BMW’s iconic kidney grille has a brilliant story behind it

  • BMW’s Kidney Grille has become an iconic styling feature of BMW
  • It first debuted on the BMW 303 in 1933
  • Here’s how it’s evolved over the 90 years that followed

Published on May 23, 2024 at 6:11 PM (UTC+4)
by Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

Last updated on May 24, 2024 at 6:31 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

The twin-kidney grille has been a signature feature of every BMW for over 90 years.

But while you might recognize it instantly, you might not know the story behind it.

After making its debut on the BMW 303 in 1933, this distinctive front grille design has evolved – here’s how.

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Subtle style changes, including size variations, shapings, and styling tweaks, reflect the company’s simultaneous innovative spirit and dedication to tradition.

The iconic grille design looks like two kidneys side by side and has a function in addition to its stunning form, making a BMW instantly recognizable even from afar.

Its large surface area and vertical slats allow maximum airflow into the engine bay.

This, in turn, cools the radiator, condenser, intercoolers, and front brakes, keeping the engine at optimal temperature.

And while BMW has preserved the kidney grille design across model ranges and decades as a core part of its visual brand, it’s also been subtly evolving.

The basic shape has remained consistent since 1933 with space in-between allowing the BMW logo to be prominently displayed.

The first BMW model to feature the split kidney grille was the 303 sedan in 1933.

Chief designer Fritz Fiedler oriented the grille at a rearward angle to improve aerodynamics.

The legendary 328 sports car and the 501 luxury sedan also established its kidney grille as a signature styling feature during the years surrounding the war.

In the 1950s, BMW began reducing its height via the 503 sedan and 507 roadster of 1956, boasting wider, lower grilles that signaled the brand’s new focus on sporty elegance.

This continued with the compact, tucked-in grille of the 600 and first-generation 3 Series.

The 1970s ushered in a bolder design for the kidney grilles.

The 3 Series saw it widering, with pronounced rectangular headlights flanking a more imposing grille.

In the late 70s, the M1 – as owned by the late Paul Walker – took this to the extreme.

Into the 1980s, the 7 Series adopted a tall, upright grille paired with dual circular headlights that would persist for the next two decades.

In more recent years from the 1990s to today, the 8 Series featured a graceful sloping grille.

Meanwhile, the 2000s-era Bangle-designed cars like the 7 Series and Z4 roadster added convex curvature and angles that not everyone was a fan of.

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Oversize and artistic kidney grilles are on-trend today, dominating and polarizing the 7 Series and X7 SUV.

Grilles on today’s models are now more upright, wider, and merge seamlessly with the front bumpers.

Chrome, gloss black, and other styling elements accentuate the iconic brand signature.

But while its shape, angle proportions, and styling may have changed the spirit of BMW’s commitment to forward-thinking, thrill, and refinement through engineering endures.

In two vision vehicle concept cars, BMW has provided a glimpse of the direction the BMW kidney grille is heading in.

“In the all-electric BMW Vision iNEXT, a trial [is] given to a striking single break of the usual center bar,” they said.

“Behind the closed surface of the grille, cameras, sensors and other technologies for assisted and automated driving are hard at work. Internally, this solution is known as ‘shy-tech’ – high-tech that works in secret.”

They continued: “In the BMW Vision M NEXT hybrid sports car, meanwhile, the BMW kidney grill takes the shape of a sculpturally pronounced, glass-enclosed kidney grille that emerges directly from the front of the vehicle in a no-holds-barred style with surfaces featuring engraved, stylized BMW logos.

“The illumination of the grille and a color gradient inside it further heighten the three-dimensional effect.”

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Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

London-based Amelia cut her journalistic teeth covering all things lifestyle, wellness and luxury in the UK capital. Fast-forward a decade and the experienced content creator and editor has put pen to paper for glossy magazines, busy newsrooms and coveted brands. When her OOO is on you can find her spending quality time with her young family, in the gym or exploring the city she loves.