The star came in pure white: When the 64th Paris Motor Show opened its
gates in autumn 1978, sports car fans and lovers had only one
destination - the stand of BMW Motorsport GmbH. There they were able to
admire a super-low, extremely dynamic new model making it quite clear
at very first sight that this was Germany's fastest road-going sports
car: the BMW M1, 1,140 millimetres (44.9´´ ) high, 204 kW (277 bhp)
strong, and well over
260 km/h (160 mph) fast. "Everybody was crowding around BMW's new
mid-engined sports car", wrote the press. And: "The list of orders
coming in exceeds even the wildest expectations - an American fan of
BMW, just to mention one example, has already put in an order for three
M1s." That was indeed quite something, considering that BMW's
super-sports car had a price-tag back then in 1978 of exactly DM
100,000, enough for four BMW 323is plus
a couple of optional extras.
It is indeed fair to say that few cars have ever been expected with
such excitement and anticipation as the BMW M1 representing all of
BMW's know-how in motor racing. Project E 26, as the then still
nameless M1 was initially called within the Company, had started in
1976. This was to be the first really unique car built by BMW
Motorsport GmbH, BMW's motor racing subsidiary established in 1972.
Having already made a great name for itself in the international racing
scene with the fast BMW 2002 and the truly superior BMW 3.0 CSI, the
racing company now planned to lift this success to an even higher level
with a competition car specially built and prepared for the Group four
and five racing series.
According to Group four regulations at the time, a car qualifying for
entry required a production run of at least 400 units in 24 successive
months, it had to have two seats and bear a distinct resemblance from
outside with its production counterpart. And that made it quite clear
that the E26 h ad to be not only a thoroughbred racing car, but also a
street-legal sports car.
A Bavarian with Italian blood.
The problem was that BMW Motorsport GmbH totally lacked the capacity to
develop and build such a car all by itself. After all, this team of
specialists had concentrated so far on "simply" turning
series-production cars into racing cars, making the chassis and
suspension tauter and the engine more powerful.
In its lines and design, the new coupé was intended to clearly boast
that special Italian style. It was modelled around the gull-wing turbo,
a turbocharged concept car created in 1972 by BMW designer Paul Bracq.
Proceeding from this design study with its rounder lines, Giorgio
Giugiaro created the sharp profile of the M1 with its distinct, almost
jagged edges and corners.
Indeed, Bracq and Giugiaro had already cooperated in the past in creating the BMW 6 Series coupé.
First choice in the engine department: a straight-six power unit.
Choosing the engine, BMW Motorsport GmbH initially focused on two
concepts: Advance studies of Formula engines had led, inter alia, to a
ten-cylinder code-named the M81, a V-engine with its cylinders at an
angle of 144°. Suitably modified, this engine was also examined for its
possible use in a sports car. But then the team around BMW's Motorsport
Director Jochen Neerpasch quickly opted in favour of a new
straight-six, an engine concept supported by the excellent experience
BMW had gained in the CSI races. After all kinds of rumours with the
grapevine running wild, BMW unveiled the secret in spring 1977,
officially confirming the development of the new super-sports car.
Then, in autumn of the same year, BMW published the first photos of the
M1 in production trim, the car then making its first public appearance
again half a year later: Together with TV presenter Dieter Kürten,
Jochen Neerpasch proudly introduced the Group four version in the
colours of Motorsport GmbH in a prime-time Saturday evening sports
programme on Channel Two of German Television. And although this racing
machine bearing starter number eleven was not yet ready to go, the
first test drives were scheduled for April 1978.
277 bhp in a purebred sports car.
The big day finally came in autumn of the same year, the public being
able to admire the first E26 at the Paris Motor Show. By that time the
car bore the model designation M1 standing for the first car developed
and built by BMW Motorsport GmbH.
Measuring 4,360 millimetres (171.7´´ ) in length, 1,824 millimetres
(71.8´´ ) in width and 1,140 millimetres (44.9´´ ) in "height", the M1
exuded a genuine flair of power. And indeed, this mid-engined sports
car was driven by a 3.5-litre straight-six fitted lengthwise in front
of the rear axle and developing maximum output of 277 bhp. Code-named
the M88, this engine was based on the volume-production six-cylinder
combined with the four-valve cylinder head carried over from BMW's CSI
racing engines. Within this two-piece cylinder head, the lower section
formed the combustion and coolant chamber, the upper half comprised the
camshaft bearings and cup tappets.
The fuel/air mixture was delivered through three double throttle
butterfly manifolds featuring six 46-millimetre individual throttle
butterflies to the cylinders through two intake ducts per cylinder
measuring 26 millimetres (1.02´´ ) in diameter. The all-electronic
digital ignition system also reflected the latest state of the art.
