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      01-02-2017, 01:45 AM   #1
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The story of Paul Bracq, the father of BMW's modern design

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Happy new year to all!

Since I have a bit of time in my hands and because I am an Automobile Design fan, I'd like to share with you all the story of Paul Bracq, one of BMW's most influential designers. As you can notice by my avatar, I am a big fan of the French designer because, despite the fact that his name is not recognised as Chris Bangle for example, Paul was responsible for many iconic car designs. For BMW, he created the brand's first ever concept car, the incredible Turbo coupe, then penned E12 5 series, The E21 3 Series, E23 7 Series and the amazing E24 6 Series!

Paul Bracq, the father of modern BMW design
Article by yours truly :-) with the bones from this French article: http://leroux.andre.free.fr/carrossierbracq.htm. I added elements from various other sources...


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Great timeline Slide Show (in French) about Paul Bracq's design work and his new restoration venture (Ateliers Paul Bracq).



Great Video from BMW about Paul Bracq (choose the subtitle language for English)



Video of retsoration work at "Les Ateliers Paul Bracq"


Paul Bracq was born in 1933 in Bordeaux, the French capital of wine making in the south west of France. After high school and on the advice of Pierre Saoutchik (founder of the famous design house Saoutchik), a friend of his parents, Paul went to study Mechanical Engineering at the famous school "les Arts et Métiers" in Paris. However, he did not like these studies, so he joined another prestigious Art and Design school, "l'Ecole Boulle", known for its high-end furniture making. His teachers allowed him to make models of cars rather than making furniture like the other students. In 1952, Paul won first prize in wood carving at that school. In parallel, to further increase his knowledge for car design, he attended a car panel beating school at the "Chambre Syndicale de la Carrosserie".

In 1952, the prestigious "l'Automobile" magazine that regularly features article about car designs, showed two of Paul's drawings. Through the magazine, he was recruited by Car Designer Philippe Charbonneaux (who created designs for Delahaye). From 1953 to 1955, under the wing of the established designer, Paul worked on various projects such as a 1/10th scale model of a Pathé Marconi movie truck. He also participated in various bodywork projects based on Packard, Pegaso, Salmson...

In October 1954, Paul was summoned to perform his French mandatory Military Service in occupied Germany, which will last 3 years. Thanks to his previous work experience, he was assigned to the garage of the Air Force headquarters that had plenty of beautiful German cars. After driving a Mercedes 300 Adenauer to the maintenance department of Mercedes Benz in Stuttgart, Paul took the opportunity to go to the press department of the brand to ask for racing posters and to deposit some of his drawings. He realised while working for Charbonneaux, that the French Automobile Industry with the slow death of its famous design houses, was in decline whereas in Germany, a firm like Mercedes quickly managed to reconnect with its great tradition of car building. Eight days later, he was summoned to meet Karl Wilfert, the then Head of Design at Mercedes, who offered to hire him at the end of his militant service. Imagine the joy of the young soldier, a feeling all the stronger that he was the first Frenchman to be recruited by the prestigious German brand. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Algerian war forced Paul to wear the uniform for another eighteen months. But Karl Wilfert did not break the contract and hired him in 1957. In the same year, Paul met his wife Alice.

Returning to Sindelfingen in 1957, Paul Bracq joined the Advanced Style unit of Mercedes, a small team composed mainly of Karl Wilfert, chief of testing, Friedrich Geiger, an engineer, and himself. This cell gave birth to the 300 SL and created the generation of sedans W 111 and 112 with fins. The symbiosis between research, style and testing provided this team with a remarkable cohesion and efficiency. For the work of modeling, the technique of plaster, heavy and brittle material, was quickly abandoned in favor of resin. Thus models could be made with opening doors and in which it is possible to sit. Paul Bracq remembers: "We painted the models in shiny black and, underneath the neon tubes, the lines of light traced on the box allowed us to make a visual check." The shiny black reveals the slightest defect in modeling. The models were put back on the craft a hundred times, and for six months we were punching and spinning... The car bodies of the brand derived their quality from this rigorous work carried out on the models, the sheet appeared thicker and the paint was deeper, the thickness was an illusion coming from the art of shaping, and the work of the chrome was also very sophisticated. For example, for the side of the car, we had from ten to fifteen sections to choose the one that would best take the light. The art of chrome is to optimize the part that reflects the light the versus that, obscure, which is oriented towards the ground ". Paul's first job was to draw the triangular rear lights of the W110 190 sedan. Amongst the series vehicles he actively participated in, were the design of two classic cars: the 1963 W113 Mercedes 230 SL and the Mercedes 600. Paul was the one who eliminated the tail fins of the previous Mercedes models that he considered awkward looking, too costly to manufacture and too dangerous in case of an accident.

