May 12, 2006 The world’s most expensive travelling museum gets its annual showing this weekend when the fabled Mille Miglia is run over the original course from Brescia to Rome and back. The most famous motor race in the world in the immediate pre- and post-WW2 period, the Mille Miglia was held on public roads over 1000 miles with Sterling Moss setting a record for the journey in a Mercedes 300 SLR averaging 157.65kph in 1955. Banned in the late fifties, it is now run as a reliability trial where some of the most memorable automobiles in motoring history participate. Each year more than 20 cars are liberated from motoring museums to drive in the event, and the total value of the 375 entries would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This year, the magic of the event was heightened when BMW unveiled a concept vehicle to commemorate the BMW 328 Touring Coupé which won the event in 1940. The chances it will ever be built are very low – which is an enormous shame because under that gorgeous skin are the mechanicals of the 252 kW BMW Z4 M Coupé. Perhaps there’s a market for retro sports cars built with modern methodology?
It is most likely the BMW concept has been created to reinforce BMW’s long history of building stylish and wickedly fast sports cars as the BMW Z4 M Coupé is about to hit the market.
The BMW Concept Coupé Mille Miglia 2006 pays homage to the skills, successes and the visions of the motor sports pioneers of the past, created by its modern successors. On the surface, the BMW Concept Coupé unmistakably bears the traits of a racing sports icon. Its bodywork design is oriented on the BMW 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé, that legendary two-seater with which Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer drove home the victory during the Mille Miglia in 1940. Their average speed of 166.7 km/h remains a record to this day, though it was set on a 100 mile course lapped nine times during a war-time event and hence doesn’t really compare directly to the Moss/Jenkinson record, though it should be noted that it was set 15 years earlier and the pre-war BMW 328 was still victorious in international racing sports until well in the fifties. It was one of the most successful competitive vehicles in the long BMW motor sports history. On top of that, in 2004 it wrote Mille Miglia history for a second time. The BMW 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé was the first automobile ever to win the historic remake of the Mille Miglia after winning the classical race.
The Mille Miglia has lost none of its fascination as a bridge between the traditional and modern automobile age. The once toughest and up to today most legendary automobile road race in the world attracts thousands of motor sports fans to northern Italy each year. In the towns and cities along the route between Brescia and Rome, they celebrate automobile history in its most exclusive form.
The Concept Coupé Mille Miglia 2006 is neither a copy of a successful racing car nor is it being used as a herald for future series models. Rather, the two-seater pays homage to the outstanding achievements of those engineers who helped BMW gain a leading position in racing sports and in automobile engineering decades ago. In a time when the competence of a manufacturer was much more tightly woven with racing sports, vehicles arose that continue to serve as milestones for technical progress, even today. The principles that led to victory back then have not lost any of their validity.
The BMW 328 Coupé’s success during the 1940 Mille Miglia used the most progressive automobile engineering methods of the time. The two-seater was given a lightweight chassis manufactured in the Milanese bodywork forgery Touring on a lattice frame. The power delivered by its 2.0-litre six-cylinder in-line engine was increased from the original 80 PS to 136 PS and combined with light weight and optimal aerodynamics to enable an average speed of 166.7 km/h.
The two-seater was not only the brainchild for the design of the BMW Concept Coupé; it also supplied the inspiration for the study’s inherent notion of heritage. From the long engine bonnet and the generously sweeping front wheel housings through the strongly recessed greenhouse with its divided windscreen up to the wings that arch over the rear wheels covering them completely: the streamlined body of the racing sport legend has been completely reabsorbed in the BMW Concept Coupé.
At the same time, the characteristic basic design is being interpreted in a modern manner. The aerodynamics, already distinctive in the 1940 Mille Miglia winner was improved even further. The insights about airflow and its influence on the vehicle’s uplift pressure and downforce gained in the meantime have also opened up new opportunities.
