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BMW’s M1, the Thoroughbred Racer from the Late ’70s: Building a Group 4 Racer

Submitted by on July 7, 2020

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

In our second episode on the iconic BMW M1, we focus on the model’s development from a sports car for public roads into a thoroughbred Group 4 racer.

During the spring of 1978, BMW Motorsport manager Jochen Neerpasch presented the M1 in Group 4 specification. Three months later, the M1 was officially presented to the world at the Auto Salon in Paris, priced at 100,000 German Marks.  Initially, the demand far exceeded the supply, with BMW completing 130 M1s in the first year of production, although there were more than 300 firm orders.

BMW named model E26 officially as M1 and this was the first car attributed to BMW Motorsport GmbH. They used the M88 engine, a 3.5 litre inline six equipped with the four-valve cylinder head from the BMW CSL racing engines, mounted lengthways in front of the rear axle and capable of a maximum 277 hp. BMW used, amongst other developments, dry sump lubrication, a state of the art fully electronic digital ignition, a ZF 5-speed gearbox and a rear axle differential with a 40% lock.

Sitting right behind the two seats, the six cylinder engine breathes down in your neck. The only thing separating the driver from the engine is a pane of glass. The M1 accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds and within 22 seconds the speedometer reaches 200 km/h. As a road car the top speed is over 260 km/h.

The road version of the M1 was equipped with 205/50 VR 16 inch front tyres and 225/50 VR 16 fitted on the rear axle. With a height of just 1.14 meters both driver and passenger are all but lying down in the cockpit. The car sits at just 460mm above the ground and its mid-engine concept (weight distribution of 44.1:55.9) makes it possible to attack corners aggressively. It’s a thoroughbred sportscar and drivers need a deft hand to keep things under control, although it does offer room to carry luggage for a weekend away in the trunk.

Initially it was planned to assemble the M1 at Lamborghini, but instead it was German bodywork specialist Baur who were entrusted with the final assembly of the cars. Before Baur put the mechanics in the M1, the space frame was created at Marchesi and TIR created the glass fiber reinforced plastic body. ItalDesign brought the space frame and body together and installed the interior.

With orders running high and time running low, BMW had to build 400 cars within a 24-month period as it needed to homologate the M1 as a Group 4 competition car.

BMW Motorsport GmbH’s head Jochen Neerpasch launched the Procar series together with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley. Production of the M1 ended with nearly 400 production cars built and 46 in the Procar version.

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