Between 1978 and 1980, BMW built a mid engine road car called the M1 – a car originally conceived by BMWs M-division to compete in Group 1 racing. As per regulation, BMW had to build a consumer version of the M1 to homologate the car for racing.
The silhouette of the M1 was inspired from the 1972 E25 BMW Turbo concept coupé and was the brainchild of Jochen Neerpasch, an esteemed former race car driver and motorsports manager.
What BMW really wanted however, was for Neerpasch to produce an ultra-modern road car based on the latest racing technology.
On the other hand, BMW also wanted to show the world what they were capable of; producing a sophisticated yet easy to live high performance car that would behave just as nicely at 100 MPH than it would cruising around town.
Italian Design, German Engineering
Lamborghini was originally commissioned by BMW to build the M1, but when financial difficulty befell the Italian automaker known for its flashy exotic cars, BMW moved the operation back in house.
After some serious re-structuring, which included the construction of a new facility where the M1 would be built, the first Giorgetto designed M1s rolled off the line.
The M1s tube frame, body, and interior were actually constructed in Italy and shipped to Germany where they were outfitted with BMW hardware. In total, 453 were built with around 40 or so examples accounting for purpose built race cars, all of which were sold to private parties.
M is for Motorsport
By the late 70s, BMW had finally made good on its plan to produce a sleek, wide, yet mean looking road car capable of keeping up with the best of them. BMWs M-Division, which was founded in 1972 to facilitate successful racing campaigns, brought forth a natural sporting heritage resonant of the companies’ design and engineering philosophy.
M1 production lasted only 3 years, but BMW applied what they learnt to produce more consumer friendly models such as the M3, M5, and M6. In fact, a version of the M1’s 3.5 litre six cylinder version found its way back into other production cars as well.
In the drive it is noted that the 3,000-pound BMW was capable of clicking off 0 – 60 MPH in 5.4 seconds, and at 80 horsepower per litre was able to hit 161 MPH before it redlined in fifth gear. Let’s not forget, that this was the late 70s and 266 horsepower was plenty for a road car to help slip through the air.
The production BMW M1 is not far removed from the race cars built to compete in Group 1 racing. The basic layout and geometry of the suspension components were the same across the board, with unequal length control arms, gas pressurised shocks, and beefy anti-sway bars at both the front and rear, the only thing that really changed were the size of the tyre (most race cars sported fender flares) and the horsepower per litre.
Though BMW has produced many breath-taking M-powered road cars since the early 80s, many won’t argue that the M1 was the first, and arguably last mid-engine road car built to compete with the best of them.