In the late 1970s, with BMW’s CSL losing out to competition such as the Porsche 935 in Group 5 racing, the company turned to struggling Lamborghini for a solution. A production run of 400 cars was needed to meet the requirement of bringing a new car into the formula. When Lamborghini financials fell through after the concept phase, BMW was forced to produce the car themselves.
The M1 would be the first production car to contain the renowned M88 Twin-Cam straight six engine. However, while in Turbo Group 5 form the M1 would have almost 900bhp, the production car would make do with only 277 hp(@6500rpm) and 222 pounds of torque( @5500rpm). The 3.5 L M88 engine did however show off a pukka forged steel crankshaft, a 24-valve twin cam head with chain drive, as well as a Kugelfischer-Bosch Indirect injection system. At 2870 lbs, the car managed to be quick despite this seemingly low horsepower figure. This low weight came form a spaceframe chassis and double wishbone suspension, with front and rear sway bars, all developed by Lamborghini. The fibreglass body panels also reduced weight.
The M1 fell foul of new regulations in 1978 stating that the 400 production cars must be sold to the public prior to racing, and by the time the M1 reached Group 5 in 1981 it was too heavy and outclassed by younger rivals. During this period of indecisiveness the M1 Procar series emerged to pit F1 driver and drivers from other motorsports against each other in identically race prepared M1 Procars. After two years the series was discontinued so BMW could focus on breaking into F1 itself.
The real key to the design was the mid-engine layout, a first for BMW, only to be recently followed by the hybrid i8. The huge vented disc brakes, ZF five speed gearbox gave rise to the first mid-engined German supercar. The recipe was set, and the M1 would become a bridge between the supercars of old, and the new age of performance.
Looking back at the M1, the car has been a pillar of refinement, a sensible, quiet, and reliable supercar, that was both fast for its time, as well as possessing nearly perfect rack and pinion steering.
With BMW going back to a mid-engine layout for the i8, a momentous car in its own right, it is important to pay homage to one of the great BMWs as the company hopefully embarks on a new trend of innovation. Just as the M1 was first first production car to carry the “M” nameplate of the M division, so too the i8(and i3) are the first of the i division of BMW.