BMW Group Classic showcases the ZBF-7er concept

BMW Group Classic previously gave us a tour of the Integrated Concept Engineering (ICE), which is a concept car that was never shown to the public. In that video, the ICE was joined by the ZBF-7er, which was another obscure concept, although we didn’t get much information about it at the time.

However, the branch responsible for all activities concerning the history of BMW has now released another video that focuses on the ZBF-7er, with longtime BMW designer Joji Nagashima on hand to give us a better insight. Aside from the concept, the 30-plus-year veteran was also responsible for the E36 and E90 versions of the 3 Series, the E39 5 Series and the Z3.

According to Nagashima, the name ZBF stands for “Zukunft BMW Familie” or “Future BMW Family.” Built in 1996, BMW first created a full-size clay model of the concept before shipping it to Italy, where coachbuilders would hand-beat aluminium sheets to create the body. “Such a futuristic concept car done in a method which was very old and traditional,” said Nagashima.

The body isn’t the only bespoke thing on the ZBF-7er, as the tyres were also custom-made for it. Nagashima said that at the time, they couldn’t find production tyres that would fit onto the concept, as 19-inch wheels were the largest back then. As a result, BMW had to ask Dunlop to create custom tyres to fit the concept’s 20-inch wheels, which featured hand-cut treads designed by Nagashima.


Size-wise, the concept is described as being larger than the third-generation E38 7 Series, while the design featured relatively simple surfaces along the sides. There are some standout cues though, including gigantic side scuttles to make things “less boring,” flush door handles, while cameras replaced side mirrors long before we will see them on production cars.

Inside, you’ll find an early version of BMW’s iDrive system, although this was controlled from the rear seats. It wouldn’t be until 2001 when iDrive would make its first debut in the Chris Bangle-designed, fourth-generation E65 7 Series. Even the dashboard shares some similarity to the E65 in some regard.

Of course, the most noticeable thing on the concept is the giant kidney grille, which was a huge departure from the slim design seen on the E38, and it shows that BMW was toying with the idea long before it applied it on the latest 7 Series, 4 Series, M3 and M4.

It’s clear that the ZBF-7er never made it to production as a successor to the E38 because we got the E65 instead, which was itself quite a huge departure from past BMW designs. By now, the past is the past, but imagine how differently BMWs would have evolved if the company’s top executives chose the other path many years ago.










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