BMW revealed its new M1 at the 64th Paris Motor Show in autumn 1978. This was Germany’s fastest road-going sports car: 1140 millimetres (44.9″) high, 204 kW (277 bhp) strong, and well over 260 km/h (160 mph) fast. It had a price-tag back then in 1978 of exactly OM 100,000, enough for four BMW 323is plus a couple of optional extras.
Project E 26, as the M1 was initially called within the company, had started in 1976. This was to be the first unique car built by BMW Motorsport GmbH, BMW’s motor racing subsidiary established in 1972.
Having already made a great name for itself in the international racing scene with the fast BMW 2002 and the truly superior BMW 3.0 CSL, the racing company 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, a car qualifying for entry 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. And that made it quite clear that the E 26 had to be not only a thoroughbred racing car, but also a street-legal sports car.
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 so far on “simply” turning series-production cars into racing cars, making the chassis and suspension faster and the engine more powerful.
In its lines and design, the new coupe was intended to reflect that special Italian style. It was modelled around the gull-wing turbo, a turbocharged concept car created in 1972 by BMW designer Paul Bracq. Moving 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. Indeed, Bracq and Giugiaro had already cooperated in the past in creating the BMW 6 Series coupe.
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 for a new straight-six, an engine concept supported by the excellent experience BMW had gained in the CSL races.
As recorded by Germany’s leading car magazine in autumn 1979, top speed reached 264.7 km/h (164.1 mph). Rapid acceleration, from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds, was unsurprising considering the exceptional power-to-weight ratio of 7. 1 kilos per kilowatt, making things relatively easy for the 204 kW (277 bhp) engine.
However, while the public admired the new super-sports car from Munich, with orders coming in one after the other, production of the M1 suffered a setback: Lamborghini was unable to assemble the new car as planned and the order instead had to go to Baur, the coachbuilding specialist in Stuttgart.
This made the M1 a genuine challenge in the production process with the space-frame being built by Marchesi, the glassfibre-reinforced plastic bodyshell by T.I.R., both in the Italian town of Modena, and Giorgio Giugiaro’s company ltalDesign 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 components.
This car is part of the BMW Classic collection.