Propellerhead design guy Chris Bangle's earned his fair share of grief over BMW's most recent aesthetic direction. And even he admits that he could've picked a better name than "flame surfacing" for the look of the latest Bimmers. We also think the 6-Series is ugly. But having said that, we think that Bangle's one of the most fascinating, divisive and influential figures on the automotive scene today, so the morning speech that Bangle was scheduled to give was probably our #1 must-attend of the whole two-day press hoopla f te thing.
We chatted with Automobile's Robert Cumberford before the meeting, a thoughtful guy (and former car designer) whose analysis we generally like, even if we occasionally disagree with him. When we mentioned as much, he replied, "Well, I'm almost always right. And even when you think I'm wrong, I'm probably right." Ah, the life of elder statesmen of the trade, puttin' the young ones in their places. The bitch of it is that he was right.
Bangle, on the other hand, seems to be an exploratory mind; pointing out that automobiles were in their baroque period a half-century into their existence; using architecture as the yardstick that drives car design. He then equates the flame-surfaced Bimmers with the Bilbao Guggenheim. He goes on explain that surface is a cardinal tenet of designing automobiles; that "Surface is really structure revealed." Which, given high-end rod shops' penchant for metalfinishing and repetitive block-sanding of coats of paint, makes sense, because in that realm, the surface dictates to the viewer what the structure underneath is, even if that's an illusion.
It'd be too dense and detailed to even attempt to replicate what Bangle ran through during the course of his time in the short space here. But watching him flip through slides like a maniac while chattering almost stream-of-consciousnessly into his Queensr che-esque Burger-World mic, but it was nevertheless a fantastic intellectual romp through both art and industrial history. He even threw in a bit of plastic surgery, giving Audrey Hepburn a subtle nosejob to point out the human response to rightness of form.
Later that afternoon we caught up with him and mentioned, "You know, I really enjoyed your talk. But it was a bit like listening to a Bad Religion song." He looked at us, nonplussed for a second. Then his brow unfurrowed; his ready smile unfurled again and he replied, "That's it. I'm a bad religion."