The 20-inch alloy wheels, specifically developed for the BMW Concept Coupé, fit into the image of its powerful proportions. Tyres dimensioned 245/40 R 20 are mounted on them. Instead of doors, the study bears permanently integrated sidewalls, contributing to weight reduction on the one hand and to increasing torsional stiffness on the other. To let the pilot access the interior, the entire cockpit swings up. The rear section of the concept study is also distinguished through design elements in which the aesthetics are tightly connected with their function. The headlight panel, made from LED elements is likewise conducted in a gentle Z-curve horizontally over the tail. The combination of the most modern illumination engineering and their unusual design unites two functional advantages: due to the extremely fast response time of the LED’s and through the increased conspicuousness of their asymmetrical layout, the brake lights can be perceived earlier than with conventional lighting.
The BMW Concept Coupé does not deny its inspirational source. Still, its body form is not dictated by nostalgia, but rather by the endeavour for forward-looking interpretations for typical BMW design themes. The study is proof that the vehicle designers at BMW have a grip on the art of accepting traditional impulses and letting them flow into new designs with the help of modern expertise. That is the only way that concepts can mature – by combining the power of history with the fascination of visions and letting emotions be awakened at the same time.
During the material selection, the developers of the BMW Concept Coupé gave themselves the same task that inspired the creators of the BMW 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé to unconventional solutions. An extremely light chassis should emerge – from the available materials best suited to this purpose. At Touring in Milan, an aluminium shell was stretched over a lattice frame to accomplish that. Nowadays plastics developed especially for chassis construction set the standard for lightness, load ratings and design freedom. Accordingly, that kind of material was chosen for the Concept Coupé.
The entire body of the concept vehicle is made out of a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). The shell is painted fine silver, a full-gloss paint colour with extremely fine pigments. In this way, the finish awakens the memory of traditional colourings, but when inspected more closely it is clearly the result of the most modern surface-aesthetics engineering.
The BMW Concept Coupé unifies the best of two worlds – and even more. Its design provides hints of design and function opportunities, which can be made practical for series production vehicles used only in the far future. These visions are already fascinating today. For example, the front of the Concept Coupé ensures a striking appearance in a completely new manner, but especially guarantees better vision. At first glance the “face” of the study appears familiar, its “eyes” remind one of the circular headlamp used in the BMW 328. But they are not integrated into the chassis – rather they have been attached as flat elements. Modern LED technology facilitates accommodating powerful light sources in comparatively small units. This progress provides the designs with new possibilities. The forms and linework from the engine hood to the wheelhouses in the Concept Coupé can be continued up through the front apron without being interrupted by the headlight units. The optically dominating role on the front end is taken over by the BMW kidney. More than ever, it characterises the typical BMW “face” by letting the headlights take over the role of the “eye”, despite the innovative execution.
Modern influences dominate the appearance of the Concept Coupé at other points also; the latest series technology is used under the timeless sheath of the study: the drive components in the BMW Z4 M Coupé, the most powerful version of the purist-sporty two-seater. The engine and suspension in the uncompromising sports car are given a totally new calling in the BMW Concept Coupé. They create the ideal basis for outstanding dynamics, for which the Concept Coupé must distinguish itself, as if it were conceived for driving on the road – or a racetrack. And, even though this idea remains purely theoretical, the relationship of traditional heritage and modern technology in this form makes complete sense. The BMW Z4 M Coupé is standing at the temporary end of a long family history of sports cars from BMW. Powerful engines, high efficiency, intelligent lightweight construction, aerodynamic shaping and enthusiastic design lend it its individual character.
The BMW Concept Coupé surmounts the BMW Z4 M Coupé by 23 centimetres length. Furthermore, it is 14 centimetres wider but 4 centimetres flatter than its counterpart approved for road traffic. The extremely short front body overhang is especially noticeable. On the other hand, the tail section is markedly gentle and stretched wide for aerodynamic reasons.