BMW is fortunate among auto makers in that it has one of the most recognizable and iconic design elements, its twin“kidney” grilles. Often imitated, these oblong-shaped features have been on nearly every front-engined BMW since 1933. Once, in the hands of a very famous Italian designer, this design element took an odd turn that I can’t help but find clever and even sort of funny.

The designer is Nuccio Bertone, son of the founder of Carrozzeria Bertone and the Bertone that was running the company when they produced such iconic designs as the Lamborghinis Miura, Espada, and Countach, and the Alfa Romeo Montreal, Iso Grifo, Fiat X1/9, and more.

This particular car is a 1969 concept for BMW called the Spicup, a word that was meant to evoke both the ideas of spider and coupé, since the clever three-piece stainless steel sliding top would allow the car to be an open spider or a closed coupe.

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The design of the Spicup is quite a departure for BMW, and owes more than a little to another Bertone concept car, an Alfa Romeo that was first shown at the Montreal Expo ‘67, and would later take the name of that city for its production model, the Alfa Romeo Montreal.

The Spicup was a sleek, low design, full of interesting angles and details. The half-lidded headlamps are perhaps the most obvious carryover from the Montreal, but the Spicup has its own distinctive look, along with a dramatic shades-of-emerald color scheme.

The Spicup was built on a shortened BMW 2500 chassis and used the straight-six from the BMW 2800, which gave it a very respectable 170 horsepower, mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

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What I think is most notable, styling-wise, though, is the way Bertone chose to incorporate BMW’s signature design detail, the kidney grilles.

Instead of actually working the kidney shapes into the grille itself, the kidneys get recast as a pair of close-set, rubber faced bumper guards. right smack dab in the center where the trademark kidney grilles would go.

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While some modern BMWs have kidneys that are not actually air intake grilles (the electrics, the i3 and i8) I don’t believe such liberties had ever been taken with the kidney grilles up to this point.

While I’m sure those bumper guards were custom-made, they don’t really look appreciably different than any number of other bumper guards one could get at the time, which makes this even, better, I think.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Technically, you could slap a pair of Pep Boys black-rubber faced/chrome bodied bumper guards and stick them on just about anything for that BMW-face look.

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I don’t think this design method was an intentional dig at BMW or anything like that, just a designer taking some very clever and novel liberties with an iconic design.

Since the Spicup didn’t get too great a reaction, BMW sold it to some Dutch brothers who hooned the crap out of it for years. Eventually, it was brought back to original condition, and is now part of the BMW Museum’s collection in Munich.

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I actually really like the bumper guards-as-kidney-grilles take on the design. In fact, modern BMW should consider this as a design option, since it would help with one of modern cars’ biggest design failures, the fact that modern bumpers, with their expensive, painted bumper covers, are effectively useless for small mishaps.

Think about it, BMW! And figure out a way to make it work at the back, too.