Back in 2008 when I started to produce motoring podcasts, the BMW GINA had just been announced and was making headlines the world over. I thought it would be good to re-visit this concept and see what components if any had made it to other cars over the past 6 years.
The GINA (Geometry and function In “N” Adaptations) was what BMW called a “Light Visionary Model”. The concept took about seven years from initial thought and build to getting displayed in public and was (actually still is) unique in its materials. Chris Bangle, BMW’s design head during the early 2000’s ran the team and they based the car on the Z8 using a 4.4 litre V8 with a 6 speed auto box. That combination was also seen in many other production models including the X5. When you look at the design, it is clearly a BMW and the car actually runs under its own power, unlike many concept cars that are just that – a concept with no intention of being driven.
The really big feature and ground breaking technology was the “skin”. Ordinary vehicles use steel or aluminium, bonded or pressed into various shapes and most cars have a unitary construction where each part is stressed and provides strength to the whole car and ultimately provides the crumple zones that protect the occupants. High end sports cars and kit cars use a space frame with the panels fixed to that frame. The GINA went further – it had an aluminium space frame but with a polyurethane covered lycra skin stretched over it. In addition, it used little electric actuators (motors) to move the skin enabling access to the interior including front and rear compartments, although it was an open sports car.
It was a little creepy too! Small motors opened “eyelids” when you switched on the headlights and the door skin flexed in a way human or animal skin does when you move a joint. To access the engine, the skin opened up like a mouth, some said like a sports bag as the skin split down the middle of where the bonnet should be. The rear was translucent to allow the light clusters to be seen. Conceptually it was designed to allow the owner to subtly change the shape of the car, i.e. make the rear wing bigger when greater downforce was needed, or making the car slightly wider for better cornering etc. It also allowed the designers to think about materials that were strong, light, waterproof and durable for future uses.
The interior was also well thought out. Dials were only shown when needed to keep the surfaces smooth and the design focused on very clean lines with no panel joins or hinges, thus making the body very aerodynamic, something every designer aspires to.
In 2008 when BMW released it to the public, I wondered how much of this design exercise would get added to production models. Not much I have to say! The running gear is still being used in various guises and there are design elements that later Z4, 3 Series and I8 models inherited. During the podcast I commented that if they could make the skin and structure self-healing like humans, then you would never have to go to a panel shop again – actually your car would end up in an auto hospital in traction or covered in plaster casts, unable to move!
Jokes aside, think about it… those annoying scrapes and dents you get in car parks would be a thing of the past. Keeping the car clean would be easier and there would be no rust to deal with. GINA might have been 30 years ahead of its time – imagine changing the shape of a vehicle to suit the purpose of use: one day it could be a ute (pickup), another an open cruiser or a closed people carrier, truly one car for many uses.
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