BMW M1 – A Very Interesting Car

In 1972 the BMW Motorsport GmbH was founded to promote BMW in the performance arena.  In addition to promoting BMW’s standard vehicles, BMW Motorsport GmbH also wanted to develop their own vehicle.  Their chance came in 1977 with the announcement of the M1, also known as the E-26 in BMW speak.

The BMW M1

The M1 was originally designed to be a competition car, competing in Group 4 and Group 5 racing.  The standard M1 came with a 3.5-litre twin-cam, 4-valve, 6-cylinder engine developing 277 horsepower at 6,500 rpm.  The M1 would go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and had a top speed of about 160 mph.  The overall design of the M1 is based on a mid-engine layout in order to get great handling to go along with the good power.

The BMW M1 Has a Wind-Cheating Front End Design

In order to be eligible for competition, BMW had to produce more than 400 M1 cars.  This was going to be a problem for BMW as the unique characteristics of this car would have disrupted its manufacture of the regular production cars.  As a result, BMW contracted with Lamborghini to build these cars.  Soon after this arrangement was made Lamborghini was going through one of their cyclic down periods.   Therefore BMW then had to make arrangements with Baur coachworks in Stuttgart to build the required numbers of M1 cars.  In the end a total of 456 BMW M1 cars were built through to 1981.  I think that most of these cars remained in Europe.

The BMW M1 Was Designed For Racing

There were three versions of the BMW M1 built, the standard road going version, the Group 4 version, and one Group 5 car.  The Group 4 cars had engines that produced 470 to 500 horsepower.  One Group 5 car was built with a turbocharged engine that produced about 850 horsepower.  All of these cars had a five speed transaxle located behind the engine.

Storage Space Is Limited in the BMW M1, But It’s No Family Car!

The mid-engine layout is desirable from a weight distribution point of view, but when you contemplate servicing the engine it seems a little intimidating.  I would think that these cars would have to be serviced by only specialized BMW technicians.  And given the very low production and import numbers, I suspect that only few BMW technicians here in the USA have ever even seen an M1.

The Mid-Engine Layout Provides Great Handling

The BMW M1 is a very interesting car.  At a recent car show that I was at, everyone was checking out the M1.  The low styling and the mid-engine layout are indicators that this car was meant to go and that this is a special car.  The car could have had a higher top speed than the reported 160 mph, but BMW provided a final drive ratio of 4.22:1, which while improving acceleration performance limits the top speed.

The BMW M1 Interior Would Not Be Considered as Lavish

The BMW M1 was not a fancy car – but it was not a cheap car either.  In their day, the BMW M1 sold for about 100,000 Deutsch Marks or about $55,000 in Europe and the cars sold for higher prices here in the USA.  The interior is made of basic materials – no wood grain here.  After all, these were built to be race cars.

It is not clear to me if the BMW management thought that BMW M1 was a success or not.  Rather than build specialty cars, BMW has continued to focus on building improved production cars, such as the M series cars, for their performance cars.  At the same time, BMW has built some two-seat roadsters and coupes, which demonstrates that BMW now makes more than just performance sedans.  On balance, I tend to think that the BMW M1 was a success.  Many people would like to own one – me too.

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2 Responses to BMW M1 – A Very Interesting Car

  1. Rick Boggs says:

    I enjoyed seeing one of these cars in Dallas years ago. It was owned by John Roberts. He was owner of John Roberts BMW of Dallas and Austin, Tx. John told me that he was on a factory tour in 1980ish and was approached to purchase one of these cars. Being a car dealer, he would never tell me how much he paid for the car origionaly. He did say that he spent a good deal to make it meet the emissions of that era in the USA. The car was on display on his indoor showroom floor at his Dallas dealership in the mid 2000’s. At that time John did tell me that if he was offered $75k he would have answered, “I will think about it.” If offered $100k he would have told the customer, “Step into my office and we will talk about it.” It was a very nice car in origional showroom condition. The only times it had been driven was on the highway between Dallas and Austin. I was under the impression that it would easily cruise at 140 mph and bring the total drive time for this 200 mile drive to 2 hours or less.

    • Hi Rick,
      There is always a supply and demand issue when it comes to cars and with only 456 M1 cars built, that is a factor in their price. The information that I have is that they sold for 100,000 Deutsch Marks or about $55,000 in the early 1980s when they came out. I suspect that John Roberts had a pretty fair price range on the car at that time you talked to him. The reported top speed of the standard M1 was 162 mph, so a cruise at 140 mph is not out of the question.
      Steve McKelvie

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