miss.

    To me, nothing Bangle did compares to other bad designs such as the Pontiac Aztek, Toyota Echo, AMC Eagle 4X4 wagons, Honda Element, current generation Acura cars, and so many others.

  • avatar

    There might be a god after all.

  • avatar

    Not so fast, grave dancers…His protege, van Hooydonk, is still in charge at BMW Design and will carry on the mess quite well, I’m sure.

    As for Bangle’s legacy, I think it would be VERY interesting to show all the non-BMW’s sporting a bangle-but – Mercedes and Lexus in particular have been very ardent adopters of this horror.

    As for his future, I am terribly fearful that RF got it backwards: ” his self-imposed exile from main street.”

    I’ll bet my BMW he’s going to become an architect, and will next be DESIGNING Main Street!

  • avatar


    Given that the E36 suffered from exactly the same problem, I wouldn’t look for anything particular to happen with regards to remedies for that subframes.

    I also notice that somehow, these failures tend to appear most often in Bimmers with crappy aftermarket bodykits and “sweet drops”.

  • avatar

    Good riddance. I bought a 335i in spite of the stupid swoops, chrome moustache, squinty taillamps and ill-advised panel cuts all brought courtesy of Chris Bangle.

    The Z4 remains a testament to Bangle’s overly cute “design” philosophy, where he took an otherwise attractive shape and “designed” it into a rolling turd. The Bangle-butt was the least offensive thing he did to BMW, and it wasn’t good.

    Sadly, he’ll fit into the world of high-end architecture quite well.

  • avatar


    Good point! Though more common than the Bangle-Butt, what new car hasn’t some sort of “flamed surface” character crease….

    From the Impreza (mild) to the C-Class (medium) to the new Accord (drastic) they all wear some kind of multi-surfaced sides with a big crease through them: Bangles’ automotive design legacy, I suspect. More so than the self-named derriere.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    “There are two kinds of people. Those who don’t know who Chris Bangle is, and those who want to run him over.”

  • avatar

    upmarket blingfest

    Yeah… That sums it up. I’m on my 4th 3 Series – a couple of E36’s, an E46, and now a 2008 328i.

    It’ll be my last BMW though…. The E36 really was a driving machine. Nice creature comforts but a simple car basically. Sure the dash looked like a 60’s pickup truck but it was functional and all the materials were excellent.

    My E46 was design that grew on me. I liked the E36 better for a long, long time, but I finally got to appreciate that it was as clean and elegant in its lines as the E36.

    Now the E90. Its looks annoy me. I keep seeing the clean E46 trapped inside the busy lines. My take is that they refused to let Bangle do what he wanted so, like a school-boy trapped in study hall, he just kept retracing the details more and more heavily, emphasizing every cliche until he wore through the paper.
    In the E90, I keep seeing a pretty girl in whore makeup.

    It also has too many electronic gimmicks for me. Worst of all, BMW caved in for popularity and moved the [email protected]#$%^[email protected]^ window controls to the driver’s door. After years of BMWs now I have to change so it’s easier for the posuers. Bah.

    Good riddance to Bangle. Maybe I’ll consider another BMW if they go back to a clean design.

  • avatar

    “beyond the auto industry.”

    Ascending to the true pinnacle of design where his genius will be acclaimed by all: elderly british women’s evening wear.

  • avatar

    “Flame surfacing” my foot. I never saw the effect, and even if I had, never understood why anyone would want a car to look like flames were licking at it. Ford successfully captured the effect with the Pinto and people were understandably outraged.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I am surprised Bangle lasted as long as he did, and that BMW survived him.

  • avatar

    Bangle is the second lead designer to walk away from the car biz. Dan Sims left Mitsubishi to work for Proctor & Gamble.

    You know something is wrong with an industry when folks would rather design boxes of Tide.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    All good things come to an end… Fortunately, all bad things do too! I’m glad he has ascended beyond the auto industry… I just hope there isn’t a second coming.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Self-imposed exile from main street, or sympathy for the Devil?

