Note to BMW design chief Chris Bangle:
Ignore your critics, especially those who whine about your rendition of the 2003 Z4 roadster.
They call it "wacky" and "odd." One even complains that it's a departure from the "sexy corporate styling" of the predecessor Z3 roadster it replaces.
That should tell you something. Anyone who calls corporate styling "sexy" believes that uniforms are haute couture.
If you listen to those people, you'll wind up turning out blue BMW blazers with BMW monograms, which should go well with Oxford white shirts, broad-striped blue-and-white ties, khaki pants, institutional black socks and black loafers.
That look would be distinctive in the way that private-school clothing is distinctive. But who wants that uptight nonsense in a roadster?
In the Z4, you've given us a wild thing -- a menacing, long, sloping hood lurking forward to a snarl and slouching rearward toward a contrapuntal mix of convex and concave lines that is absolutely funky! This truly is a car that appears to be moving when it's standing still. And that's the point, isn't it?
Roadsters are about movement, but not just any kind of movement. It is movement with jazz, blues, poetry, tap dance, with head bobbing to the rhythms and hair blowing in the wind on a day when the snow isn't falling and the temperature is fair.
Roadsters are about what driving is supposed to be about, which is freedom and dreams and going someplace, or no place in particular, just because you have the right to go there and because you want to go. If people give you thumbs up because you're looking cool riding in something cool, that's okay. And if they want to snicker because they don't get the looks of what you got, that's okay, too.
Success is doing your thing the way you want to do it until your thing becomes the norm and it's time to do something else. It's hip-hop, rock-and-roll, gut-belly blues and down-home gospel. It's Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda and E.E. Cummings: "she, being Brand-new; and you know consequently a little stiff i was careful of her and (having thoroughly oiled the universal joint tested my gas felt of her radiator made sure her springs were O.K.)."
You don't become someone's favorite poem by being ordinary, Chris. Nor do you become anybody's favorite designer through a passionate embrace of mediocrity. You've got to take chances, the kind you took with the radical styling of the Z4.
By the way, the car I drove was tight, but not by any means stiff. There was no need to oil the universal joint, nor was there reason to feel the radiator of this one. She -- because I prefer to think of the Z4 as "she" -- was ready to run, and she ran beautifully.
There are two versions of the car: the Z4 2.5i, equipped with a 184-horsepower, in-line six-cylinder engine, and the 3.0i, endowed with a 225-horsepower, in-line six.
I drove the Z4 3.0i. It was a fully optioned package that included wheels that were 18 inches in diameter, a lowered sport suspension and BMW's Dynamic Drive Control, an electronically controlled system that improves acceleration and steering.
I took advantage of a nearly weeklong break in precipitous winter weather and toured Virginia, which offers pleasant driving beyond the strangling reach of Interstate 95 and other major roads running to and from its northern tier.
The Z4 drew attention everywhere it went. Most of that notice was favorable. Some of it wasn't. None of it was milquetoast.
That's saying a lot in an automotive world where "avant-garde" has been reduced to "all-new," which too often is a timid reworking of yesterday's offerings.
And so, to you, Chris, I offer this New Year's toast: I salute your stylistic bravery. I hope that you continue to resist the pleadings of those who want to sanctify the lowest common denominator. May you take even bigger, braver chances in the years to come.