With the 230 SL Pagoda of 1963, Paul Bracq created his first masterpiece. A subtle blend of classicism and avant-garde, the car draws its singularity from the great finesse of its lines, accompanied by a strong development of the pavilion and large glass surface. In this, it he was thirty years thirty years ahead and announced the cars of today. Brightness and transparency were among the fundamental principles of the art of Paul Bracq: "In a car, I always liked to see clearly to communicate better with the environment. To increase the glazed surface, I lowered the body line and the result was a safer car. For me, the ideal cockpit is the helicopter cabin." The idea of ​​the roof in the form of pagoda belongs to Béla Barényi, the man with the 2,500 patents who was leading the projects office at Mercedes. Paul Bracq took the idea and increased the height of the initially planned roof by six centimeters and the rest is history.



Mercedes 230 SL "Pagoda"
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The Mercedes 600 design remained very conservative, as it was with such luxury cars at that time, but Bracq's input helped define a design that would stand the test of time and fashion. With its lighter pontoon style, the 600's design was able to go through the years without undergoing any major revamp as the 600 remained in the Mercedes catalog for nearly two decades. Bracq personally put his touch on the 1961 W111 SE Coupe and Cabriolet lines and the 1965 Mercedes 250 SE Sedan. Mercedes was an excellent school for Bracq. He learned to constantly think in terms of cost, reliability, convenience and maintenance for the customer. The drawers of Bracq were filled with drawings of future Mercedes of the future. One of Paul's idea was to widen the classic Mercedes grill horizontally but the big German company was slow in its design evolution and the proposals of the designer received little echo from the upper management. At the age of thirty, he became impatient and missed his native country, France...



Mercedes 600
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Mercedes SE Coupé, Cabriolet and Sedan
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In 1967, Brissonneau and Lotz was a subcontractor for various car manufacturers. At that time, the company made the bodywork of the French Matra 530 and the German Opel 1900 GT. Paul's friend, Jean Bernardet informed him that the bodybuilder wanted to create a Style Office. Paul Bracq was then recruited: the French bodybuilder had received an order from BMW for a V8 coupe for the US market. The project was then revised downwards to a 1600 Ti and the car was to be produced by Brissonneau and Lotz. Unfortunately, the company filed for bankruptcy and the project was stopped. However, the many contacts with BMW will soon bear fruit for Paul.



BMW 1600 Ti Concept
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In 1970, Bracq was hired to lead the BMW style center, which only comprised of a dozen people. In 1972, his team presented The Turbo concept car for the Munich Olympic Games. It was the 1st ever concept car for BMW and is undoubtedly Paul's best known work. It combined both solutions for safety concerns and the desire to be aesthetically appealing. The bumpers were made of molded synthetic rubber tinted in the mass and symbolised this search perfectly. The car also had spectacular "gullwing" doors inspired by the Mercedes 300SL. Unfortunately, The 1973 energy crisis prompted BMW to freeze this ambitious program, which never came into reality. But the project clearly influenced the design of BMW's only Supercar, the M1.



