It should come as no surprise that BMW would present something special at this weekend’s Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of their involvement with the event. And yet, when their latest concept car rolled onto the stage at the opening party it was clear they’d caught the crowd off guard. They did so in a way automakers rarely do (especially one as hyper-focused on the future as BMW)‚ by digging into an obscure moment from the brand’s past. What started as a personal fascination with a faded photograph for BMW’s senior vice president of design Adrian Von Hooydonk, ended up being an incredible project that recreated a classic concept car: the Garmisch.
The first time the Garmisch concept rolled out in front of an audience was at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show. A stunning and unique take on BMW’s “Neue Klasse” design language, by the Turin-based design studio Bertone, the Garmisch had been commissioned by Nuccio Bertone himself. He “wanted to consolidate his existing relationship with BMW by designing a surprise show car for the Geneva Motor Show” says Marcello Gandini, who was head of Bertone’s design department at the time. Gandini (who is highly regarded in the automotive design world for having penned a few legendary cars while at Bertone, such as the Lancia Stratos Zero, Lamborghini Miura and Countach) tells us, “We wanted to create a modern mid-size coupe that was faithful to BMW’s design language, but was more futuristic and even a bit provocative.”
Even a quick study of the Garmisch shows that the design team did exactly that—and in just over four months. Even the interior was carefully considered and constructed, which was not always the case with show cars then or even now. It features an unusual vertically oriented radio in the center console, an oversized mirror stashed in the glovebox and a color palette that recalls the luxurious jet-setting style of the era. It was most certainly a departure from the rather staid BMW interiors of the time.
Even the name was chosen with great purpose. As Gandini remembers, “We picked the name because skiing was very popular in Italy at that time. It evoked dreams of winter sports and Alpine elegance. And, of course, it was close to Munich.” It takes little imagination to envision the Garmisch racing through the Dolomites with a roof-rack stacked with skis and a cabin full of people in Bogner suits.
This glorious vehicle has been recreated, partly because the original vanished after it was unveiled, some 49 years ago. The car was intended to go straight to BMW headquarters in Munich after the Geneva Auto Show, but it didn’t make it and nobody (not Gandini nor anybody else working for BMW at the time) knows where it went—or who took it. That makes the creation of this second Garmisch concept so much more fascinating. There were hardly any records of the car, just a few black and white photographs of it in production and, of course, Gandini’s memory of it.
Before putting the project in motion, Von Hooydonk went to visit Gandini in the summer of 2018 both to get his approval and his help. “Of course, we did not want to do this without Mr Gandini,” Von Hooydonk tells us. “I told him about our idea to bring back the BMW Garmisch and he laughed and said, ‘If you are crazy enough to do that, be my guest.'”
With Gandini on board, the project went ahead, first being recreated in 3D on a computer and then as a full-scale model to nail down details and proportions. Gandini provided invaluable assistance in getting the exterior color right, as well as the interior—given that there were only black and white images of the latter. This car was built by hand on a BMW 2002 Tii chassis in Turin—just as the original was. Gandini says, “Having seen the final car, it’s hard for me to distinguish it from the original”.
After seeing the finished car in March, Von Hooydonk shared a similar sentiment saying, “I am used to seeing new designs all the time. And all of the sudden there I was in Turin seeing a car that I knew was brand new, but somehow came straight from the 1970s… This is why I became intrigued by the idea of reviving the car: to pay tribute to to Gandini as an outstanding designer and to close the gap in BMW history.”
While the mystery of the original car may never be solved, with this second Garmisch destined to end up in BMW’s museum in Munich, people will be able to appreciate another aspect of the great importance of the Italian influence on the brand. From Giovanni Michelotti and the Neue Klasse line of cars, to Giorgetto Giugiaro and the BMW M1, Italian designers have left their mark on BMW over the years.
If Gandini had it his way, the 80-year-old would have the chance to do so again—according to Von Hooydonk. “Even today he is looking forward, he has ideas for new cars and likes to talk about the future. And his approach of trying to accomplish a lot with less is still quite modern today.”
When asked if BMW would ever be in the business of making one-off cars for VIPs and friends of the brand, Von Hooydonk says, “I would like that. We have received those questions—quite often here at Villa d’Este in fact. So far I haven’t been able to argue for it, but I haven’t given up.” We certainly hope that there is a future where he is successful, especially if it means designers like Gandini get to collaborate on special projects like the absolutely divine Garmisch.