Dry sump lubrication bore clear testimony to the sporting genes of the
M1, the car being able to achieve a very high level of lateral
acceleration. Fuel was supplied to the engine from two tanks right and
left in front of the rear axle, each with a capacity of 58 litres (12.8
Imp gals). From the engine power was transmitted through a ZF
five-speed gearbox connected to the engine by a two-plate dry clutch.
The final drive differential came as standard with 40 per cent locking
264.7 km/h (164.1 mph): Germany's fastest sports car.
The six-cylinder power unit was smooth and free of vibrations
throughout its entire range of engine speed, even remaining quite
docile at lower speeds. But this changed instantaneously once the rev
counter hit 5,000 rpm, the M88 pushing the M1 forwards up to its top
engine speed of 7,000 rpm with power and energy making even the most
jaded car testers wax lyrical: "Once the throttle butterflies are fully
open you feel a tremendous kick from behind continuing well beyond the
200 km/h-mark. There is no need to shift to fifth gear, for example,
until you reach a speed of 213 km/h (132 mph) and from there you
continue to accelerate up and up to the car's top speed." Which, as
recorded by Germany's leading car magazine in autumn 1979, was 264.7
km/h (164.1 mph). Acceleration from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds also
looked very good, which is not surprising considering the
power-to-weight ratio of 4,7 kg/PS, making things relatively easy for
the 204 kW (277 bhp) engine.
The M1 was conceived and built for racing right from the start, the
elaborate suspension with double wishbones on each wheel, gas-pressure
dampers and two anti-roll bars remaining in command throughout the
car's entire speed range. With the exception of the more
comfort-oriented response of the moving parts and the modified
spring/damper setting, the road suspension was identical to the chassis
and suspension on the Group four racing version. Four inner-vented
brake discs ensured phenomenal stopping power from any speed and the
front axle came with 30 per cent anti-dive minimising body movement
even when applying the brakes all-out. Tyres measuring 205/50 VR 16 at
the front and 225/50 VR 16 at the rear, finally, were certainly very
big and muscular in those days.
A low centre of gravity of just 460 millimetres (18.5´´ ) above the
road, track measuring 1,550 mm (61.02´´ ) at the front and 1,576 mm
(62.04´´ ) at the rear, together with the mid-engined concept providing
weight distribution of 44.1:55.9, made the M1 a genuine performer in
bends, even though the car called for an experienced driver when pushed
to the limit. Typical of a mid-engined performance car with a low level
of inertia around its vertical axis, the M1 required quick and forceful
counter steering as soon as lateral acceleration exceeded a reasonable
limit and the rear threatened to break away. But the rack-and-pinion
steering without power assistance and with a direct transmission ratio
was simply perfect for this kind of control. Displaced castor and a
small steering roll radius served at the same time to combine ease of
control with supreme road contact absolutely essential for the active
driver. The twin-joint safety steering column, in turn, was adjustable
A racing car with crash-proven passive safety.
Although the M1 was a sports car par excellence, both the driver and
passenger enjoyed a certain standard of comfort. For whilst the
suspension was firm and taut, it nevertheless absorbed bumps on the
road without requiring the occupants to take any heavy jolts. Indeed,
the driver and passenger were safely cocooned in a rectangular
steel-profile space-frame complete with a bonded and riveted plastic
skin free of distortion. The luggage compartment beneath the front lid
was sufficient for a weekend for two, and even air conditioning was
available. And the BMW M1 was safe: Since the new sports car received
general homologation for the entire production series (as opposed to
individual approval of each single model one-by-one), BMW was required
to substantiate the passive safety of the M1 in a series of crash tests
- a precaution which later benefitted many a racing driver.
But whilst the public was admiring the new super-sports car from
Munich, with orders coming in one after the other, production of the M1
suffered a nasty setback: Lamborghini was unable to assemble the new
car as planned and the order instead had to go to Baur, the
coach-building specialist in Stuttgart. This made the M1 a genuine
challenge in the production process with the space-frame being built by
Marchesi, the glass-fibre-reinforced plastic body shell by T.I.R., both
in the Italian town of Modena, and Giorgio Giugiaro's company
ItalDesign assembling these two basic units and adding the interior
trim and equipment. From there the car went to Stuttgart, where Baur
fitted all the mechanical systems and components.
A big attraction in Formula 1: the Procar Series.
