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ADLX Review: 2011 BMW 550i

BMW Milestones 7-Series Film

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  • Paul Street’s Milestones Film for BMW China
  • From upper left: 502 (1952-1964) |E23 (1977-1986) | E32 (1987-1994) | E38 (1995-2001) | E66 (2002-2008) | F01 (2009 – )
  • Streetlight Films known for car adverts and special film segments for Top Gear

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG via Street Films

YOU have to admire Paul Street’s craft.

The British film maker is best known for more commercial works through his production company, Streetlight Films. His company produced Top Gear‘s best segment – you know, the one that featured Jeremy Clarkson at the helm of a Ford first chased by a Vette through a mall and then in a completely disconnected scene – taking part in a mock invasion by landing on a beach with British marines.

You can see why BMW would’ve wanted to enlist such talent to present the new 7-Series to the burgeoning Chinese market. What follows is one fluid sequence of circular motion. We see BMW design theory change through the years; a reflection of each decade.

Tell me, were the late 90s really that boring? And the 80s that loud?

Our point of view is looking at the passage of time from streetside; like watching the action of a clock’s arms pass swiftly along its face from the slim view granted from a profile perspective. This promotional film, for Chinese eyes only, apparently, is whirrling magic.

Perhaps with time, we’ll be able to point to the flaws in such overt use of computer animation. But for now, Milestones work rather nicely.

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.


Bentley Arnage Final Series

By Gunnar Heinrich

COULD the Arnage’s final bow be a curtain call for traditional Bentley?

The Motor Report reported that Crewe will discontinue the Arnage and that a “Final Series” of just 150 units will be built – all of which will likely have been spoken for by the time you read this.

Apologies.

While the Arnage’s replacement was due, its replacement will come at a time when the marque’s heritage has been diluted by VW sourced design.  The next flagship will set the course of one of the most storied of British marques into the next decade.

So, it’s worth taking note of the soon-to-be-discontinued flagship of grand British motoring.

The 212″ long by 76″ wide four door saloon shares its platform with the old Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, initially appearing in 1998. The first line of Arnages came fitted the V12 BMW used in the e38 7-Series.

But traditional Bentley owners – a fierce lot when prodded in the face Teutonic heresy – demanded the return of the old push-rod V8 that had powered Bentleys and Royces since time immemorial ( Bentley S2, circa A.D. 1959).

That same, ironclad 6.75 liter engine (initially 6.2 l.)  is what powers the Arnage line today, albeit tuned-up and electriconically guided to new torque wrenching heights – the Arnage T boasts 500 horsepower and enough pulling force to uproot the Amazon – 738 lb-ft of torque.

The Arnage Final Series yawns to 60 in five seconds and streches to 100 in 12 before waking up to a final speed of damn near 180 mph. Considering that the Final Series weighs in at an uncommly 5,700 lbs (curb), and has an aerodynamic slip ratio similar to a Japanese box truck’s, that’s a feat of Britannic proportion.

But alas the might-makes-right, gun-boat diplomacy days are setting in the automotive world and the Arnage is a vestage of a class of car the likes of which may never be built again.

The Continental Flying Spur – Bentley’s new Euro-trash saloon that’s really a Volkswagen Phaeton with flying B badging – is not up to filling the grand Arnage’s LWB footprint. It’s true that in the face of the Phantom menace, Bentley had to discontinue the 10 year old sedan to make room for a new car more capable of matching the new Rolls’ technological prowess and clean-sheet design.

Trouble is that judging by the common nature of the Continental series, Bentley will run the risk of devaluing its sterling status by replacing the Arnage with anything less than a sedan that’s stands as upright. Understatement wasn’t the Arnage’s strong suit nor should it be in its replacement going forward.

Alas, enthusiasts will wait with baited breath. And that may be a curtain call we hear.

[Linked: ADL Bentley Arnage Review | TMR | Bentley Motors]