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A Car-As-Art, Not An Art Car: Stella/Gregg M1 Goes To Auction In August

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On: Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 2:37PM | By: Andrew W Davis

A Car-As-Art, Not An Art Car: Stella/Gregg M1 Goes To Auction In August

For reasons not clearly explained, the Guggenheim Museum in New York will end its 12-year stewardship over what is easily among the top 10 most expensive BMWs on Earth—the 1979 BMW M1Pro Car painted by artist Frank Stella for late racer Peter Gregg—when it is offered for sale by Bonhams during its Quail Lodge auction event Aug. 18-19 in Carmel, Calif.

[If you thought that sentence was convoluted, just wait for the car’s historical run-down I’m about to get into…]

First things first, let’s talk about the car itself. According to Bonhams, this car was “specially ordered from BMW Motorsport GmbH in 1979 by Peter Gregg, a seven-time International Motor Sports Association world-champion racer and built to BMW Pro Car Group Four specifications.”

So, it’s a real-deal factory race car built for—and raced by—a big-deal racing champion, regardless of its paint job.

Now, onto the paint. There seems to be a bit of confusion out there as to whether this work-of-art car is an official—and therefore capitalized—BMW Art Car. It ain’t. What itis,on the other hand, is an interesting “in-between” and could-have-been.

Starting in 1975, BMW commissioned “modern artists” to ply their paints and whatever else to its motorsports-oriented models. Though it certainly didn’t have the most inventive of titles, BMW’s “Art Car” program nonetheless produced some very inventive vehicle-based artwork.

In 1976, BMW tapped Frank Stella to do his thing to its 3.0 CSL model. He draped a layer of grid lines over the entire car, then added French curve-style swoops, and squared-off shapes to “complete” the look in keeping with his then-current “Polar Coordinates” design motif.

Sure, the all-B&W BMW wasn’t all that exciting to look at, but those crafty Bavarians knew exactly how to actually make it exciting to watch: they took it racing.

Itwasa race car, after all. So, out there among the beer ad-plastered and corporate logo-covered race cars at tracks like Le Mans, the Stella-ized BMW Art Car—yup, the actual, one-and-only—could be seen being used in anger at the pointy end of the grid in the hands of drivers like, you guessed it, Peter Gregg.

Come 1979, BMW had replaced the 3.0 CSL with its wicked-wedge M1 racer and replaced Stella with some dude named Andy War-something. Now here’s the bit where the car-as-art and Art Car story is cleared up: BMW has in its collection—they have them all and will probably keep it that way—the 1979 BMW M1 Pro Car they “ordered” from Warhol; the car up for auction isn’t that car, and therefore isn’t an “official” Art Car.

But the story goes that prior to Gregg’s receivinghisPro Car M1, his and Stella’s friend—Formula 1 Grand Prix-winning driver Ronnie Peterson—died. As a tribute to their fallen friend the pair got together and created the car you see here, the painted-by-an-Art-Car-artist-but-not-actually-an-Art-Car ’79 BMW Pro Car M1.

Though similar to the CSL in its use of a grid theme, the Gregg M1 features multicolored “looser” lines as a base with bold bars of BMW Motorsport’s colors—violet, cyan, and orange—used as accents. [Ironically, it isthiscar that’s more “BMW-themed” of the two Stella creations, despite its being created for someone other than the firm itself, and if you remove the grid lines from this car you are left with essentially the paint scheme BMW itself used on its “factory” racers.]

Bonhams puts it thusly: “This is the only BMW car ever painted by an authorized BMW Art Car artist for a private client and, therefore, is totally unique from the 16 official Art Cars commissioned to date by BMW. In addition to being a rare and beautiful example of popular culture and automotive art, this M1 is also purpose-built for performance and is a true race car.”

I’m not sure of where the car went after Gregg’s death the very next year—most say it sat at the late driver’s own Porsche dealership—but in 1999 the car wound up in the Guggenheim’s collection where it has remained, apart from a few car show-style display outings.

Coming up with estimated hammer prices is a black art known only to a few, but apparently at least one of them works for Bonhams as they’ve set the expected price range of this one-of-one at between $450,000 and $600,000.

So, there you go. That’s the simple-yet-intricate story of this beautiful BMW, and you can now take it—and your millions of dollars—to the Monterey Peninsula in mid-August for that cash-intensive fun-fest that is the fifty-something-day Pebble Beach “weekend.”

Just make sure you remember to hit “The Quail” on the 18thand 19th. It’s the one event I’ve never been to—tix are limited andveryexpensive—and I hear it’s really something. Oh, and should you come home with the Gregg/Stella M1, so much the better.

Just don’t tell me about it. My jealousy meter is always pegged around “Pebble” anyway, and that reallywon’t help…

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