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1979 - 1980
Inline 6
3453 cc
5 spd. man
Top Speed:
162 mph
Number Built:
5 star
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


Another classic racing car made available to the public to satisfy homologation racing rules, only 457 of the glass-fibre bodied M1's were made - all for the local European market. The Motorsport 1 (M1) remains the only mid-engined beamer to be developed, and that in itself if enough to make the car truly unique.

But more important than any break away from traditional design was the cars fabulous handling and performance. Using the fabulous "M-Power" in-line 3.5 litre six, the engineers were able to have it develop a staggering 277 bhp - all this mated to a silky smooth 5 speed manual transmission.

From any angle a supercar, it was to reward the lucky owners with an amazingly comfortable ride, and even though the car was really built for the race track, BMW still made the interior appointments everything a purchaser would expect, with inclusions such as leather interior, air-conditioning, electric windows etc.

While BMW were not suitably geared up to produce such a low volume car, production was initially outsourced to Lamborghini - until they hit financial trouble. Subsequent cars had their tubular space frames manufactured by the Italian firm Marchesi, while other Italian companies provided the glass-fibre body panels. Assembly was completed at Italdesign, and the nearly finished vehicles finally shipped to coach builder Baur in Germany.

Before any were released to dealers, each was thoroughly tested by BMW Motorsport. But unfortunately for Joe Public, the M1 failed to tame the turbo propelled Porsche 911 and, given that the race track was the sole reason for the cars creation in the first place, development was stopped just shy of 12 months after it had commenced.

The Story of the M1

The story of the M1 started 12 years before the public got to see it, BMW taking that long to get the combustion chambers just right. As mentioned in the introduction, the intent was to build 400 so that the sports authorities of the day would accept the car for Group 4 racing in 1979. Each M1 began its life with Marchetti, a Turin tube-bender (open-wheelers and Lamborghinis), who sent the frames on to Giugiaro where the design was extracted from a one-time BMW Turbo show car. Italdesign fitted the fibreglass panels, and they also made the seats and some trim before forwarding to the chassis/shell unit Baur of Stuttgart where engines, transmissions, axles, dashboards and some other parts were given a final fit.

The engines came off a quasi-assembly line at the BMW plant, which made sense given the M90-powerplant used the 635 block. BMW Motorsport did the turbocharged Gp 5 works race engines of while Ron Dennis and Osella took care of Gp 4 customers. The first 35 were Gp 4/Procar machines for a special series pitting five of the fastest qualifiers at each European F1 GP against 15 hopefuls. Thereafter road versions were launched in Germany. BMW justifiably billed the M1 as the fastest production car in Germany. The engine may have had only six cylinders but it boasted 24 valves, operated by two chain-driven overhead cams.

A Brilliant BMW Six Cylinder

The for-the-time advanced six would start immediately, hot or cold, and idle gently, but max torque at 5000 rpm told the real tale - very peaky for daily use. Modest turbocharging might have given them a more universal engine but BMW got burned once with the 2002 Turbo and instead opted for the classic, highly-tuned engine path.

BMW M1 Engine
BMW have always made great sixes. To our mind, the best engines ever made. And that fitted to the M1 was no exception.

The interior of the BMW M1
The interior of the BMW M1.

BMW M1 Prototype
Pre-release shot of a BMW M1 during a track session.
Such an engine did best with many shifts but the five-speed ZF box had its lever strongly biased to the 2nd and 3rd gear plane. You needed to watch the 5th to 4th move or you would easily land in 2nd. Alternatively, it was easy to override the loading which protected first and so slip into the separate reverse plane at the traffic lights.

Behind the wheel and the handfull of lucky road testers claimed that pedal movement was very long with slight grip right at the bottom causing creep or kiil whereas the car didn't really go until the top 12 mm of pedal - when it then would bite like a true track car. Once rolling the M1 would become more impressive in direct ratio to increased speed.

Road testers did manage to get to the claimed 262 km/h - so no idle boast by the Bavarian Motor Works here. BMW also claimed 0-100 in 5.6 seconds and 200 in 20.7 - and we have not been able to find any road test able to dispute these outstanding figures (remember, we are talking about a straight six from 1979 - simply amazing!).

Brilliant On Road Performance

In normal road situations (normal German that is) where cars regularly did 160 on the autobahn, the M1 was in its element, capable of 160 in third gear and 225. And you could safely run the car to its maximum speed, confident that the car had brilliant inner-vented brakes capable of retarding speed with ease.

Around town the P7 Pirellis would transmit each bump to the driver, but on the open road they would smooth out any minor road imperfections such that you would have thought you were driving on a billiard table. But the tyres, while capable, were not the only reason for the great handling. Dual-wishbone suspension and Bilstein shocks were perfectly attuned for really rapid travel.

The small, thick-rim steering wheel accepted every input with precision - so much so that some road testers forgot that the M1 was not fitted with power steering. Understandable given only 44 percent of the weight was front biased, and probably a good thing too as the fat front tyres would have otherwise felt very heavy around town.

Through the twisty stuff and owners were in awe of the seats, which gave brilliant lateral support and amazingly did not impede elbow room. In fact, the only criticism we can find was to do with the fore/aft adjustment, which was limited, with only the longitudinal wheel adjustment to make driving easier. Restricted headroom came in part from sitting more upright than usual.

Behind the Wheel

Somehow space was found in the foot-wells for a left-foot brace. Brake and throttle were ideally placed for rolling your foot either way without lifting the heel. Tach and speedometer (illuminated in white, not the usual Bavarian red) were very visible but all four smaller dials were hidden by the drivers hands.

The switch gear was borrowed from BMW's 7-series, while the heater controls came from the 3-range. There were air vents all over and ample heat even on sub-freezing days but the glass expanse meant that any destined for hotter climates would have necessitated the optional air-conditioning.

Being a mid-engined car, it was a credit to the BMW designers that no heat seeped in from the engine. Even luggage (stowed behind the engine and above the gearbox) didn't get over-heated. And speaking of storage, the capacity of a car of this design was commendable - room for 2 medium sized suit cases. Inside there were two thin door pockets and two small bins (one locking).

BMW claimed production cars were far quieter than the original 15 prototypes, but we have no access to review from the original 15, so we will assume the claim correct - after all their claims as to performance were spot on. Whatever the case, as anyone could see by simply looking at the car, it was evident that BMW had done some pretty serious wind tunnel work - and in doing so they achieved an under 0.4 drag co-efficient.

Vision has always been an inherent problem with mid-engine road cars. A stiff backbone for the chassis allowed door sills to be kept low for easy entrance and side windows large while the nose fell right out of sight. Forward or side vision was excellent - and even better when the popup headlights were used. However, the (heated) rear window, when behind the wheel, appeared as a mere slit that would have soon been covered by road film - and the thick rear quarter panels made rear vision even worse. Thankfully both outside mirrors could be adjusted electrically from inside, as owners and road testers claimed that when driving the M1, you were dependent on them. The windows were electric too.

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