Car Talk: Bangle’s BMW’s Revisited

*Yawn*

What’s that? Oh, sorry – I was just feeling a little sleepy there. Probably as a result of seeing the new BMW 3-Series.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly a fan of BMW and their car design. I USED to be but it’s difficult to get passionate about the cautious evolution of the likes of the 3 and 5-Series models. Don’t even get me started on their range of gargantuan, obnoxious drug-dealer ‘X’ SUV’s. This is the way it has been for some time now and while there have been some attractive BMW’s in recent times – the F82 M4 and F06 Gran Coupe 6-Series – the majority of the Bavarian firm’s designs are “smart”, “safe” and “uniform” – solid descriptives but not descriptives that set the pulse racing.

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Solid and unoffensive but certainly not sexy. [Source]
It wasn’t always this way though. Look at the design evolution between the E30, E36 and E46 3-Series models. All three generations are attractive cars that share similar design cues but – crucially – manage to stand apart from one another. The latest 3-Series doesn’t look massively different to the last one which in itself was just a sharper refinement of its predecessor’s silhouette.

And this is why I want to take a look back at that brief moment in time when BMW entrusted the design of their cars to one Chris Bangle. His designs proved intensely controversial and were rather wild and unconventional after years of conservative car design at BMW. At the time, many resented these weird new BMWs (myself included) but I can’t help but look back at this era now and mourn the time when a heavyweight car manufacturer of BMW’s caliber allowed a designer to rewrite the rules and gave him their backing when the critics were aghast at what they were seeing.

So I thought it would be fun to revisit Bangle’s BMW output with fresh eyes and revitalise our imaginations – stunted by the all-consuming blandness of modern car design.

[Note: Chris Bangle was at BMW for a long time and involved in the design of many cars whether in a hands-on fashion or as an overseer. I don’t want to talk about every single car that was released during Bangle’s tenure at BMW so I’m only going to look back at the cars he had the most involvement with, making a special exception for the original Z4.]

5-Series (E60/E61)

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[Source]
This is the biggie for me because after the graceful E39 5-Series, the E60 arrived looking nothing like what had come before. I remember first seeing these on the roads and absolutely detesting them. The headlights stretching up into the wings took a lot of getting used to as did the pointy rear lights. The E60 is three generations old now and I have to say that my opinion of it has changed completely. I think it still looks incredibly sharp and imposing – making a true statement despite the fact that there are still enough on the roads to make them a common daily sight. Critics and the public were unsure of the E60’s looks back in 2003 but it’s those same looks and that daring design in general that make the car so appealing today when the current 5-Series is really nothing to get emotional about.

The M5 model is a true monster with a 5.0 naturally aspirated, F1-inspired V10 powerplant that stirs the soul and represents the end of an era – the culmination of an arms race that went off in a different, turbo-charged direction thereafter. They also made a Touring version (E61) which is utterly bonkers and surely the best way to haul some crap down to the dump. Alpina editions are dangerously sexy.

Personally, the E60 has matured like a fine wine and I would honestly say that a decent spec example with a manual ‘box (a rarity unfortunately) and M-Sport equipment is one of my most highly desired cars. That’s high praise coming from a staunch follower of everything JDM.

Z4 (E85/E86)

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[Source]
The E85 Z4 is the work of Anders Warming but I’m including it here since I keep seeing references to the fact that Chris Bangle had some sort of input on the design. I’m not 100% sure about that but in any case, the Z4 was certainly a major departure from the Z3. As with the E60 5-Series, I hated this car on release and wondered what on earth was happening at BMW. The front end in particular always struck me as brutish and rhino-like. Today however, the design has matured and is certainly preferable to the nondescript, folding tin-top E89 that followed in the E85’s wake.

My father has the coupe version (E86) and it really is a nice car. The long bonnet and squat, muscular proportions go so well with the swooping fastback shape that gives the car an almost classic sports car look. His isn’t the fire-breathing, ultra desirable Z4M variant but you’d better believe that the 3.0 N52B30 straight-six under that huge bonnet can deliver a massive shove…as well as a big grin on the driver’s face.

7-Series (E65)

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[Source]
The E65 was one of the more shocking designs to emerge from Bangle’s reign at BMW’s design offices. It was a car that looked nothing at all like its conservative predecessor and in that sense, it achieved the BMW board’s wishes to move the design direction of its cars into the future. The controversy was real however, especially at the rear end of the car where the strange (shocking even, for 2001) elongated boot horrified many, leading critics to label it the “Bangle Butt”. As with the E60 5-Series, I too did not like this car when it first launched. The design was just so different and in-your-face. I couldn’t stand the car.

