Some car designers will forever be associated with one brand or have a style all of their own but the legendary Paul Bracq is not only a talented car designer but a sculptor, artist and even had a hand in designing an iconic train.
As an automotive costumier he set the style for not one, but two, manufacturers – BMW and Mercedes – before devising the interiors of 20 years’ worth of Peugeots. It’s an impressive CV.
Born in France in 1933 Bracq originally studied wood carving but with a passion for cars, he soon started drawing up designs and caught the eye of Philippe Charbonneaux and was invited to join his fledgling studio. This relationship was cut short by Bracq’s military service which saw him posted to Germany where he visited Mercedes who agreed to take him on once his air force duties were completed.
It was at Mercedes that Bracq was really able to get to grips with automotive design and had a hand in the W108 and W109 S-Class saloons, as well as the W100 600 limousine along with the W114 and W115 dynasties of executive saloons and coupes. All of Bracq’s designs at Mercedes-Benz had a classical simplicity and perhaps this is best seen in his most famous Merc creation, the W113 SL Roadster.
The ‘Pagoda’ SL as it was dubbed by the press thanks to its slightly concave roof structure epitomised Bracq’s subtle use of form – the shape was sublime and was virtually unadorned with any spurious trim.
After a ten-year tenure, Bracq left Mercedes in 1967 to return to his native France where he joined engineering and styling firm, Brissonneau & Lotz, and it was here along with Jacques Cooper that he helped style the ‘Turbotrain’ that would later become known as the TGV.
And it was while at Brissonneau & Lotz that Bracq did his first work for BMW, with a design study based on the 2002 that had strong echoes of the Pagoda Mercedes in its proportions. BMW was impressed and when Brissonneau & Lotz became a state-owned company Bracq was tempted back to Germany to head up BMW’s design department. Here he was responsible for the first of the ‘Series’ cars – E12 5 Series, E21 3 Series, E23 7 Series and one of his most admired shapes, the glorious E24 6 Series. His designs incorporated all the traditional BMW design cues but gave them a sleeker, more forward-looking style.
He might have been responsible for a generation of BMWs but perhaps his most famous work for the Bavarian concern was his E25 Turbo Concept Car from 1972. A bold, futuristic mid-engine machine painted in dayglo orange and red it not only set the (eventual) style for the M1 but also incorporated significant safety systems in its design.
Deformable foam-filled bumpers, a radar cruise control system, seat belts that had to be fastened before the engine could be started along with the forefather of BMW’s check control system it was a technological tour de force. As well as being a stunning-looking machine powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that was reputably good for 280bhp.
Bracq, though, longed for his home country and after just four years at BMW he returned to France where he was employed by Peugeot as head of interior design and over the next 20 year he was responsible for the interiors of the 305, 505, 205, 405, 106, 406 and 206 along with many concept cars.
He may be retired today but continues to paint and sculpt no doubt reflecting on the incredible mark he left on some of the most iconic machines of the 20th century.
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