Much work goes on behind the scenes at an automaker that the public rarely gets to see. Designs and styling features are imagined years before they enter production, tweaked and refined over the years into their final form. A new video from the BMW Group Classic YouTube channel lets us peek behind that curtain, showing off the secret BMW ZBF 7er design study created in the mid-1990s. It looks familiar, doesn’t it?

One of the car’s more noteworthy aspects is in how it was built. BMW used an old method of coachbuilding to hand-build the concept, which included hand-beaten sheet metal for the body. BMW Design Expert Joji Nagashima designed the car, including the tire treads – a first for him – that were then cut by hand. The final product is a familiar yet awkward sedan, though the concept wasn’t designed as a standalone model. The BMW ZBF 7e represented the future design direction for the company’s core products.

The mashup pushed the boundaries long before BMW dared let the massive kidney grille loose on the public. The concept let designers think outside the box, which allowed them to upsize the grille. Nagashima explained several of the car’s styling features, like the chrome garnish that extends from the fender into the door that was added to accent the otherwise slab-sided design. Inside, the car even featured an early iteration of BMW’s iDrive rotary controller, which debuted on the production E65 7 Series in 2001.

The concept previewed many of the styling features that’d debut on the E65 and eventually trickle down throughout the rest of the BMW lineup. But many of those ideas first became a reality half a decade before the car debuted to the public. The video is a reminder that car design takes years, and ideas need time to mature into something ready for the mainstream, but after 25 years, many weren’t ready for the massive grille on the new 4 Series.

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