The only mass-produced mid-engined BMW to be manufactured —and the first of the company’s famous ‘M’ cars — owed its public availability to that demanding master, homologation. BMW had entered into an arrangement with Lamborghini to produce sufficient road versions to homologate a competition car for Group 5 sports car races. Prototypes were designed and built by Lamborghini, who were unfortunately unable to honour their production contract, so these special cars were then hand-built by BMW’s Motorsport division using chassis and bodies fabricated in Italy.
The throaty 3.5 litre engine had four valves per cylinder and six separate throttle butterflies. It could comfortably propel the M1 beyond 150 mph (241 km/h) — and that was just the road-going version. This classic wedge-shaped GT design was by Giorgetto Giugiaro, following the lead set by BMW’s 1972 Turbo concept car. The wide, shallow front end had BMW’s signature twin-kidney grille motif, though the overall design was a tad heavy around the back end. The M1 had disc brakes and independent suspension all round. The three versions were the road car, a Group 4 racer and a Group 5 racer with turbocharged 3.2 litre engine that kicked out 850 bhp.
Ironically, after all that effort to achieve homologation the M1 enjoyed limited racing success — a change in the rules meant it didn’t qualify for Group 5 racing until it was no longer competitive, so its main claim to racing fame was as a short-lived support series to Formula 1, where all the drivers used similar M1 cars from the total of 56 built, so driving skill alone could determine the outcome on the day — winners included Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet. But sadly BMW had lost interest in the M1’s racing progress before it really got a chance to realise its massive potential.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1978 (until 1981)
3,453 cc DOHC Straight Six
Road-going version – top speed of 162 mph (260 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Survivors amongst the 399 refined road-going examples are much appreciated as top-quality sports cars that go like the wind and are ranked in the top dozen supercars of the 1970s, with comprehensive equipment including air conditioning and full carpeting to enhance the driving experience.