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Swellboy on… ‘terrorist chic’

Did a German terrorist group help to boost BMW sales?

Swellboy on… ‘terrorist chic’

Image: Brijesh Patel

August 04 2011
Nick Foulkes

While reading up on the Baader-Meinhof gang the other day, I came across the definition of the power of radical chic: Andreas Baader’s alleged penchant for favouring the BMW 2002 when stealing cars apparently helped boost sales at a critical time for the Bavarian motor marque.

The Baader-Meinhof or Red Army Faction was the dystopian side of the hippie idealism of the 1960s, when the reaction against the values of the preceding generation turned violent: a symptom of a wider disaffection that saw the children of the bourgeoisie living in squats, growing their hair, reading Marx, sticking posters of Che Guevara on their walls, staging sit-ins and generally protesting against the evils of a materialistic society; the most famous pin-up of this movement was of course Patty Hearst.

But it is the issue of the BMW that is so remarkable. The irony of the situation aside – that Baader’s actions were stimulating the very consumerism at the heart of the capitalist system that he was fighting against – it is strange to think that during the 1960s BMW was considering halting production of cars, and there are those who say that this famous German carmaker was actually saved in no small part by the idea that it was the favoured automotive marque of the German terror group.

We in Britain also had our anarchist terrorist underground: the Angry Brigade. Apart from an eye-catching logo that mixed the male and female symbols with fists clasped around a firearm, it was, as far as I can tell, best known for its bombing of the Kensington fashion shop Biba and the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall, outrages that struck at the very heart of – well, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

They were soon arrested and by the latter half of the 1970s the British terror movement had succumbed to parody and light comedy (minor art forms at which we excel) with the screening of Citizen Smith, the eponym of which, played by Robert Lindsay, was characterised by his beret and his cries of “Power to the people” or “Freedom for Tooting”. Had the bungling leader of the Tooting Popular Front ever gone into car theft, I imagine he would have electrocuted himself trying to hotwire such British Leyland shockers as the Morris Marina or Austin Allegro: and instead of boosting sales, if anything he would have probably hastened the demise of British Leyland. BL used, of course to make the Mini, a car now produced by BMW.

See also

BMW, People