BMW CSL And M1 Art Cars Live Up To Their Name In This New Print Series
The BMW Art Car series has been blending motorsport with fine art for more than four decades now, but back in the mid 1970s it almost started with Renault-Alpine instead. They passed on French art auctioneer Hervé Poulain’s idea (which, basically, was to have an acclaimed artist paint the livery of Renault’s Le Mans entrant), so Poulain turned to his friend, countryman, and future president of the FIA Jean Todt to help find another automaker to partner with.
Todt explained Poulain’s project to the head of BMW Motorsport, Jochen Neerpasch, who saw the potential in it and provided a blank canvas in the form of a 3.0 CSL race car for the potential to be realized. With Neerpasch’s support, Poulain’s idea came to fruition, and American sculptor Alexander Calder became the first in a long and growing list of talented artists to apply his aesthetics to the bodywork of a BMW.
The big swathes of primary colors that Calder dressed the CSL in were simple but captivating, and the bold design still looks as striking as it did blurring down the Mulsanne Straight back in 1975, and the followup acts weren’t half bad, either. Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol created liveries for the next three cars, which together with Calder’s CSL formed a strong foundation for the rest of the Art Car series—a series that was added to as recently as 2017. However, this collection of prints from the artists at Remove Before focuses on just the CSL and M1 art cars, one of which is an unofficial member of the group, which we’ll get into below.
Alexander Calder – 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL (click here to order)
A good deal of Alexander Calder’s portfolio is too big to fit in a museum, and of the massive sculptures he created in his lifetime, the mobiles have come to define his legacy. The CSL was his only auto-mobile project, but the livery that he came up with fits in nicely with the rest of his best-known work. Namely, it’s a cheerful collection of basic shapes and bright primary colors arranged in way that makes it look even better in motion than at rest.
Besides just being the first Art Car, the Calder CSL is also unique in the sense of how involved its creators were. At the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans, Neerpasch was directing the race team in the pits, Calder was looking on from behind the wall, and Poulain was one of the drivers. An issue with the transmission retired the car before the race’s halfway mark, but that was plenty of time to make a little bit of history.
Frank Stella – 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL (click here to order)
Featuring updated bodywork for the 1976 season (the distended “cow-catcher” front air dam being the most noticeable augmentation), the CSL provided for Frank Stella’s design was a familiar but all around more radical shape than the one Calder used the year prior. To complement this, Stella came up with a livery that resembled a stylized sheet of graph paper streaked with black arcs and lines that echoed the flares and creases of the fiberglass they covered.
Abstracted when viewed up close, the complex black and white design becomes clearer at a distance, where the car looks like a blueprint in motion. The lack of color turns some people off from this one, but it is perhaps the best of the Art Cars when it comes to the artfulness of engineering
Andy Warhol – 1979 BMW M1 Group 4/Procar (click here to order)
Pop art icon and generally odd duck Andy Warhol has perhaps the best Art Car creation story though. For starters, he was the only one who actually painted it himself—the rest were done by the artists on scale models, to be transferred to the real cars at a later date by a paint shop located near BMW’s operations in Munich. Also, as the story goes, the “Warhol M1” was something of a rush job: BMW says he was finished with the car in less than half an hour. The legend continues from there, with Warhol supposedly offering to use the leftover time and paint to add a livery to a new 3-Series parked outside that belonged to one of the bystanders. That’s probably not true, but it’s fun to think about someone foregoing a Warhol for the sake of the factory paint job on a 3-Series.
Frank Stella – 1979 BMW M1 Group 4/Procar (click here to order)
Frank Stella was an Art Car artist, and the BMW M1 in Group 4 specification was an Art Car subject, but not in this specific case.
After completing his CSL livery in 1976, Frank Stella had become something of a motorsport enthusiast, and could often be found attending events with his racing buddies Ronnie Peterson and Peter Gregg. That was until the autumn of 1978, when Peterson was tragically killed by an embolism that resulted from the infamous multi-car pileup at the start of the Italian Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Gregg had been awaiting the M1 race car he’d ordered from BMW, and when it arrived Stella agreed to paint it as a sort of tribute to their lost friend.