Marcus Syring about the BMW M design DNA

DIAMOND CUT.

Marcus Syring about the BMW M design DNA.

Marcus Syring about the BMW M design DNA
DIAMOND CUT.Marcus Syring about the BMW M design DNA.

They are bursting with both energy and style in equal measure. The older models have matured into automotive icons, while the newer ones are high-end sports cars with superior all-round characteristics. Alongside performance, a charismatically polished design has developed that transforms a BMW into an M model. Visual details with a big impact. Features that stretch like pearls on a string through the decades and evolve into ever new gems. As head of the BMW M design studio, Marcus Syring interprets the origins of the brand and infuses them with further facets. He explains the design DNA of the brand. An article from the book "BMW M Love" to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BMW M GmbH.

BMW M3 Competition Sedan with M xDrive:
Fuel consumption in l/100 km (combined): 10.1-10.0 (WLTP)
CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 230-228 (WLTP)

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Marcus Syring, head of the BMW M design studio

© Bernhard Huber

This man knows everything about the soul of this brand – its history, its position in the present and its place in the future. Marcus Syring and his team create highly dynamic vehicles. He has been with the BMW Group for more than 30 years – including holding senior design roles at MINI and Rolls-Royce. A creative mind on the one hand, an analytical designer on the other. Like a time traveller from the future of design. He is one of the individuals are shaping the brand’s tomorrow from the very core of BMW’s being and condensing BMW M into its purest essence. "BMW squared", as Marcus Syring calls it. He uses the example of the M3 from different eras to illustrate how this abstract power has been the drive and soul of BMW M for three decades and will continue to be so in the future.

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THREE M3 MODELS, ONE DNA.

THE E30, E46 AND G80.

The rolling gate of a production hall on the BMW M site in Munich-Garching opens up and a currentgeneration M3 Competition (G80, available since 2021) rolls in, the low roar of its 510 hp six-cylinder engine resonating throughout the space. Two of its predecessors are already in position inside – the timeless M3 from the E46 series (2000 to 2006) and the iconic first M3 from the E30 series (1986 to 1991).

 

Before Marcus Syring uses these 3s to explain the process of how an M model comes into being, he takes a brief look back to a time when BMW M and BMW Motorsport GmbH didn’t even exist. To the time when BMW itself was originally created. This is important if we are to understand how the brand’s now signature design, which forms the basis from which BMW M’s diamonds are cut, came into the world.

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FROM AIRCRAFT ENGINE MANUFACTURER TO CARMAKER.

Marcus Syring begins to tell the story: "In 1916, we started with aircraft engines. It was only later that motorcycles and then the first car came along. This was a licensed build of the British Austin 7." Side note I: BMW took over the Eisenach Vehicle Factory in 1928, which offered the Austin 7 as a Dixi. In 1929, this small car became the BMW 3/15. So this car was not only an Austin in origin, but also a prototype of the later Mini, which first came onto the market in 1959 as the Austin 7 and Morris Minor Mini. In the year 2000, BMW acquired the car manufacturer MINI and with it, a part of its own history. Bravo! End of side note I. Marcus Syring considers the early days – from the aircraft engines to the 3/15 – to be BMW’s first phase. Admittedly, it did not have any impact on the design of today’s models. But nevertheless, the blue and white stylised aircraft propeller in the brand’s logo has been inextricably linked with Bayerische Motoren Werke ever since.

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Design icon on the move: the BMW 328 Roadster on 28 April 1940 at the first Gran Premio Brescia delle Mille Miglia.

Design icon on the move: the BMW 328 Roadster on 28 April 1940 at the first Gran Premio Brescia delle Mille Miglia. © BMW Group Archiv

THE BMW KIDNEY GRILLE BECOMES A DISTINCTIVE FEATURE.

"Then came the fantastic cars of the 30s and 40s, the 328 and the Mille Miglia. This is, as I see it, BMW’s second phase," says Syring. This period saw the first models featuring the legendary BMW kidney grille. Side note II: In 1940, racing drivers Walter Bäumer and Fritz Huschke von Hanstein had won the legendary Mille Miglia in Italy in their BMW 328 Touring Coupé. The 328 – as a roadster, the production version was one of the dream cars of the time – finally firmly established the BMW kidney grille, which had been created in the 1930s, in the collective memory of generations as the brand’s most important design feature. And so, with this sports car, BMW found its visual identity and probably the most important building block of its DNA. As a result, every BMW of the modern era, right up to the Concept XM, still reflects the aura of a 328. End of side note II.

