The story of M – the most exciting letter in motoring

BMW's performance division never fails to excite car enthusiasts

41w ago

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Is there a letter that gets motoring enthusiasts hotter around the waistband than M?

Mention an M car to anyone with more than a passing automotive interest, and you’ll get a knowing nod. If they’ve experienced the joy of M in person, an enthusiastic story will likely follow. We haven’t even mentioned what manufacturer we’re talking about yet. But you know.

The story of M begins, as all the best road car stories do, on the racetrack. BMW has been involved in competition since its early days, racing and setting world records with planes, bikes and even a train before its started making cars in 1928. Even in World War II, five BMW 328s entered the 1940 Mille Miglia.

The classic BMW 328

The classic BMW 328

Understandably, things paused after 1945, but privateers still raced cars built from pre-war BMW bits, and by 1960 a full factory motorsport effort was back. Success was considerable. But with demand for BMW road cars increasing dramatically, the board dropped a bombshell. In 1970 it announced a complete withdrawal from competition.

That didn’t last. BMW engineers had been unofficially fiddling with racing cars in a Munich lock-up since the withdrawal and in 1972 BMW set up a new, separate company. BMW Motorsport GmbH was born, with the principal target of smashing Ford’s dominant Capris in the European Touring Car Championship. The weapon they chose was the mighty 3.0 CSL.

Throughout the 1970s, great racing saloons were pumped out by BMW Motorsport, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the first properly badged M car appeared. The M1 was created because the BMW board wasn’t keen to head into Grand Prix racing. So, together with the Formula One Constructors Association and Goodyear, BMW Motorsport boss Jochen Neerpasch created ProCar. This was a one-make championship that saw F1 drivers race mid-engined, lightweight M1s against each other as a support race for European F1 races.

And here’s the good bit: in order to satisfy the sporting regulations of the time, there had to be a road-going version. The M1 road car had some serious stats for the time, hitting 62mph in 5.5 and topping out at 163mph. And it opened the floodgates.

Within a year, BMW put out the M535i, a high performance version of the 5 Series that would set the scene for the M5 in 1985. An M635 C Si – based on the 6 Series – was introduced in 1983, badged as the M6 in Japan and North America.

Perhaps the most iconic M car is the M3. It first appeared as a hardcore E30 3 Series coupe in 1986, built as another homologation special for racing. Its formula for an M car is now familiar: keep the body shell, beef up everything else. The arches, track, wheels, brakes and, of course, engine all were given a hefty dose of steroids to bring the thrill of the track to the road.

The M3 – the most iconic M car?

The M3 – the most iconic M car?

Today, the M roster is bigger than ever. The M3 remains, with more than double the horsepower of the E30. It’s a saloon now, but those who prefer fewer doors are catered for by the M4 Coupé. Or the M4 Convertible if you have a thing against roofs too.

The M4 even comes with the Competition Package – that means even more performance, and it’s on every current M model. The M5 Competition has SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE HORSEPOWER. If you love an SUV, then the X3, X4, X5 and X6 are all available as M Competition cars, and they’ve all got more than 500 horsepower.

The hugely powerful M5 Competition

The hugely powerful M5 Competition

The latest additions to the family are the brawny M8 Competition range – available in coupe, convertible and Gran Coupe form – and the forthcoming M2 CS. The (relatively) diminutive M2 is perhaps most closely linked back to the now-iconic E30 M3, and while it’s available as the M2 Competition, the M2 CS is its ultimate incarnation. It’s track-focused, with carbon fibre in the roof and bonnet to shave weight, forged aluminium wheels in your choice of black or gold (the colour, not the metal) and 450hp. That means 4.0 seconds to 62mph. That means fun.

And the fun will continue. In the future, M drivers will be able to choose whether they wish to be driven or do the driving themselves. With the Vision M NEXT, BMW is revealing its take on how driving pleasure might look in future for those who enjoy taking the wheel themselves.

The Vision M NEXT – the future of M

The Vision M NEXT – the future of M

It offers a foretaste of the BMW M brand’s electrified future by placing the focus squarely on the actively engaged driver. Intelligent technologies on board provide comprehensive yet carefully targeted assistance to turn them into the ultimate driver. And what M driver wouldn’t want that?

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Comments (24)

  • Definitely the good old M1...

    Timeless design, smooth but potent I6, and it doesn't require Chuck Yeager levels of bravery to drive.

      9 months ago
    • It‘s sister chassis is known as the Lotus Esprit. So the M1 is in good company here. The rest of the bunch ?.... well ?!

        9 months ago
  • The first 530 MLE is a wonderful wonderful car. It was the first M5 really, ever earlier than the E12 M535i. Just over 200 made I think, a true homologation special.

      9 months ago
  • You’ve not mentioned the disgraceful misuse and abuse of the ‘M’ on those execrable X5 and X3s of late. What were they on ?

      9 months ago
  • Kinda shocking for the m2 to not be included :( Good read though!

      9 months ago
  • M3 E30 and Z4M coupe

      9 months ago
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