    People laugh at me when I show them my Chris Bangle Voodoo doll that I keep in the glove box of my E39 5-Series. Well who’s laughing now? The bell tolls for thee, Mr. Bangle.

  • avatar

    I have to disagree almost completely with this editorial. Bangle tried to bring new ideas to automotive design and he succeeded. And not just with the volk but who are buying bimmers in ever greater numbers but also with his fellow designers many of whom are busy copying his design features. How much more successful can you be than that? So I am not surprised that he wants to go beyond automotive design and unlike Farago I mean it honestly.

    Personally I think his strength was individual design features sprinkled in different corners of the car. The weakness was his inability to bring it all together and create a striking harmonious unit. Actually he did achieve striking designs, the cars had presence, they just were not one harmonious whole.

    The idea the Farago pushes that the BMW sales success and its design direction in the last 10 years are probably unrelated is untenable in view history. The fact is that people don’t spend large amounts of money on high end cars if they are put off by the car’s design. I think that has been established over the 100 years of auto industry and it’s been proven daily on this blog.

  • avatar

    I think Bangle did set BMW apart (I just can’t ignore the sales success or the number of imitators), from the competition However, he did so at the expense of good taste. It’s really a shame that, were I to be in the market for a large luxury sedan (ha!), I would run straight to Audi or Merc, who still seem capable of making elegant cars. BMW remains king of the sporty sedans with the 3, but a large car needs be beautiful, as none of them really handle. The 7 series is (and has been) one of the least attractive cars ever sold, even with the redesign. To my eyes it’s almost as bad as the Aztec.

    They also are inviting unwelcome comparisons with infinite imo. BMW’w newfound tackiness makes the G series’ ricey design seem bearable and in some cases less cluttered, allowing them to fight on even ground if they get the suspension settings polished. BMW should not be content with just being more capable, b/c someone else will eventually match them on these grounds.

  • avatar

    I’m with ra_pro on this one – I’m not the biggest fan of Bangle’s work but this editorial is way off base.

    I’ll have an easier time taking TTAC seriously on visual design when you start putting up pictures of cars that actually correspond with the captions (hint: that is *not* a 2002 7-series in the main picture.)

  • avatar

    and yet not one of his designs looks better than even the most mediocre Alfa Romeo.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I seemed to have missed the news where Bangle was $#;+canned or quit, but I can’t say I am unhappy. Today’s BMWs are fat and overwrought. To me they scream victim of fashion, not piston head.

    I did not know that Chris was a fellow Buckeye. It explains a lot. Ohio does not do beautiful, or even pretty. Bangle’s cars would not look out of place at the Ohio State Fair with the 250 lbs girls wearing far to little ill-fitting clothing.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    From Bangle Butts to the soon to be released Van Badonkadonk.

    Nobody will ever look at a car’s rear end the same ever again.

    Bangle merely captured the go-go, quickrich, de-regulated early 00s zeitgeist. And now, with the good times gone, at least for now, it’s time for BMW to return to a more restrained, conservative, fly-under-the-radar design theme. In other words, their old design theme.

    Or, alternately described as the J Mays school of uber-understatement.

  • avatar

    I Like Chris Bangle.

    I said it. I am on my 2nd e38, my brother just got an e39 on my advice. But I would much rather be in an older e65, because they look better (just the mechanical gremlins keeping me out, not Bangle’s fault.) The 38 is a classic design – re: Old. I like the Z4, because it is fun to drive, and looks like something other than a toy car (MX-5) or a Gel Cap (350z).

  • avatar

    I get a chance to compare Bangle and pre-Bangle BMW every day, looking at my wife’s E39 parked beside my E60 in the garage. As someone else said, the E39 was in many ways the culmination of BMW sedan design, it was a great example of form following function. It has no gimmicks, just a great, clean design, no doubt about that! But, the E60 has more than one redeeming feature. While the E39 may look a bit tallish, especially from behind, the E60 is seriously planted, with the wheels pushed well out into the wheel openings. I concur with those who said the E60 looked very strange when it first appeared, it actually took at least 2 or 3 years until I grudgingly accepted the design, and now I really think it has (what some people call) presence. There is now only one detail I’ll never forgive Mr. B. for creating, and that is the tapered cutout for the trunklid. As the cut follows the slope of the rear window, I am never sure whether the car has a trunk, or if it is sliced off. I keep dreaming of having some metal wizard re-do this for me; fill in the cut and cut the trunklid opening on top! It’ll never happen, but dreams are free.

