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Explore the Origins and Evolution of BMW’s Kidney Grille

Explore the Origins and Evolution of BMW's Kidney Grille with Stedmans Garage in Worthing

BMW’s Kidney Grille has become an iconic styling feature synonymous with BMW vehicles over the company’s long history. First debuting on the BMW 303 in 1933, this distinctive front grille design has evolved across dozens of models over nearly nine decades, all while retaining its unique and recognisable kidney shape.

As one of the most identifiable symbols of the BMW brand, the kidney grille carries major significance. It conveys core aspects of BMW’s identity and heritage in its sleek, performance-oriented styling. For enthusiasts, simply seeing the kidney grille elicits thoughts of driving excitement and the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Additionally, while staying true to its heritage, BMW has kept the kidney grille fresh and modern across generations. Subtle style changes reflect both design trends and the company’s innovative spirit. As we’ll explore, the iconic grille has gone through numerous size variations, shapings, and styling tweaks since its inception.

What is the Kidney Grille?

The kidney grille is the iconic front grille design on BMW vehicles. Shaped like two kidneys placed next to each other, it has become a signature styling element that immediately identifies a BMW.

Purpose of the Kidney Grille

The kidney grille serves important functional purposes on a BMW. Firstly, it allows air to flow into the engine bay to cool the radiator, condenser, intercoolers and front brakes. The large surface area and vertical slats provide maximum airflow to keep the engine running at optimal temperatures. Secondly, the kidney grille establishes BMW’s distinctive brand identity. The unique shape makes a BMW instantly recognisable even from a distance. Over the decades, BMW has preserved the kidney grille design across model ranges as a core part of its visual brand language.

The Iconic Shape and Styling

While the kidney grille has evolved in size and details, the basic shape has remained consistent since 1933. The first BMW 303 model introduced this iconic two-part grille that leaned backwards for improved aerodynamics. The space in-between also allowed the BMW logo to be prominently displayed. Modern BMW kidney grilles still retain this overall form but with contemporary touches. The grilles are now more upright, wider and merge seamlessly into the front bumpers. Additional chrome, gloss black and other styling elements also accentuate the kidneys for more visual drama.

BMW's Kidney Grille
BMW’s Kidney Grille

The Evolution of the Kidney Grille

The iconic Kidney Grille has undergone several notable design changes over its 88-year history. While retaining its distinctive shape, BMW has altered the grille’s dimensions and styling to keep pace with changing trends and technologies.

The 1930s and 40s: Establishing an Identity

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. This set the precedent for BMW’s emerging design language. Through models like the legendary 328 sports car and the 501 luxury sedan, BMW established its kidney grille as a signature styling feature during the pre-war and postwar periods.

The 1950s and 60s: Sportier and More Compact

In the 1950s, BMW began reducing the height of its kidney grille. The 503 sedan introduced a shorter grille, while the iconic 507 roadster of 1956 featured a wider, lower grille that signaled the brand’s increasing focus on sporty elegance. This trend continued with 60s models like the dainty 600 and the first-generation 3 Series, which featured a more compact, tucked-in grille.

The 1970s and 80s: Bolder and More Prominent

The 1970s ushered in an era of bolder BMW kidney grilles. The 3 Series grew larger and wider, with pronounced rectangular headlights flanking a more imposing grille. The radical M1 supercar of the late 70s took this styling to the extreme. By the 80s, the 7 Series adopted the tall, upright grille paired with dual circular headlights that would become BMW’s signature face for the next two decades.

The 1990s and Beyond: Modern Interpretations

More recently, BMW has continued tweaking its kidney grille with new takes on the iconic shape. The 1990s 8 Series featured a graceful sloping grille, while the 2000s-era Bangle-designed cars like the 7 Series and Z4 roadster added controversial convex curvature and angles. Love them or hate them, these designs demonstrated BMW’s willingness to evolve the grille. Today, massive grilles dominate models like the 7 Series and X7 SUV, representing the brand’s most polarising styling move yet.

The Influence and Impact of the Kidney Grille

The kidney grille has become one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable features of BMW vehicles over the years. Its unique shape and prominent placement at the front of BMW models has made it a distinctive signature of the brand’s design language across decades of automotive styling evolution.

A Symbol of the BMW Brand

Since its debut in 1933, the kidney grille has been a constant presence across generations of BMW models, cementing itself as a core element of BMW’s identity. For enthusiasts, the sight of the kidney grille elicits instant associations with concepts like performance, precision and driving dynamics – associations that BMW has deliberately cultivated through marketing and design.

Influencing Industry Trends

As an industry leader, BMW’s design choices have shaped wider automotive trends. The dominance of BMW’s kidney grille has seen other manufacturers emulate the look with similar grilles to project sporty personas for their own models. Over time, prominent front grilles have become almost ubiquitous across the automotive market.

Emotional Impact

But beyond just visual recognition, the kidney grille also carries an emotional resonance. For loyal BMW drivers, seeing the kidney grille triggers a visceral connection to fond driving memories or aspirations of BMW ownership. It represents fulfilling promises of thrill and refinement through engineering. This emotional response is a vital layer to the impact of the kidney grille design.


In closing, BMW’s iconic kidney grille has undergone an intriguing evolution over the past 88 years. From its debut on the 303 saloon in 1933 to the latest controversial interpretations on modern BMWs, the kidney grille remains a distinctive styling feature that instantly identifies these vehicles.

We’ve seen how the kidney grille transformed from a purely functional design element necessary for engine cooling into an artistic brand signature. And while its shape and proportions changed across decades of technological progress, what endured was BMW’s commitment to a forward-thinking spirit.

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