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LEGENDARY MODELS IN THE POST-WAR PERIOD.

"The world entered the post-war period and that was the beginning of the BMW’s third phase. The company had started making cars again. The spectrum was extremely broad – the bookends spanned from the round Isetta and the small BMW 700 on the one end to the ravishingly beautiful V8 Barockengel on the other. But none of them was a vehicle suitable for the masses," notes Syring. Side note III: BMW created some of the most beautiful models of all time in the 1950s, including the legendary BMW 507; Elvis Presley drove one of them. However, as outlined by Marcus Syring above, no model managed to sell the number of units that would have ensured BMW’s survival as an independent company. End of side note III.

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The BMW Isetta in the standard version with retractable top.

© BMW Group Archiv

The New Class in the 1963 sales brochure.

The New Class in the 1963 sales brochure. © BMW Group Archiv

THE NEW CLASS.

USP THROUGH A SYMBIOSIS OF SPORTINESS AND ELEGANCE.

Bayerische Motoren Werke needed a fresh start. And they got it in 1961 at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt with the mid-size 1500 saloon – at the time, BMW referred to it as the ‘New Class’. Syring explains: "With this 'new class', BMW saved itself and reinvented itself. This was the first time the company offered its unique combination of sportiness and elegance."

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By this fourth phase, BMW had completely repositioned itself. This also changed the competitive environment – only Alfa Romeo and Lancia offered similar driving dynamics in the mid-size segment, and only Mercedes-Benz offered a comparable level of elegance. But the combination of these parameters – a new symbiosis of reliable German engineering, elegant style and superior sportiness – was something only BMW had in its range of saloons, and this was a unique selling point, including in design. Syring continues: "The 'New Class' combined this perfectly. The successful businessman needed a saloon that was elegant for his appointments. At the same time, this sporty gentleman also wanted to enjoy breathtaking performance. This is how the sporty saloon became BMW’s recipe for success. And we now have cultivated this principle over decades."

 

Side note IV: The "New Class" and the BMW 3200 CS, which was also presented at the IAA 1961, also marked the debut of the ‘Hofmeister kink’ – the small cut-out of the rear side windows on the C-pillar, named after Wilhelm Hofmeister, BMW’s chief designer at the time – which still characterises the silhouette of almost all BMWs today. End of side note IV.

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The 170 hp BMW 2002 turbo was a kind of historical blueprint for the later M3.

The 170 hp BMW 2002 turbo was a kind of historical blueprint for the later M3. © BMW Group Archiv

2002 TURBO.

FIRST FORETASTE OF THE M3.

The "New Class" was far ahead of its time, as it allowed BMW to offer its models on a common technological platform in different segments – known in the industry as scaling. It is important to note that even as the company expanded its range, BMW always remained true to the principle presented in 1961 of packaging driving dynamics in a stylish manner. With the debut of the compact BMW 02 Series (E20, from 1966), production numbers grew and the brand’s design became increasingly charismatic. This was followed by the launch of the first BMW 5 Series (E12, from 1972) and, consequently, the birth of BMW Motorsport GmbH (1972).

 

Side note V: One of the most extroverted cars of the time was the BMW 2002 Turbo, introduced in 1973, with its distinctive spoilers and wide arches; BMW had adapted the drive system and aerodynamics from motor sport – a first foretaste of the later M3. The first BMW 3 Series (E21) made its debut in 1975. End of side note V.

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BMW M3 E30

© Bernhard Huber

M3 E30.

TRANSPORTS RACING INTO PRODUCTION MODELS.

By the second generation of the 3 Series (E30, from 1982), BMW Motorsport GmbH faced the challenging task of combining technology and design for both racing cars and production models. And thus, as a crossover between these two worlds, the first BMW M3 was created in 1986. This iconic vehicle’s impact on the world of BMW M design was immense. Syring explains: "Like the 3.0 CSL, for example, the first M3 was also hugely significant. In this case, the two-door 3 Series was used because it was intended to be suitable for racing. So it’s a very compact vehicle with extremely sporty genes."

 

The designer outlines how form systematically followed function in this car – a principle that still applies to BMW M models today: "The idea was, of course, to create a bit more space in the wheel wells – for high-performance tyre and wheel combinations. And that’s why the wheel arches extend out. This wasn’t done for stylistic reasons, but simply because it was necessary." The protruding mudguards and wheel arches have been part of the M DNA since the first M3, as have the larger air vents in the front end.

