A concept from 1970 revived in 2019

The BMW Garmisch is a concept car that the German firm first unveiled in 1970 and then recreated in 2019. Designed by famed car designer Marcello Gandini at Bertone, the Garmisch reportedly vanished after its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1970. BMW decided to rebuild the vehicle from scratch as a tributed for Marcello Gandini. The vehicle was unveiled at the 2019 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

One of the many BMWs designed by Italian studios, like the 328 Mille Miglia by Carrozzeria Touring and the M1 by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Garmisch didn’t make it into production, but it inspired some models introduced in the 1970s, like the first-generation 5 Series. The unusual name comes from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski town from Bavaria. According to Gandini, this name was picked because "skiing was very popular in Italy at that time. It evoked dreams of winter sports and alpine elegance."

Rebuilding a sparsely documented car

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The original Garmish concept remained an enigma after its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1970. BMW claims that the car vanished and original documents were sparse. Likewise, there weren’t many photos of the Garmisch left in the company’s archive, and most of them were only available in black and white. One of these photos was discovered by Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president of BMW Group Design, a few years ago. Intrigued by its unusual design compared to other BMWs from the era, van Hooydonk decided to rebuild the concept.

The BMW Group Design and BMW Classic departments had to retrace every detail of the car’s exterior and interior from a selection of period images, while Gandini provided information from the creation process of the original car. The 80-year-old designer says that he can barely distinguish the rebuilt concept from the original vehicle. Needless to say, BMW did a tremendous job.

Exterior

  • Based on BMW E9
  • Boxier styling
  • Angular kidney grille
  • Rectangular headlamps
  • Unique beltline
  • Taller glasshouse
  • Large taillights
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While the sight of an angular BMW was a bit strange in the 1970s, it was the redesigned kidney grille that truly set the Garmisch concept apart

In the late 1960s, BMW’s design language began shifting from rounder, organic shapes to more angular cues that defined the iconic first-generation models of the 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series from the 1970s. The Garmisch concept arrived just in time to signal the big shift, but its angular features were more extreme than on the production models that followed. That’s mostly because Marcello Gandini was already breaking auto design rules with wedge-shaped concepts like the Alfa Romeo Carabo and Lamborghini Marzal and was looking to infuse his ideas in vehicles built outside Italy as well.

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While the sight of an angular BMW was a bit strange in the 1970s, it was the redesigned kidney grille that truly set the Garmisch concept apart. Gandini ditched the oval twin kidneys in the nose, opting for more angular elements that looked like a pair of rhombuses. Just picture two Renault badges placed to each other. The new kidney grille was also flanked by a new headlamp design. While BMW was slowly moving away from square, glass-covered headlamps, fitting round units instead, Gandini reinstated the old design. However, the Garmisch’s square and glass-covered lights were longer now, stretching from the kidney grille all the way into the front fenders. Their shape and placement are actually very similar to the modern BMW layout, so we could say that Gandini was a visionary in this department.

The bumper was rather generic and more of the production-car variety. The lower grille was flanked by chrome bars with rubber bumpers, while the apron was a simple, body-colored element.

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The profile, on the other hand, was radically different from BMW's period cars

The profile, on the other hand, was radically different from BMW’s period cars. The Garmisch was a midsize coupe, so the E9, the spiritual predecessor of the first-generation 6 Series, is the best car to compare it to. The E9 was launched in 1968, two years before the Garmisch, so the latter was likely built on the same platform.

While the E9 had a sleek profile with a sloping roof and a tall character line, the Garmisch was designed with a boxier roof. It also had a taller glasshouse, so it didn’t look as sporty as the E9. Its main character line was also lower, splitting the height of the doors and fenders in two (much like on the New Class series that included models like the 1600, 1800, and 2000).

Another distinctive element is the black louver on the C-pillar, a detail usually seen on sports cars back in the day. The sloping deck lid also set the Garmisch apart from other BMWs from the era, which had almost horizontal trunk lids.

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The concept car was finished in a light champagne metallic color

In the rear, the Garmisch didn’t share much with other Bimmers from the late 1960s. It had much larger taillights than the E9 and looked nothing like the vertical units seen on the New Class series. The rear fascia was perfectly vertical, missing the trademark concave shape of the E9. The slim chrome bumper with the protective rubber band was the only feature that reminded of production BMWs from the same era. Finally, the honeycomb-patterned mesh cover over the rear window was a pure conceptual element borrowed from other Gandini-designed vehicles.

