Out of the Box

Veiled visions und a pickup version of the BMW M3

A motor scooter with a rear propeller, an exotic BMW M3 and an electric vehicle with a progressive space concept: could all that possibly have something to do with the history of BMW? In its “Out of the Box” series, BMW Magazine presents a host of surprises from the BMW Group archive and some of the less well-known stories in the company’s history, concepts that were too soon forgotten by the shifting zeitgeist.

Michael Seitz


The BMW Group does not build commercial vehicles or trucks. And yet there are certain in-house transportation duties that exceed the capabilities of a BMW 5 Series Touring or a BMW X5. In 2011, BMW M GmbH also found itself needing a small truck for workshop use. Which explains why the engineers timed the presentation of an internally converted BMW M3 Pickup to take place on 1 April 2011 – a 420 hp vehicle that reportedly underwent testing on the Nürburgring’s North Loop. In the 1980s, BMW M GmbH had carried out a similar conversion job for internal use. But unlike that vehicle, the 2011 Pickup was actually authorised for road use.

M3 Pickup, 2011

Star with 28 satellites

Aviation had come a long way since the first successful BMW aircraft engine of 1917. And with the outbreak of the Second World War, bigger and heavier planes were required to transport passengers and freight over long distances. So the manufacturers called upon BMW to build increasingly powerful engines – including for the best-known German passenger aircraft of the day, the JU 52 built by Junkers. During the war years, there was competition to see who could design the most powerful engine – particularly between British and American manufacturers. BMW’s only radial engine at the time was an air-cooled unit comprising two rows of 7-cylinder engines in an offset arrangement. But the total of 14 cylinders failed to develop the 4,000 hp demanded by the military. So the engineers doubled up the existing design and placed four 7-cylinder radial units in rows one behind the other. This arrangement, however, restricted the flow of cool air to the moving parts. A new water-cooled design proved too complicated and would have robbed the engine of its two principal advantages: weight and reliability. With the advent of jet engines and turboprops after the war, the days of the radial engine were already numbered. Today they are used only to power model aeroplanes and a few sports and training aircraft.

BMW 803 aero engine, 1941

Veiled vision

With the GINA Light Visionary Model, BMW Group Design raised many questions about the design of future mobility. The team looked afresh at solutions to issues of form, function, materials and production that had always been adopted prior to 2008. Their creation featured a textile outer skin, for example, stretched over a moveable structural subframe, as well as functions that were activated only as required. Moreover, this reinterpretation of the interplay between functionality and structure gave rise to a whole new driving experience.

GINA Light Modell, 2008

Well conceived, not so well received

When BMW launched the enclosed motor scooter in 2000, the initial public response was one of friendly amazement. The protection it offered from the elements and its passive safety features won over legions of commuters and city-dwellers. But for many interested parties the C1 was simply underpowered and rather unattractive in design. So the BMW designers and engineers began experimenting with more far-fetched ideas. These included the Baywatch model, for example, which featured a jet ski attached to one side like a motorcycle sidecar. Another experimental variant came with a rear propeller and detachable wings for use as a light aircraft. But the most sensible BMW C1 was a lean, lightweight version which moved faster, sounded better and looked smarter. Despite the wealth of ideas, production of the BMW C1 was mothballed after only three years with sales of just under 35,000 units. Nevertheless, it left behind a loyal fan base and a promising concept. So a revival is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

BMW C1, 2000

A ride on the wild side

Bearing the name “Simple”, this three-wheeled hybrid, which brings together elements of a motorcycle and a small car, is not immediately identifiable as a BMW. The futuristic concept from 2005 began as an intellectual exercise in urban mobility with the goal of reconciling the driving pleasure of a motorcycle with the weather protection of a car. The two passengers sit in line, power is provided by a compact combustion engine and an electric motor. But when the BMW Group actually began planning its Mega City Vehicle soon afterwards, the three-wheel version with Star Wars looks was consigned to the museum. With the series launch of its all-electric four-seater BMW i3 in 2013, the BMW Group made a clear statement of its vision for urban mobility.

Konzept Simple, 2003

Codename Goldfish

With the BMW 750i from 1987, BMW raced to the top of the luxury class. The first German 12-cylinder engine since the Second World War was an international success and achieved outstanding sales. But it also set off warning bells among competitors, who immediately began developing 12-cylinder units of their own. This prompted a measured response from the BMW engine developers, and a small group of them looked into options for mounting a 16-cylinder unit in the BMW 7 Series. Preliminary test rig measurements returned over 400 hp for a displacement of almost seven litres. However, it required a certain amount of wizardry to fit eight cylinders in line under the bonnet. So for the initial test drives, the resourceful developers moved the radiators to the boot, rerouted ducts and vents through the whole vehicle and brought fresh air in through a set of gills in the rear. Engine output and vehicle dynamics for the outrageous muscle car seemed full of promise, but the project was abandoned on the grounds of technical complexity, unconventional looks and high fuel consumption. All that remains of the project is its striking codename. During work on the bronze-coloured saloon with gill-like vents carved into the boot, one developer came up with the name “Goldfish” – an appropriate and wonderfully conspiratorial moniker for such a top-secret project.

16-cylinder engine, 1980s

Cool concept, hot battery

Even as far back as 1993, the BMW E1 boasted all the hallmarks of an innovative, high-performance electric vehicle. Its progressive space concept, with a compact electric motor installed above the rear axle and a battery pack beneath the back seats, created room for four people in an area the size of a compact car. Weight was comparatively low at just 900 kilograms, and the battery box stored around 19 kilowatt/hours of energy. This was spectacularly high by the standards of the day. But the sodium-nickel-chloride batteries used at the time did not meet safety requirements and frequently overheated. Its decisive failings, however, were poor performance, a lack of vehicle dynamics and limited range. Compared to the BMW i3, this fell far short of the expectations of a genuine BMW.

BMW E1, 1993