This is why the M1 is the best BMW M car

BMW M1 Front View In Red

This year marks a very special milestone in BMW history. It’s 50 years of BMW M division, one of the most respected and incredible car divisions in the world. In those 50 years, BMW M has given us some really beautiful cars. Two of the most popular and incredible are undoubtedly the M3 and the M5, cars that almost rewritten what was possible with a sports sedan. But maybe the best car of all was the car that started it all, the BMW M1.

The M1 was on sale from 1978 to 1981 and was the first true M car that BMW created. Originally conceived as a project in collaboration with Lamborghini, BMW eventually went ahead with the project on its own and what they came up with was one of the most eye-catching sports car designs ever seen. Decades later, it is still considered one of the most beautiful cars the German company has ever made. While many great M cars came and went after the M1, it’s arguable that this really is the best M car BMW has ever made.

The development history of the M1

The idea of ​​the M1 all came from BMW’s motorsport division looking to compete against arch-rival Porsche in the Group 5 racing category. At the time, BMW’s motorsport division was headed by Jochen Neerpasch, and he struck a deal with Lamborghini to help BMW work out the details of the chassis, assemble prototypes and then manufacture the cars. However, that passed pretty quickly after Lamborghini’s financial situation became very dire, very quickly. So BMW took full control of the project in April 1978 after seven prototypes had been built.

This meant that the M1 would now enter the Group 4 ruleset of racing following changes to the Group 5 rules. BMW would hand-build every copy of the car between 1978 and 1981, under the company’s new M division, and they were homologation specials for sports car racing. The body is made of fiberglass and is the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro. The tubular steel chassis was the work of Gianpaolo Dallara. To help complete the engineering for the car, a group of former Lamborghini engineers set up Italengineering to complete the design work for the M1.

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The BMW M1 in detail

Soon the new M car was ready for use. It was the first car developed exclusively by BMW M and the new car was powered by a 3.5-litre M88/1 six-cylinder engine with Kugelfishcer-Bosch mechanical fuel injection plus a Magneti-Marelli ignition system. This engine gives the BMW M1 273 horsepower and a top speed of 265 mph, and the transmission is a five-speed manual with a 40% limited slip differential. BMW knew little then, but they had just developed an iconic car.

In all, BMW would only make 453 production copies of the M1, making it one of their rarest cars ever. And of those 453, 53 were for motorsport and 399 for the road. These days it’s incredibly hard to find one, and they go up and up, like many classic cars, in value. Of course, the M1 was first designed as a race car at heart. And in 1979 Neerpasch devised a single-brand championship with modified M1s, the BMW M1 Procar, and the series earned the name Procar BMW M1 Championship. It had a top bill and served as a support series for Formula 1.

Racing the M1

The M1 championship would last for two years, with Niki Lauda winning the 1979 season and Nelson Piquet winning it in 1980. Once the car was ready for Group 4, it would race in various series around the world. It competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1981 and 1986, where it was then classified as a Group B car. The M1 was also incredibly light, only 1,300kg in road form, making it highly agile and with fantastic steering feel. No wonder it became an excellent race car back then.

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The Legacy of the M1

The M1 would serve as the basis for many M cars of the future, and its engine served as the basis for those in the BMW M635i and the very first M5. The styling of the M1 has become absolutely timeless, making the car instantly recognizable whenever we see one, and you just have to love a car with flip-up headlights. It looks just like the race car it was first conceived in. The M1 is one of the most important cars in BMW history, and certainly the best car in the history of the M division.

Sources: BMW, Goodwood, BMW Blog