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BMW’s M1, the Thoroughbred Racer from the Late ’70s: Procar Championship

Submitted by on October 1, 2020

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

Sit back, relax and enjoy our fourth episode on the iconic BMW M1, focusing on the Procar Championship.

BMW Motorsport originally planned to build the M1 to meet Group 5 regulations. The FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) however introduced a rule change in 1977 for Group 5 cars, which pushed the marque to Group 4. They then had to build at least 400 cars of the M1 to meet the requirements of Group 4 before the M1 could be further homologated.

BMW had the disadvantage that the development of the Group 4 racing car was already under way when the FISA changed the regulations. BMW’s head of the Motorsports Division Jochen Neerpasch believed that instead of delaying their racing program until 400 street cars had been built, racing cars could be built at the same time since they too were among the minimum of 400 examples. Therefore he proposed a marque championship, creating a series strictly meant for M1 racing cars. The M1 couldn’t compete elsewhere at that time, but it gave BMW’s Motorsport Division the opportunity to develop the M1 in its Group 4 version through experience.

BMW used the M88 6-cylinder as the engine platform and enlarged the capacity to 3500cc. The motor was fitted with, amongst other shiny bits, new camshafts, larger valves and forged pistons, increasing the power from 470 to 490 bhp. Combined with a weight of just 1020 kg, a BMW M1 Procar could reach a top speed of approximately 310 km/h.

And all of this could be yours directly from the BMW factory for a price of 150,000 German marks.

The very first Procar race took place at Zolder in Belgium on May 12, 1979, featuring Formula 1 drivers Jacques Lafitte, Clay Regazzoni, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and the reigning world champion Mario Andretti. As the Procar championship used largely identical M1s, driving ability was the decisive factor. Remarkably, the race was won by Italian Elio de Angelis, who started from 15th place.

The most successful driver in the inaugural Procar season was Austrian Niki Lauda, who achieved three victories and a second place to win the championship. Lauda was followed by Nelson Piquet in 1980, Alan Jones in 1981 and Hans-Joachim Stuck in 1982.

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