If you get the chance, go to the India Art Fair in New Delhi, there’s a 1992 BMW 3 Series saloon-car racing prototype parked inside. The BMW Art Car Collection was born when French racecar driver and art aficionado Hervé Poulain, together with Jochen Neerpasch, the then BMW Motorsport Director, asked their artist friend Alexander Calder to design an automobile. The result was a BMW 3.0 CSL which competed in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1975, where it quickly became a crowd favorite. Since then, 17 international artists have had their way with BMWs cars and the results have been spectacular. While I’m not an art connoisseur, I love cars and have a strong opinion on what should and shouldn’t go on the surface of a car. Here are my top five, and let me tell you right away:
1. Andy Warhol BMW M1
The M1 is gorgeous as is, but giving Warhol the M1 to paint was just an iconic move. The American pop art legend wanted the art for the car to depict speed in the truest sense. He said, “I have tried to give a vivid depiction of speed. If a car is really fast, all contours and colours will become blurred”. The six-cylinder M1 gets 470bhp out of its 3.5-litre engine. And it looks like it has run through a few gallons of paints.
2. Alexander Calder BMW 3.0 CSL
This was the art-car that started it all. If the work on this car wasn’t a hit, the other 16 would probably have not seen the light of day. Hervé Poulain made sure his car was noticed among other CSLs on the grid and what a way to express himself, with Calder’s help of course. After seven hours, the car had to give up due to a defective prop shaft. Its career as a racecar ended but has been a poster car since. The CSL gets a 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine that makes 480bhp and did a top speed of 291kmph.
3. Jeff Koons BMW M3 GT2
The M3 GT2 done up by Jeff Koons in 2010 wears the same number 79 of the Warhol M1 as a tribute to the legendary car. And just like Warhol, Koons wanted to depict speed. He did it differently with sharp streaks of vibrant colours flowing from front to rear of the car, almost like the testing fluid used in wind tunnels these days. It’s a modern take on art in the M3, a car with a 4-litre V8 that makes 500bhp and does 300kmph on long enough straights.
4. Roy Lichtenstein BMW 320i
320 is a humble number for BMWs but this one wasn’t. In 1977, it had an elaborate aero kit with flared and extended bumpers, big air scoops and a massive wing. It had a 4-cylinder 2-litre engine that made 300bhp and Lichtenstein wanted the car to hug the road wherever it went. The design on the 320i makes it look like it is part of the landscape. Roy is considered one of the founders of American pop art and carried on his style with the ‘Benday dot’ artwork from the comic strips he also used to paint.
5. Sandro Chia 3 Series
The 3 Series was turned into a canvas for Sandro Chia a few years ago and it’s simply stunning with the face art all over the sheet-metal. The Italian artist says, “I have created both a picture and a world. Everything that is looked at closely turns into a face. A face is a focus, a focus of life and the world.” This is the car currently parked inside the India Art Fare, and it is not something you want to miss – not just for how it looks, but for the legacy that BMW art cars carry.