Every time I get together with a handful of distant friends and talk about 90s BMWs, I have the same compulsion. It isn't I need an old BMW, it's weirder: I need to scan the amazing BMW brochures from my fanboy youth.
This has been in the back of my mind for years, and after much ignoring this perennial bottom-of-the-to-do-list item, I've finally done it. Not knowing where to upload the hundreds of scanned pages so that they could be viewed to my liking, I made a stripped down site to display them all, which can be found here. It's by no means comprehensive, just one guy's collection from a very particular era. These are just the ones that made the cut — the ones that are special or stood out somehow, surviving a half-dozen moves and some reluctant purging over the years. Hell, most of these probably exist on the internet already. But since today's internet is all about curation, I'll take you through some observations I've made after going through them all.
Image from 1995 BMW 5 Series Brochure
There's something so refreshing about seeing a full-page, glossy photo of a pristine, new-smelling interior in a car that we're all more accustomed to seeing damaged in grainy pictures on Craigslist. Sure, low-mile, good condition examples of these cars do exist, but, like, these seats have never been sat in by humans.
Image from 1998 BMW M Full Line brochure
Image from 1993 Mazda RX-7 brochure
For as long as many of us can remember, to display different exterior or interior colors, a carmaker simply creates different renderings from the same perspective. But for the 1993 RX-7 literature, it looks like they may have taken four painstakingly-identical photos of four interiors. Maybe I'm mistaken. The shine on the plastic surfaces looks different, the creases in the leather are different, and admittedly I'm not sure what was possible with digital photoediting in 1992.
Aside: what sports car of today would feel the need to tout "high-performance steel-belted radial tires"?
I've long been obsessed with he RX-7, and I can't remember seeing the R1 package hyphenated as "R-1," yet here it is, in Mazda's official marketing materials, throughout. Was this changed later, or is Mazda correct and everyone else is just... wrong?
Image from 1999 BMW 5 Series Sport Wagon Brochure
The E39 wagon was a thing to be lusted after, and BMW knew it, even then. The 5 Series Sport Wagon has its own devoted brochure, separate from the sedan, and in it, is a gratuitous, double-foldout, four-page centerfold of a 540i wagon, side view. Car porn? Car porn.
Images from 2001 BMW 323Ci Convertible brochure
It's sort of a weird place to use as an outlet of creative expression, since it's the base level convertible of the E46 model lineup. Nevermind that one very specific engine and roof variation gets its own expensively-printed brochure devoted to it. This is one that I always marvel at the beauty of. There are some generic shots, but most of the photography is absolutely beautiful, honest and thoughtful. Inspiring.
This is the opening spread to the section about performance:
And the engine:
It's cool to see how much pride BMW took in their wheel designs, which, I'll add, in this era, were on point. Most of them. (Ever seen an E39 on factory 3-spokes?) Whenenever I thought about scanning all this stuff, the wheel catalogs were the first thing that came to mind, simply because they needed to be seen to be believed. What car company puts out a brochure of wheel designs? Plus it's cool knowing the individual names for all of these wheel designs.
Image from 1999 BMW Alloy Wheel brochure
EAT YOUR HEART OUT, FLOW-TIE™.
Image from 2005 Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR teaser
Here are a few more. The full repository can be found on the minisite I set up, as there are simply too many images to post here.
Image from the 1999 Mazdaspeed Parts Catalog