Review by Jeff Heywood. Photos from Steve Saxty/Jeff Heywood

That’s a big statement. Is this trilogy the best book that covers BMW Motorsport? No, although I suspect that Steve Saxty has that subject matter well in his sights. So is it the finest book covering BMWs pre-war models? The answer is again, no. Instead, what we have here is something more, the finest BMW book ever – a unique trilogy covering the post-war story behind the creation of BMW models through the ages, as well as providing an interesting and comprehensive historical narrative. Divided into three books, Steve Saxty’s trilogy gives the reader an insight, well, more like a behind-the-scenes access pass to BMW HQ and their design department, covering all the models you know. One of the tomes also covers the specials, the one-offs and concepts that never made it off the drawing board such as a Z1 with an F1 engine… because they could. Until now, all were hidden away in secret in the depths of BMW’s private vault.

What I can safely state is that this is the best quality BMW book, or in this case a set of books, I have set my eyes on. That comes from someone who has, over the years, collected virtually all the notable BMW books that have been published, including the chunky tome OAL – BB50 celebrating all things Alpina on their 50th birthday and an expensive period book covering post-war Veritas sports cars; if you are interested in Veritas you’ll understand how rare this book is. But Steve’s book goes further, much further than any other book on the marque, and thanks to Steve’s knowledgeable and entertaining writing style, you’ll never get bogged down reading these books. His behind-the-scenes access at BMW Design is quite unique, it means you’ll marvel at secret BMWs that you will have never heard of or seen before. The slipcase and its colour (the explanation is fascinating) to the quality, weight of the paper the book is printed on, the photographs from BMW’s archives and the artwork from past and present designer that accompanies the words in all three books create a new level of quality.

Author Steve Saxty is a former car industry executive whose roles included a stint as head of sales for Porsche GB and a position as the global advertising director with Jaguar. When Steve decided to turn his hand to writing, specifically from an automotive standpoint, his credentials were perfect, having been employed in the automotive sector all of his working life, building up a huge list of contacts in the process. Steve has written a handful of books on Ford; those of you who also have a bit of blue oval running through your veins may have come across Steve’s work before. Although this is his first foray into the world of BMW, don’t for one second be alarmed. Steve drives a BMW and knows his way around the company and its models, and more importantly, following an initial introduction from Harm Lagaaij, Porsche’s former chief designer, he built up a close friendship with Adrian van Hooydonk, the head of BMW Group Design. This isn’t name dropping by Steve, far from it, but what it achieved for Steve, and us as the reader, was a unique chance to gain access behind the scenes in Munich, specifically in the design department but also at the FIZ, BMW’s Group Research and Innovation Centre. Steve spent two and a half years with Adrian van Hooydonk’s team looking at their designs to pull it all together in this amazing set of books, and his friendship with van Hooydonk opened many doors. It’s this relationship that makes the books so special, and mark my words, it is a very special trilogy indeed.

The first book I picked out of the very orange slipcase was BMW by Design, a fascinating 288-page hardback tome that includes an informative foreword by Adrian van Hooydonk. I then settles into a wonderful narrative, starting with ‘BMW’s Leaders of Style’ before moving into fourteen chapters, starting with BMW both pre- and post-war, covering the design icons like the 328, before looking at the ‘50s V8 models right up to the 700 – ‘Michelotti’s well-received 700 was BMW’s first contemporary-looking post-war car’, a car that sold in volume and helped to save the company. What I like about Steve’s book is that it contains valuable historic content as well as coming from a design point of view – this is no foppish coffee table book seen in every designer’s office throughout the land, this is a serious BMW book that also contains some amazing, mostly never-seen, photographs. There’s a stunning image of a Fjord Blue E9 CS in the first chapter, all reproduced on quality art paper. The second chapter covers the mid-seventies including all the early saloon models; Steve’s writing style is expressive and entertaining, and although there were three books to review it never felt like I was bogged down reading them.

