That's quite a car, huh? That was what the man at the BMW dealership said as he walked up to me with a big grin on his face. I looked at him and said, "Actually it looks like they totally screwed up what had the potential to be an amazing car." The car I am referring to of course is the new BMW i8. I am huge fan of the "halo car" concept. Basically the idea that a company builds a car not to necessarily make a significant profit off of it but to generate publicity and buzz about what the company is capable of. Many people think that the car that Tom Cruise introduced us to back in Mission Impossible 4 was a new and unique shape from BMW.
Alas this is not the case. The i8 is a modern take on a classic car, the BMW M1 from the late 1970s. BMW's M division is world renowned for producing some amazing cars. Despite BMW doing their absolute best, in the past decade, to destroy the reputation a large part of the public recognizes (even if they do not fully understand) that the M on the back means something special. So where did it all begin?
Strictly speaking the first M division product was the BMW 3.0 CSL. However, the first production road car to ever wear the M badge was the BMW M1. You'd be forgiven for doing a double take when seeing an M1 for the first time because quite frankly it doesn't look very...what's the best way to put this? German.
The reason it doesn't look like anything BMW had made before or since is that it was actually originally designed by Lamborghini! The two titans entered into an agreement where Lamborghini would develop a car for homologation so that it could be raced. However, Lamborghini entered a period of internal turmoil and financial difficulties (come on let's face it that's actually part of the requirements of being an Italian car company right?) and BWM was forced to complete the design alongside a small group of Lamborghini engineers operating on their own. The result was nothing short of spectacular. Though the original BMW M3 certainly holds the title as the definitive M car, the BMW M1 is very close behind. I believe it really set the standard of precision driveability coupled with a sonorous and vivacious straight six engine that would come to epitomize BMW performance cars.
Circling back to the man at the dealership and the i8. The i8 is indeed a "halo car" but in my opinion for all the wrong reasons. It has the engine that belongs in an econo box powering a bunch of heavy batteries. The brilliant carbon fiber tub has been wrapped in shiny plastic designed in just such a way as to look totally dated within 10 years. Here's an idea, BMW. Take the i8 tub, send the body design out to some brilliant Italian designers (Zagato?),and lose the hybrid bs. Drop in a tuned up version of the S54 straight six or even the s85 V10 hooked up to a good ol' fashioned six speed. Now THAT would be a proper homage to the M1.