The BMW World showcases design icons, racing legends and a bold vision that nobody asked for
BMW’s headquarters were on my bucket list for a long time. I paid a visit back in 2016, and I waited for another occasion to take better photos with DSLR, whenever I was crossing the continent. The Welt was a stable point on my 2018 ultimate automotive road trip, so I planned to overnight in Munich to allow sufficient time for the vast halls of the ‘Welt. Only to arrive at a compound that proved to be closed for that specific weekend only, due to a private event.
Finally, I had my revenge this December, when BMW World was among the few Museums in Central Europe that remained open between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. BMW World is located in the outskirts of Munich, by the headquarters and the factory, recently extended by a classic car centre. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Bavaria and regularly hosts events (one of them proved to be fateful to my last visit). Evidently, the focus in on the Bavarian brand’s history, present and future.
Do not think for second that you could leave empty handed (save, the Welt is open : ) ), the Welt offers programs for everybody. Fans of the brand, classic car enthusiast, theorists, futurists and doers will equally leave with lasting impressions.
Especially if one does not forget to book in advance, as not all the programmes are available immediately off the selves. Test drives, factory visits or organised child programmes or a visit to the Classic car restauration centre a few blocks away.
Speaking of child programmes, the notion of animation might differ considerably in a country where production documentaries take up much of the prime time timeslots in commercial television. Although I haven’t learned from my mistakes and I did not organise the visit in advance, I got more than enough to do for almost a full day. BMW is often quoted as the most visited tourist attraction of Munich.
The BMW World is not a Lounge, it is an entire airport with several terminals. The two main sections consist of an enhanced new car dealership (with multiple brands and a test centre) and a museum side by side, connected by a passage above the main road.
The main building with the reception is fitted with a canteen and the test drive centre (booking required, and fees up to 400 EUR/hour are charged), but also hosts a multibrand showroom.
It’s not just about BMW, a shiny M section and concept cars await visitors, but it also includes showrooms for Mini and Rolls Royce, with souvenir shops for every budget.
Every corner has its own way to entertain, from triple screen hydraulic simulator or a test drive in an Isetta).
The Museum is a stylish presentation of what BMW values from its history
The crown jewel of the site is still the Factory Museum. The Museum section would not make it to top of my list, but it is still a formidable programme on its own right.
The museum building is equipped with its own souvenirs shop and provides an elegant environment, which also reminds me of the neutral white shades of the Porsche museum.
Personally, I felt that the Bavarians found a somewhat better compromise in having recourse to a bit more colours without stealing the show from the exhibits.
The exhibition gradually opens up and starts with an art exhibition of floating ping pong balls and a classroom with big books.
Next up is a large wall filled with motorcycles that leads us to the first labyrinth.
After a brief technical presentation, visitors arrive at the pre-WWII racing history, along with the recent Formula 1 car.
These halls lead to a corridor with a selection of engines from gigantic radial engines used in WW II era airplanes through motorboat engines down to the ones used in touring cars.
Once out of the labyrinth, the tour offers a glimpse of what is awaiting us a few sections further in the Art Car exhibition.
Just to take a deep breath before arriving at the chambers of series production models and their production process with models and kits, technology segments and research documentation.
Going down one floor, a series of dedicated special exhibitions await the visitors, starting with a brilliant set of touring cars…
…ranging from an early Neue Klasse 2000 series to a more modern E46.
Most of the vehicles were wearing M-sport livery, and of course, a spoiler alert is expected.
Another section is dedicated to a few production and pre-production supercars from all era and category.
The ultramodern I8 concept provides a stark contrast to the classic lines of the shark nose 3.0 CSI and the classic 328 race car.
The largest space is dedicated to the M series with a set of youngtimers in showroom shine condition from the first E30 M3 through the M1 super sports car to the more recent models.
The Art Car exhibition – design and racing icons revisited
The largest and most impressive segment of the Museum is dedicated to the Art Car series, with a versatile collection of cars and artefacts that awaited visitors until February this year (BMW also keeps a webpage dedicated for the Art Car series).
In addition to seven of the 19 cars ever created, the special exhibition also pays tribute to the work of Hervé Poulain. As an auctioneer and racing driver, Mr. Poulain was firmly embedded into both art circles and the motorsports world.
When he decided to race in Le Mans, he brought together the most iconic artists to provide a stylish livery for BMW race cars. The exhibition presents a range of documents from his collection alongside works from the visual arts with themes dedicated to motorsport.
The first four Art Cars that took centre stage were designed by the artists Alexander Calder, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. These cars are often referred in BMW circles as the “Big Four”.
The first floor stages the rolling sculpture #17 designed by Jeff Koons as part of the permanent exhibition.
At the end of the segment, the latest BMW Art Cars #18 by Chinese video artist Cao Fei and #19 by US artist John Baldessari provide the final impressions. The latter two cars celebrated their premiere in Europe as part of this exhibition.