The concept car was finished in a light champagne metallic color. This hue was considered exotic back in the day and was considered a symbol of Italian fashion in the 1960s. Whether BMW managed to replicate the original color remains a mystery, but the champagne hue looks authentic enough.

Interior

  • Boxy styling elements
  • Thin center stack
  • Vertical radio
  • Simple instrument cluster
  • Foldable glove box mirror
  • Two-tone upholstery
  • Leather steering wheels
  • Five-seat layout
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The Garmisch was actually pretty innovative inside the cabin, as it previewed the boxy and angular interior designs that followed in the 1970s

By modern standards, the Garmisch’s interior is just a bunch of boxy elements glued together to form a dashboard and a center stack. By comparison, even the E9’s interior looks closer to what we consider an appealing interior today. However, the Garmisch was actually pretty innovative, as it previewed the boxy and angular interior designs that followed in the 1970s and 1980s when brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini adopted these cues as well.

The first thing that catches the eye is the thin center stack that includes a vertical radio and vertical A/C controls. The squared-off instrument cluster had three simple gauges and was flanked to the left by a fake grille. On the passenger side, the two-tier dashboard design made room for a fold-out mirror that came out of the glove compartment. The latter opened up like a drawer. Both features were pretty lavish for 1970.

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The first thing that catches the eye is the thin center stack that includes a vertical radio and vertical A/C controls

The steering wheel had a cool design as well. While most cars from the era had three-spoke wheels, Gandini went with an X-style four-spoke design and a hexagonal center section. The spokes were thick and featured aluminum extensions toward the rim. The door panels have large, drawer-type storage compartments, while the floor is covered in thick cloth. The gear shifter has a small "fence" on three of the four sides of the square it sits on, while the bottom is wrapped in white leather. Speaking of materials, Gandini went with a two-tone combination of white and dark brown. Some areas of the dashboard feature wood veneer.

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The seats are far from sporty, but they look comfortable, especially when compared to other cars from the era. The rear bench is large enough for three people. The chances are that this concept was a spacious as the BMW E9 it was based on. But needless to say, it looked fancier than any other BMW in production at the time.

Drivetrain

  • No actual info
  • Could be based on BMW E9
  • 2.8- or 3.0-liter inline six
  • Up to 200 horsepower
  • Rebuilt concept might not have an engine
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The BMW E9 that the Garmisch is based on had up to 200 horsepower in 1971

BMW had nothing to say about the drivetrain. I’m actually upset about that because I was curious whether it threw in a vintage powerplant or if it fitted a modern engine. On the other hand, BMW didn’t mention whether the Garmisch is a functional concept, so it might not have an engine at all. But what about the original vehicle? What engine did it have under the hood? Sadly, there’s no information about that either. But given that it was likely based on the BMW E9, it’s safe to say that it had one of the inline-six mills that BMW used in the late 1960s.

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Up until the 1970s, the BMW E9 was sold in only two versions, the 2800 CS and 2800 CSA. The more powerful 3.0 models and the cool 3.0 CSL didn’t arrive until 1970. This narrows our options down to the 2.8-liter inline-six engine. This mill was borrowed from the E3 sedan and produced 168 horsepower in the 2800 CS and CSA. There’s also a chance that BMW introduced the Garmisch with the 3.0-liter inline-six that it later offered in the 3.0 CS and CSi. These coupes came with 180 and 200 horsepower on tap, respectively.

Final Thoughts

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Needless to say, BMW designed many great concept cars throughout its history, but the Garmisch isn’t one of them. Granted, it’s far from ugly, and it stands out nicely among production Bimmers from the era, but it’s not as spectacular as other show cars built by Marcello Gandini back in the day. The fact that the original car vanished didn’t help either, as it almost deleted the Garmisch from the history books. But this is where BMW’s decision to rebuild it comes in as a great idea. The fact that Gandini himself was surprised by BMW’s wish to recreate the Garmisch is solid proof that this concept isn’t among the designer’s greatest works. But sometimes concepts like this must survive as well for us to see that automakers often think out of the box, even in their most conservative periods.

  • Leave it
    • Just a concept
    • It might not have an engine
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