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ADLX Review: 2011 BMW 550i

The Ultimate In Tasteful Marketing: BMW + Mad Men

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img AMC ::: BMW Sponsors Mad Men

READ NY Mag’s recap of season four’s premiere of AMC’s Mad Men.

Logan Hill’s take was as concertedly analytical as what we’ve come to expect from New York‘s coverage of the series that depicts the madness behind the Brylcreem of Madison Avenue in the 60s. In his article, Mr. Hill referenced a line from Andy Warhol which applies nicely to cars and BMW’s ad campaign, in particular. Let’s reintroduce it here:

Warhol once said, “Lock up a department store today, open the door after a hundred years, and you will have a museum of art.” (Lock up an office in 1964, then pop it open on AMC in 2010, and, with a lot of creative license, you’ve got quality TV.)

How true.

BMW, who’s sponsored Mad Men‘s previous season, was presenting sponsor for this season’s premiere. And true to the show’s vintage nature, BMW’s commercials would’ve sated Janus himself – looking past first, then present.

In one of the spots, we see the BMW 5-Series in earlier forms – notably the E28. A BMW rep talks candidly on camera about the elegance of BMW’s past 5ers while we see company footage. Later on, another spot showcases the now familiar current bodystyle F10.

Past und present.

The last ad markets the bread ‘n butter 3er. We see E30 vintage 3-series sedans and then beauty shots of the current lineup while listening to chatter about “performance sedans”. The past and the future play equal parts again in a symphony for your attention (and hopefully dollars).

These spots culminate into great messaging by BMW.

Part of Mad Men‘s wide appeal is that the series reintroduces some of the glamorous aspects of commercialism in post war American society. Any company that associates itself with that classic aspect is making a case for the enduring appeal of its own brand’s identity. When is a bottle of Clorox art? When we see a bottle from the 60s deliberately re-presented.

When is a BMW art? When we see an vintage 5-Series in its former element. Being the Ultimate Driving Machine. This campaign ranks as an important departure from most car advertising which focuses on right now.

After all, to fully and faithfully subscribe to a brand identity like BMW, you have to maintain an appreciation for the past in order to ask buyers to re-invest in the present and the future.

BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.

Four Teutonic Facelifts That Worked & One That Didn’t

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The R129 generation (1989-2001) Mercedes SL – post-op

By Gunnar Heinrich

SUCH is the prolific lifespan of most of Stuttgart or Munich’s creations (typically 7-10 years) that mid-cycle “facelifts” are often called for to keep the Benzes and Bimmers appearing fresh against upstart competition.

Sound like the anxious existence of an aging Hollywood actress? Well, it is more or less.

Here are four cases in point where a trip to the plastic surgeon yielded a cleaner look that managed to eclipse the original plus one example that could’ve used a follow up…

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BMW E34 5-Series (1988-1994)

Arguably the handsomest midsize sedan BMW has yet to build, the 5er was angular, lean, and cleanly drew the automaker into the 90s. But those facets that worked under the Bush Administration seemed dated mid-way through the Clinton years – particularly when most rivals were bulking up into heftier shapes.

Below, the easy fix.

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The 90s refit added a lower apron to the front bumper – better channeling air to the front brakes – and  minimized the horizontal plastic slats – a styling cue from the 70s – in favor of adding painted sheetmetal surrounding the chromed kidney grille. The effect, however subtle, was a modernizing step that segued nicely into the succeeding e39 generation (1995-2003).

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Mercedes-Benz R129 SL-Class (1989-2001)

The automotive press was merciless in their spite of the sport light by the time it had reached its finale in 2001. They labeled the Benz a “dinosaur” with all the big, lumbering connotations for performance that the attribution meant.

Still, when the SL made its debut in the 80s alongside the W126 S-Class, it was a pioneer in German excellence in design that had replaced the truly ancient R107 (1971-1989).  Still, the SL would receive not one but two facelift in its lifespan. The last (and best) occuring in 1998.

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It’s amazing what tweaking the headlamps of a car can do to the overall appearance. With translucent lenses, we see a more dynamic face thanks the Xenon projectors. Visually, the “eyes” of the car appear wider, too.  That along with bolder body-colored bumpers, slightly twisted side skirts (on Sport packaged models), and larger, fewer spoked rims – gave more credibility to the “sport” in “sport light”.

