Next time you’re stuck in traffic, or strolling through a parking area, take a look at all the cars’ lowest corners on the rear passenger window. How exactly does the line along the bottom of the glass area intersect together with the descending C-pillar? Is it a stark, perfunctory angle? Or is there a little curve that kicks back toward the front? It holds a great deal of significance-for Bavarian designers in particular when speaking about the BMW Hofmeister kink, though this is not usually the place where an observer’s eye will fall first.
What goes on in this small space is as important an component of the company’s styling vocabulary as the famed double kidney grille. Here is whereOne of the big names in contemporary BMW styling is Ohio-born Chris Bangle, who created many influential lines between 1992 and 2009. Also, he presided on the looks of Mini and Rolls-Royce as he became group design chief in 2007. His thoughts on the BMW Hofmeister kink are enlightening.
It would be safer to use the German spelling ‘Hofmeister Knick’ not ‘kink.’ Less ‘kinky.’ It serves two purposes: one, it permits a reasonable-sized fixed glass triangle to give the back door window a stabilizing ‘straight’ drop guide, permitting it to be as far back as possible but still get the glass down completely. Secondly, it extends the daylight opening of the upper with its extra piece of glass and pushes the door’s opening line far back over the wheelhouse, allowing a greater entry/exit. It actually makes opening the door harder if it is too ‘pinched’ and extended. But beginning the curve in the opening around such a ‘knick’ is a sensible way to get a useful opening.
The Hofmeister knick (let’s obey Mr. Bangle) is named after Wilhelm Hofmeister, who worked at BMW from 1955 to 1970. He incorporated it into the ’61 1500 compact sport sedan and it’s been area of the corporate look ever since, within a styling team that developed the latest Class Neue Klasse of BMW cars. It suddenly kinks forward in the pillar’s base, as the C-pillar heads downward. This is supposed to highlight the car’s rear-wheel-drive configuration, another significant aspect of BMW’s core identity.
Wilhelm Hofmeister was one of the first design directors of BMW, Bangle says. And, like we all, passionate about what we do. He got his name mounted onhad been used before as early as 1951 on the Kaiser Deluxe, a united states car (regardless of the German name). Hofmeister was originally a mechanical engineer and had a greater portion of a reputation as a good manager than a creative artist. He was in charge of an in-house team but would also commission freelancers for example Giuseppe Nuccio Bertone, certainly one of Italy’s legendary designers.
Bertone’s studio-come-coachworks penned and partially built around 600 examples of the BMW 3200 CS, a coupe whose rearward side windows sported the telltale curve. Both the and this 1500 debuted on the 1961 Frankfurt auto show. So, perhaps Hofmeister’s legacy owes Bertone a sizable debt of gratitude, because the Hof was no doubt well aware of what was being produced by his outside contractors.
The plot thickens, however, when we learn that a certain stylist who may have since become another giant of Italian design, Giorgetto Giugiaro, was working for Bertone at the time. And then he might well have been involved with penning the 3200 CS. Looking into the historical past of the C-pillar corner, Bangle says, In my time, it evolved rapidly from a weld-and-fill rust generator of the 1960s and ’70s to the cut-and-paste weld seam of the Opel and Audi uppers, to the one-piece fully integrated pillar and rear quarter-panel we know today, beginning with the E34 5 Series.
I found myself at Fiat at the time so you had to be there to appreciate the shock the E34 had on all of us away from BMW circle when that C-pillar debuted…super-elegant, it set the tone for many such intersections to come. Even though there are no new ideas under the sun, that doesn’t stop other car companies from using the same good ones. The knick is now a part of a wider car design language.
One might think it an imposed restriction, Bangle says. But in reality, it is a reasonably help when designing cars to the brand. The Hofmeister knick-never a ‘dog-leg’-is really a wonderfully rich brand and motif icon. Tuning that curve and arguing over the chrome trim-‘Please, God, allow them to make it in just one piece’-and all that goes with it is the stuff that makes designing fun.
And personal. I would personally wager every ‘mother’ of a BMW feels only she or he could have made that knick just right. Principal designers with a car are usually the car’s ‘mothers.’ Those claiming to be the ‘fathers’ are far too numerous to mention and some even try to get their DNA in long after the ‘Conception Time is Over’ bell has rung.
Kinks, however, are certainly not necessarily sacred cows. Could there ever be a time when BMW might abandon its archetypal arc? Karim Habib, current head of BMW design since June 2012, says: So much of what influences design is constantly changing, from consumer tastes, social values, and trends to numerous regulations.
Certain BMW design elements, like the Hofmeister kink, are constants that act as anchors for us. While these elements evolve over time, they allow us to maintain that essential BMW design character which includes existed for 50 years.
Don’t hold your breath expecting a knick-less BMW, then.