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BMW Art Car Private Gallery

My personal link to the line of BMW Art Cars stretches back to my second attendance at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1979. Andy Warhol had given a BMW M1 his attention as we saw HERE. To be honest I can hardly recall the car or even the race itself, at this distance I was probably overwhelmed by the scale of the event. So I had to wait some 20 years for the next Art Car to appear at La Sarthe.


Back in 1999 BMW made one final serious attempt to win the Le Mans 24 Hours before they ran away to join the Grand Prix Circus. That year’s race saw one of the most diverse and competitive fields ever assembled at La Sarthe. There were full blown factory teams from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota to give the men from Munich much to consider. The BMW V12 LMR was a complete revision of the 1998 BMW V12 LM that had failed to perform to expectations. Williams Grand Prix, who were partnering BMW Motorsport in this venture, had learnt the lessons of 1998 well, taking advantage of loosely drafted regulations to create a virtual single seater. Powered by a lightweight 6.0L V12, a development of the engine used by the McLaren F1, the BMW was a dark horse choice for the race, overshadowed by the Toyota and Mercedes-Benz teams.


The new Art Car was the work of Jenny Holzer and was a departure from the convention of painting a BMW to create an artistic statement. Holzer’s materials were words and sentences, or as she would call them Truisms. Phrases such as “Protect me from what I want” and “Lack of charisma can be fatal” were displayed on the V12 LMR and we were invited to say how wonderful this was. My own experiences of over a decade in the advertising and design business in London had equipped me with a healthy dose of cynicism for this kind of proposition.

However it would be narrow-minded not to consider how this work fits into the digital age, the time of the internet when the traditional barriers in communication and expression have been swept away for new media to be created. In that context it can be argued that Truisms are as valid an art form as painting or sculpture, certainly BMW felt that to be the case. As did Holzer: “I like my car because it says difficult things and it glows in the dark, reflects the sky and is white and shiny and it goes fast and it makes a lot of noise.”

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As is usual with the Le Mans 24 Hours there are more folks keen to race than spaces on the grid, or more accurately pit garages to accommodate them. In 1999 there was a Test Day in early May with the hopefuls divided into two groups, having to set a qualifying time according to class, one group would run in the morning. one after lunch.

BMW had three cars running in the sessions but one was out almost at the start when Yannick Dalmas was pitched into the barriers denting the BMW which had just set a time good enough to qualify the car.

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This prompted BMW to withdraw one of their cars to concentrate and the Art Car was sacrificed for the cause. Tom Kristensen ran a few laps but there would be no BMW Art Car for the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours.

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The 1999 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was notable for the aviation antics of the Mercedes team, Mark Webber surviving two flips in practice and warm up before Peter Dumbreck vaulted the barriers at the approach to Indianapolis ending the short career of the CLR.

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BMW were in the hunt right from the start and even losing their lead car early on Sunday morning did not deflect their pursuit of victory. So it was the #15 BMW V12 LMR driven by Jo Winkelhock, Pierluigi Martini and Yannick Dalmas that crossed the line at 16.00 on 13th June to record a famous win.

I had some small part in that win, getting a late commission to shoot for BMW who had secured last-minute sponsorship from Dell. Of course the Art Car took no part in this triumph, being on static display in the paddock.

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And that might have been the end of the story but the BMW V12 LMR Art Car had a final curtain call a year or so later. While development of the V12 LMR project was halted just before the Le Mans win, BMW North America funded a two car team in the American Le Mans Series for 1999 and 2000.

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BMW should have won the titles in 1999 but for some paperwork issues, but in 2000 they struggled against a rampant Audi effort utilising the Audi R8, a superior car to the ageing V12 LMR.


The reason that drivers JJ Lehto and Jörg Müller were still in contention by round nine of the championship was that they were both driving at 110%, on the ragged edge with the V12 LMR. Add to that top level preparation and pit work from Schnitzer Motorsport and the pair had an outside chance of glory. The Art Car was brought out for Petit Le Mans, a 1,000 miles of racing around the Road Atlanta track.

There would be no fairytale ending to this story, Müller made a slight error late in the race clouting the armco, and the ten laps needed to make repairs meant no chance of a win or a title. A fighting fifth place was all that could be salvaged, the career of the BMW V12 LMR Art Car was over.

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Fast forward to 2010 and a new Art Car, the 17th, would race once again at Le Mans. The artist would be Jeff Koons and his canvas was the BMW M3 GT2.

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Aside from being present at Le Mans as a member of the media my connection was mainly through my good friend, David Lister, who BMW wisely hired as their photographer. Ok that’s enough saccharine for one day, David earned his commission with shots like the above, doing justice to Koons’ creation.

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The effect of this car in the flesh was dramatic, as Koons said himself: “These race cars are like life, they are brimming with power and enormous energy. One can open up to it, build on it and become one with it.”

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The Art Car was entered in the very competitive LM GT2 class running against factory Porsches, Corvettes, Ferraris and even a Jaguar, it was to be driven by Andy Priaulx, Dirk Werner and Dirk Müller.

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The M3 Art Car was in the wars almost from the start of the race. A puncture after one hour was followed by problems with the transmission that took over 50 minutes to repair pitching the car to the rear of the field.

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Following another extended stop for attention to the steering rack the M3 suffered another puncture that led to an incident with the leading Audi of Tom Kristensen that delayed both cars.

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The final indignity came just before nightfall when Priaulx ran out of petrol and that was that, the BMW M3 GT2 Art Car retired from the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was a most un-BMW-like performance that did not reflect the potential of the car.

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Recently it was announced that the next BMW Art Car would once again based on a racer, this time the new BMW M6 GT3, and that there would be a pair of new rolling art works, one from Cao Fei and one from John Baldessari. However, we will have to wait till 2017 to see these new creations, and based on the evidence the wait will be worth it.

Catch up on all the BMW Art Car Gallery stories: part TWO and part THREE.

(Photos: John Brooks, and also copyright and courtesy of BMW AG)

 (Interviews taken from BMW Art Cars ISBN 978-3-7757-3345-8 ©BMW AG)


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