Tuesday, April 19, 2022

RETRO: The original BMW Competition Art Cars

Although which is more famous, the Artist or the Racecar?


With visions of Sugar Plums, Err Easter Eggs still on my mind, I thought this was  a good time for this No Fenders yarn. Although apparently it was last Fall when the subject of the oft, forgotten BMW Art Cars came to my Attenzione when Surfing the Car and Driver magazine via my NFB Newsline for The Blind telephone service. Yet naturally, now I cannot find said article on the All Conquering Intrawoods’, Arse-sumedly since they run us thru a third Party’s “Site” in order to collect our email information for Uhm, Marketing? Yeah, that’s the Ticket!


The story was about how the Alexander Calder Foundation had commissioned BMW to create what is known as the BMW Artist Proof version of Calder’s original 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL racecar, that French racer and Auctioneer Herve Poulainraced in that year’s 24 Heurs du Mans.


As Poulain, now known as the instigator of the BMW Art Car project, asked his friend Calder to create a stunning  work using the three-liter Bimmer’ CSL “Batmobile” as his canvas. Although the car’s graphics were more striking then the car’s performance. As Poulain, Jean Guichet and some Yank named Sam Posey retired the car after just nine hours with Driveshaft maladies…


Reportedly, this rolling piece of Art was inspired by Calder’s work for Braniff International Airlines, who’d commissioned him in 1973 to paint one of it’s Douglas DC-8 Jetliners, commemorating it’s 25 years of service to South America.


The first jet known as Flying Colours, was such a sensation at the 1975 Paris Airshow, that Braniff commissioned Calder for two more airplanes, both being Boeing 727’s. The first being called the Flying Colours of the United States, in tribute to the United States Bicentennial with it’s red, white and blue motif. With  the second called Salute to Mexico, which sadly wasn’t completed due to Calder’s sudden death in 1976.


Legend has it that Messer Calder always wanted to create his own BMW “Batmobile” in order to be able to Hear the symphonic Harmony of it’s BMW M49 3.5-litre DOHC inline six cylinder engine ticking over. And it was Alexander S. C. Rower, Alexander’s Grandson and President of the Calder Foundation who finally accomplished this Dream with BMW’s assistance last year…


Have to say I’d never heard of Monsieur Poulain before, who apparently was the “Ultimate Driving Force” behind the first four BMW Art Cars that All competed in le 24 Heurs du Mans during the Mid to late 1970’s.


As Frank Stella painted the second Art Car rendition, another 3.0 CSL Batmobile, driven by two Blokes named Brian Redman and Peter Gregg in the ’76 24 Hours of Le Mans.


As this was the year that turbos were allowed at the Circuit de la Sarthe under the ACO’s new Group 5 and Group 6 regulations. And the BMW Motorsport GmbH #23 Stella Art Car entry was actually a Group 5 3.2-litre turbocharged 3.0 CSL variant that retired after a modest five hours with an Oil leak.


On a side note, I’ve “Seen” Stella’s other Art Car, a non commissioned BMW M1 that the company let Peter Gregg purchase. As it was one of the two BMW Art Cars on display during the Peter Gleeson Master Collector’s exhibit at America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, WA Wayback’ in 2016.


But that was a Humiliating day for Mwah. As Tacoma Bureau Chief Mary Ellen had stopped one of the Museum’s roving Volunters and inquired how I could Volunteer? The Man looked at me holding my White Cane and blandly said what can you do? As I was so flummoxed by the question that All I could say was, I can answer telephones…




The 3.0 CSL has to be one of BMW’s greatest racecars, having won six European Touring Car championships (ETCC) from 1973-79, including five straight between 1975-79! Along with winning the 1976 24 Hours of Daytona with Peter Gregg, Brian Redman and John Fitzpatrick. Also winning the prior year’s 12 Hours of Sebring with Sam Posey and Hans Stuck joining Brian Redman and Alan Moffett.


Whilst I’d forgotten that I’d chronicled “Peter Perfect,” aka Peter Gregg in a No Fenders tome five years ago, which also discusses Gregg’s association with Frank Stella, that other BMW M1 Art Car and the late Ronnie Peterson in the story below…




Art Car No. 3 was a 1977 BMW 320i painted by renown Artist Roy Lichtenstein. As Monsieur Poulain had much better results. As He and  Countryman Marcel Mignot finished ninth overall and second in their IMSA GT Class, behind a Belgian entry.


As I always find it amusing that McLaren campaigned a BMW 320i in the IMSA GT Championship for ‘Ol Hobbo’, aka HobbsCapp’, nee David Hobbs, who won multiple races aboard it. As the 320i was BMW’s 3.0 CSL successor.


For Mwah, I suppose due solely to sheer name recognition, the fourth Art Car’s Artist is the most famous I know. Although I was unaware that Andy Warhol had actually been commissioned to paint a black BMW 320i in 1978, which subsequently failed to qualify for that years Le Mans race.


Thus, for 1979, Warhol painted Art Car No. 4, arguably the most famous Art Car? A 1979 BMW M1, albeit this one being a Group 4 racing version that Poulain, Mignot and Manfred Winklehock shared. With the trio finishing sixth overall and second in class at that year’s 24 Heurs du Mans.


Funny, but whenever I think of the M1, BMW’s first production mid engine car, I always think of the M1 Procar series, a one make support series for Formula 1 run between 1979-80. Which several F1 Drivers would compete in, with Niki “the Rat” Lauda winning the ’79 Procar title, and Nelson Piquet the second and final Procar title the following year.


The M1 would contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1981-86 with modest results…