BMW 3 Series

A focus on refined quality, and the ability to react quickly to events outside its control, led BMW to produce an enduring D-segment icon

With its superior driving dynamics and classic design, the BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark for all D-segment models, practically since it first arrived on the market. The vehicle owed its enduring appeal and success, however, in no small part to the environment in which it made its debut. 

At the beginning of the 1970s, because of tensions over the Yom Kippur war, relations between Middle East oil-producing nations and those purchasing the oil in the US and Europe were at a low ebb. An oil embargo was imposed, pushing up fuel prices dramatically across the western world. 

At the same time, the Neue Class (New Class) line of BMW vehicles – which had been in production since 1962 and had successfully seen the firm survive an internal financial crisis – was beginning to age and the OEM’s 51% shareholder, Herbert Quandt, wanted to replace it. 

The then director of design at BMW was Frenchman Paul Bracq. Born in Bordeaux, Bracq had already been credited for the Citroën Pegaso coupe, several Daimler-Benz models – including the Mercedes-Benz W115 – and even the TGV high-speed passenger train. 

As well as setting the design direction for the E21 3 Series, Bracq can claim responsibility for the 5 Series, which was also developed during that period.

“The 1970s at BMW mean a lot to me,” he says. “From 1970 to 1974, I had the opportunity to design the new BMW Series, and I created many designs as visions of the future for BMW.”

It was actually Bracq’s predecessor, though, Wilhelm Hofmeister – responsible for the Neue Klasse – who made the first sketch of the 3 Series, including what has become known as the ‘Hofmeister kink’. A quirky cramp at the base of the C-pillar, the kink has been a hallmark of all BMW models since the 1960s – excluding the i3.

tags: May 2015 BMW Design