Chapter three covers ‘BMW’s Design Revolution’ as the premium car market is about to take off in the US while also concentrating on younger customers who demand greater diversity and style from BMW, which prompted the company to conceive a 3 Series derived from the GINA concept car with a fabric skin. The fourth chapter covers some really special concepts, from the MM06 car that melded the 328 Mille Miglia Coupé by Touring with the Z4, through to various M1 drawings and concepts up to and including the Liquid Orange M1 Hommage of 2008.

Chapter five looks more to the future. The M1 Hommage had just been launched and so had the S85 V10-powered E60 M5 and E63 M6, so it seemed the natural that BMW would install the F1-derived S85 engine into a sports car inspired by the M1 Hommage and hey presto, BMW would get its new range-topping halo car. But just like the oil crisis back in 1973, in September 2008 Lehman Brothers went bust and the world went into financial meltdown. You’ll have to buy the book to discover BMW’s solution.

The sixth chapter looks at the amazing Vision ConnectedDrive concept that became the BMW i8, this section contains some wonderful photography of how it was built and designed, while Chapter seven looks at the BMW concepts brought to life by three talented Italian design houses – Pininfarina, Zagato and Touring. The eighth Chapter sees a hero return as the CSL Hommage morphs into the 3.0 CSL road car eight years later, while Chapter nine looks at the 2002 and 2002 Hommage, with a nudge and a wink to the original Neue Klasse. Chapter ten looks at the BMW Vision Next 100, while Chapter 11 looks to the future and the until-now, never-disclosed Project I16, a car derived from the i8 that could have been BMW’s new M1 supercar. Chapter 12 unpicks the BMW Concept Touring Coupé that made its debut at Villa D’Este in 2023, while Chapter 13 concentrates wholly on the upcoming Neue Klasse cars from concept to reality, and in the final chapter Saxty interviews Adrian van Hooydonk and Domagoj Dukec, head of the BMW Brand Design Team.

The second book in the trilogy, BMW’s Hidden Gems, is another lengthy tome at 228 pages that I found utterly fascinating. It’s the kind of book that you don’t want to put down, as there’s something new and exciting on the next page. There’s a wonderful passage covering the Bertone-designed Garmisch, an exquisite two-door saloon that inspired elements of the E21 3 Series, and a piece on Paul Bracq featuring the largest ever collection of Bracq’s BMW work, most previously unseen. Plus, an eye-opening look at the BMW Z1-family including the aforementioned Z1 with F1 power. There’s much more on various specials and one-offs that most of us have never seen, all fascinating.

The third book, BMW Art by Design, was a complete surprise. What looked like a third book turned out to be a custom-made jewel-case containing a 60-page ‘BMW Art by Design’ book plus a wallet containing a BMW Art by Design set of eighteen giclée art-quality images. It’s a magical and innovative finish to this wonderful set.

This was a new one for me. Yes, I’ve reviewed countless books over the years but not one consisting of three books. How do I go about this? I didn’t want this review to become too long, but wanted to cover the content in each. I do hope I’ve done them justice, because this set is a very special release for a number of reasons; first is the quality of the materials used, which is seriously high-end, plus there’s Steve’s impressive writing style and his unprecedented access behind the scenes at BMW. I’d hazard a guess that at £239.95 including free P&P (just 1500 printed) it is probably the most expensive BMW book to hit the UK market, but all I can say is… it is well worth it. I have never read or seen a book on BMW of this quality that is so well written. Definitely a future collector’s item. The BMW by Design book is also available as a standalone book at £79.95, which also includes free P&P. But the value is in the set, to own it is to appreciate something that is more than the sum of three books.

Finally, the explanation for the orange slipcase. It is the same shade of orange that the French Air Force use on the trailing edges of their training aircraft that former BMW design guru Paul Bracq would look at from his old office which overlooked a nearby military airbase.

Steve Saxty will be making an appearance at BMW Live at Oulton Park on the 1st June, where he will be giving a talk on his book. He’ll also be open to some Q&As from the audience and will have copies of both the trilogy ‘BMW Behind the Scenes’ and the singular book ‘BMW by Design’ and will happily sign all books purchased on the day