The First BMW Art Car

As you guys saw in my recent story from the freshly reopened Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, one of the current displays features a few of BMW’s iconic Art Cars. And while all of the different Art Cars made over the decades are special, the Petersen exhibit includes the very first one.

Not only is Art Car #1 a machine of a great historic importance, it’s simply one of the coolest of them all.

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It all started 40 years ago when a French racer and art aficionado by the name of Herve Poulain came up with the idea of creating something that was part race car and part mobile art display.

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The canvas would be a competition-prepped 1975 3.0 CSL straight from BMW’s Motorsport division – a car which many would consider a work of art regardless of how it’s painted. The artist would be Alexander Calder, a well known American sculptor and friend of Poulain’s.

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While Calder was known for his object-forming talents, this project was different in that he’d be applying his vision to an existing shape. But what a job he did.

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The aggressive wide-body lines of ‘Batmobile’ CSL are perfectly suited to the curved patterns and bright colors of Calder’s design. It manages to look incredibly unique and natural as a cohesive livery at the same time.

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And best of all, the project wasn’t all for show. Poulain campaigned the car at Le Mans in 1975, and it still proudly wears the markings to this day.

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As it turns out, driveshaft issues forced the car to retire from the iconic race, but at that point it wouldn’t even matter. The CSL was a hit and the Art Car phenomenon had officially begun.

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BMW has gone on to commission a total of 17 Art Cars in the four decades since the Calder 3.0 CSL, and this beautiful and historic piece is a perfect addition the new and improved Petersen Automotive Museum.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia_media



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Seriously love this car more than anything, ever. Always tossed the idea of doing a tribute paint job on my 02.


my favourites the Matzo Kayama 535i, the Ken Done M3 Racer (looks like a Coogi Jumper that Biggy' would wear......) and Roy Lichtenstei's 320i.

So the BMW M Sport devision, Motorad and much later MINI had offices in the town I went to school in. we had a "industry week" and they dragged us around various local employers. we saw the collection as it was at the time (Kayama's 535i was the newest and most fragile)  while in storage at their offices before being shipped off for a show. we all blagged a free book on the project.


oh and Warhol's M1. that car...... almost a crime to scratch it, but I love the balls of the guy. brilliant.


earmenau That sounds like something you should probably do


Am I the only one who hates how a "professional artist" gets praise and glory for something so simple, that anyone with any common sense could have designed it? Don't get me wrong, it looks great, but the fact that they needed a professional to do this was kind of pointless.


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CharlesChris15 But "they" didn't design it, and he did. It's easy to say that anyone could do it after having seen it for yourself, but would you have come up with the concept originally and executed it to the same degree? Simplicity and clean design are often under appreciated, but there's a lot more skill involved in finding balance and knowing when to stop than you might realize. Just because it's not complex it's not as worthy? You said yourself that it looks great, so what's the problem?


CharlesChris15 Art doesn't need to be complicated to be worthy of appreciation. If making something that looks this iconic was easy, we'd all be doing it.


Highly jealous that you got to see this Mike, I love this car!


*Sigh* Another widebody...when is this "trend" going to end!?!?!? ;)


In college, I rented a room in a house that was owned by Alexander Calder.  He is famous for mobile designs he did.  One of them the was in the library of the college.  The back yard of the house had several mobiles made of painted steel.  We used to shoot 22s at them for target practice - lol.  The colors and shapes on this car remind me of the mobiles.  Google"alexander calder mobiles" - they are pretty cool and make great targets - ha ha!

Andy Warhol did one of the original BMW art cars and he painted it with a brush.  Looked like it too...


One word: ICON


CharlesChris15 you clearly have no understanding of art or the concept behind it. It may look so simple , but simple is harder than complex. I want to see you try and " design" something considering parameters such as proportion , scale , color palettes , etc.  It's not as easy at it seems.


Twitch_6 I actually LOL'd.


John Evans That is awesome haha.


Jordan_Butters Yeah I was damn surprised to see it sitting there when I walked in!


@Papo swing CharlesChris15 Also don't forget this was all done 40 years ago with much different techniques then you'd use to do something similar today.


earmenau Dooooo it.


I like the Jeff Koons art car but, then again...I love the old BMWs with character. The 507, 2002 and the E30s. Although, the CSL is a special one.


Mike Garrett Jordan_Butters  That moment when you get all giddy with a surprise. You are no longer an adult but, a little kid jumping for joy.


HLB CharlesChris15 It's not about doing what nobody else 'could', it's about doing what nobody else 'would'. People often dismiss modern art because "even I could do that", but throughout history there have been 10s of 1000s of artist who have had the technical skills to paint the Mona Lisa or sculpt Michelangelo's David, are they lesser artworks because someone else could of done it? Would those other artists have came up with the same composition, lighting, poses, etc. that make those artworks what they are?




Bright colors, big numbers, that's the perfect livery for old race cars!
As for this CSL, BEAUTIFUL.


LOL... can I commission one of the artists from the your automotive art post to do a render?


the colors, the body, the rims,... perfect car *-*


the best art car , some of the others are really bad.....


That's not something that I would have imagined on a BMW in all my life! But it looks really quite nice after it all! I would think that some of my car financing customers might think about getting their cars done up like this after they see how popular these cars are!