Out of the Box

Veiled visions and a pickup version of the BMW M3

A motor scooter with a rear propeller, an exotic BMW M3 and an electric vehicle with a forward-looking use of space: could all that possibly have something to do with the history of BMW? In its “Out of the Box” series, BMW Magazine presents a wealth 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 needs that exceed the capabilities of a BMW 5 Series Sports Wagon or a BMW X5. In 2011, BMW M GmbH found itself in need of 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 April 1, 2011: a 420-hp vehicle that reportedly underwent testing on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife. 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 authorized 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. With the outbreak of the Second World War, bigger and heavier planes were required to transport passengers and freight over long distances. So the aircraft 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 – particularly between British and American manufacturers – to see who could design the most powerful engine. BMW’s only radial engine at the time was an air-cooled unit, comprising two rows of 7-cylinder engine units in an offset arrangement. But the total of 14 cylinders failed to produce the 4,000 hp demanded by the military. So the engineers doubled up the existing design, placing 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: low 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 airplanes as well as a few sports and training aircraft.

BMW 803 aircraft engine, 1941

Veiled vision

With the GINA Light Visionary Model, BMW Group Design raised many questions about the design of future mobility. When it came to questions of form, function, materials and production, the team looked afresh at solutions that had always been used prior to 2008. Their subsequent creation featured a textile outer skin, for example, that was 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 smiles and amazement. The protection it offered from the elements, as well as its passive safety features, won over legions of commuters and city-dwellers. But for many potential customers, 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, 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 that moved faster, sounded better and looked sharper. 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 realm 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 of 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 passenger sits directly behind the driver, and 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 the Star Wars looks was consigned to the museum floor. 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 of 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 alarms 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 liters. However, it required a certain amount of wizardry to fit eight cylinders in a single row under the hood. So for the initial test drives, the resourceful developers moved the radiators to the trunk, rerouted ducts and vents through the entire 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-colored sedan with its gill-like vents carved into the trunk, 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 forward-looking use of space, with a compact electric motor installed above the rear axle and a battery pack under the back seats, created room for four people in an area the size of a compact car. Weight was comparatively low at under 2,000 lbs. And the battery stored nearly 19 kilowatt/hours of energy – spectacularly high by the standards of the day. But the sodium-nickel-chloride batteries in use at the time did not meet safety requirements and frequently overheated. The model’s decisive failings, however, were poor performance, a lack of vehicle dynamics and limited range. Compared to the BMW i3, it fell far short of the expectations of a true BMW.

BMW E1, 1993