Although I had the opportunity to admire Art Cars exhibited at various shows and museums, was again reminded to the ingenuity of Andy Warhol. While it might appear as a random smear of paintings that the Artist had in excess at home, the car looks great in real life, and most impressively.
From each corner, Warhol’s Art Car seems like a completely different car. It’s a small addition that he used the M1, one of my favourite BMWs, that also celebrated its 40th birthday last year.
This work of art on wheels was employed in racing for the first and last time in the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1979. The M1 designed by Warhol started on the grid with the number 76 and was driven by Manfred Winkelhock as well as Hervé Poulain and Marcel Mignot. They achieved a sixth place in the overall rating and second place in their class.
The other car that I particularly liked was the very first piece of BMW’s Art Car series, designed by Alexander Calder, who started his career as an engineer, with a strong artistic heritage, entering in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as a sculptor. He was most noted for his abstract mobiles which were hailed by critics as the most innovative American sculptures of the 20th century.
The BMW 3.0 CSL, with which Alexander Calder laid the foundation for the Art Car Collection in 1975, was also one of his final works of art before his death. As in the case of his sculptures and mobiles, he used intense colours and gracefully sweeping surfaces which he distributed generously over the wings, bonnet and roof.
The Art Car designed by Alexander Calder was the first one to appear on a racetrack too, driven in the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1975 by Hervé Poulain. It was also the first and last time the car was used in racing, the car has been on display since then.
The most recent cars are the #18 black M6 designed by Chinese video artist Cao Fei and the #19 white M6 by US artist John Baldessari. The two cars entered endurance races of the FIA GT World Cup.
Sheer autonomous driving – the bright, bold future that nobody wants (yet?)…
At the Visionary mobility exhibition, BMW’s sheer driving legacy gave way to alternative energy, autonomous driving, car sharing and sustainable town planning – the future is upon us.
Since March 2018 the dome of the BMW Museum is dedicated to brand new theme that revolves around topics we not yet typically associate with the Bavarian brand. Purists, fans of the stick shift and sheer driving pleasure look away, ‘coz we need to talk about electric mobility, carbon (emission, not for racing this time), battery technology and renewable raw materials. The topic might sound a bit bland, and honestly, it is no match in excitement for the previously exhibited iconic cars that occupied the dome before. Nevertheless, the fact that the Bavarians ditched their iconic Turbo X Concept to make space for this theme, shows how important and relevant his project become.
BMW World set up a thematic area of around 30 stations on two platforms ranging from concept cars to city dioramas to demonstrate the diversity of electric mobility and illustrate various aspects of sustainable material selection and production, as well as some of the challenges facing emission-free mobility in the future.
At the same time, this exhibition is so much more than just concepts and imagination. There are existing initiatives by BMW like the Drive Now car-sharing fleet, and that element of tangible reality makes the exhibition shockingly real.
Parking meters and petrol stations are exhibited as a thing of the past, and the focus is shifting towards sustainable sharing of resources.
Hardcore fans of the Bavarian brand will not be pleased about the presentation of various stages of five levels of autonomous driving from driver assistance systems to full automation.
The first segment of the visionary mobility exhibition starts with the electric BMW i models. The BMW Museum is honouring the model series (they boldly call it a brand) that was launched with the BMW i3 and the BMW i8 models.
The exhibition included concept cars with their product development history. I was impressed by the variety of directions, like the i8 Waterfall concept that is a hydrogen-electric PHEV sportscar.
The permanent exhibition already showed some of the I concepts, but the factory vault seems hard to deplete.
The centre stage is taken by the BMW i Vision Dynamics Concept that showcases BMW’s vision of the future of electric mobility.
The car was heralded as the first “Tesla Killer”, but BMW showed instead a stylish concept car that never entered production, which was a shame, as the dynamic looking and progressive four-door Gran Coupé had a range of 373 miles, a top speed of over 200km/h and an acceleration of 0-100 in four seconds.
The special exhibition is genuinely fascinating for those who show an interest in the evolution of automotive, showing a glimpse of what the German premium brand is expecting or is at the forefront of realising.
At the same time, it is interesting to see how BMW’s concept of automobilisation evolved, from the focus of driving pleasure to driverless mobility with a bookshelf (???) next to the driver in the I Inside Future Concept.
Die-hard purists who cannot believe the existence of such an exhibition can convince themselves until September 2019.
Altogether, I spent a good day in Munich, and I certainly left with lasting memories. Visitors are served a broad spectrum of programmes consisting of animation and education, fascinating models and exhibits and exhibits for all ages and interests.
As I wrote earlier, BMW World offers a great deal of attractions, programs and lasting memories to everyone that is genuinely worth a full-day programme, not just to spend an hour before picking up a car from the factory. Strictly speaking, the museum is no match for the best factory museums, like Porsche or Mercedes, the other departments, however, will more than outbalance this. For those who are not specifically interested in old cars, the BMW World can possibly offer the most balanced automotive programme.