  • avatar


    You might want to see a nationally-known neurologist to definitively diagnose your idiopathic instances of alliterative articulations.

  • avatar

    “Though more common than the Bangle-Butt, what new car hasn’t some sort of “flamed surface” character crease….”


    What some have called “laziness” on the part of Porsche’s designers, I have always seen as a healthy resistance to trendiness and fadishness, and a kind of quiet courage in seeking continuity through over 40 years in a car’s basic design “language.”

    It’s exactly why 997 911s still look relevant and beautiful, and why all these re-birthed Challengers, Mustangs, T-Birds, Chargers, Camaros, et al, are gross, desperate quotations of cars whose essential designs were ceased not long after their 40 year old births.

    It’s also why the current generation BMWs have spent so much energy thrashing around like a dying fish in the thin air of Bangle’s design world, looking for something that sticks, and feels continuous with BMW’s history. It seems every single year recently the tail lights and back end of the 3 series finds itself re-designed. It’s like multiple personality disorder.

    I want to love current BMWs so much. I want to drive one again, as I did once over twenty years ago (2002, and 325). But these cars feel sterile and dead.

    It will be very interesting to see how the Bangle era cars look to us in twenty or thirty years. Inspired revolution? Or horribly dated symbol of the 2000 oughts? We’ll see.

  • avatar

    “Today’s BMWs are fat and overwrought”

    Too true. As are most other new cars.

    Design aside, weight and girth have become the cancer of cars, at least inasmuch as we’re talking about things like Ultimate Driving Machines and so forth.

    Remember what it was like to drive a 2002? An early 911? A Lotus? That experience is utterly lost to current drivers, and I’m sorry for anyone young enough to have never experienced a sporting car built with sporting weights.

  • avatar

    I will not miss Bangles butt ugly slab sided BMW’s one bit. He took what was once a pretty decent looking car design, grafted on that controversial butt, overbloated the look and also mixed in Asian dull plainess into some of the most forgettable designs that are being copied everywhere. Maybe BMW can now make a better looking design so the other clueless designers of today can have better things to copy! This decade is going to be rememebred as the all time low point of styling and design for a long time. I also have to laugh at all the omissions on todays cars. Yes America while you have been sleeping these idiot car manufacturers have quietly been taking a knife to each new car line removing those glovebox lights, trunk and passenger key cylinders, floor well interior lights, rear map pockets, rear seat center armrests, bodyside moldings, underhood lights, ashtrays and cigarette lighters, interior color choices other than charcoal tan or gray and plenty more of those little things we used to get as std equipment.

  • avatar

    Bangle’s designs always grew on me nicely, suggesting he might be a leader, somewhat ahead of his time.

    The biggest exception is the version of the 1 Series that they sent to the States. I love the look of the 1 Series hatchback that I’ve seen elsewhere in the world. Sigh. Sometimes companies snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • avatar

    Does this mean there’s a chance BMWs will become lean again? And that they’ll stop looking like Japanese cars?


  • avatar

    Fundamental Attribution Error – Attributing BMW’s sales success to Bangle’s designs. The Roundel drove sales success, despite the design and iDrive – not because of them.

  • avatar

    I’ve never grown to love Bangle BMWs, but before him, BMWs were a little too ‘white bread’ for me. Some years the Accord had more flair than the 3 series.
    If it hadn’t been for Bangle, would we have all been crying about how ‘boring BMW design’ let the brand dwindle?
    In contrast to many of you, I find the current 5 series to be the best looking of the Bangles.

