Shock Art - 1993 BMW E36 M3 DTM Prototype

During the early 1990’s touring car racing was going through a difficult period. With support for the massively popular Group A category drying up due to escalating costs and dirty tricks by manufacturers, the many racing series around the world based on it were forced to look for an alternative.

One such series was the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (German Touringcar Championship). The DTM had seen its inception in 1984 at the height of the Group A craze, and quickly rose to prominence as Germany’s most popular racing series. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday translated well into German, causing major manufacturers like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Opel to go head to head with pumped up versions of their top selling models.

The E30 M3 DTM cemented BMW's reputation in the Group A years.

Like any touring car series during the late 80’s, the DTM ran into a giant problem. That problem took the form of an unwieldy 4.8 meter slab of V8, four wheel drive, luxurious Audi limousine. In a parallel to the titanic Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R in Japan and Australia, the V8 quattro DTM totally dominated the 1990 and 1991 DTM seasons. It overpowered and outgripped its much smaller, lighter and nimbler opposition. The four-ringed behemoth’s domination caused an uproar with Mercedes and BMW, previously the top runners in the field. They succeeded in pressuring the sport’s governing body, Oberste Nationale Sportbehörde, to put extra emphasis on penalty weight.

This caused Audi’s car to receive much more ballast than the other competitors. Audi tried to cheat its way out of the disadvantage by using a crankshaft twisted into a flatplane model. The trick only worked for the first half of the season, but was outlawed by the ONS after a barrage of complaints from Mercedes, Opel and BMW. The embarrassing scandal put the DTM’s credibility at risk, so it was decided that things would have to go in a radically new direction for 1993.

The brawling Audi V8 quattro brought an end to Group A racing in the DTM.

The plan included the complete abandonment of Group A in favor of a more equalized formula intended to level the playing field. The new FIA Class 1 Touring Cars were required to use a naturally aspirated, production based engine with a capacity no greater than 2.5L, no more than 6 cylinders and 4 valves per cylinder. This way the ONS hope to minimize the chances of one manufacturer building a vastly superior engine.

The designers were however granted more freedom with the exterior of the car. Previously the Group A machines had to look exactly the same externally as their road going equivalent, which meant homologating an effective aerodynamics package was a terribly slow, difficult and expensive process. In a direct contradiction to the old formula, FIA Class 1 allowed for the use of massive spoilers, splitters and diffusers in a much more liberal manner. F1 technologies like traction control and ABS were also permitted.

The amazing 10.000+ rpm M50B25 straight six engine.

With the promise that the new homogenized formula would negate the need for penalty weight, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Opel and BMW all set out to develop a car for the new rules. First order of business would be building an engine suitable for Class 1. For BMW this naturally meant they were going to use their iconic straight six layout, taking the new M50B25 unit from the 325i as a starting point. In the road car the engine produced a beefy 192 horsepower. Tasty for the street, but not at all sufficient for racing purposes.

Under the direction of famous engine wizard Paul Rosche, BMW’s Motorsport division reworked the engine to within the smallest margins of the rule book, and achieved truly astonishing results. The little motor now revved to over 10.000 rpm, and pushed out more and more power. When the dust settled the dyno read a colossal 400 horsepower, some 160 horsepower per liter.

A mock-up of the E36 DTM's racing livery.

Pleased with their results, BMW fitted the engine inside a lightened 1040 kg E36 generation 3-series shell, mated it to a 6-speed manual transmission, and called it a day. In the process they had however failed to realize that their competitors had all opted to use a V6 configuration for their entries. The much shorter V6 engines gave Alfa Romeo, Audi and Opel a clear weight distribution advantage over the long straight six engine in the BMW, which completely went against the ONS’s attempts to equalize the DTM.

It was clear that BMW had painted itself into a bit of a corner. Paul Rosche lobbied furiously with the ONS and the rival brands to get permission to move the engine back in the E36 chassis. Sadly he was allowed no wiggle room at all. The rules stated the engine had to remain in front of the firewall, which was not an option for BMW. Enraged by the diplomatic struggles ánd the surprise announcement that penalty weight would still be used in 1993, Rosche pulled the plug on the project in December of 1992.

The DTM's development was put into good use for the 3.2L GTR.

With the project cancelled, the finished and heavily tested prototype DTM-racer had nowhere to go. Although the data and parts developed during testing were very helpful in developing the M3 GTR GT racer, the company was still left with an utterly useless car. Even so, BMW decided against stuffing the maligned car in a dark corner of its vast lockup, and put it to good use.

Keeping with the tradition started in 1975, the M3 was used for BMW’s 13th Art Car project. Italian born artist Sandro Chia was invited to paint the car in whatever scheme he saw fit. He delivered a suitably psychedelic mess of colors and disappointed faces mirroring the BMW engineers. With the publicity coming from the project, the tattooed failure had at least guaranteed a lucrative PR-opportunity for BMW.

The DTM prototype survived as an Art Car.

The BMW M3 DTM suffered from the traditional mindset of its parent. Featuring an outdated and uncompetitive layout, it willfully ignored the equivalency formula that it was supposed to launch. The ensuing political predicament saw it struck down by its better adapted rivals and a stern governing body. In the end the car proved to be completely useless weaponry in the imminent DTM battle, and caused BMW to withdraw from the series for 21 years.