In the “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group highlights the sustainable contribution made by a wide range of people in the company – and the motivation that inspires them. Today: Max Flückiger.
Sustainability has many facets at the BMW Group because we are using this term to harmonise business, the environment and society. If we are to successfully put these high standards into practice, we need our employees’ commitment. Everyone can play their part in making the BMW Group sustainable.
So, who are all these colleagues who make sustainability part of their everyday work? What drives them to roll up their sleeves throughout the company? In its “WEffect” sustainability series, the BMW Group introduces employees who play their daily part in the broad and responsible further development of our company.
In this edition of our series, Max Flückiger, restorer at BMW Group Classic, reveals what restoring old BMW racing cars has to do with sustainable action.
Max Flückiger, what was your first time at the race track as a mechanic?
Max Flückiger: That was in 1974. I must have been 16 or 17 and had just finished my apprenticeship. We changed tyres, serviced the brakes, did the classic pit stop. This always had to happen extremely quickly. Nevertheless, even then it was very important for me to be extremely attentive. I watched the car round the track and asked the drivers what they noticed about the handling. I was usually able to work out from this where the problem was. I was in England at first, then in 1998 I moved to BMW. Until 2006, I was on the racetrack and mainly responsible at BMW for the engines as well as replacing them. We all worked very closely together, almost like a family – we were a strong team of drivers, engineers and mechanics. And I was always very proud to represent my company at the track. After that, I mainly worked in the workshop. We were constantly testing new developments and tried out an enormous amount of things. Each new engine added something, and we can still find a lot of those innovations in today’s vehicles. There are so many examples of great technical advances that originated in motorsport, that were developed specially for racing and are nowadays still being used in production vehicles – right up to efficient dynamics. It was just a tremendous time. We had an incredible amount of success. But at the end of 2009 it was all over.
How was that for you?
Flückiger: I tried not to think about it. Motorsport itself was still there and I no longer worked at the track anyway. The immediate question facing me and my colleagues was therefore: where are we heading? The company offered me the opportunity to switch to BMW Group Classic. That was a good solution for me, a happy coincidence. I simply took a giant step back in time. In Classic, I was responsible for motorsport cars from the very beginning, from the pre-war car, the BMW 328, to the newer cars. The work entails a lot of love and precision. For example, I stripped our Brabham BT-52 down to the last screw. It is the only Brabham made entirely of original parts and can still actually be driven. Incidentally, the Brabham was the first World Championship car to have a turbo drive. Yet another example: we first used the technology in motorsport, later it came onto the streets as mainstream. The vehicles look simply perfect, but they also have an other-worldly feel about them.
What is your fascination with it, and when you restore, what is it all about?
Flückiger: Restoration is very time-consuming, purely manual work. The technology of these old motorsport cars is so fantastic though that this is entirely feasible. Unfortunately, you don’t see from the outside just how much work has gone into it by the end. I see this work as very sustainable. I strive to reuse the original parts as far as humanly possible when I restore a vehicle. I clean them and repair them. This is how we preserve the vehicles for posterity. We preserve the integrity and the memory. I’m still just as enthusiastic about that today, and I'm also fascinated by technology and mechanics.
Fascination is the key word: what has changed for you when you watch a car race today?
Flückiger: The engines at the race track were very, very loud. Nowadays, you don’t hear much – actually, it’s no longer true motorsport for me. It needs the engine noise and the smell of burnt rubber. That’s part and parcel of it. Even so, my enthusiasm, my passion for motorsport will probably never die. Once you have been there, close up, it’s just fantastic. At the same time, motorsport has always been a bit of a tricky subject and often comes in for criticism. What strikes me most today is how little protection the racing cars offered the drivers back then. Many of today’s drivers would no longer dare to get into a car like that. It’s no longer justifiable. There’s a very good reason why there used to be so many very serious accidents. The only strange thing was that nobody talked about it. Everyone carried on as if nothing had ever happened. It was a very unique mentality.
So the reason was an attitude and, as you say, that this was perfectly natural. What does motorsport history teach us? What were the reasons for the really big successes?
Flückiger: It was natural to just keep on going. And we all had this passion for the job and motorsport. A very strong inner drive. That was certainly also a reason behind our success. But from my point of view, it was just as important to try out so many things. We were constantly testing something new and modifying the engines as often as made sense to us. Success arose from the courage to simply try things – we can still learn from that today.
You will retire at the end of 2022 after a career of almost 50 years. Is this going to be a good thing?
Flückiger: Yes, then I will finally have time for myself to restore cars in my own time (laughs). It will still be motorsport cars, that is simply my passion. And I think it’s good for the mind and the hands to keep going. But it was strange, almost a shock, when HR first called me about it. You just don’t feel that old. And it will be tough to go from working 40 hours a week to zero at a stroke. But I am already actively trying to pass on my knowledge so that as much of it as possible gets retained. I meticulously document my work on the vehicles, much more than is professionally required. I want to preserve their integrity.
In the upcoming portraits from our “WEffect” sustainability series, committed colleagues will also describe their motivation and explain the contribution they are making to sustainability within the BMW Group.