  • avatar

    “I want to love current BMWs so much. I want to drive one again, as I did once over twenty years ago (2002, and 325). But these cars feel sterile and dead.”

    How is BMW different from any other car company? Cars have been refined across the board. Even porsche. Compare a 997 to an 80’s 911. Even porsche, the purist brand, looks bloated by comparison. Sure older cars have “soul” and “character”. Thats only because no two of them were alike due to vastly inferior manufacturing and quality control. I would love to own a 2002 to work on and look at on sunny days but for a car I actually have to use it’ll be an e92.

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who finds the casual use of platform designations, e.g. E39, E36, E46, E60, for BMW’s to be code for “I’m a BMW fan and know inside baseball”? While other manufacturers’ platform designations get mentioned (like Ford’s Panther or GM’s disastrous W bodies), they’re nothing like how frequently people refer to the various vintages of BMWs.

  • avatar

    Ronnie Schreiber wrote

    Am I the only one who finds the casual use of platform designations, e.g. E39, E36, E46, E60, for BMW’s to be code for “I’m a BMW fan and know inside baseball”?

    Because BMW recycles its model numbers (e.g. 325i, 530i, etc.), the use of the E-series designator is often necessary.

    A 1986 325i (E30) is a very different car from a 2003 325i (E46).

    Thankfully, there is handy guide on Wikipedia:

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    upmarket blingfest

    How so true…

    Own a pre-facelift 2K e46 325Ci, bought new. I still like its appearance and simple interface. Reminds me of a current Jessica Simpson… bloated but we know we would not mind being caught inside one too much.

    However all the stuff created under the frame-surfaced administration of corn-fed Bangle reminds me a certain Joan Rivers.. while some of his worst atrocities brings to mind pictures of Donatella Versace’s face.

  • avatar

    As the previous owner of a few BMWs, my dislike of the current offerings from Munich has more to do with their engineering decisions than Chris Bangle’s designs. Sure the current 3 and 5 series are a mess but it’s BMW insistence on run flat tires and electric power steering as well as the aforementioned iDrive that keep me away from the BMW dealership. Then there are WTF decisions like the X6 and an M version of the X5 that have me wondering what if BMW management have collectively lost their minds.

  • avatar

    I won’t deny that Bangle was a successful designer. He created a whole new design trend, and possibly attracted new customers to BMW.

    Objectively, though, Bangle’s designs are ugly abominations, as are those of his immitators. Time will not be kind to cars of this era.

  • avatar

    “From Bangle Butts to the soon to be released Van Badonkadonk.”


    As a three time former BMW owner I welcome the change and hope BMW gets back to its own “mission statement”; thereby producing a car I finally want to drive again. Next we can address the inclusion of an oil dipstick and the exclusion of run flat tires. Visual “bling” is not the sole problem with their current offerings, but that’s a discussion for another time. This is a good start, I hope…[as a lone tear of jog streaks down his face].

  • avatar

    allerton :

    Picture amended. What else sticks in your craw? How else was it off base?

  • avatar

    One could argue that the success of BMW during Bangle’s reign also coincides with the influx of individual wealth and exponentially growing and emerging economies throughout the world. These factors could have allowed previously aspiring owners to become actual sales data.

    The most oft overlooked and most telling feature regarding Bangle’s design language is where the A pillar meets the door and fender on the 3. Take a look at it next time. It just doesn’t work.

    On the flip side, Bangle has single handedly done more to advance the world’s knowledge and interest in car design since Harley Earl took pencil to paper. Not necessarily a bad thing.

    It’s hard to argue Bangle’s success, no matter how bad we want to…

    And for those of us longing for the return of the dipstick and spare tire, once BMW sets it’s mind to something, it almost never changes. iDrive anyone? (The one notable exception is the reluctant addition of the 6 speed manual into the M5. Reportedly, the manual works just as fantastically as the SMG.) Future generations of BMW competitors will also feature deleted dip sticks, just as they will run flat tires. Automobile manufacturers mimic BMW technical “improvements” just as the rest of the automobile world mimics Mercedes-Benz safety and convenience features.

