BMW presented a sleek concept car called simply Turbo at the 1972 Olympic Games that took place in Munich, Germany. Billed as the world’s first sports car built with a focus on occupant safety, the Turbo was packed with both active and passive safety systems that in many ways prefigured the modern sports car as we know it.
The Turbo was penned by BMW designer Paul Bracq, the same man who later designed the E24 6-Series and the E21 3-Series. It featured a wedge-shaped silhouette similar to other concepts of the era, a long hood and a tall rear end characterized by thin tail lamps and a pair of BMW emblems. The Turbo’s body was crafted out of steel but the front and rear bumpers were made out of a composite material in order to absorb impacts, a setup that became the norm over the following decade.
Accessed via a set of gullwing doors, the cockpit was noticeably inspired by the world of aviation. The large instrument cluster provided the speed and other vital information about the car, while over half a dozen additional gauges on the center console displayed information such as the the engine rpms as well as the temperature and the pressure of both the oil and coolant. Two diagrams mounted on the left side of the passenger footwell informed the driver of mechanical issues in real-time.
The Turbo was packed with experimental technology like an early ABS system and a radar-based distance warning system that buzzed if it detected the car ahead was too close. The seat belts completed the electrical circuit for the ignition lock so the driver couldn’t start the car if he wasn’t buckled up. Finally, crumple zones on both ends, a thickly-padded dashboard and a collapsible steering column helped protect the driver in the event of a crash.
BMW’s experimental coupe also inaugurated a Check Control system that allowed the driver to check the oil level, the brake fluid level, the coolant level and how worn the brake pads were by simply pushing a button. An evolution of the Check Control system was available on the E24 6-Series when it landed in showrooms in January of 1976.
Power for the Turbo came from a modified 2002-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mounted transversally behind the passenger compartment. The turbo four generated up to 280 horsepower at 7,100 rpms, enough to send the coupe from zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) in approximately 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph (150 km/h). Power was sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission.
The Turbo was shown to the public in October of 1972 at the Paris Motor Show. Designers made several minor modifications and a second prototype was built and presented at the 1973 edition of the Frankfurt Motor Show. The coupes were merely design studies and they were never seriously considered for mass production, but the overall silhouette undeniably inspired the Giugiaro-designed M1 that was introduced in 1978 and, much later, the 8-Series. Additionally, a detuned version of Turbo’s engine was found in the 2002 Turbo that was introduced in 1973.