But as with the E60, that bold design philosophy is exactly what has made the E65 7-Series age fantastically in my opinion. I don’t look twice at the current 7-Series or the model it replaced but when I see an E65 cruising by, I can’t help but look. I hated it in period but the current, ultra-safe design direction at BMW has given me newfound appreciation for cars like the E65 and made me realise how lucky we really were to witness these risks being taken. Sometimes though, you can’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.

6-Series (E63/E64)

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[Source]
Another radical design that sported a “Bangle Butt”, the E63 6-Series was as different as you could possibly get from the original, much-loved 6-Series (E24). Big, beefy and with a bruiser persona, the E63 was another controversial design that – again – I felt enormously turned-off by back in 2004. Like the 7-Series, I could only look at it and think “what the hell are they doing?“. It was fugly and struck me as a mish-mash of design elements colliding in the worst possible way.

Surprise, surprise, the E63 has the polar opposite effect on me today in 2019. It turns me on like modern BMWs simply can’t. As I mentioned in the intro to this article, I do like the Gran Coupe (F06) body style of the more recent 6-Series but nothing is a dramatic and statement-making as the E63, especially in M6 mode – a true monster with planet-sized alloys and that masterpiece that is the 5.0 S85B50 V10 engine. Will we ever see such a radical design again? Never say never but I feel that it’s unlikely which is a shame.

Overall Thoughts

To quote myself from this very post:

“Sometimes though, you can’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.”

I feel that this is the best way I can sum up the Bangle years at BMW. Obviously, I am very much aware of the concepts of maturity, rose-tinted vision and older stuff looking a lot better in light of newer offerings but despite that, I’m still fascinated by how horrible these cars seemed to many of us in their day and how fantastic they look NOW. Looking at the German automotive industry today, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine that a giant like BMW – that values consistency and inoffensive design language – would have once permitted a man to wipe the slate and trade in Evolution for Revolution in such a blunt manner. I’m glad that they did though because the cars I’ve covered here have aged superbly in my opinion and make highly tempting purchases on the second-hand market.

What do you think? Have you always hated the Bangle era? Did you appreciate it from the very beginning, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up? Or were you like me and changed your stance over time?

Car Talk: (non) Electric Dreams

The future of motoring is electrification as they keep telling us. Divorcing fossil fuels and driving off into the sunset with a younger, hotter model by the name of Electricity is inevitable. It’s a snowball that has been gathering pace and growing in size for many years now and there will be no stopping it’s progress. Change and progress are inevitable after all and with environmental and health-related concerns in the driving seat(s), it is going to happen.

But if you are like me and a petrolhead in love with cars and the art of driving, then this change isn’t just disheartening; it’s distressing. A future of humming about in washing machines with automatic transmissions and self-driving systems is an awful one in my opinion. If you’re the type of person who views a car as an A-B appliance in the same category as your dishwasher or fridge then you won’t see the big deal. If you’re the kind of person who wants cars gone right now in order to save the planet then you may be tutting at my ignorant, selfish viewpoint in disgust. However, I’m not here to please either of you or try to make you see my viewpoint.

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Against all of my expectations, Ford has shifted loads of Mustangs here in the UK since offering official right-hand drive models and most of them are the full-fat 5.0 V8. It makes me happy. [image: autoweek.com]
I am going to miss the combustion engine and my unwavering admiration for how it works. I am going to miss the sheer pleasure of hooning around in the Sunday afternoon sunshine with bends to master and straights to abuse. I’m going to miss the satisfaction of working a manual gearbox and getting those shifts spot-on. But I think we will have these pleasures for some time to come yet. Here in the UK for example, the infrastructure and capacity to generate enough electricity to charge all of these cars is woefully lacking so I cannot see a complete shift to electric in the timeframe that the government and eco warriors are pushing for. We can’t even maintain the road surfaces due to budget cuts for fuck’s sake. The idea of charging cables snaking across the pavement on streets of terraced houses without off-road parking is also ludicrous.

Then there is the question of what will happen to the big fuel companies and how the global economy will be impacted by their falling profts. Sure, they can charge us for electricity but there won’t be the same profit available to them as with dino-juice unless they try to get away with making electricity as expensive as petrol currently is. If that happens then we will charge at home as much as possible…until smart electric meters start charging us a higher rate to charge cars despite that electricity being the same energy which powers your kettle and costs you far less to do so.

