The eight best BMW concept cars

30th June 2020
Henry Biggs

Surprisingly, given its reputation for innovation, BMW’s concept back catalogue is less rich than one might imagine. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the company began to hit its stride and the most recent decade has seen a proliferation of genuine showstoppers. We’ve tried to showcase a good spread of their, well, showcases so here are our choices for the best ever BMW concepts.


BMW 2800 Spicup – 1969

It seems very appropriate that the Spicup appeared in the same year as man landed on the moon; one contemporary publicity shot for it features driver and passenger in metallic clothing and spacesuit-esque head coverings. It was created by Bertone in order to showcase engineer Enzo Cingolani’s innovative sliding targa roof mechanism. The design was originally penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro but finished by Marcello Gandini (which explains the semi-covered headlights) after the former left to join Ghia. Based on the E3 executive saloon, the Spicup – its name was a portmanteau of ‘spider’ and ‘coupe’ – was, despite its proportions, front-engined, the famed straight-six protruding through the bonnet line and covered by a silver hump.

After doing the motor show rounds in 1969, the car disappeared for a number of years before turning up in the ownership of a Dutch car dealer. It was road registered, painted orange outside and black inside and proceeded to cover more than 100,000 kilometres over the next decade, which must make it the most travelled concept car ever. Subsequently put into storage for nearly 30 years, it resurfaced in 2008 and received a full restoration, including its termite-ridden wooden bumpers and wild lime green and silver interior.


BMW E25 Turbo – 1972

BMW was growing in confidence in the early 1970s and with its home city of Munich set to host the 1972 Summer Olympics, it was an opportune time for the marque to demonstrate its increasing prowess. The first was its new headquarters building with its four cylinder form meant to mimic and engine and the nearby museum a cylinder head. The second was the BMW Turbo Concept which was unveiled at the 1972 Paris Motor Show and presaged the launch of the world’s first production turbocharged car, the BMW 2002 Turbo, the following year.

Not just a showcase for forced induction, the concept was also meant to evoke a more safety-conscious mindset for the car industry which had spent the 1960s going sports car crazy. So the Turbo included crumple zones, an integrated roll cage and collapsible steering column, around which all the controls were angled towards, and within reach of, the driver. There was also a radar-based braking distance warning. The gullwing, wedge-shaped design by Paul Bracq was BMW’s first mid-engined car and clearly influenced the M1 supercar and the much later Z1 and 8 Series.


BMW Z1 Coupe – 1991

Best remembered for its doors, the BMW Z1 was never intended for production – the ‘Z’ stands for ‘Zukunft’, German for ‘future’. It was a design study by the BMW Technik GmbH division, the company’s department in charge of blue sky thinking, hence the doors which slid down into the sills, removable plastic bodywork, flat undertray and innovative multilink rear axle (which actually went into series production). Nevertheless, once unveiled, public demand was such that around 8,000 were sold.

Unfortunately however, the prototype coupe – completed in 1991, the same year the roadster went out of production – never got the same chance. A raised ride height and spotlights in the wing mirrors gave it the air of a sporting off-roader although the sliding doors do look like they would be tricky to navigate with a fixed roof. With a stretched bonnet, rakish windscreen angle and prominent wheel arch blisters it looked every bit as desirable as its sibling. Just imagine it with a couple of snowboards strapped to the roof rails.


Italdesign Nazca M12 – 1991

Something of a successor to the BMW M1, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Italdesign Nazca M12 was appropriately, largely designed by his son Fabrizio Giugiaro (pictured). No doubt papa Giugiaro kept a close eye on the sketches that led to the sleek mid-engined concept inspired by contemporary F1 and, in particular, Group C racers. Power came from the 5.0-litre V12 usually found under the bonnets of the BMW 850i coupe and 750i luxury express.

Italdesign had permission to use the BMW name, badge and double-kidney grille but everything else was pure imagination including the carbon-fibre bodywork and glazed gullwing canopy which raised up separately from the doors which swung out conventionally. A sleeker, more powerful reinterpretation, the Nazca C2 followed a year later at the 1992 Tokyo Motor Show before a convertible Nazca C2 Spyder appeared at the 1993 Monaco Grand Prix. 


BMW Z22 – 1999

Not all concepts are intended to be beautiful but to showcase new thinking in terms of engineering and technology. BMW had a run of such cars in the 1990s including the Z13 which was rear-engined in the manner of the original Renault Twingo; the Z18 was a two-seat convertible off-roader and the Z21 which combined the best (or at least oddest) elements of BMW’s cars and motorbikes.

The BMW Z22 was definitely no looker – there is something oddly unsettling about the triple-lensed lights either side of the double kidney grille – but it was rather clever. The size of a 3 Series but with the wheelbase of a 7 Series it had vast amounts of passenger space and was constructed in the same way as an F1 car with a carbon-fibre monocoque. Debuting more than 20 years ago the Z22 featured a heads-up display, cameras in place of side mirrors, steering and braking by wire and even a finger print scanner replacing the key.


BMW Concept Coupe Mille Miglia – 2006

Over the last couple of decades, BMW’s concepts have been both futuristic and paid tribute to some of its great back catalogue. Which to include has been very hard to narrow down but the Mille Miglia was the first of the line and definitely worth including. Harking back to the original 328 Touring, which still holds the average speed record for the Mille Miglia, the Concept was unveiled at the 2006 running of the resurrected classic time trial of the same name.

Based on the then BMW Z4 Coupe the Mille Miglia concept took the classic cues of giant round headlamps, vertically stretched double kidney grille and split windscreen and brought them up to date. The headlights were LED, a hinged metal canopy covered the cabin and also made the one piece windscreen appear as if it was split in two. The cabin itself was beautifully appointed in raw aluminium and unfinished leather.


BMW GINA – 2008

This is probably the concept everyone remembers: the shape-shifting BMW GINA, the name an acronym for ‘Geometry and functions In 'N' Adaptations’. Taking seven years to engineer and build on BMW Z8 running gear, the GINA was literally clothed in polyurethane coated Spandex over an internal skeleton of aluminium wires and carbon-fibre struts. Made up of just four panels – bonnet, side panels and bootlid – the GINA used electric motors to change its shape for performance and practicality.

Headlights appeared from slits in the bonnet in the manner of eyes opening, a further slit opened up for access to the engine. The butterfly doors also raised and moved outwards electrically while remaining in one piece with the front wings. At the rear the taillights simply shone through the translucent material which could grow a rear spoiler at high speed. And you thought Chris Bangle’s early designs were out there.


BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage R – 2015

Of all the Hommage series of cars, this is probably my favourite due to the stunning rear spoiler and the way in which it integrates the taillights. And then they made a ‘Racing’ version. Unveiled at Pebble Beach, the ‘R’ took the already stunning Hommage – a tribute to the ‘Batmobile’ racer of the 1970s – and turned it up to 11. That was quite a big ask since the original racing version of the CSL won the European Touring Car championship every year between 1973 and 1979.

A racing-inspired cutdown steering wheel takes centre stage in the cabin where performance and track information is displayed to the driver through a trick slice of wood veneer. But the main thing that makes this car is the livery. Rather than the acid-yellow of the regular Hommage, the ‘R’ gets the full BMW Motorsport treatment with a white base colour inside and out accented with the red, purple and blue M stripes. Set off by deep-dished gold wheels the end result is one of our favourite concepts from any manufacturer.

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