I don’t know what shocks me more: That people hated the Bangle-era BMW 6 Series when it came out in the mid-2000s, or that it somehow made it to production at all. I can’t think of a car more controversial that has aged better than this car.
From the 1960s right up to the 2000s, BMW’s production cars were almost comically staid. As one 3 Series would give way to the next, stying hardly changed. The face — round headlights sitting on the ends with narrow little kidneys sat in the middle — transferred from generation to generation. Across the board, BMWs looked like BMWs, from the top executive 7 Series down to the most bargain 3 Series Compact. Oddballs like the M1 and Z1 never got follow-ups. They were crushed under the pressure of BMW’s corporate identity.
So when BMW debuted the E65 generation 7 Series, the world was stunned, as Chris Harris recounted for Jalopnik back in 2014:
At the time [...] I thought Chris Bangle was at best a madman, at worst a criminal. He’d taken the finest mainstream design language of them all — the demure yet purposeful BMW saloon — and sodomized it with a special brutality. When we saw the E65 7 Series we could barely contain the contents of our stomachs. He parried the criticism by insisting that BMW needed a new direction and that only a complete schism with the past would provide suitable change. So he went bat-shit-crazy with the Seven. Which looked terrible in 2001. And which now, especially the facelifted model, so-help-me-Lord, looks pretty damn good to my eyes.
The Houdinery deepened with the 2003 E60 5-Series. Born with a face for radio, I thought it was a crime against Bavaria – gone was the Hoffmeister kink, gone was the driver-slanted centre console, gone was all the BMW DNA; incoming was ‘flame surfacing.’ I interviewed Burkhard Göschel just weeks before he left the company and he laughed demonically about the situation: “What do you think of our flame surfacing, hohoho-hahahahaHAHAHAHA.” he asked, shaking his head in mock disapproval — his not knowing what to think confusing me into not knowing what to think either.
These cars were tame in comparison to the 6er that followed in 2004. Its trunk reared up from the rest of the bodywork, vaulting to the heavens. It made no effort to blend in to the other panels. It was an alien appendage.
It looked so much like a spoiler over a smooth, Porsche-esque trunk that it was hard to even believe what you were seeing. Indeed, BMW released a concept not long before the official debut of the ’04 6er that had this exact kind of wing-not-trunk:
Harris alluded to there being a handful of possible designs for this car, almost a crapshoot as to what we got in showrooms around the world:
There are some brilliant stories about Bangle’s legendary ability to create an evangelical following among his staff and team – perhaps even the board of BMW. Go and look at a first generation Bangle-BMW Z4, then spy the previous Z3 and tell me how the hell he managed to get that past the suits. He must have spiked a few drinks. Like so many Bangle shapes, it’s looking really quite good now. My favourite completely non-verified tale involves the sign-off for the E63 6-Series. It is alleged that several different design proposals were considered and after some tantric downtime in a green spot, he randomly chose the one we have now. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I sincerely hope it is. Guess what? The E63 6-Series is looking very cool these days. Especially as an M6.
Look at the purpose of the designers working on the clay model of this car. Can they hardly believe what they’re doing? Or are they completely without doubt?
Every time I see one of these 6ers on the street, particularly if I find myself on a dense, vertical European city, I am stunned at how good it looks. It is equal parts shocking how much these things were reviled, and that BMW of all companies shuffled it into production.