There’s a lot to think about and a lot of unaddressed issues in a field that is over-reaching and pushing for too much, too quickly. Climate change experts say that we need to hit this as hard as possible but I think it’s more of a case of us being behind in pursuing green technology. After all, we could have had hydrogen cars on the road a long time ago if not for the fuel barons paying to make inventions disappear.

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Faster than the previous FN2 model and beastly to behold but the FK2 Type-R was arguably castrated by being forced to go turbo and thus losing a lot of the drama. [image: wardsauto.com]
But none of this concerns me as much as the fact that when all of this does happen, we will lose the very soul of motoring and those special elements that make cars more than just transport for some of us. The engine and exhaust sounds that differentiate different cars for example. I’m talking about…

  • The raw, metallic growl of an BMW E46 M3
  • The burbling, two fingers to sublety that is the boxer engine in a Subaru Impreza
  • The building shriek of Honda’s naturally-aspirated V-TEC equipped engines as the revs head to silly 9k redlines
  • The angry, pissed-off snarly, crackly-bangy Mercedes C63 AMG
  • Bulging, steroidal American muscle power and the roar of an honest V8
  • The scream of a highly-strung V10 in the back of fighter jet-like supercar exotica

So, as I have already said, change is inevitable but in this case, I feel that it’s change well worth resisting for as long as possible. I’m talking the kind of iron wall resistance that embodies the essence of a Spartan warrior…or Robert Mugabe (too soon?). I get the reasons for the change and I genuinely can’t put together a credible counter-case but even so, I am reserving my right to burn fuel and enjoy REAL cars, not dishwater-dull washing machines on wheels.

I even find myself appreciating dodgy modified rides and the underground street racing scene these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m firmly against the roadmen and their dangerous driving that can kill others but this shady corner of motoring is at least enjoying real cars and car culture.

The next generation of motoring however will have no soul so let’s make sure we enjoy what we have to the max before the do-gooders take away our hobby.

 

Car Talk: Honda turn their back on Swindon

Last month, Honda shocked Britain by announcing the closure of its Swindon factory, scheduled to cease producing the Civic by 2021. As a British bloke, a petrolhead and – above all – a Honda owner this was pretty disappointing news. Of greatest importance however is the impending loss of well in excess of 3,000 jobs from the factory with further reprocussions likely as supply chains and other associated businesses (even down to the snack vans and local eateries that benefit from the trade of the Honda workforce) are hit by the domino effect. Honda’s Swindon factory has been producing cars since 1989 and so Swindon IS Honda. The plug being pulled on operations there is going to hit the town harder than the Honda-powered Mclaren MP4/4 pummelled the rest of the Formula 1 grid in ’88.

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But why was this decision taken? The first inevitable suspect is the big bad arch-demon in the room that some whisper can be summoned by sitting in the centre of a pentagram and chanting the word “Brexit”. So far though, Honda have denied that the economic uncertainty being felt as a result of our embarassing divorce from the EU is to blame and I actually believe them (for reasons I will explain in a moment). Instead they have cited vague global market shifts and a need to adapt quickly. Sales of diesel cars are falling and electrification is now seen as essential.

None of which really explains why Swindon had to close; not in black-and-white plain-speaking terms at least. One rumour I read online (and I have to stress the word “rumour” given that I have no hard evidence to back it up) claimed that the equipment and robotics necessary to manufacture electric vehicles was actually on the way from Japan but the ships were turned back. Other inside sources claim that Honda had been promising upgrades to the factory to enable production of more technologically advanced vehicles for years now.

So it seems like a very sudden snap deicision and I would be accusing Honda of side-stepping the citation of Brexit as the true reason but the company also announced the closure of a Civic plant in Turkey. Obviously, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will not help any business make decisions and long-term commitments to the UK but I don’t believe that Brexit itself is the sole motivator for Swindon being axed. Honda, it seems, are simply pulling out of Europe.

As dire as this is for the town of Swindon and the UK economy, I do want to take a balanced viewpoint and ask if this was really such a surprise. After all, the Swindon plant only produces Civics out of Honda’s current range of cars. Additionally, one of the production lines has been dormant for some time now. Finally, should warning signs have been visible? The automotive landscape is shifting towards electric vehicles and it’s odd that Honda has lagged behind the likes of Toyota and Nissan in this field, especially since they were one of the first manufacturers to “go green” and sell the hybrid car to the masses with the gen one Insight and hybrid Civic saloon.

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[image: carscoops.com]
Then you have to consider the fact that Honda, as a Japanese business, will always want to be seen prioritising the industry and workforce in their homeland and that could well be another reason for bringing more work home. That and cheaper wages + reduced costs in an industry that has slumped sales-wise. This is understandable of course because if it were the other way around, I’m positive that British people would want manufacturing to return to the UK with little regard for overseas job losses. It sounds harsh but it’s the truth, as cold as it may sound.

