PressClub USA · Article.
ICONS FOR CONNOISSEURS - THIRTY YEARS OF THE BMW M1
27.03.2008 Press Release
Munich. 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, dynamic new model which made it clear at very first sight that this was Germany's fastest road-going sports car: the BMW M1, 1,140 millimeters (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."
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Munich. 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,
dynamic new model which made it clear at very first sight that this was
Germany's fastest road-going sports car: the BMW M1, 1,140 millimeters (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 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 fair to say that few cars have ever
been expected with such excitement and anticipation as the BMW M1 which
represented 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. The racing company, having already
made a great name for itself in the international racing scene with the fast
BMW 2002 and the highly successful BMW 3.0 CSI, 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, qualification 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. That made it quite clear that the E26 had 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 on 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 coupe 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.
Bracq and Giugiaro had already cooperated in the past in creating the BMW 6
First choice in the engine department: a inline-six engine.
Choosing the engine, BMW Motorsport GmbH initially focused on two concepts:
Advance studies of Formula engines had led 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 favor
of a new inline-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 made its first public
appearance half a year later: Together with TV presenter Dieter Kürten, Jochen
Neerpasch proudly introduced the Group four version in the colors of Motorsport
GmbH in a prime-time Saturday evening sports program on Channel Two of German
Television. Although this racing machine bearing 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 was 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
Measuring 4,360 millimeters (171.7'' ) in length, 1,824 millimeters (71.8'' )
in width and 1,140 millimeters (44.9'' ) in "height", the M1 exuded a genuine
flair for power. This mid-engined sports car was driven by a 3.5-liter
inline-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-millimeter 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 liters (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
percent locking action.
264.7 km/h (164.1 mph): Germany's fastest sports car.
The six-cylinder engine was smooth and free of vibrations throughout its entire
range of engine speed, even remaining quite docile at lower speeds. This
changed instantaneously once the rev counter hit 5,000 rpm. From there the M88
pushed the M1 forwards up to its top engine speed of 7,000 rpm with gusto
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/hp, 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 remain 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 percent anti-dive minimising body movement even when applying the
brakes all-out. Tires measuring 205/50 VR 16 at the front and 225/50 VR 16 at
the rear were certainly very big and muscular in those days.
A low center of gravity of just 460 millimeters (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 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 for reach.
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. Though 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.
While 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 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
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, optimized 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 7minutes 55.9 seconds.
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 raced 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 World
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 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 Piquet.
Nelson, who later became 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. 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 plowing 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-time Formula 1 World Champion back then,
scored 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 while 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. 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. Maybe this was no coincidence, since Alan Jones, who later
became Formula 1 World Champion, was a dedicated fan of the M1 anyway, as 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 April 1st
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.
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 percent, 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 coupe. 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. The white number 25 M1 won
twelve out of 16 races in the Championship. Only one driver among the top ten
in the 1981 Championship drove another car. The driver who finished seventh,
incidentally, was US racing legend Al Unser Jr., naturally at the wheel of an
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 coupe, 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 comment.
Boasting number 76, the BMW M1 Art Car 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. It was much too
progressive and powerful. 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 coupe and the M5 brought back the M1's
fast-revving power machine.
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. 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 sedans 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 "Businessman's
Specifications BMW M1 - production model.
Engine Water-cooled inline-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 mm
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 sump
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
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 300/11.81
Brake disc width (mm/in) front 32/1.26
Swept brake area (cm²) front 96/wheel
Parking brake Operated mechanically, acting on separate brake callipers on the
Steering Rack-and-pinion steering, two-joint safety steering column adjustable
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
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,
aluminum wheel hubs with central bolt, Bilstein dampers with bolted spring
plates, anti-roll bars front and rear, exchangeable and adjustable, 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
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
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.
Pictures of BMW M1 you will find under www.press.bmwgroup.com.