Designer of 1991 BMW Art Car returns to create unique 7 Series interior

Launched for the 2016 model year, the sixth-generation BMW 7 Series brought a number of important changes to the nameplate. The first Bimmer to be based on the new modular CLAR platform, the new 7 Series is significantly lighter than its predecessor on top of sporting a new design, a revamped interior with finer materials and new technology, and upgraded six-cylinder and V-8 engines. With the full-size Bimmer already in dealerships, BMW is already rolling out the first special-edition and Individual models, one of which is the 740Li by Esther Mahlangu.

For those wondering who Esther Mahlangu is, she created one of BMW’s iconic art cars. Specifically, she designed the 1991-model-year 525i model featuring the Ndebele house painting art. Used by the Ndzundza Ndebele people of South Africa, this unique style involves vibrant colors and geometric shapes that portray communications of personal prayers, self-identification, values, emotions, and marriage. Mahlangu’s art car featured such artwork on its entire body, including the wheels, side mirrors and roof. More than 20 years have passed since then, and Mahlangu and BMW teamed up again for a special BMW.

This time around, the Munich-based firm commissioned Mahlangu to customize the interior of a sixth-generation 7 Series that will be auctioned to benefit the charitable art project "The Art Room," which supports five to sixteen year-old children and youths in their development. The car will be unveiled at the Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park, London, in early October, where Esther Mahlangu will speak on the topic of South African art.

Continue reading to learn more about the BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu.

What makes the BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu special

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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On the outside, this unique BMW is like any other 7 Series except for the 20-inch BMW Individual alloy wheels in V-spoke styling. The sedan is also finished in Pure Metal Silver, a paint you can only get as a BMW Individual, but the shade isn’t all that special to the untrained eye.

It’s inside the cabin that the 740Li-trimmed model received more notable features. First up, the seats, dashboard, door panels, and B-pillars are all wrapped in BMW Individual fine-grain Merino leather, the highest quality leather available for a Bimmer. The upholstery is finished in Smoke White and Black for strong contrast and BMW says that its "natural smoothness and fine structure offers a unique feel." The seats have weave-look stitching and hand-woven piping, while most inserts are in Piano Black, and the headliner in Smoke White Alcantara.

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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Arguably the most important addition is Esther Mahlangu’s unique ornamental shapes on the dashboard and door panel trim. Similar to the Ndebele art seen on the art car that Mahlangu painted in the early 1990s, the geometric shapes and their bright colors add a striking contrast to the luxury car’s interior, making it unique and giving it a hand-made feel. The Ndebele decorations were painted on a special, white-colored wood trim that BMW Individual developed for this car and sealed off with several layers of lacquer to ensure their longevity.

Under the hood, the 740Li is as stock as they get, featuring the same 3.0-liter inline-six engine as the standard production model. Output is rated at 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, giving the sedan a 0-to-62 mph sprint of 5.6 seconds and a top speed limited at 155 mph. The transmission is a ZF-built, eight-speed automatic, which paired with the lightweight construction of the car, returns a combined fuel economy of 6.8 liters per 100 km.

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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Estimates for the auction aren’t yet available, but this unique vehicle should sell for much more than it fetches in standard trim. For reference, the 740Li starts from £71,065 in the U.K., and if I were to take a guess, I’d say that Esther Mahlangu’s artwork and the Individual upgrades should raise at least £200,000 for charity.

BMW 7 Series

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Read our full review on the BMW 7 Series here.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert -
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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Press Release

25 years ago, Esther Mahlangu, a South African artist, was the first woman to create artwork on a BMW 525i Sedan. Its bodywork was adorned with the bright colours and unique ornamental shapes, typical of Ndebele art, thus turning it into a BMW Art Car. Esther Mahlangu has now, for the second time, joined forces with BMW and refined a BMW 7 Series. In collaboration with the BMW Individual Manufaktur, Mahlangu transformed a luxury sedan into a dynamic work of art by painting her characteristic motifs on the real wood interior trims.