Whatever the reasons behind Honda’s decision, one thing must certainly be held against them and that is the way in which the workforce at Swindon became aware of their upcoming job losses. Employees didn’t get the word from their employer; it broke on social media first and the first that many knew of it was when their exit from work was met by TV cameras and reporters. Clearly somebody from higher up said “fuck that” to confidentiality and squealed. It’s a shitty business and make no mistake about it.

Finally, I have to mention the ridiculous idea that Civic Type-R production is going to be axed altogether with the current FK8 generation since Swindon is the only Honda factory producing these winged hyper-hatches. Production is just going to shift to Japan and these cars will still be sold to us as usual…at a higher price no doubt once taxes and import duties have had their say.

Car Talk: You can’t beat a sunny Sunday afternoon drive

A strange thing has happened here in Brexit land the UK over the past week: it has been warm and sunny in February. I realise that temperatures of around 15C (give or take a few either way depending on the day) probably sound chilly to some of you but over here, we go crazy for it. Ice cream vans come out of their temporary winter retirement, people immediately start wearing shorts and outdoor attractions are taken by surprise as the whole country turns out to enjoy a quick fix of what is surely a fake dosage of “summer”. Regrettably the womenfolk aren’t all fooled so easily so if you are ready to appreciate the wonders of short-shorts and flimsy vest tops then I’m afraid it’s a false dawn. Be patient.

To put things into perspective, this time last year we were in the grip of The Beast From The East and had snow/ice on the ground. We were all miserable and gloomy as we should be at this time of year. On a side note, the so-called ‘Beast’ was a bit of a wimp and social media enjoyed exaggerrating it’s powers and overly-dramatising the kind of snow and low temperatures that I’m sure other countries would scoff at. Unfortunately, we are not used to snow here in Britain and so the reality of the situation was distorted by our lack of hardiness and also the stupidity of certain people who believe it’s perfectly fine to drive at normal speeds on ice in powerful, rear wheel drive German cars.

Winter and our inability to deal with a few centimetres of snow is a whole other topic for another time however.

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I’m here to talk about the joys of going for a drive for the sake of it, something I do quite often but an undeniably more attractive proposition when the weather is great as it was this Sunday. I’m fortunate to live not far from some beautiful, picturesque countryside and fantastic driving roads so it was with zero hesitation that I decided to spend Sunday afternoon attacking the lanes in my car and cruising through laid-back English villages, lapping up the lazy Sunday afternoon atmosphere and sunshine. Sunglasses and race driver wannabe Alpinestars gloves on. Window dropped all the way down. Tunes pumping from the speakers (old school House courtesy of 808 State, 28th Street Crew and Frankie Knuckles).

My chariot for this jaunt is also my daily driver: an FN2 generation Honda Civic Type-R. the last gasp (quite literally) of naturally aspirated, high-revving V-TEC power before regulations and emissions bullshit forced Honda to start turbocharging their engines. I’ve had the car for almost four years and absolutely love it. The styling still strikes me as futuristic and it’s perfectly useable as an urban runabout or daily commuter (aside from the spine-shaking suspension…) but on a day like the Sunday just gone, I can really enjoy winding that 2.0 lump up into the high ranges of the rev counter and listening to the building banshee wail as V-TEC kicks in (yo).

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[image: autocar.co.uk]
The only downside (other than watching the fuel guage deplete…) is that you are always aware that the FN2 isn’t quite as dynamic as it’s predecessor, the much-loved EP3 Civic Type-R. The rear suspension for example isn’t independent and so you have to watch that the back end doesn’t break away upon hitting crested/bumpy corners at silly speeds. You have to push hard for such a disaster to occur of course but the possibility lives in the back of my mind.

I tend to try and stay somewhere in between subdued and mental, making sure to have my fun without being a lunatic. By day I work as a delivery driver and have to suffer sluggish, speed-restricted and tracked vans so it’s good to let loose on a day off and feel that freedom.

Sundays see many car lovers bring their pride and joy out of storage, even more so when the sun is shining. You can see some great stuff, both classic and modern. Highlights for me this weekend were a Triumph TR6, B5 gen Audi RS4 Avant and a McLaren (don’t ask me which though; aside from the F1 and P1, I’m hopeless at distinguishing which is which).