BMW Turbo concept, with design and bumper sketches.
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But the Turbo wasn't Bracq's only design and his team would create more iconic BMW's. The 1st Generation 5 series (E12) was launched in 1972 too and inaugurated the principle of "series" for the Bavarian maker, which still exists to this day. One can say that this design would become the template for all future BMW's since. Bracq again took certain themes already sketched during his time at Mercedes, in particular the horizontal character line, and applied them to BMW. Paul's team created the E21 3 Series, which would become the most important car for BMW in becoming the brand's best selling car with over 1.3 million car produced. The E21 was probably the 1st luxury sports sedan produced. In 1976, BMW launched the iconic shark nosed E24 6 Series and in 1977, the E23 7 Series. All these cars were launched after Bracq' departure from Munich in 1974, but were the fruit of his design team. Paul even designed an evolution of the 6 series with a flat nose that looks eeringly siilar to the future 8 series... During his short 4 years at the head of that department, Paul, unlike at Mercedes, had a free reign on the design language and direction for the company and he said ”I could express with complete freedom my ideas concerning automobile style while respecting the image of BMW of the Seventies”. Paul Bracq has undoubtedly created THE template of the modern BMW as we know today and his influence on the design language of the company has lasted to this day. When we imagine what the "classic" BMW design is, it is probably one of Paul Bracq's...




The "Shark Nose" E24 6 Series, with concept drawings and final render. The last drawing is a "Flat Nose" evolution for this model looking a lot like the nose of the future 8 Series.
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The E21 3 Series, with concept drawing
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The E23 7 Series
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The E12 5 Series
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In 1974, Paul Bracq returned to france to lead the Interior Style for the French brand Peugeot and was responsible for designing the interiors of the 305, 505, 205, 405, 106 and 406, as well as Quasar, Proxima, Oxia concept cars. Interior Style, although a priori less noble than Exterior Style, demanded the know how to create something comfortable, intimate and that was able to withstand time with adequate materials. When in 1994, Murat Gnak took control of the Peugeot Style department, Paul Bracq retired.

In addition to his professional career, Paul has never stopped drawing, painting and sculpting, paying close attention to the achievements of Bugatti, Talbot, Rolls Royce ... He is not afraid to distort, Lengthen the shapes of his models according to his inspiration of the moment. It is considered one of the best contemporary automotive painters. He regularly participates in exhibitions on the theme of art and automobile. Paul is also a judge of automobile elegance concours such as Pebble Beach...



Some of Paul Bracq's paintings
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His latest venture is in classic automobile restauration, and founded "Les Ateliers Paul Bracq" a specialising in restoring classic Mercedes and based in Paul's native town of Bordeaux. The company is run by his son Boris and his daughter Isabelle. Imagine your classic Mercedes (or BMW) signed by the master himself ;-). Some of their work are featured on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AteliersPaulBracq/


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      01-02-2017, 02:48 AM   #2
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Very cool thread. Some of those designs I had never seen.
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      01-02-2017, 08:45 AM   #3
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Great post! Thank you for sharing.
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      01-02-2017, 08:55 AM   #4
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Cool Designs

What a wonderful story on Pal Bracq. I have been fortunate enough to own many of these as DD over the past 50 years--mostly at the bottom end. It was nice to see them represented here, and a nice walk down memory lane. Wish I had kept a few of them now.

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      01-02-2017, 10:39 AM   #5
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I love that 635csi
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      01-02-2017, 10:55 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bailyhill
What a wonderful story on Pal Bracq. I have been fortunate enough to own many of these as DD over the past 50 years--mostly at the bottom end. It was nice to see them represented here, and a nice walk down memory lane. Wish I had kept a few of them now.