Facing these delays and re-planning requirements, BMW suddenly became
hard pressed for time. After all, 400 units of the new car had to be
built within 24 months for homologation as a Group four competition
car. And other companies were also pressing forward. So to get the M1
on to the race track faster, Motorsport GmbH Director Jochen Neerpasch,
teaming up with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, launched the Procar
Series, with races held just before most of the European Formula 1
Grand Prix events in the 1979/80 season.
The big difference versus the road going car was the engine of the
Procar racing version: The first step for motor racing was to tune the
M88 six-cylinder the classic, conventional way, with new camshafts,
larger valves, forged pistons, optimised flow ducts, slides instead of
throttle butterflies and a modified exhaust system boosting output to
470-490 bhp. With this kind of power, the Procar version weighing just
1,020 kilos and fitted with the longest transmission ratio had a top
speed of approximately 310 km/h (192 mph). Goodyear racing tyres
measuring 10.0/23.5 x 16 at the front and 12.5/25.0 x 16 at the rear,
together with a mighty rear wing, served to provide the right kind of
grip on the road. Driving one of these Group four BMW M1s, Marc Surer
lapped the Northern Circuit of Nurburgring in just 7,55.9 minutes.
Built to Group four regulations, the M1 was not only placed at the
disposal of five Formula 1 drivers in each race for the Procar Trophy,
but was also sold straight from the factory as BMW Motorsport GmbH's
first ready-to-go racing car at a price of DM 150,000. And indeed, some
of the most renowned racing teams quickly took up this offer, Schnitzer
and Heidegger racing their own M1s on the track, just like Osella in
Italy and Ron Dennis in Great Britain.
Putting up a unique show for the crowd:
Driving skill was the decisive factor.
Benefitting from this combination of BMW M1s prepared for racing by
Motorsport GmbH and those entered by private teams, and with the cars
driven by the big names in Formula 1 as well as ambitious racing
drivers in other categories, the Procar Series gained unique
popularity. This is where the world's best drivers faced the old hands
and newcomers in the scene, comparing their skills with cars virtually
identical in every respect. The crucial factor, therefore, was driving
skill - and this really caught the attention of the crowd: The Procar
races proved just as popular as the ensuing races for the Formula 1
The recipe for success was perfectly prepared. The fastest five Formula
1 drivers in the Friday practice sessions were placed against 15
touring car specialists. With the Procar races being held on the
Saturday, the first five places on the grid went to the stars, the
remaining places were shared by the touring car cracks lined up
according to their practice times. And they all joined in: Drivers and
racing teams were happy to participate in the Procar Series, provided
they were not barred from doing so by their contracts.
"Maybe I was so fast because I just wanted to drive a BMW."
This is why on 12 May 1979, the Saturday before the Belgian Grand Prix
in Zolder, the two fastest drivers in practice were unable to take
their seats in the M1: Gilles Villeneuve and Jean-Pierre Jabouille had
exclusive contracts with other car manufacturers. But Jacques Laffite,
the third-fastest driver in the practice sessions, was just as happy to
start his engine in BMW's mid-engined Gran Tourisme as Clay Regazzoni,
the reigning World Champion Mario Andretti, as well as Niki Lauda and
Nelson, later to become Formula 1 World Champion with Brabham BMW and
at the time No. 2 in the Brabham Team after Niki Lauda, was unable to
anticipate his great career back then when he said, grinning: "Maybe I
was so fast because I just wanted to drive a BMW."
But Nelson's competitors also had great names and a great reputation:
Hans-Joachim Stuck, who a day later came eighth in the Grand Prix
racing for the German ATS Team, the then reigning Formula 2 European
Champion Bruno Giacomelli, BMW Motorsport drivers Toine Hezemans and
Dieter Quester, as well as Elio de Angelis, another star in Formula 1.
And when the lights switched to green in this truly outstanding line-up
of Procar drivers, Hans-Joachim Stuck and young Austrian star Markus
Höttinger pulled away from the rest of the grid after just a few laps.
But in lap twelve the two of them got a little too close for comfort
and ended up in the fences. So to quote a report on the race summing up
the 20 laps, "Italian driver Elio de Angelis proved to be the superman
in the first M1 race, not only winning the event, but also completing
the fastest lap. And this was after starting from 15th place and
ploughing his way through the entire field." Second place went to Toine
Hezemans, Clay Regazzoni finished third.
The Procar Champions: Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet.
Ultimately, however, the initial results started to change in the
course of the Procar season, Niki Lauda, already two-times Formula 1
World Champion back then, scoring the largest number of points by the
end of the season: In eight races in the M1 Procar Series, Niki scored
three wins and finished second in one race. So whilst Hans-Joachim
Stuck was able to bring home victory in the last two races, he ended up
five points behind Lauda when the season finished. Only Clay Regazzoni
held on to his third place until the end of the season.