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"Again, in the case of the E30, we looked at the issue closely and asked ourselves: where does the air stagnate? How much air is needed there? We see, for example, that the front end has been opened outwards in order to adapt the brake air ducts."
Marcus Syring, head of the BMW M design studio
BMW M3 E30 Flügel

© Bernhard Huber

The designer looks at the rear of the two-door model: "In the case of the M3 E30, the focus was particularly on the downforce values. Such a classic notchback car needed a relatively large spoiler and then a 'Gurney flap' on the back." With this wide rear spoiler derived from motor sport, including a Gurney flap (named after its inventor, the racing driver Dan Gurney), and the flared arches, the bumpers inevitably had to be redesigned as well.

 

"Thus, if we now have wider side panels, then the original front and rear aprons no longer fit. And so they were also modified. Back then, BMW Motorsport GmbH basically implemented everything you needed to race cars in the DTM. And that’s also what’s so authentic about it; form follows function." The fact is that since the first M3, every M model has featured individually designed bumpers as well as rear spoilers (E36: M3 GT only) or aerodynamic Gurney flaps in a wide variety of shapes.

 

The designer’s job, however, is to mould these details and their functionality into an aesthetic form that fits the vehicle. Syring explains: "We now have a rear spoiler here for functional reasons. It physically does exactly what is needed to apply downforce to the rear axle. But it also has its own aesthetic. And it’s without frills. It is, for all intents and purposes, derived from its function, from racing, but integrates into the car’s design language extremely well. And it’s a motor sport aesthetic. Furthermore, the spoiler also has a third, symbolic function at the same time. Because the moment this rear spoiler is added to a car, it symbolises that yes, this BMW is part of the family of genuine sports cars."

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M3 E46.

THE M3 GETS ATHLETIC.

Armed with the knowledge of a model’s history, designers look to the future to create something new. This is impressively demonstrated by the third M3, the E46 generation introduced in 2000. "This is the M3 that I designed myself," says Syring. This is because years before he took over as head of BMW M design in 2016 and transferred to MINI and Rolls-Royce in between, the creative designer was already part of the regular team in Garching.

 

He remembers the early stages of this M3 project: "The original 3 Series, the coupé, already looked extremely sporty. So the first few days, everything I sketched ended up in the rubbish bin. This is because I was trying to sharpen the normal car’s lines even more. After all, M is BMW squared! But with these even sharper edges, it would have been overdrawn. That was too much for me – it looked like a DTM racing car. It was too sharp."

 

And so Syring recalibrated his vision of the third generation of the M3: "Then I had the idea that I could express the car’s power in a different way. It doesn’t have to look like a Formula One racing car, thin and sharp-edged. It’s also possible to express a great deal of power through muscles, i. e., through organic shapes. Athletically muscular. And then I knew okay, this can work." The designer continues: "So what we really needed was the wider track once again, and with it, new side walls. And I thought there was a nice contrast when you combine this precise, sharp-edged design with muscular surfaces." And thus the powerfully streamlined athletic silhouette also became part of the M design DNA.

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BMW M3 E46

Muscles instead of edges: the Syring-designed M3 E46 was the first model in the series with athletic sides and shapes. © Bernhard Huber

Syring goes further into the details of the M3 E46: "For a long time we assumed that we absolutely needed a vent in the front area of the side panel. But later we closed it." However, the chrome grille between the A-pillar and the front wheel arch intended for ventilation remained: "No air actually passes through it, but the side grilles add an aesthetic highlight. And this design signals that the car belongs to the family of large highperformance coupés. If you look at the side grilles on a 3.0 CSL, the situation is similar." The side grilles were thus also born out of a functional need, but then became a stylistic detail. This detail, however, was so prominent that it also became part of the M design DNA.

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Detail: side grilles of the BMW M3 E46.

© Bernhard Huber

A detail of the BMW M design DNA: the side grilles, here the BMW M3 G80.

© Bernhard Huber

Durchzug: Die erstmals mit dem M3 E46 (links) eingesetzten Kiemen prägen das Design der Baureihe bis heute, wie der G80 (rechts) zeigt.

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With the introduction of the M3 E46, another design feature – the bonnet scoop – became a trademark of the powerful M models. Syring explains: "There’s this powerful six-cylinder engine underneath. And this feature says to the world: something is different here, there’s something here that needs space, that has a certain special power. That’s why we need this muscular powerdome." From then on, it too blended with the M DNA.