  • avatar

    About time! The X5 is a good design though.

  • avatar

    OK, RF,

    We’re on the third lead picture with this post, but still no rear shot of a 7Ser so I can post:

    “So long, Chris. Don’t let the door hit you in the (Bangle) butt on the way out.”

  • avatar


    The majority of the cars I’ve seen hit the market in the last few years have drawn their design directly from the BMW7 of 2002.

    Whether its a copied I-drive, or copied halo/projector lighting…but Bangle’s butt is the number one element you see constantly. That, and the window kink.

    I liked the original 745. Alot of people hated the i-drive of the time – I understand, but the car still looks upscale to this day.

    The 750 replacement of 04/05 looks even better.

    The new 750 coming this year is simply AWESOME.

    Bangle not only produced a hot design for BMW, he changed the entire car game.

  • avatar

    Maybe you meant bangle blows chunks.

    Look…no need to mix up an impressive 5 year sales record with anything to do with design. Think about it…when did this occur? It occurred in a massive credit and home equity extraction bubble. Game over.

    What we managed to do is create a whole new class of wannabee elite, blingie people, that mostly have no clue whatsoever about cars. They DO know about status though, and the BMW status did not change because of Bangle in any way. He is irrelevant to that.

    Now, of course, he made something that most car folks thought was questionable and hideous and further compromised by performance issues (idrive, etc) But that isnt the point. He would have had to make it BUTT FRAKKIN UGLIER than it already is to undermine the prestige that BMW had already accumulated.

    It wont really ever matter to most folks how much the design principles (aesthetically) are compromised, if we are talking about an expanded market of luxury car buyers such as the last five years. But BMW execs know that that is no longer where we are, or where we are headed.

    So they arent taking any risks now, especially with audi coming out with cars that are stylistically far superior, to say nothing of the lacking interiors of the Beemers. Thats not Bangles fault, but still, you see, BMW got away with that crap for years, just because of the round emblem.

    Posers know BMWs…if they headed down that road much further, that would be their only market. I looked at the M5 and 335s when I bought my Audi…and I thought…who would be caught dead in such a thing?

    Apparently lots of folks, and generally the folks that I want to have nothing to do with.

  • avatar

    I’ve despised nearly every BMW design since Bangle made the 7-series go from ‘Armani suit’ to ‘Versace moo moo’. However, even though I would NEVER buy a BMW that stands out like that, lookin all gaudy and porky, plenty of people will ONLY buy a BMW that stands out like that (especially younger luxury buyers), bling, pork and all. Not 1 of his designs has been an abject failure, despite their eccentricity. For that reason alone, you can’t accurately call the “Bangle era” anything but a raging success with respect to sales figures and brand equity. It’s very likely that he didn’t think his designs looked great either, but he knew what he was doing…just look across the automotive landscape and see how often his design cues have been aped, for better or for worse. Acura’s new styling direction, though different, is definitely a page from the Bangle book. Even ‘L-Finesse’ and ‘Art & Science’ are answers to the stand-out design language that he pioneered at BMW. You might hate his designs (god knows I do), but you can’t ignore their success.

  • avatar

    I thought Bangle was from Wausau, Wisconsin.

    In any event, there’s no accounting for taste, and I’ve always liked (most of) his designs, especially the E90.

    BMW is a bling brand, so bling designs are appropriate to me.

  • avatar



    Ravenna, Ohio

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    What he said. Copied or not, Bangle’s “designs” are crap. Study a Z4 carefully and ask yourself why the bumper cutline needed to be integrated with the extraneous curve down the side of the car, or what the “Z” on the side of the car has to do with good design. Ask yourself why the ass-end of the 3-series coupe looks so much better than the sedan (de-Bangleization). The same horrid details were added to the 5’er. By comparison, the ’02 7-series looks tame despite the godawful butt.

    Fortunately for BMW they remain highly competent cars which “feel” like BMW’s. The engineers in Munich were smart enough not to let Mr. Bangle screw with the driving dynamics.

