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Paul Bracq - the greatest designer you never knew.

May 9th, 2021

Paul Bracq is a name you mightn't know - but we can guarantee that you'll recognise his works instantly.

December 13, 1933, Bordeaux, France - Paul Bracq is born, suitably in the French wine making capital. Much like a fine, French wine, Bracq's designs have aged beautifully, and are undoubtedly some of the most stunning machines ever built. Educated at some of the best schools in France, Bracq was well prepared for a career in automotive design. After completion of his military service in occupied Germany, and subsequently serving in the Algerian War, he joined Mercedes-Benz in 1957, taking up a post alongside Karl Wilfert and Friedrich Geiger.

Bracq was well aware of the decline in French coachbuilding (and in turn the limited career prospects in his home country), yet he observed what can only be described as an 'obsession' with quality craftsmanship and engineering at the German manufacturers, particularly in Stuttgart.

Under Wilfert's direction, Bracq penned two iconic designs; the 230 SL 'Pagoda' and Mercedes 600. The 230 SL 'Pagoda' uses a mixture of definitive lines that are delicately placed to create a handsome silhouette, yet the large, airy space that was afforded by the squared off roof gave the driver and passenger plenty of light and visibility. Bracq said: "In a car, I always liked to see clearly to communicate better with the environment. To increase the glazed surface, I lowered the body line and the result was a safer car. For me, the ideal cockpit is the helicopter cabin." - who can argue with this? Modern car design aims to maximise natural light and make the space as open as possible - clear even at this point, that Bracq was ahead of the curve.

Above: Mercedes SL

Above: Mercedes 600

Brissonneau and Lotz was a subcontractor for many manufacturers. The French coachmaker was approached by BMW to create a V8 Coupe for the American market. This V8 Coupe became the 1600 Ti, and was to be produced by Brissonneau and Lotz. However, soon after the company filed for bankruptcy, and the project was stopped in its tracks.

BMW 1600 Ti Concept sketch

BMW 1600Ti Concept

Following numerous successes with Mercedes-Benz, Bracq made the move to rival manufacturer, BMW. Here, he led BMW's 'Style Centre' - at the time, comprised of only a dozen or so people.

His team was behind the stunning 'Turbo Concept', which was introduced at the Munich Olympics. This stunning car featured butterfly doors (like the Mercedes 300SL), and a 2.0L Turbocharged in-line four. It was based on the 2002 chassis, and even featured an early radar based braking system! The Turbo was never realised as a production vehicle, but was the inspiration behind the E26 M1, and influenced the E31 8 Series.

One of Bracq's Turbo Concept drawings

Sure, the Turbo became one of Bracq's best known designs - but he and his team were behind a whole host of other icons from Bavaria. The first generation 5er (E12), 3er (E21), 6er (E24 'Sharknose') and even the E23 7er, were all worked on extensively by Paul Bracq. When one thinks of a BMW, it's likely a Bracq penned design is the one that comes to mind.

The influence is clearly visible in the E21 3er, and the E23 7er, too.

Above: E23 7er

Above: E12 5er

1974 saw Bracq return to France, taking up a post as interior style lead of French manufacturer, Peugeot. Here, he designed the interiors of the 305, 505, 205, 405, 106 and 406, as well as the Quasar, Proxima and Oxia concept cars.

It's fair to sa

y that Paul Bracq became a legend in the world of automotive design - his work has set the bar for many manufacturers. The golden era of aesthetics for Mercedes-Benz and BMW isn't one that will be forgotten in a hurry - in fact, it's something fans of both brands would love to see make a return today.

Sources (with thanks):

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