 

The rear spoiler, meanwhile, is much more discreet than on the M30. Syring continues: "We didn’t need that big spoiler for this model like we did with the E30. A spoiler lip at the rear was sufficient to provide the necessary downforce. And on the M3 E46, we also unveiled this twin tailpipe design for the first time. They are positioned relatively close together. There were technical reasons for this; this arrangement of the twin tailpipes then also became a hallmark of BMW M."

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BMW M3 E46 rear with two twin tailpipes

The M3 E46’s two twin tailpipes had to be moved to the centre. Today, this position forms part of the M DNA. © Bernhard Huber

DUAL DESIGN ELEMENTS ARE TYPICAL OF BMW M.

The use of dual design elements is also an obvious part of the M DNA. This not only includes components such as the exhaust systems’ twin tailpipes or the two bars of the wing mirror bases (since the E36), but numerous other details.


Syring jumps back for a moment: "When I started at BMW, the M3 E36 was almost finished. All that was missing were the wheels and the wing mirrors. But Dr Reitzle (editor’s note: member of the board responsible for development at the time) wasn’t a fan of the wheels we developed. Then one evening I was sitting in a beer garden in Munich and briefly jotted down on my coaster: BMW has always had BBS wheels. BBS has the cross-spoke design. Then Alpina – they have radial spokes. And what are we going to do for M? So I thought to myself, let’s go with double spokes."

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BMW M3 E30 wheel

The M3 E30 cross-spoke rim came from BBS. © Bernhard Huber

BMW M3 E46 wheel

Marcus Syring reinvented the BMW M rim design with the double spoke. © Bernhard Huber

And this is how it came to pass that M wheels have featured double spokes ever since and, at the same time, the dual design of other elements was seamlessly integrated into the M DNA. Syring continues: "Today we even have double bars in the BMW kidney grille. I’m gratified that what I once developed 30 years ago is still in use."

In this context, it’s exciting to take a look at the designer’s sources of inspiration: "I like looking at cars, of course. I love cars. But that’s not my inspiration. After all, that would be second-hand inspiration. Generally speaking, I’m very much in tune with architecture, product design, fashion, consumer goods. And I remember things that I’ve come across and recall them at the right moment."

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Marcus Syring,head of the BMW M design studio, with M3 E30, M3 E46 und M3 G80

© Bernhard Huber

DESIGN IS ALWAYS A TEAM EFFORT.

One of those real moments was the beginning of development of the latest M3 series, the G80. The design process for the new M model began shortly before starting on the design for the entire series. The aim was to transfer the M design DNA to the next generation of vehicles. Syring explains: ‘The designers were briefed extremely thoroughly in terms of which parts they could change and which they had to change.’ Then the team got started. Responsibility for the current M3 project lay with Juliane Blasi, who had designed the second Z4, among others. The final exterior is based on a design by Anne Forschner.

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A RADIATOR GRILLE SYMBOLISES EITHER STATUS OR SPORTINESS.

Another signature M feature are the new forged wheels with double spokes (model 826 M) and a lightweight roof made of visible carbon, similar to the one first used in 2003 in the M3 CSL of the E46 series. The distinctive rear spoiler, split down the middle, is also made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) – the latest design in the evolution of the formerly large E30 spoiler.

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Der Spoiler des BMW M3 G80.

© Bernhard Huber

Die Doppelspeichenfelgen des BMW M3 G80.

© Bernhard Huber

"We wanted to make it really bold, of course," says Syring. "But then we realised that it produces too much downforce. And if we produce too much downforce at the rear, we also have to readjust the front. But then this makes the aerodynamics worse. So in the end, we decided to lower the rear spoiler in the middle and direct the downforce via the sides alone in the way that our suspension engineers need it. Customdesigned. The beauty of this solution is that it has its own unique appearance and is something special." The lowered middle section of the spoiler also corresponds to the two fins in the M3’s carbon roof.

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THE BMW KIDNEY GRILLE IS ALWAYS PART OF THE EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS.

One major focus was the radiator grille for the current M3 and M4. The background to this is that in earlier BMW M generations, the kidney grille always formed the unifying element that looked the same between the production models and the M versions. Things have been different since 2021. Since then, the BMW kidney grille is no longer a static design element within a model series, but variable. In the case of the M3 (saloon) and M4 (coupé), it was derived from the kidney grille from the 4 Series.

