Mix American artist Jeff Koons, the 35th anniversary of the BMW Art Car Collection, a 3-series prepped for the GT2 Class at Le Mans and a gala reception at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the result is a striking race car that reaffirms BMW’s commitment to high performance, and to high art.

In May of this year, I had the opportunity for a complete immersion in BMW’s Classic Center program (you’ll find more information on page 30), and an opportunity to attend the unveiling of the 35th BMW Art Car at the Pompidou.
Companies that manufacture new cars tend to be completely focused on how many units they can shove out the door each year. That’s as it should be, as their entire survival is based on moving product. Often, their past is considered irrelevant to current sales. In fact, when I sold Alfa Romeos for Ron Tonkin Grand Turismo, in Portland, OR, at regional sales meetings we were specifically told not to get involved with the clubs and their owners with their used Alfas. “Those cheapskates will never buy new cars; they just want discounts and freebies.” Well, Alfa was wrong—I became the number-one Alfa salesperson in the Pacific Northwest specifically because I paid attention to Alfa Club members.

New car companies are chameleon-like as they move from sponsorship to sponsorship — sporting events one year, concours the next and horse shows the year after that. Sometimes their cars are “best buys,” sometimes they are “luxury brands,” and sometimes they wrap themselves in a performance aura.

All of these transient marketing efforts, most often determined by the advertising agency of the moment, may be good for yearly totals but do little for the underlying consistency of brand management.

A 35-year tradition

All of which makes BMW’s commitment to its Art Car program so remarkable. The first Art Car was a 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL that was painted by Alexander Calder; the most famous is the 1979 BMW M1 Group 4 racer by Andy Warhol. (“That’s the most valuable BMW in our entire collection,” said Ralf Vierlein, head of Sales and Aftersales for BMW Group Classic.)

At the gala dinner that preceded the unveiling of the car, Herve Poulain, racer, collector and co-chairman of the French auction house Artcurial, spoke about the Calder 3.0 that he raced at Le Mans, along with Sam Posey and Jean Guichet.

“The car was striking, and its design and colors represented a pure passion. I felt it was a perfect mixture of art and the race car,” said Poulain, who is acknowledged to be behind the concept that started the Art Car collection—to have a car designed by an artist.

Jeff Koons painted the newest Art Car, a 3-series GT2 that was prepared to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. In a video played at the unveiling, Koons was shown as a passenger lapping at speed in a race-prepared M1, and later doing burnouts and cutting doughnuts in a 3-series.

When asked what he expected of the car, Koons said, “It’s like a gladiator, I want it to win. The car is a metaphor for our own bodies. It only knows one way to perform, and that’s with full power—and to conquer the competition.” He went on to say that his aggressive visual design represented his interpretation of the basic, animal nature of the car.

Why we care

The Art Car series has not been an inexpensive one for BMW, nor is it one that brings much notoriety to the marque in the U.S. Yet it is important, as it stands as a multi-decade commitment to bringing top artists to their cars, and giving them the absolute freedom to design and paint their cars in keeping with their own artistic aesthetics.

As fewer and fewer brands survive, examples of long-standing commitments to brand heritage and brand activities such as the Art Car program become increasingly rare. But this relationship between BMW and significant artists represents an important statement about the brand and its long-term vision of itself and its relationship with art.

(The Koons GT2, #78 did not win its class at Le Mans; it retired due to a variety of mechanical problems. Its sister car, #79, finished 6th in the GT2 class.)

SCM moving forward

You’ll notice some changes on the SCM masthead this month. Chester Allen has been named our new Executive Editor and Jim Pickering has moved from Auction Editor to Managing Editor.

Now in his fifth year at SCM, Jim has demonstrated an ability to thrive and grow when confronted by challenges, and in his new position, he will be supervising a growing staff of in-house auction personnel including our new Auction Editor Tony Piff. SCM has been field-testing portable table computers for data entry that will also allow reporters to upload multiple photos and videos of the cars they are examining. Watch our website and emails for news.

Chester is a veteran of the newsroom. He has 17 years experience in newspapers in Washington and Oregon, including The Olympian, the Tacoma News Tribune and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. His meticulous approach to information gathering, fact-checking and constant communication with the SCM contributors has already made a significant difference to the entire SCM organization.

You’ll find more information about Jim and Chester in the Contributors’ Profiles on page 16.

Despite the doldrums of the newspaper and magazine industries, SCM has maintained a consistent growth in both subscriptions and advertisers. Our online presence continues to develop, and our “Breaking News” and “Market Alert” emails keep you informed in a way that no other collector car publication even tries to equal.

I appreciate your continued support of SCM—and your involvement with the magazine and the collector car world at large. Our promise to you is that we will continue to evolve, to bring you more concise market information online with increasing velocity, and in print with more research, always-improving graphic presentation, and ever-more-thoughtful analysis. ?

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