This week I had the opportunity to visit with an open critic of the BMW Z4 Roadster. To the naked eye – mine – I didn’t see the problem, but then I’m not a car designer.
Merkel Weiss is a professor and automotive design engineer who’ve I’ve known for many years. From his work at Chrysler Corporation to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, he has always been an automotive voice asked for or not.
Well, I asked Merkel what he thought of the new BMW Z4. He owns an M3 so I figured he would surely have a good thought, but I got another view.
Merkel says he was in the dentist chair for X-rays and the tech said he was doing very well controlling his gag reflexes. Merkel explained he had spent a lot of time analyzing the form of the Z4, which he surmised was a complete non sequitur to her.
Me too, until Merkel explained. “ A gag reflex is a protection feature of the human anatomy that is completely autonomic. It is certainly possible, through practice to learn to control the gag reflex. But that thought came to me while I was thinking about certain aesthetic features of modern car design which are accepted as good work, and that which is not – specifically the BMW Z4.”
“Ok, Joe, I am not an old fogie and reject any reference to old fogyism that one might attribute to this aesthetic consideration, mainly because I taught car design for years. I know many car designers, and I enjoy all aspects of modern design, but only the good ones that are, by the way, good today and tomorrow. They may date themselves but the good part stays good.”
Merkel, how do you evaluate the good ones?
“It’s really not too difficult. First you need an adult view of sculpture. When we were kids we drew pictures with all kinds of stuff in the composition. The picture got busy and we liked it that way. I think of a busy stylistic treatment as an immature aesthetic, like Datsun’s of the 70’s.
So what’s your beef with the Z4?
“It is a tremendous achievement for BMW’s design department because it is something that ordinarily should not be possible. The joining of concave and convex surfaces through a 45-degree sculpture line through the front fender is really a work of genius, except for one thing. It fails to mate by definition, making the front of the car separate from the back. For one thing the rear haunches are way too weak, and the ducktail is way too tall, dropping off on either side of the center duck tail like Niagara Falls and giving the car a saggy butt Bertha look. The tail edge drop-off here should be reduced to no more than about a third of what it is, but no drop-off at all (like a Ford GT40 ducktail) would be better yet. And with the top up it turns dreadful.”
Ford concept GT 40.
Wow, Merkel. Don’t hold anything back; tell me how you really feel.
“Joe, you know I own a BMW and they drive great, but I loathe the body of the Z4 simply because I want to like it so much and it is such a departure from the nicely sculpted BMW’s of the past. And while I’m on a roll, the 7 series trunk treatment also brings out the barf bag. The pasted on trunk is just plain undignified in a car of this stature.
2003 BMW 7 Series
2003 BMW 7 Series
I believe that the same ingenious thought process has led BMW down the path of over analysis to such a degree that the original function got lost in the translation. This flame surfacing and trunk pasting direction is simply bad. I think GM got it a lot better with the Holden Monaro/GTO, Porsche with the Boxster, Honda with the S2000 and Audi with the TT.
GM’s Monaro Porsche Boxster
Honda S2000 Audi TT
While I applaud BMW for inventing and building something completely new, I think someone inside BMW should have stepped up and barfed. Only now in the darkest corners of the empire are shadowed figures beginning to whisper,
hey, the Emperor has no clothes on…”
Don’t ask Merkel.
2003 BMW Z4 $33-40,000, Audi TT $33-40,000, Mazda MX 5 Miata $22-26,000, Mercedes SLK $40-55,000, Porsche Boxster $42-52,000, Toyota MR2 Spyder 24,570.
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