The 1970s were a very bad decade for Lamborghini. Not only that they were the victims of the 1973 Oil Crisis, they also did not take the opportunity to quickly make some cash in 1977 by collaborating with BMW. The Italian bull was on the verge of bankruptcy when they got a call from the famous Bavarian car maker.
M1 design sketches. Credit: BMW-M.com
BMW’s M division was eager to enter the Group 5 competition racing in order to compete with their arch nemesis Porsche. And so, the plans for the M1 model were initiated. But, since BMW could not make 400 road-legal homologations in time to enter the competition, they contacted Lamborghini for help.
Group 5. Credit: Dyler.com
This was a win-win situation, as BMW would get their cars and Lamborghini would get the money that would help them in their difficult period and with their future projects. The tubular steel frame chassis was made by Gianpaolo Dallara, and the car was designed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro.
But, the only thing Lamborghini could think of was money. In fact, right after they began working on the M1, they immediately started to look for other alternative projects to get themselves out of the financial crisis. BMW gave Lamborghini a huge amount of money to use for the M1, but instead, the Italian bull used most of that money to develop another project for the US Military-the Cheetah.
Lamborghini Cheetah. Credit: Wheelsage.com
The American Army needed a new 4x4 vehicle for carrying the troops to/from the battlefields and to work in extreme conditions. So, the famous Italian manufacturer created the rear-engined Cheetah with a 5.9-litre Chrysler engine. Needles to say, the project was bad, since the position of the engine was not good for off-roading missions. So, the US Military opted for the famous HUMVEE, and left Lamborghini with a huge hole in their pocket.
Credit: Classic Driver
Right after the Cheetah proved to be a flop, BMW was very impatient with the slow process of M1 development. That resulted with a massive feud between the two companies, and later led to the termination of the contract. Later, when Lamborghini refused to hand out all of the plans for the M1 project, BMW sent some of their workers to break-in and steal the project plans from the Lamborghini factory, and finished the M1 at their headquarters in Munich.
And that is the story of how the famous M1 was born. It featured a 3.5-litre straight-six placed in the middle. The output was 273 HP and it came with a top speed of 258 kph (160 mph). But, the racing version of M1 was never able to compete in Group 5 racing due to rigorous rule changes, so they could only satisfy themselves with an entry in Group 4.
Credit: BMW Motorsport
The racing versions, known as the M1 Procar, were insane. They could output up to 850 HP, and were driven by some of the best F1 drivers. Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Clay Regazzoni, Tiff Needell, Nelson Piquest and Didier Prioni are just some of the names that had the opportunity to race the M1 Procar.
Credit: BMW Motorsport
After winning the Procar championship in 1979, Niki Lauda was given the keys of a Henna Red M1. Lauda later sold the car to raise money for his airline Lauda Air.
Only 453 units of M1 were made, of which 400 were road going versions.