Bailyhill
I own one of Paul's design too the classic E21 323i with a few M bits... We've had it in our family since new and I am the current custodian. I love the simplicity and elegance of the design of this era's BMW's. The 323 for example has a nice balanced shape with great details such as a fantastic clamshell hood, dual exhausts showing it has the more powerful inline 6 and a clean, almost simplistic dashboard but ergonomically fantastic! the dogleg Sports 5 speed manual has a fantastic mechanical feel too as well as the sports steering wheel and seats (Regards I believe)... for a car so small nowadays compared to even compacts, it has a great feel of solidity and weight: the notion that German cars are built like tanks is true. The car is not very quick by modern standards but the oversteer biased handling is as predictable as fun thanks to the light rear axle (heavy 6 up front) and LSD... I have loved this car since I was a kid and still do now ;-). The only gripes I have is a heavy clutch for urban driving and slightly vague steering... But the best part is probably the smoothness and great sound of the inline 6, especially above 3000 rpm!
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      01-02-2017, 11:00 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jpnh
I love that 635csi
Probably one of BMW's best design ever. The car is so tiny by modern standard being smaller than the current 3-4 series!
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      01-02-2017, 01:12 PM   #8
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great post and here's a nice vid I found of Bracq talking about it all! Amazing how his designs are timeless (I guess the best ones are...), but especially the Turbo concept.

the passion of Bracq...the design baron of BMW.
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      01-02-2017, 02:29 PM   #9
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Great history lesson!
Especially for the younger ones who were not so familiar with these models 👍
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      01-02-2017, 02:41 PM   #10
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I love my BMW e21. I continue to drive it often, BMW 320is. The forgotten BMW. Thanks for the post.
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      01-02-2017, 02:57 PM   #11
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Very entertaining and informative. Well done. I've always been a fan of bracq's works. It was only when I had kept being drawn to certain designs did I decide to search for their respective designers. Many from which turned out to be bracq!

Does anyone know if there is any level of involvement from him in today's designs? Consulting perhaps?
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      01-02-2017, 03:55 PM   #12
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Absolutely one of the best designers
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      01-02-2017, 08:47 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DRTMGRT View Post
Very entertaining and informative. Well done. I've always been a fan of bracq's works. It was only when I had kept being drawn to certain designs did I decide to search for their respective designers. Many from which turned out to be bracq!

Does anyone know if there is any level of involvement from him in today's designs? Consulting perhaps?
Hi. As far as I know, Paul is not involved in design anymore and spends his time with his classic restoration business, his painting and other things such as judging at classic car contests...
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      01-02-2017, 08:49 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul-Bracq-BMW View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRTMGRT View Post
Very entertaining and informative. Well done. I've always been a fan of bracq's works. It was only when I had kept being drawn to certain designs did I decide to search for their respective designers. Many from which turned out to be bracq!

Does anyone know if there is any level of involvement from him in today's designs? Consulting perhaps?
Hi. As far as I know, Paul is not involved in design anymore and spends his time with his classic restoration business, his painting and other things such as judging at classic car contests...
Shame, I think the current design house could use some of his daring style.
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      01-02-2017, 08:49 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sixburgh View Post
I love my BMW e21. I continue to drive it often, BMW 320is. The forgotten BMW. Thanks for the post.
I agree, the E21 is a bit of the forgotten 3 series, but we owners know how good and cool they are ;-). I like its shape better than the square E30 for example...

Cool one you have!
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      01-02-2017, 09:40 PM   #16
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In complete opposition (different time) but still fascinating... A fantastic video from Chris Bangle, the man who revolutionised design at BMW... He was there from 1992 to 2009. This show how modern design is done with competing team, many designs for the same car and a cutthroat selection process...

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      01-02-2017, 09:50 PM   #17
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Video from BMW's current head of design: Karim Habib.




IMO, nowadays, design studios of car companies are comprised of a lot of people so in the end, a car design is an amalgalm of ideas put together instead of the vision of a single man like it used to be. Therefore there is this "design by commitee" result that most cars look so similar... Maybe that's the problem of car designs nowadays...
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      01-02-2017, 09:53 PM   #18
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Design process of the F30 3 series... What I can't get is that designers obsess so much about the details, but could not solve the problem of the ugly hood line with the engineers...

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      01-03-2017, 07:09 AM   #19
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Great images of the earlier Benz models!
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      01-10-2017, 06:28 AM   #20
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      01-25-2017, 12:10 PM   #21
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      01-25-2017, 10:22 PM   #22
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