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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To facilitate this the specialists at BMW Individual Manufaktur oversaw the full manufacturing process. They developed a special white-coloured fine-wood trim to be painted with Esther’s images before sealing them to ensure their longevity and installing them within the equally remarkable vehicle. The one-of-a-kind automobile will be shown to the public for the first time at this year’s Frieze Art Fair (5- 9 October) in Regent’s Park, London. The vehicle will be offered for silent auction. Proceeds from the sale of the vehicle will be donated to a good cause.

The 81-year-old artist said: “To paint is in my heart and it’s in my blood. The way I paint was taught to me by my mother and my grandmother. The images and colours have changed and I have painted on many different surfaces and objects but I still love to paint. The patterns I have used on the BMW parts marry tradition to the essence of BMW. When BMW sent me the panels to paint, I could see the design in my head and I just wanted to get started! I start by painting the small ones first to get the feel of the surface and then it was easy as the design follows the lines of the panels.

My art has taken me all over the world and I have seen many places, I have painted many walls and objects and my work is in many museums but I am still Esther Mahlangu from Mpumalanga in South Africa. My heart was full of joy when BMW asked me again to paint for them.”

Dr Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of the BMW AG, explained: “Within the framework of the long-term partnership with Frieze and Frieze Masters, we are combining our cultural engagement with BMW Individual for the very first time. I am delighted that we have been able to work again with Esther Mahlangu, an exceptional artist and someone I remember well from my time in South Africa. Together with experts from BMW Individual Manufaktur and BMW Group Design, Esther has created a unique work of art – a BMW Individual 7 Series that forms an extraordinary relationship between craftsmanship and Ndebele art.”

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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The BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu is a right-hand drive vehicle, boasting an array of equipment from the comprehensive BMW Individual Collection in addition to the unique features incorporated by the BMW Individual Manufaktur. 20-inch BMW Individual light alloy wheels in V-spoke styling 649 I underscore the elegant appearance of the BMW 7 Series while the exterior bodywork is coated in BMW Individual Pure metal Silver.

The interior features BMW Individual full fine-grain Merino leather in Smoke White/Black, the highest quality leather available for a BMW, including seats with weave-look stitching and hand-woven piping. The leather’s natural smoothness and its fine structure offers a unique look and feel. The full leather trim also includes the rear panelling of the seats, the upper and lower instrument panel as well as the door panels, including B pillars finished in fine-grain Merino leather. A BMW Individual leather steering wheel with applications in Piano finish Black and an Alcantara headliner in Smoke White complete the exclusive ambience of the interior.

The prestigious BMW 740Li is powered by a high-performing in-line six-cylinder petrol engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology, 240 kW/326 hp (combined fuel consumption: 7.0–6.8 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 164–159 g/km)* and a powerful maximum torque of 450 Nm. The dynamic sedan sprints from 0 to100 km/h in just 5.6 seconds; top speed is limited to 250 km/h. The BMW 740Li features an 8-speed Steptronic transmission and has the lowest vehicle weight in its segment. It is ECE registered and therefore unable to be registered in the United States.

Premiere at the Frieze Art Fair in London.

The BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu will be unveiled at the BMW Lounge at Frieze in London, located directly next to the “Frieze Auditorium”. Further artwork by the South African artist will also be on display providing an insight into her creative work.

2016 BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu High Resolution Interior
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The vehicle will be auctioned in a silent sale starting September 5th where bidders can submit their bids online at or register their bid during the fair at the BMW 7 Series Lounge after having experienced the unveiling of the car. After the fair has ended, the person with the highest bid will become the vehicle owner, facilitated through BMW Retail Online. Proceeds will go to the charitable art project “The Art Room”, a project jointly chosen by Frieze and BMW. Using art as a medium, “The Art Room” supports five to sixteen year old children and youths in their development. At an Art Talk event being held during Frieze week in London, Esther Mahlangu will also speak on the topic of South African art together with Christopher Spring, curator of contemporary, Eastern and Southern Africa at the British Museum, and provide further insight into her creative work.

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