The Defendant: Chris Bangle

Chris Bangle BMW

I am here in defense of one man: Mr. Chris Bangle. A designer who has been much maligned by his automotive peers, the press and car enthusiasts….unjustly, I think.

After all, no one berated Bruno Sacco when he, in my humble opinion, put Mercedes styling back at least 10 years. The ungainly, bank vault styling of the S-Class cars of the Sacco era was atrocious. The butcher block E-Class and jam jar 190 rendered the Hammer and 190E 2.3-16, but were otherwise uneventful.

I agree that the look did nothing to make BMW’s visually appealing, but without the flame surfacing back then, the fluid styling of the 2013 BMW 5-series would not be. Some say that the styling is a bit too tame and lacks the polarizing effect of the Bangle design. Let us also remember that Bangle oversaw the Mini and the Rolls Royce Phantom during his time at Bavarian Motor Works. Mercedes stayed mainstream and BMW went extreme, but during the Bangle era, BMW overtook Mercedes as the global leader in premium car sales.

Bangle-Butt BMW 7-Series

All of the blame cannot be placed on Chris Bangle’s shoulders like Atlas. The 7-series was not just a design controversy, but a technological controversy as well. Chris wasn’t responsible for the i-Drive system, yet it was one of the glaring faults of the car (according to those who reviewed it, not those who owned it). Another reason for the flared design was to use BMW’s new technology of 3D panel pressing allowing a single press for compound curves. Bangle was the designer, but he got a mandate from the manufacturing arm of the company. What was he to do….forsake a good paying position to make pretty cars?

Where were the crowds of villagers with pitchforks when Jack Telnack released the ugly sisters, the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz? Who cried foul when Suzuki touted the Aerio or when Isuzu unwrapped the hideous Vehicross? When Pontiacs were festooned with plastic cladding, did anyone berate the late Chuck Jordan? No one made as much stink when Brian Nesbitt was churning out bread wagons for GM and Chrysler during end of the retro movement.

True, the Bangle-Butt BMW’s were strange to look at from the outside and their dresser-drawer center stack was just as unusual on the inside. By now, Mr. Bangle has heard all of our comments and understands what he could have done differently. However, DaVinci, Bugatti and Brunnel were all controversial geniuses because they took risks that eventually paid off. Their ideas were outside the norm and strange to people at the time just like Bangle’s designs.

BMW 5-Series Designed by Chris Bangle

It seems that the chief rivals have gone for a plain bread look, much to their disadvantage – I think. The current BMW’s are evolutions of the Bangle design, the same one that we called “duck-tail”. They are slimmer, but not svelte. They are attractive, but not pretty. They are also selling like hotcakes

Would I buy a bustle-back Bimmer? Probably not. One thing is for sure, though. I sure do recognize one in a crowd of luxo-boxes at the country club and that is the genius of design. Not necessarily beauty, but brand recognition. That was the genius of it all. Thank you, Chris Bangle for the character and the conflict that made automotive design take off in an entirely different direction. Sometimes genius isn’t appreciated until after it’s gone and sometimes, unfortunately, it is not appreciated at all. Mr. Bangle’s designs may not be embraced by the masses, but I do believe his work to bring about evolution in car styling and attention to BMW should certainly be appreciated.

Do you like or dislike the Bangle-designed BMW models? Leave a comment and let us know!


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