The BMW Art Car project started from the simplest and most elegant idea of using a race car as an artist canvas for their creation. Art aficionados appreciated the novelty and ambition of the project and critics received it rather positively worldwide.
In 1975, French auctioneer and racing driver Hervé Poulain started the project by directly asking his friend to paint the 3.0 CSL he was due to race at Le Mans. The friend in question was Alexander Calder, a famous American artist renown for his abstract work on “Mobiles” structures with some very impressive by their size, curvy shapes and vivid colours – granting his work to be labelled by some critics as the most creative sculptures of the 20th century (appreciation of art and cars is very subjective, so it obviously cannot be to everyone’s taste).
Knowing Calder’s work, the result would have been somewhat striking, dynamic and colourful. And indeed, it was!
After a few month spent working on something he did not create himself (which was part of the challenge) Calder delivered the very first BMW Art Car and marked the history of both the automotive and art worlds by doing so. The result was a highly colourful car using mainly primary colours and such used in his “conventional” work. It is also worth noting that the Calder CSL was one of his last creation before his death in 1976.
The car itself was a race version of BMW’s 3.0 CSL featuring a 3.2L straight 6 outputting 480hp. Hervé Poulain managed to qualify the number 93 car in 10th position on the grid but unfortunately retired after 9 hours of race due to a CV joint failure.
The Art Cars program focus has changed to use the cars for PR or marketing purposes rather than purely racing, even though the latest versions will still be raced like Baldessari’s M6 GTLM and Fei’s M6 GT3.
In my personal opinion, the 3.0 CSL Calder is simply the best looking of all art cars, followed by Jeff Koons 2010 M3 GT2 and Roy Lichtenstein e21 320i Group 5.