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    According to Wikipedia, born in Ravenna, OH and raised in Wausau.

    The sad thing is, there is no brand of understated Teutonic excellence anymore, and as a 32-year-old who didn’t start paying attention until after college, I have no memory of there ever being one.

    As McCartney sang, “Once there was a way to get back homeward,” but that time is over for BMW. They are what they are: a poseur brand. Once you sell out to up-market bling, you can’t move back down. Someone else will have to fill the niche that they left behind. Vee-dub is the only automaker in any kind of position to do so, but recent developments are not promising, to say the least.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    @axel & @dgduris: So none of you have ever been to the Ohio State Fair.

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    @Robert Schwartz

    I’ve been to the Wisconsin State Fair. In the Badger State they know how to make big girls look good.

    Also by August it’s often practically snowing in West Allis, so the GLHes remain safely hidden undern more subdued attire.

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    The fact that a design sells well does not mean that it is good, but simply that it does attract many customers. It’s not the same thing. Commercial success does not equate with beauty. Otherwise, more people would watch movies by, say, Clint Eastwood, and less Tom Cruise/Bruckheimer movies.

    The idea the Farago pushes that the BMW sales success and its design direction in the last 10 years are probably unrelated is untenable in view history. The fact is that people don’t spend large amounts of money on high end cars if they are put off by the car’s design. I think that has been established over the 100 years of auto industry and it’s been proven daily on this blog.

    It simply proves that a majority of people have bad taste. Is it arrogant of me to say this? Sure, but I hold by it, even when judging what is a very subjective element: car looks.

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    Again, for the vast majority of BMW buyers, it wouldnt have mattered a lick probably, what direction the design went in.

    Clearly, to anyone who really cares, it went way off course. But ask around when you are in a car with common folks….point out beemers…or better still have people point them out for you. See how many of them can guess the vintage. They CAN point out BMWs…there are enough badges and visual clues (wheels, grille, etc) to make it obvious.

    But really dig and see if anyone understands the evolution. The vast majority dont. Owning a beemer is owning the status to them. The newer the better, but NOT because of the design. The design never just improves or declines, but newer is always looked at as better buy this type of buyer. Just goes to show, most of them are fully clueless, and dont look at cars the way TTAC peeps do.

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    Yeah! Once. I was probably 22 – long, long time ago.

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    “How is BMW different from any other car company?”

    Not much at all. But we’re talking mainly about design here, and BMW has staked out a position whose origin was markedly different than other car companies. Ecce Bangle.

    “Cars have been refined across the board. Even porsche. Compare a 997 to an 80’s 911.”

    Sad for myself, I do this all the time!

    “Even porsche, the purist brand, looks bloated by comparison.”

    Indeed. And elsewhere, I have been unstinting in my criticism of Porsche for also having added too much fat, and proven too unwilling to strip it from all but its GT3s (and even with those, I bet you there are a couple hundred more pounds easily lost with enough will).

    “Sure older cars have “soul” and “character”.

    You said it, not me. I have always refused to let the word “soul” slip from between my lips in relation to cars, Porsche or otherwise.

    I do however think many of the contemporary Porsches DO have much character. The Cayman, Boxster, and 997 are all, in my opinion, beautiful cars loaded with character. Even if they are still too heavy given their understood missions.

    “Thats only because no two of them were alike due to vastly inferior manufacturing and quality control.”

    And that explains how virtually any 911 rolled out of the factory could be driven to a race track and flogged, and not fall apart, as was fairly common then? I can’t speak to QC of other builders in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but having owned and/or driven dozens of 911s from those decades on the road and track, I would argue that QC was one thing they were not lacking.

    “I would love to own a 2002 to work on and look at on sunny days but for a car I actually have to use it’ll be an e92.”

    This brings us to the core difference between owners: to some, 2002s, early 911s, Datsun 510s, etc., are to be admired, tinkered with, and driven on sunny days. To others–more like me–these cars are to be driven and used daily. That they offer up a mountain of fun at a moment’s notice is all that much nicer.

