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BMW E34 and Claus Luthe: Between design genius and family tragedy

Claus Johannes Luthe (8 December 1932 – 17 March 2008) was a leading German automotive designer, renowned for his work on iconic models such as the NSU Ro 80, Volkswagen K70 and numerous Audi and BMW vehicles. Luthe distinguished himself as a pioneer of aerodynamics and digital design in the automotive industry.

Born in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1932, Luthe was the second of five children in a deeply Catholic family. Although he initially wanted to follow in his older brother’s footsteps in architecture, he decided to take an apprenticeship as a body designer at Karosseriebauer Voll in Würzburg, where he worked on proposals for buses. Subsequently, he joined NSU, where he played a key role in the development of the company’s design department.

Audi 50. Photo:wikipedia

One of Luthe’s most significant achievements was the design of the NSU Ro 80, a car that set a milestone in automotive design with its clean wedge shape and large glass surface. This model was notable not only for its appearance, but also for its innovative Wankel engine technology and features such as four-wheel independent suspension and inboard disc brakes.

In addition to the Ro 80, Luthe also contributed to the design of the Volkswagen K70, which was initially conceived as the NSU K70. His creative vision moved to Audi, where he worked on the Audi 50 and was involved in the interior design of the second-generation Audi 100 C2.

In 1976, Luthe became BMW’s chief designer, where he left an indelible mark on the brand. During his tenure, he transformed the design of BMW models, taking them in a more creative and elegant direction. One of his most notable achievements was the development of the BMW E34, part of the BMW 5 Series. With his innovative approach, Luthe succeeded in creating a distinctive design that stood out for its low profile, distinctive double round headlights and aerodynamic appearance.

Luthe’s legacy in the automotive industry lives on today. His bold and creative approach left an indelible mark on brands such as Audi and BMW, and his influence can be seen in numerous classic models that continue to be admired by car enthusiasts around the world.

Photo: BMW Group

Claus Luthe was much more than a car designer; he was a visionary who transformed the way we see and experience vehicles. His legacy lives on in the timeless elegance of the cars he created, including the iconic BMW E34, a timeless testament to his creative genius and lasting impact on the automotive industry.

In addition to his innovative contributions to the automotive industry, Claus Luthe was also a man with a complex personal life. He was married and fathered four children. However, his life was marred by personal tragedy: he was charged and subsequently convicted of manslaughter following a tragic altercation with his eldest son, Ulrich, who suffered from chronic addictions. This personal experience casts a shadow over his professional legacy, reminding us that, despite his professional achievements, he also faced significant personal challenges. Despite this tragedy, his influence on automotive design remains undeniable, and his legacy lives on in the vehicles he designed and in the automotive industry as a whole.