Winning the last three races in the 1980 series, Nelson Piquet brought
home overall victory in Procar racing a year later, followed by Alan
Jones and Hans-Joachim Stuck. And maybe this was no coincidence, since
Alan Jones, later to become Formula 1 World Champion, was a dedicated
fan of the M1, anyway, being one of the first customers to buy this
sports car for private use.
These spectacular events more or less marked the end of the M1 in Group
four racing for a simple reason: The M1 was only homologated for racing
on 1 April 1981 and the regulations were changed just nine months
later, making it virtually impossible for the M1 to compete any more.
Boosted by up to 1,000 horsepower:
Group five M1 with biturbo power unit.
Even the success of the M1 in Group five was unable to match the
overwhelming Procar Series. Group five was for special production cars
derived from cars homologated in other racing categories - and that was
virtually the only restriction. The first M1s to enter Group five were
powered by normal-aspiration engines developing maximum output of
almost 500 bhp. To cope with engine torque of up to 800 Newton-meters
or not quite 600 lb-ft, these cars featured a Hewland FG 400 five-speed
gearbox, with locking action on the final drive ranging from 75-100 per
cent, depending on the racetrack. Later, the engines of the Group five
M1 were boosted up to 1,000 bhp by two turbochargers. And to get as
much of this huge power on to the road as possible, the body of the car
was modified by all kinds of spoilers turning the M1 into real "wing
monsters". This was also when Team Schnitzer, the leading BMW tuning
specialist, turned a Group five M1 into the then most powerful racing
car in the German Motor Racing Championship, using a kevlar body on a
specially reinforced chassis. With this kind of power, Hans-Joachim
Stuck came home first on both Nürburgring and Salzburgring.
The IMSA GTO Champion in the USA: BMW M1.
1981 was a spectacular year of success for the M1 in the USA. Any
driver wishing to play an important role at the time in the popular
IMSA GTO Championship simply had to drive BMW's mid-engined coupé.
After forming the Red Lobster Team, Dave Cowart and Kenper Miller
finished the season first and second, naturally both at the wheel of a
BMW M1. Indeed, the white M1 with starter number 25 won twelve out of
16 races in the Championship. Only one driver among the top ten in the
1981 Championship drove another car, not BMW's mid-engined coupé. And
the driver finishing seventh, incidentally, was US racing legend Al
naturally at the wheel of an M1.
Presenting art on fast wheels: M1 Art Car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The M1 was not only an outstanding racing and sports car, but also an
equally unique work of art. In 1979 world-famous pop art idol Andy
Warhol tried his hand on a ready-to-race M1 coupé, using his brush and
paint to turn the M1 into one of the fastest works of art in the world.
This was BMW's fourth Art Car, a series of artistic achievements based
on various BMW models. Warhol was the first artist to paint the body of
the car directly with powerful swipes of his brush: "But the car is
better than the art", Warhol said himself afterwards in a rather dry
Boasting starter number 76, the BMW M1 Art Car subsequently struggled
for the title in Le Mans throughout the whole 24 hours, ultimately
finishing the race sixth.
Transplanting the M1 six-cylinder into production cars:
the M5 and M 635 CSi.
Production of the M1 ended in 1981 after a production run of 445 units,
399 for the road and 46 in Procar trim. But the heart of the M1, the
M88 six-cylinder 24-valve power unit, was far too good to retire from
the scene. In particular, it was much too progressive, powerful and
superior. So in 1984 Motorsport GmbH once again hit the headlines,
making aficionados of high-performance cars wax lyrical once again when
the 255 km/h (158 mph) M 635 CSi coupé and the M5 brought back the M1's
fast-revving power machine.
Particularly the hand-built M5 quickly became a real legend: This was
truly a wolf in sheep's clothing, with maximum output of 286 bhp almost
three times as powerful as the 518i. And whilst at first sight it
almost looked the same as its large-volume counterpart, top speed of
245 km/h (152 mph) quickly captured the attention and admiration of
countless owners of large saloons and sports cars having to give way to
the M5 on the Autobahn even with the gas pedal pushed right down to the
floor. Not surprisingly, therefore, this marked the birth of the
Specifications BMW M1 - production model.