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    Like many who have commented already, I was rather critical of Bangle’s designs. But over time, the designs grew on me. The bangle butt wasn’t that bad…to the point where I had trouble telling the difference between the back of a Camry from that of an E60 5-series. I noticed a lot of the Asian companies started taking design queues from BMW. The front looked an awful lot like a Pontiac when Pontiacs were fairly good looking.

    Recently, I went and bought a 5 series. One of my neighbors has a previous generation and parked next to each other, the E60 is certainly fussier looking, but it also has more road presence. The stance made the car look more like a “driving machine” (whatever that means).

    In the end, I feel there is a lot to criticize about Bangle’s designs but overall, BMWs have stood out and the cars are unmistakably BMW. In this sense, I feel Bangle has succeeded and wish him well in whatever he gets into designing in his future.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Has anybody else noticed that in the winter weather, Bangle designs get filthier than most other cars?

    A rear window of a 5-series station wagon gets covered in muck in no time, and I’ve seen dozens of other BMWs completely messed up, i.e. with illegible rear license plates. It looks like a case of sloppy design to me. Citroen for example consciously designs its cars so that the airstream keeps the rear window clean and dry, and the rear panal not too dirty.

    As a designer, you need to keep your eye on the basics: make the car look clean, and create a shape that stays clean, even if not frequently washed.

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought the 6 series’ rear was pretty bad…possibly worse that the 2002 7 series’ was. Maybe because it’s set on a bit smaller/slimmer body.

    I had also remembered reading somewhere that the “Bangle butt” was actually designed by Mr. A. van Hooydonk (albeit presumably under direction of his boss, Chris Bangle). van Hooydonk did design the concept vehicle upon which the 6 series was supposedly based according to the TopGear article about van Hooydonk. The TopGear article alludes to his hand in a 7 series design saying that he received “a mauling over his 7-Series” design.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    @dgduris: and you weren’t traumatized?

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    I admit, I like “flame surfacing” especially in the Z4 Coupe/M Coupe. I don’t know a thing about automotive styling, but the way light and reflections play off the concave surfaces is visually fascinating to me, even if it’s artistically incorrect. Beyond my opinion, I’ll certainly respect the impact he’s had on the rest of the industry.

    BMW knowingly took a risky move with Bangle and it was intentionally polarizing. Maybe it’s true the hot economy and BMW snobs expanded Bangle BMW sales, but I like to think that without Bangle, BMWs would resemble the coming generation of Mercedes: Sterile and vaguely derivative of Japanese designs.

    Like cdotson, I also read somewhere that Adrian van Hooydonk did the actual penning of the designs, so I wouldn’t pull out the cigars or champagne yet.

  • avatar

    The 6-series has awesome visual presence; it’s going to sound like heresy, but it’s what modern 911 should look like only a bit smaller and a lot lighter.

  • avatar
    Scorched Earth

    From the perspective of BMW and the industry, he was a success. His styling brought a ton of new interest to BMW, and the Asians flattered him by xeroxing his butt to no end.

    From my perspective, he turned ruined the most elegant cars in history.

  • avatar
    john m flores

    For those of you who don’t want to correlate strong visual designs with sales success, ponder the following:

    – early 80s Audi 5000
    – 1st and 2nd generation Ford Taurus
    – Pontiac Aztec
    – AMC Pacer

    With each of the above, the design struck a nerve, good or bad, and sales followed, or didn’t. Simply put, ugly doesn’t sell. Unless it’s fleet sales.

    Secondly, a new design language evolves over time. When you look at a modern Audi, you can point to that early 80s Audi 5000 as the first example of the language. Cadillac’s new edgy styling has evolved from the first awkward CTS to the newer models that use the language more fluently. Likewise Bangle’s BMWs. Just compare the maligned 2002 7 series and compare it to 2009’s. You may still hate it, but you’ve got to admit that the overall impression is much more fluid, much more cohesive.

