The BMW M1, probably BMW's craziest attempt at creating a racing car that later would go on to become an iconic production car. As we know the famous saying "what came first, the wedge or the BMW M1?", the answer, of course, is the BMW M1. This fantastically aerodynamic design became synonymous with the M1 and eye candy for anyone looking at it. But if we delve in beyond appearances we'll take a look at its story and the legacy it left behind. So take some time and appreciate this: BMW M1.
"BMW M1" by FurLined is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The story begins when the motorsport division of BMW headed by Jochen Neerpasch had been wanting to compete in motorsports using a car developed for competition racing to go against their arch-rival Porsche in Group-5 racing. Jochen was very particular with the car being mid-engined so that it would have an upper hand against the competitors. This meant that the M1 was the first mid-engined BMW to be mass-produced. Problems arose though when BMW wasn't able to build 400 road-going examples of the car required by the stipulated rules. But thank god those rules existed because this later meant BMW partnered with Lamborghini to work out the chassis of the car, assembling the prototypes and manufacturing the vehicles. With geniuses like Gianpaolo Dallara who came up with the idea to use a tubular steel space frame chassis, development at Lamborghini was looking bright. The fibreglass body was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, taking inspiration from the 1972 BMW Turbo concept car.
BMW Turbo concept car.
But sadly the collaboration didn't go on for long because of problems with Lamborghini's financial position. This later meant that BMW reassumed control over the project in April of 1978 after seven prototypes were already built. Because of other delays in the project and changes in Group 5 rules, the M1 didn't make it to Group 5 racing, but instead was forced to compete in Group 4 racing (still not too bad).
The BMW M1 Procar
In 1979 Jochen Neerpasch devised a one-make championship using racing modified M1s. This series was created to aid BMW in building enough cars to enter the group 4 classification in the World Championship for Makes. The new series, known as the "Procar BMW M1 Championship", served as a support series for Formula One, and included many Formula One drivers in identical cars. In 1979 and 1980, the BMW Procar Series was one of the most spectacular racing series in the motorsport world. As part of most European Formula 1 races, the five fastest F1 drivers from the practice sessions of the respective Grand Prix took part and raced identical BMW M1 cars against private drivers, well-known racers and up-and-coming talents. As this was a truly unique sight and probably something that wouldn't happen again, you can imagine that it was very popular with the public. To give you a sensation of how big a stage it provided for motorsport superstars, the overall winner of the first Procar season was Niki Lauda, yes you read that right. And if that wasn't impressive enough, the following year, Nelson Piquet secured first place in the standings with three wins in a row.
"Marc Surer drives the BMW M1 Procar - 1998 Goodwood Festival of Speed" by PSParrot is licensed under CC BY 2.0
It didn't end there for the Procar, no-no. After the completion of the BMW Procar Series in the 1980s, various BMW M1 racing versions competed in Le Mans and various national championship (including the German Automobile Racing Championship and the American IMSA GTO Championship) between 1979 and 1986.
Here's some awesome footage of the 1979 Procar Series, in Monaco, with Niki Lauda, Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi
And here's onboard footage of the BMW M1 Procar, driving some laps on the German Norisring during the 2019 BMW M1 Procar Revival.
There were 3 iterations of the M1: The M1, M1 Procar, and M1 Group 5. As you rightly assumed the cars get crazier and crazier. Starting at the M1. It made use of an M88 Inline/6 with a 5-speed manual gearbox making 277 hp and 330 Nm. The car was mid-engined, RWD and would take you all the way up to 265 km/h. Curb weight was as low as 1,300 kg (2,866 lb). Now for the more interesting sibling, the M1 Procar also had an Inline/6 but the M88/1 pumped out almost 200 more hp clocking in at 470 hp and 390 Nm. This resulted in a top speed of 310 km/h. If things couldn't get more insane the M1 Group 5 basically broke all barriers. Again making use of an Inline/6, but the M88/2 was coupled with a Turbocharger and power output went as high as 1,000 hp! No official top speed seems to be in place, but it has gone above 320 km/h cementing it as a very fast car!
"BMW M1 Group 5" by Chris Wevers is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
It seems as if the M1 made one hell of an impression as it remains up until today a fan favourite. In April of 2008 BMW even unveiled an M1 Homage concept commemorating the 30th anniversary of the car.
"BMW_M1_pic_002" by Karail is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
And on July 5-7 2019, the BMW M1 Procar had a revival at Norisring as a part of the DTM weekend, 40 years after its racetrack debut. If anything this shows just how much the super wedge that was partly designed by Lamborghini and that later got its entirely own racing championship, made a footprint on this world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this car because there was so much more to the story than I had ever known. The M1 deserves to be appreciated because it proves that success comes in different forms. I'll end the article blessing you with the roar of the inline/6 that the M1 Procar makes.