BMW Turbo Concept: back to the future

Take a good look at the BMW Turbo. How old do you give him? Lost… She is 50 years old! If the function of a concept vehicle is to offer a vision of the future, few of them have succeeded so well in reading the future in the crystal ball.

One thousand nine hundred and seventy-two is a big year for the city of Munich and for one of its flagship companies: BMW. The metropolis hosts the Summer Olympics from August 26 to September 11. As for the Bavarian brand, it is preparing to finalize its new headquarters and its museum (under construction since 1968 and which will be inaugurated in May 1973), has just established its new M performance division in May and is taking advantage of Games to present one of the most important models in its history: the 5 Series E12.

Safety first

It was on the initiative of Bob Lutz, hired at BMW in December 1971, and the French designer Paul Bracq that the brand decided to produce the first concept vehicle in its history, in order to celebrate the Munich Games. Bracq was one of the most influential designers of the 60s and 70s. He worked for Mercedes-Benz from 1957 to 1967, where he designed, among other things, the 600, SL with pagoda roof, W108, the Heckflosse series (W108, W109, W110, W111, W112) and Strich-Acht (W114, W115).

Photo: BMW

In 1967, he went to the French coachbuilder Brissonneau et Lotz. There he produced various small series models (including for BMW) as well as the prototype of the TGV 001 high-speed train. In 1970, he was hired by BMW as design director to replace Wilhelm Hofmeister. There, he will be able to reshape the style of the brand and bring it into a modern era by signing the first Series 5 (E12, 1972), Series 3 (E21, 1975), Series 6 (E24, 1976) and Series 7 (E23). , 1977). In 1974, he left to work at Peugeot as interiors manager. He will also design several concepts for this manufacturer before retiring in 1996. Bracq is also a recognized sculptor and draftsman.

The deadlines are short: barely six months before the start of the Games. Fortunately, Bracq executes the first drawings in one night. They are very close to the final vehicle, the major differences being the rear wheel arch and the color. He imagined a coupe with butterfly doors with plastic bumpers integrated into the bodywork and filled with foam to absorb impacts. The famous beans, symbol of the brand, are incorporated into it and the headlights are retractable. The Frenchman uses a thin black line that goes all around the car to change the perception of the beltline and thus make the car appear even lower (a technique that will be used later on the Ferrari F40).

Photo: BMW

For this concept, the management of BMW has a request: to imagine “the safest sports car ever built”. This is why, in addition to the integrated safety cage and the deformable three-joint steering column, the Turbo features many innovative technologies: radar braking distance monitor, ABS brakes, lateral acceleration sensor, seat belts connected to the ignition (the car cannot be started if the seat belts are not on) and bumpers mounted on hydraulic cylinders.

The platform is a heavily modified 2002 chassis (produced from 1966 to 1977) with the powertrain placed in the rear center position. The engine is the M10 (launched in 1962) in its 2-litre version to which the engineers have grafted a KKK BLD turbo and Schafer mechanical injection. Depending on the adjustment of the turbo pressure, it develops from 200 to 280 horsepower. It is mated to a Getrag 4-speed manual gearbox while a ZF limited-slip differential is also installed. BMW claims top-level performance: 0 to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h, despite weighing 1,272 kilos.

Photo: BMW

The interior is designed by Wolfgang Seehaus and Hans A. Muth. It sets up a BMW tradition for many years to come (and introduced as standard on the 1975 E21): the center console angled towards the driver. The instrumentation is complete and includes a system for analyzing the functions of the car, the precursor of the « Control Center » which will be inaugurated with the 6 Series.

A beautiful legacy

In order to respect the timetable, the construction of the prototype was entrusted to the Turin coachbuilder Michelotti, who had already worked with BMW on the Neue Klasse of 1962 and the 02 Series of 1966. The car, code E25, was unveiled to the press on August 23, 1972 , three days before the start of the Games. But management prefers to focus on the 5 Series. So the public will only be able to see it from October 5, at the Paris Auto Show. He is widely seduced by the model which is, at this time, in a uniform red livery and has no rear wheel covers.

Photo: BMW

In September 1972, the brand decided to build a second example, again by Michelotti. It will be dedicated, initially, to numerous tests in the wind tunnel and on the road, then, in a second phase, to make the rounds of international fairs. BMW reintroduced this concept the following year, at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show, to support the launch of the 2002 Turbo. This model has the same M10 turbo engine but it develops “only” 170 horsepower. It benefits from a set of stickers that will cause a scandal in Germany.

Photo: BMW

The word « Turbo » is placed upside down on the front bumper to signify to those who look in their rear view mirror « Damn up my uncle! » « . Only 1,672 copies will be made. The Turbo concept is then in a degraded red finish bordering on burgundy (at the request of Bob Lutz) and receives caches on the rear wheels. Then, it will continue the tour of the shows, especially in America, during 1973 and 1974. In the meantime, it will have received the title of “Concept of the year 1973”, awarded by the Swiss Automotive Review.

Beyond the various innovations that will be found on standard BMWs, the most important legacy of the Turbo is of course the M1. This coupe, produced in 455 copies from 1978 to 1981, will leave an indelible mark on fans of the propeller brand and will obtain a nice track record in competition. And to think that at the start, the management was not very keen on the idea of ​​carrying out a concept…

See also: the test of the BMW iX M60

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