 

Syring explains: "The lines and edges of the M kidney grille are clearly more sharply drawn than on the normal 4 Series. It also has a border around it. We simply left that out of the M3 and M4." This, by the way, was not just for visual reasons, but – form follows function – to keep the drive system’s cooling openings as large as possible. One thing is certain, however: the coupé-like M4 has become even sportier with the M kidney grille; the M3, meanwhile, now features a new sports car front end that gives it the appearance of a high-performance saloon.

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BMW M3 G80 im BMW M Designstudio

Four-door sports car: today, the M3 is always a saloon. © Bernhard Huber

THE M FRONT OF THE MODERN ERA.

What is fascinating is the consistency with which the design team pulls out all the stops to integrate the M DNA in every possible detail. Again Syring explains: "The BMW 4 Series has this grille with the nuggets. Meanwhile, we were thinking about what to do with our signature M double bars? Then we drew quite a few sketches. During that time, I walked past a black-and-white photo of a 328 Mille Miglia every day. Literally for weeks. And at some point I walked past it again and thought, eureka, that’s the solution! Because it had a high, narrow kidney grille, but inside there were small horizontal slats. And then I gave Anne Forschner a sketch and she realised it beautifully."

 

And so the soul of the 328 Mille Miglia lives on in the new M3 and M4. Then the former Rolls-Royce designer follows up with a lesson in radiator grille effect: "Every form that has a direction also expresses something specific. For example, if I design something vertical, it radiates status and luxury. And when I create something horizontal, it’s sporty, dynamic. And that’s what’s so brilliant about the M3 E30 – its front end exudes a luxurious, elegant sportiness."

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The kidney grille of the BMW M3 E30.

© Bernhard Huber

Detail:kidney grille of the BMW M3 G80

© Bernhard Huber

In other words, a mixture of the commanding presence of a BMW 7 Series (vertical slats in the kidney grille) and the sportiness of a BMW 328 Mille Miglia (horizontal). Because in addition to the BMW kidney grille with vertical bars, the first M3 had horizontal radiator grille bars to the left and right of that. Syring explains: "The pure verticality in the M3 E30’s kidney grille expresses status, prestige. And this width – it’s flat, sporty, it pushes it outwards. Semantically, it is the perfect translation of what BMW was expressing at the time, which was sporty elegance."

 

The vertical and horizontal elements of the first M3 radiator grille are blended together in the vertically aligned radiator grille of the current M3 with its horizontal bars to create the M front end of the modern era. "It is vertically oriented, but the horizontal double bars naturally lend it that power. Not overstyled and yet radical. And it’s unique, so there’s a certain kind of copyright on it." That’s the point – BMW M once again delivers a counterpoint to the uniformity of the masses. A look at electric models in the style of the future XM shows that BMW M will remain true to its design DNA even in the age of electric mobility.

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BMW M LOVE.

More exclusive insights and photos of never-before-seen M automobiles are featured in the new book "BMW M Love". Now available at Delius Klasing.

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BMW M3 Competition Sedan with M xDrive: Fuel consumption in l/100 km (combined): 10.1-10.0 (WLTP); CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 230-228 (WLTP)

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  • The models illustrated include optional equipment.

    Official data on power consumption and electric range were determined in accordance with the mandatory measurement procedure and comply with Regulation (EU) 715/2007 valid at the time of type approval. In case of a range, figures in the NEDC take into account differences in the selected wheel and tire size; figures in the WLTP take into account any optional equipment. WLTP values are used for assessing taxes and other vehicle-related charges that are (also) based on CO2 emissions, as well as for the purposes of vehicle-specific subsidies, if applicable. Where applicable, the NEDC values listed were calculated based on the new WLTP measurement procedure and then converted back to the NEDC measurement procedure for comparability reasons. For newly type-tested vehicles since 01.01.2021, the official data no longer exist according to NEDC, but only according to WLTP. For more information on the WLTP and NEDC measurement procedures, see https://www.bmw.com/wltp.

    For further information about the official fuel consumption and the specific CO2 emission of new passenger cars can be taken out of the „handbook of fuel consumption, the CO2 emission and power consumption of new passenger cars“, which is available at all selling points and at https://www.dat.de/co2/.

    All vehicles, equipment, combination possibilities and varieties shown here are examples and can differ in your country. In no way do they constitute a binding offer by the BMW M GmbH. Visit your local BMW website or see your authorised BMW M Retailer for accurate details on the offers in your country.