    Finally, one size does not fit all. Some designs work really well in one size and not so well in other sizes. Think Porsche and the Cayenne. Same with Bangle’s BMWs. His designs work best in the 5 series – small enough to carry flow and tension in the flamed surfaces but big enough that the stylistic flourishes in the headlights and taillights don’t overwhelm the total package.

    Ultimately, every designer has his hits and misses. I’ll forgive Bangle his misses – his first 7, the noses on the 6 and 4 – because he’s developed a language that has matured and resulted in some very nice automobiles. He’s left BMW as a recognized design leader, something that they did not have before, and that’s no easy task.

  • avatar

    I liked Bangle’s Beemers.

    I nearly bought a 128i hatch just before I moved to the USA. I might do so eventually (we just bought a new car today as we’ve just returned to Australia – so it might be a while before the wife says yes to another car).

    I think the folks who pined for the BMW’s of before are boring old farts who were dying anyway. BMW had to do something to make their cars exciting, and I for one really liked ’em, including the first Bangled 7 series. I *hate* sedans with a passion, but if I was forced to own a sedan (before trading it in for something useful or fun, like a hatch or a convertible), I’d have any of his sedans.

    The funny thing is that the most Bangled BMW’s were the biggest sales successes, and once they de-Bangled them, sales sagged. Folks with that much discretionary spending do not want Camries or Accords. They want something that stands out and has some distinction and uniqueness.

    Life is too short to own a boring slab sided econobox. Bangle’s cars were never boring.


  • avatar

    Perhaps my feelings are hurt by being called a” boring old fart who [is] dying anyway” but I’ve owned 4 3-Series BMWs over the last 10 years.

    We boring old farts look at people like you who only “want something that stands out and has some distinction and uniqueness as poseurs who just want to be seen driving an expensive status car.

    Why don’t you just put some pink highlighting in your hair if you just want to “stand out and have some distinction and uniqueness” ?

    I don’t particularly like having a car that looks like a circus act. I bought my most recent banglized 3 Series because it still drives like a BMW albeit in a zoot suit. The current 3-Series is overwrought.

    It’s still about how the car performs, though, and so I bought one. However, I rejected the idea of a Z4 because it’s so god-awful that I just couldn’t do that. You’re certainly welcome to like it if you choose, and I’m sure it will get you a lot of attention….

    Oh, and please don’t equate popularity with tasteful or well-done. Applying that logic gives us Madonna, Brittany Spears, and Paris Hilton as role models.

  • avatar

    Bloggers berate Bangle, but BMW’s business boomed.

  • avatar

    Bangle’s Achilles heels were headlight and trunk design, or more generally, overreaching in tying the front and rear ends together. That being said, the Bangle bimmers look very current, possess the best stance of any mainstream marque, and the best wheel designs in the business. The refreshed designs also addressed the most egregious aspects of the original designs and managed to turn them into handsome cars (I’m thinking of the E60 5-series and E65 7-series especially). And at least exterior design was prioritized at BMW in an automotive world of dead-end accent lines and slab-sided doors. I would also argue that his M Coupe, 3 Series sedan, and X5 are better looking than their predecessors. Sadly, the M3s are just tacky and the 6-series are shockingly bad.

  • avatar

    The 99 3,5,7 were all beautiful cars and then Bangle bungled…

  • avatar

    There’s nothing like a Chris Bangle article to bring out all the automotive design experts, haters, posers, etc. In business you have to grow your client base or you die! After 20 years of design evolution, the old platform had reached its zenith. BMW had to attract new buyers and if this new design language alienated some current customers, then so be it.
    Automotive journalists and car enthusiast often over estimate the influence they have on the general car buying public. Their opinions reach a very small audience and the rest could give a rat’s ass what they think. This explains why when a majority of the automotive press dislikes the Bangle designs, BMW increases sales. Their influence is very limited. People buy cars for a variety of reasons and to try to establish motives is just plain asinine.
    To all those that left BMW because of Bangle’s designs or are just plain haters, BMW says, “go screw yourselfs”!

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