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Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class (1991-1999)

Hot on the heels of the W126 generation (1979-1991), many of the automotive press labeled this big Benz “too much of a good thing”. Indeed, its designer Bruno Sacco lamented that he thought the W140 “two inches too tall.” Whatever the case, Benz let pleats out of this suit and were quick to take it back in.

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The 1996 refit turned the initial car’s frown upside down – yielding a smiling front air dam. The headlights were slightly tampered with too as were the side indicators which became translucent – replacing the bright signature Mercedes orange. There still wasn’t much Benz could do with the heavy appearance – but the second variation made subtle amends with added lines to regain a sense of surface tension that the original never had.

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BMW E65/66 7-Series (2001-2008)

Portly and flamed to a crisp, the first of Chris Bangle’s new generation of flame surfaced BMWs left BMW’s former chief designer fearing for his life for the ire of incensed Bimmer traditionalists. Admittedly, the flagship Bimmer had a hard act to follow…but this was a bit much. Hence the hasty and comprehensive corrective surgery in 2005…

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Once again, surface tension was introduced to a design that had none. Stronger lines cleaved into the hood and trunk cut through the original car’s bloat. That and taller wheels, more rectangular(ish) headlights, a smiling front air dam (the original glowered with two foglamps for clumsy fangs – think Sweetums from The Muppets ) and a cleaner boot line (less Bangle but) made for a sharper finish to this most controversial 7.

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Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class (1995-2003)

Now for the exception. The first generation of the handsome, oval-headlamped midsize Benzes enchanted the automotive press when it was first unveiled. But quality control problems marred the sedan’s production life and Mercedes’ otherwise sterling facade – including an unforgivable lack of structural rigidity in the crash tests. Sadly, the best looking midsize Benz Stuttgart has yet built is also takes the top prize in poorest build quality.

w120-eclass-automobiles-de-luxeUnfortunately, the mid-cycle fix took away a large portion of the original W210′s charm. Strangely scalloped from air intakes replaced the first iteration’s form & function horizontal slats. The front bumper was reshaped giving the sedan less ground clearance and a more forward leaning stance.

Those signature oval headlamps lost the bright orange “eye lid” contrast to a milky, opaque disguise.  The afterthought side mirror signal lights didn’t work either for their inclusion seemed clumsily executed. Slimmer tail lamps, a more slanted grille, the list of missteps goes on…

And there you have it:  four facelifts that improved upon the original art work – and one that really didn’t.


Busy, Busy, Busy: ADL Production Update

By Gunnar Heinrich

DEAREST reader, surely you’ve not thought that I’ve forgotten you?

It’s been a very busy last week and a half for Team ADL. Luckily, our contributors Christopher and Steane have both done their part by pitching in to keep the words rolling forth on these blog pages. Major domos to them.

Triangulating between Gotham, Lime Rock, and Block Island, production has had the crew running in sixth gear @ 6000 RPM. It’s been dense.

Here are a few tasty details…

  • SoCal transplant Alexandra Harbushka voyaged with the crew out to Block Island (a six mile wide block of hills and beaches 12 miles off Rhode Island’s shoreline) to lend her consumer’s viewpoint in determining which convertible – the 128i or 328i was the better buy. Mercifully, no moped riders were hurt in the course of taping.
  • We wanted to capture a performance comparison test between Richard’s E39 M5 (see M5/M6/550i video) and Hardy’s current gen. 550i. The two sedans’ specs are so close – we figured we’d answer the question that nobody seems to have yet asked but some have surely wondered – would a standard 5-Series now have the capability to beat a previous gen. M car? So, we scheduled time at Lime Rock Park to make that happen. Third lap into the warm up and the M5 lost its brakes. Coming to find out, in a recent service RD’s trusted mechanic forgot to change the fluid. By lap three the liquid in the reservoir simply boiled.
  • We then pitted the talented Mr. Drackett and his enflamed 550i against Cadillac’s supercharged, 4.4 Liter, 443 horsepower V8 XLR-V.  My uncle, former NHRA record holder Joe Ficca, took the reins of the big Caddy. Several hot laps, plenty of tyre squeal, and some sideways action later – both drivers’ lap times returned just a consistent two second difference. You’ll have to watch the video, to see which car won…

Quick shout outs to the folks at A&M Specialists, BMW NA, GM, Fred Mackerodt, Lime Rock, and the Block Island Chamber of Commerce – without you parking on the island would not have been possible.