Riposte | Andy Warhol’s BMW M1

‘The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.’

Does Andy Warhol need an introduction? Née Andrew Warhola and hailing from Pittsburgh, when he arrived in New York City, he took it by storm. Within a year, he was already a commercial success. His clients included Columbia Records, Harper’s Bazaar, NBC and Vogue.

The turbulent 1960’s ignited an impressive and wildly prolific time in Warhol’s life. Building on the emerging movement of Pop Art, wherein artists used everyday consumer objects as subjects, Warhol started painting readily found, mass-produced objects, drawing on his extensive advertising background. In his Factory on East 47th Street. There Warhol embraced art as production, prompting the quote, ‘The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.’

Andy Warhol's BMW
Andy Warhol’s BMW | Detail

In 1979, BMW invited Andy Warhol to paint a unique version of the BMW M1. Warhol’s M1 was the fourth car in a series of collaborations between BMW and contemporary artists that we know now as the BMW Art Car Collection.  The bright, lurid colours of the M1 Art Car are synonymous with Warhol’s pop art style, and there’s a messy, hand-painted finish to the car. Speaking about his creation, Warhol said: “I tried to portray a sense of speed. When a car is going really fast all the lines and colors become a blur.” Warhol’s car was recently exhibited during the Kyotographie Festival in Japan, in the tranquil surroundings of Nijo Castle, a Japanese-style moated building and accompanying gardens. It seems there is no end to the juxtapositions as far as art is concerned.


Cars are a commodity and for most they are just a means of transport to get us from A to B. But the BMW Art Car is about making the car the exhibit and a canvas for individual artistic expression.

I’m a motoring journalist, not an art critic. But I’m a fan of the BMW Art Car. It’s the collision of two worlds that seem incompatible at first: automotive and art. The grit and gears of racing is a long way from the refinement of an exhibition space. I love this incongruity.

This blend of art, racing and automotive was conceived in 1975 when French race car driver and art enthusiast Hervé Poulain commissioned the American artist Alexander Calder to paint his BMW 3.0 CSL, which was subsequently raced at the 1975 Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. The Art Car Collection has produced some iconic and eye-catching cars over the last 42 years from some of the most illustrious names in contemporary art including Jeff Koons, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Jenny Holzer and David Hockney. Many of the cars have been raced as moving works of art before retiring to museum and exhibition duties to excite and enthrall audiences around the world.

Andy Warhol's BMW
Andy Warhol painting his BMW

Andy Warhol’s BMW M1 Art Car is particularly special. Warhol was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and the BMW M1 is one of BMW’s most iconic models. The car is a combination of incredible power, dramatic, wedge-shaped styling and rarity – only 455 were built. Its manufacturing was a collaboration with Lamborghini, only lasting a decade, between 1971 and 1981. It employs a twin-cam M88/1 3.5 L six-cylinder petrol engine with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection. The engine has six separate throttle bodies, four valves per cylinder and produces 277 PS (204 kW; 273 hp) in the street version, giving a top speed of 260 km/h (162 mph). Turbocharged racing versions are capable of producing around 850 hp (634 kW).

“I adore the car, it’s much better than a work of art.”
– Andy Warhol

Warhol’s M1 was raced at Le Mans in 1979, finishing sixth overall and second in its class. While race car liveries are typically bright and bold, they are more about advertising sponsors and brands than individual artistic expression. The BMW Art Car is now a powerful marketing tool for BMW to show their corporate sensibilities to the world of art, but each car is also a snapshot of contemporary art and individual creativity. Cars are a commodity and for most they are just a means of transport to get us from A to B. But the BMW Art Car is about making the car the exhibit and a canvas for individual artistic expression. There is something touching about the pictures of Warhol at work on the M1. Though the overall look of the BMW M1 Art Car is messy and chaotic, there is artistic precision in those strokes and daubs of paint. You get the feeling that the car turned out exactly how he wanted it to. Warhol himself said “I adore the car, it’s much better than a work of art.”

Andy Warhol's BMW
Andy Warhol | Campbell’s Soup

Featured Image: Paris Photo

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