BMW Concept 90 Unveiling on the Shore of Lake Coma
Once a year, a sliver of car and motorcycle enthusiasts descend upon the otherwise placid northern Italian town of Como and transform two lavish lakeside villas into a celebration of otherworldly vehicular beauty.
The gathering, which has opened its doors to a microcosm of collectors and fans since 1929, is far from the only classic car and motorcycle show in the world. In fact, the phenomenon of drawing small crowds to such shi-shi events only seems to be growing, with owners of pedigreed vehicles, wide-eyed enthusiasts, and sprawling auctions crowding grassy fields from Hilton Head and Amelia Island to Pebble Beach and Meadow Brook in search of beauty.
But something about the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza is different. Whether it is the winking blue of Lake Como, the relative seclusion of being nestled against the Grigna Mountains in the bosom of northern Italy, or the fact that soaring seaplanes are about as close as the paparazzi usually get to celeb residents like George Clooney, there is something magical about this gathering, a fact that hasn’t been lost on BMW.
Bavarian Motor Works is inextricably linked to Villa d’Este, having started automobile production the same year the Concours was founded. And thus it is fitting that not only BMW, but also its subsidiary division, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, have historic ties to the event, which keeps close company with some of the world’s most stratospheric ultra-luxury brands and larger- than-life personalities.
As gridlock forms on the lawn with rare Aston Martins, Ferraris, Maseratis, and historic concept cars queuing for display, a handful of champagne-sipping watch aficionados are gathered in co-sponsor A. Lange & Söhne’s private salon. There, a treasure trove of horological masterpieces — many of them tourbillons, some worth more than houses — are spread out on a table like so much jeweled wrist candy.
The event’s grand-prize winner, Ralph Lauren (for his stunning 1938 Bugatti 57 SC Atlan- tic Coupé), will later be awarded a specially prepared timepiece whose rotating city ring has been marked to indicate Como as central European time.
Though BMW Motorrad predates the manufacture of their four-wheeled counterparts, motorcycles weren’t always a part of these highfalutin Italian festivities; bikes entered the fray in 2011 with the Concorso di Motociclette event.
This time around, the Motorrad division took the occasion as an opportunity to commemorate the brand’s 90th anniversary with a comprehensive gallery of historical motorcycles, and the world debut of its Concept 90 bike.
The Concept 90 bookends the 40th anniversary of the R 90 S, and BMW chose to punctuate the full-circle design statement by hiring custom builder Roland Sands to create a one-off concept bike specifically for the event.
Unlike BMW’s mainstream offering, the R nineT, this was to be a creatively wide-open project with just a few details tethered to reality, all for the sake of honoring the brand’s heritage and exploring the edges of its style and design language.
“Generally, when we do concept bikes, we try not to put limitations, because concept bikes are our way of thinking openly and freely, and not getting stuck within the boundaries of production limits,” explains BMW Motorrad designer Ola Stenegard.
The deadline was the only real limitation, both parties admit. Certain unsaid givens also came into play, such as the incorporation of that signature BMW hallmark — the air-cooled boxer engine — and a silhouette that could do justice to its forebears.
Though many BMW concept bikes have been static models, Stenegard says the Concept 90 had to be different. “In this case, we definitely wanted to have a runner,” says Stenegard, “and that was one of the reasons we picked Roland. His bikes not only look good, they also run good; he was a racer, and he can ride anything really hard.”
The project started with several visits to Germany for Sands. Coming to agreement over the design and exchanging ideas and updates between his Southern California headquarters and the BMW mothership in Munich meant engaging in all manner of communication; a constant dialogue ensured that BMW’s overarching vision was being executed in the bike’s details.
While Sands and his core three-man crew threw themselves into the project over an intense, two-month period, the BMW Group collaborated on a daily basis. The project progressed as they simultaneously worked on standard production motorcycles. The bodywork was modeled in Munich, and shipped to California for milling while other intricate details were pored over, discussed, and executed.
“Whether it was a valve cover, instrument cluster, or breast-plate — even the windscreen mounting — things like that,” explains Sands, “I’d be sitting there sketching, figuring out the 3D model, and sending it to Ola [for feedback].”
While there was no shortage of aesthetic choices to be made, technical challenges also reared their heads — from attaching the ECU using a rapid prototyped mount, to solving wiring issues that demanded the knowledge of BMW’s resident electric systems experts.
Execution of the bike’s Daytona Orange hue was overseen early on by BMW’s in-house color and print specialist, who oversaw the color selection and paint process. The tone had to be perfect, and the shooting involved a silver leaf-like base coat with a layer of orange candy sprayed over that base. Aluminum body panels were brushed with 100-grit sandpaper and a fade created using the flake layer and the metal beneath.
Past the Concept 90’s retro branding and RSD badges resides the soul of the bike’s heritage, an air-cooled 898cc engine with reciprocating mass thumps that echo of yesteryear.
When it came time to shoot a video for the bike, Roland’s team worked until 5 a.m. to put the final touches on the motorcycle before heading up to Willow Springs International Raceway in California’s Antelope Valley to immortalize its dynamic capabilities on the racetrack.
“I was so stoked about it because I’d been waiting for this moment,” enthuses Sands. “When it was getting dark and we had shot all day, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m leaving this place unless I go ride this bike hard.’ We really tested it out; if you look closely at the bike, the exhaust and pegs are scraped. I was really getting down, and my knee was on the ground.”
One can find no substitute for the experience of witnessing the debut of this one-off motorcycle in person; amidst the rarified air of the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza and the sea of storied motorcycles from the likes of Gilera, MV Agusta, Ducati, and, of course, BMW, the Concept 90 made its first public appearance with a raucous entrance as it was piloted by Roland Sands alongside its ancestral R 90 S inspiration from 1973.
It was a moment of poignancy, with the visual connection forged between the concrete past and an imagined future. As the Concept 90’s boxer engine rumbled and idled for a moment before shutting off, the crowd applauded the merging of history and concept.
In a moment heightened by the storybook back-drop of Villa d’Este, the nostalgia for the past transformed into a shared enthusiasm for the promise of the future.
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.