Engine Water-cooled straight-six in mid-engine arrangement Four
valves per cylinder, two overhead cam-shaft with double roller chain drive
Capacity (cc) 3,453
Stroke (mm/in) 84/3.31
Bore (mm/in) 93.4/3.68
Max output (kW/bhp) 204/277 at 6,500 at rpm
Max torque (Nm/lb-ft) 330/243 at 5,000 at rpm
Max engine speed (rpm) 7,000
Mean piston speed at max output (m/sec) 17.4
Compression ratio 9:1
Fuel supply Kugelfischer system mechanical fuel injection three double
throttle butterfly manifolds with six throttle butterflies, dia 46
Fuel grade (RON) 98
Fuel tank capacity (ltr.) (2 x 58) 116
Lubrication Pressure-circuit lubrication with dry sump oil system Triple
suction pump next to crankcase, pressure pump in the oil
Battery voltage (V) 12
Battery output (Ah) 55
Alternator 14 V/65 A
Ignition Magneti-Marelli contact-free, all-electronic digital ignition
system controlled by the flywheel
Spark plugs Bosch x 4 CS
Chassis and suspension.
Frame Spaceframe with plastic body
Front axle Double track control arm (wishbone) with light-alloy wheel
mounts Independent suspension
Rear axle Double track control arm (trapezoid arm at the bottom) with
light-alloy wheel mounts Independent suspension
Dampers/springs Bilstein gas pressure dampers Concentric coil springs
adjustable for height
Anti-roll bar dia (mm/in) front 23/0.91
Brakes Inner-vented fixed-calliper disc brakes in two-circuit system
with brake servo pressure reducer on the rear axle
Brake disc dia(mm/in) front 300/11 rear 297/11.69
Brake disc width (mm/in) front 32/1.26 rear 26/1.02
Swept brake area (cm²) front 96/wheel rear 69/wheel
Parking brake Operated mechanically, acting on separate brake callipers
on the rear axle
Steering Rack-and-pinion steering, two-joint safety steering column
adjustable for reach
Steering wheel dia (mm/in) 360/14.2
Wheels Cast light-alloy wheels
front 7´´ x 16´´
rear 8´´ x 16´´
Tyres Pirelli P7
front 205/55 VR 16
rear 225/50 VR 16
Clutch F S hydraulically operated, double-disc dry clutch
Gearbox ZF five-speed manual gearbox with integrated final drive
Transmission ratios, manual gearbox:
Final drive 4.22
Track, front 1,550/61.0
Track, rear 1,576/62.0
Height, unladen 1,140/44.9
Ground clearance, laden 125/4.9
Turning circle 13,000/512
Technical Description BMW M1 Group four.
Grand Tourisme based on international motorsport regulations.
Grand Tourisme cars are built in a small series and must have at least
two seats. They may be improved and modified in the interest of
enhanced performance. The modifications allowed for this purpose are
specified in detail in the International Motorsport Regulations.
In their looks and appearance, Group four cars bear a close resemblance to the production model.
Six-cylinder in-line power unit, water-cooled, four valves per
cylinder, mechanical fuel injection, dry sump lubrication, oil cooler
at the front end of the car, 94 mm/3.70´´ bore, 84 mm/3.31´´ stroke,
3,500 cc capacity, max output 345 kW (470 bhp) at 9,000 rpm, max torque
390 Nm (287 lb-ft) at 7,000 rpm.
Hydraulically operated double-plate clutch, ZF five-speed gearbox,
differential and gearbox cooling system.
Chassis and suspension.
Double track control arms on the front and rear axles, magnesium wheel
mounts, aluminium wheel hubs with central bolt, Bilstein dampers with
bolted spring plates, anti-roll bars front and rear, exchangeable and
ATE brake system, swing callipers and vented discs front and rear, twin
master brake cylinders, brake forces adjustable while driving, rims
11.0 x 16 at the front, 12.5 x 16 at the rear, tyres 10.0/23.5 x 16 at
the front, 12.5/25.0 x 16 at the rear, rack-and-pinion steering with
direct transmission ratio.
Technical Description BMW M1 Group five.
Special production car based on international motorsport regulations.
Special production cars do not require a minimum production volume, but
must be derived from cars homologated in Groups one, two, three or
four. All modifications allowed on Group one to four cars as well as
additional Group five modifications are admissible, as specified by the
International Motorsport Regulations.
Greater freedom in the shape and dimensions of the flared wheel arches
as well as the use of aerodynamic improvements front and rear
significantly change the looks of the body.
Beneath the body shell the manufacturer is able to choose and configure
the various systems (engine, transmission, suspension, brakes) with
hardly any restrictions.
The Group five BMW M1 features a 3.2-litre six-cylinder 24-valve power
unit with an exhaust gas turbocharger developing up to 850 bhp at 9,000
rpm. Boost pressure is between 1.2 and 1.4 atmosphere.
The Group five version benefits from technical optimisation of all
units and systems. The car's final specifications will be published at
a later date.