BMW Turbo X1 from 1972


Design pioneer, technology carrier, vision of the future.

The BMW Turbo.Design pioneer, technology carrier, vision of the future.

2022: This year it’s not just BMW M celebrating its 50th anniversary. In 1972, the year that the company that had been hitherto known as BMW Motorsport was founded, a very special concept car saw the light of day: the BMW Turbo. A name that was as concise and precise as the design of this unique vehicle. It came from the pen of BMW’s head designer Paul Bracq, who formulated this approach to the study thus: “Human beings are the non plus ultra. Today, we’re building from the inside out. It has to be an intimate cell in which we drive. A car must fit us like a second skin.” And the focus under the skin of the prototype, which gave a foretaste of the BMW M1, was on one thing: the future. Let’s have a closer look at why the BMW Turbo is so special and why it still fascinates today.

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  • 01 Legendary concept car from BMW
  • 02 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 280 hp
  • 03 Foretaste of the BMW M1, built from 1978 onwards
  • 04 Ushered in the design era of the “shark front”
  • 05 Forerunner in the field of driving assistance systems


Utopian, visionary, aerodynamic.

Paul Bracq designed the BMW Turbo with a few clear lines, it sat extremely low on the road and had many visionary design elements. The first striking feature was the large gull-wing doors with extensive windows. The Turbo’s tapering front and slightly back-slanted BMW kidney – the design that would become known as the shark front – were also Bracq’s brainchild.
One overarching subject for discussion with the Turbo was the aerodynamics, underscored by the use of pop-up headlights alongside the indicators embedded in the front apron. Rear wheel covers streamlined the car still further and the rear and the underfloor were state-of-the-art as regards aerodynamics.


Another special feature of the BMW Turbo is the fine line that runs around the whole vehicle. It rises slightly from the front to the back and gives the concept car an incomparable dynamism. It changes the perception of the waistline and makes the chassis look even lower. It’s a design element that was later used on sportscars like the Ferrari 288 GTO or the F40.

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Safety as an issue, driving dynamics as an aspiration.

Looked like a sports car, drove like a sports car, but was at the same time a mobile laboratory: The BMW Turbo was originally developed as an alternative to other manufacturers’ rather cumbersome prototypes of the time as regards vehicle safety. BMW was of the opinion that a high level of safety for occupants and other road users didn’t have to be dependent on bulky construction and chunky add-on parts.
The proof was the BMW Turbo. The safety standard was emphasized in many places on the vehicle: The chassis for example offered an excellent all-round view to avoid blind spots. With an even axle load distribution, the designers offered safe, yet dynamic drivability. And the snazzy paintwork guaranteed good visibility.

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BMW Turbo design scratch by Paul Bracq

Forerunner of the impact absorber system, later produced in series: the crash structures with hydraulic shock absorbers in the BMW Turbo.


Another completely new feature in the BMW Turbo was the driving assistance systems. Standard on many cars today, back in the 1970s ABS for emergency stops and distance alerts were completely unknown. From a present-day perspective, the innovative nature of the BMW Turbo cannot be underestimated: Besides ABS and a lateral accelerometer, the concept car had a radar distance alert system, along with a comprehensive, passive safety package. This included safety belts that had to be fastened before the car would start. The specially designed collapsible safety steering column with three cardan joints, door posts that extended into the roof and new crash structures with hydraulic shock absorbers front and rear made the BMW Turbo a veritable vision of the future as regards safety technology.

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BMW Turbo driver-oriented cockpit with steering wheel

Became a success: the driver-oriented cockpit.


The impressive innovations in the field of safety also led to a design touch that has characterized generations of BMW and BMW M vehicles ever since: the driver-oriented cockpit with the central console angled towards the driver. The original idea behind this interior was for the belted driver to be able to reach all the relevant controls without having to lean forward. Chapeau – even today, not just BMW fans associate the angled cockpit with the manufacturer from Munich. As early as 1975, it was fitted as standard in the first generation of the BMW 3 series.

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BMW Turbo driver-oriented cockpit with steering wheel

Became a success: the driver-oriented cockpit.


Another first in the BMW Turbo was its chassis. Conceived as a mid-engined sports car, the vehicle’s basic construction offered the developers several advantages. A low centre of gravity and ideal weight distribution, thanks to the engine being positioned behind the passenger compartment, resulted in highly dynamic driving behaviour. The choice of power train was also innovative: the straight four-cylinder 2-litre engine was compact and, depending on the boost pressure from the turbocharger, supplied between 200 and 280 hp.


The BMW engineers also made great use of the potential of the turbo principle, which had scarcely been explored in car manufacture in the early 1970s: Greater efficiency and better combustion more than made up for the smaller capacity. The bi-valve engine also had a modern petrol-injection system and was able to accelerate the BMW Turbo from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.6 seconds. With a top speed of 250 km/h, the concept took the car into the realms of the sportiest cars of the era.

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BMW Turbo Hinterachse und Motor

Hinterachse des BMW Turbo mit quer eingebautem Turbo-Motor.

For a mid-engined sports car, the powerful four-cylinder engine, which was also used for the BMW 2002 turbo from 1973 onwards, had an unusual mounting position in the BMW Turbo: It wasn’t in the conventional longitudinal position, but was mounted transversely and connected to the floor assembly via four large rubber bearings. The position of the engine allowed excellent weight distribution, despite the Turbo’s relatively short wheelbase.

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In 1992, 20 years after its initial presentation, the BMW Turbo and its extraordinary fascinating design won the top design prize at the Concours d’Élégance de Bagatelle in Paris. 12 months later, the unique sports car even made it to an art show: At the Kunsthaus Wiesbaden, the BMW Turbo was exhibited alongside paintings and sculptures by Paul Bracq – even back then, the former BMW head designer was an established figure in the art world.


Today, one of the BMW Turbos is on show at the BMW Museum in Munich and the other in the BMW Centre in South Carolina. Their value? As the concept car has never been in private ownership, there is no way of knowing. For BMW and technological development in car manufacture more than 50 years ago, the answer would have to be: priceless.

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Paul Bracq and the BMW Turbo

Former BMW head designer Paul Bracq with the BMW Turbo at the BMW Museum Munich.

  • Technical data BMW Turbo
BMW Turbo