I suggest that anybody into cars or driving takes the opportunity to enjoy a sunny Sunday when possible and just go for that destination-less drive. To me, little else is as satisfying as booting it along British B-roads and lanes while working a manual ‘box and simply feeling in-sync with your car. Too often these days the media tries to make us petrolheads feel guilty for stubbornly sticking with loud, unapologetic, polluting sports cars and I sometimes wonder if such basic pleasures will be forcibly taken away from us one day for “the greater good”.

Enjoy it while you can.

Car Talk: The 2019 Toyota Supra is just a fake

Is that a harsh statement to make? A blunt assessment perhaps? Well I don’t particularly care. Remember which blog you’re reading here. After all, I am petrolhead amongst other things and a big lover of Japanese metal at that. The A80 (1993-2002) Supra from Toyota is the car I’ve always lusted for the most but good luck acquiring a nice condition manual car here in the UK without some good money in the bank. I’m not the only lover of Toyota’s winged beast either and fans have been eagerly anticipating the A90 follow-up for eons. We’ve had to make do with countless rumours, concepts and prototypes in the meantime, none of which ever amounted to anything concrete.

Until now.

Except…the car is just a fucking BMW with a Toyota shell on top of it. Now I’m not knocking BMW as they make some fantastic cars and you’d better believe that several have made it onto my wishlist over the years. You will be getting a well-engineered product for sure but it’s not Japanese, not a Toyota and certainly not a real Supra.

It’s like an attractive German lady wearing a kimono and playing at being Japanese. The European facial features and German accent are impossible to conceal however.

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[image: carmagazine.co.uk]
The Supra exists on a BMW platform. It has a BMW interior with that instantly recognisable steering wheel shape/design and large tablet-like screen. Even the HUD and menus look the same as you’d find on a BMW’s. The biggest sin is reserved for the engine bay however as Toyota have again borrowed from BMW, using their 2.0 turbo’d four cylinder or a turbo’d 3.0 straight-six. There’s no manual ‘box option either. The BEST part? Probably the Supra badge on the rump that uses the same font as its predecessor’s. That’s a pretty crappy realisation.

It’s a Supra in name only as far as I’m concerned. A generation of car lovers has grown up on the likes of Gran Turismo and The Fast and the Furious, eagerly awaiting the day when Toyota release a new Supra for their generation to buy and enjoy. This is, in my opinion, a sorry excuse for a final product but it’s not really Toyota’s fault.

Y’see, the market has changed since the 90’s and early 2000’s. Estate cars, saloons, coupes and sports cars have all been killed off by the rampant SUV disease. All that consumers appear to aspire to these days are big, blobby, artless crossovers that foster a superiority complex with their jacked-up driving positions. Ugly, nondescript boxes that all look the same (regardless of manufacturer) and are leased on popular PCP finance deals. Add to this the growing number of drivers that have no interest in cars and treat them as mere appliances and you hardly have an ideal environment for sports cars.

You can’t blame Toyota for supplying what people are buying. It’s business after all. So it’s a miracle that the 2019 Supra exists at all and if it wasn’t down to Toyota president, Akio Toyoda and his love for sports cars, then nobody else would have forced the project through to production. The cost was grave though and meant that money needed to be saved hence the collaboration with BMW and use of their engines. Even so, the Supra is still unlikely to turn a profit for the company (from what I’ve read at least).

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Welcome to the new BMW Z4…sorry, I meant SUPRA. [image: carmagazine.co.uk]
So we have to be thankful that we are even at this stage then. But who is going to buy it? Show-offs and trendy types possibly or buyers who genuinely don’t realise that they are buying a BMW Z4 in drag. Not everybody looks into these things after all and your local Toyota dealer is unlikely to tell you that it’s a BMW you’re buying. Many will doubtlessly buy it for the name or to be different to the M-car crowd which is irony on a gourmet scale.

I can’t see true JDM diehards salivating over this though because there’s no way you can drive this thing and continue to profess a love for Japanese cars. Go back to the 90’s and if you were to choose something from Toyota’s sports car range – be it the Supra, Celica or MR2 – then you KNEW that you were buying a car that was designed and engineered by Toyota with a Toyota-built engine under the bonnet. You could legitimately pin your colours to a flag. If the A90 Supra at least had a 3JZ engine and a bespoke interior then we’d be talking.

In summary, it’s good to see the Supra name back again and the BMW DNA means that buyers WILL get a good car. I have no doubt that it will drive well and perform stonkingly too. To deny this would be pretty moronic. However, if you want an authentic Japanese designed and built sportscar that does the legacy of the country’s 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s output proud then this isn’t it. The sad truth is that we may NEVER see such a thing again if boring shit like the Qashqai and CH-R continue to bring home the bacon.