BMW M1 Procars and the ZF BMW M4 DTM.

Some cars are already legends when the first one rolls off the production line. Like the BMW M1 – a fabulous sports car, that was designed for both the road and the racetrack 40 years ago.

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The BMW M1 was designed for a life on the race track, as is made evident by its every nut and bolt. The road car version was, therefore, particularly impressive, commanding a top speed of over 260 km/h, which enabled the car to enter the record books as ‘Germany’s fastest sports car’. However, the motorsport variants BMW M1, which were produced to both Group 4 and 5 regulations, were even more impressive.

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After its founding in 1972, BMW Motorsport GmbH established its reputation through international successes achieved via the BMW 2002 and BMW 3.0 CSL. These successes would be impressively underpinned by the performance of the BMW M1. During a TV appearance in early 1978, Jochen Neerpasch, then chief executive of BMW Motorsport GmbH, presented the racing version of the BMW M1, bedecked for the first time in the classic colours of white, red and blue.




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BMW M1 racing version.

The BMW M88 with dry sump lubrication was mounted lengthways in front of the rear axle and made the BMW M1 a real “mid-mounted engine fluke”. For the models according to Group 5 homologation, the engine power could – depending on the boost of the two exhaust gas turbochargers – be nearly doubled once again.

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The racing version of the BMW M1.

For the team led by Paul Rosche, who was responsible for the engine, there was no problem tuning the production car engine to produce the sort of power required to ensure the BMW M1 would be competitive in Group 4. Forged pistons, reworked connecting rods and galleries, reprofiled camshafts, larger valves, a switch to sliding throttles in place of butterflies, plus reworked exhaust manifolds saw power output of the six-cylinder unit shoot up from the original 277 bhp to just shy of 500 bhp.

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The BMW M1 in the garage.


In its racing version, the chassis of the BMW M1 also exhibited some significant changes. All unnecessary cladding was removed from the interior and the instruments were restricted to the bare minimum. The chassis was also kitted out with a racing trim as did the braking system. An aluminium cage for the cockpit also increased driver safety.

During test drives in April 1978, it was extremely difficult for the test driver to keep the Group 4 racing car on the track. So a massive rear wing was attached to the car to generate the necessary downthrust. Despite additional wing extensions and the lowered chassis, the optics of the racing version weren’t all that different from its brother on the road.


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BMW M1 Procar front view.

      Comeback of a legend: the BMW M1 Procar.

      BMW M1 Procar rear view.

          Comeback of a legend: the BMW M1 Procar.


          When trimmed down to a sporty 1020 kilogrammes, the BMW M1 Procar accelerated from 0 – 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and was capable of a top speed of around 310 km/h. Thus equipped, Marc Surer circulated the Nürburgring’s legendary Nordschleife in just 7:55.9 minutes.

          However, the BMW M1 built according to Group 4 regulations was not available only to five Formula 1 drivers per race for the Procar one-make cup. As a ready-to-use racing car, the car was available for purchase directly from the factory for 150,000 German marks. Renowned tuners such as Schnitzer and Heidegger availed themselves of this offer.

          The racing car was produced in several locations. The pre-assembled BMW M1 came either directly to BMW Motorsport GmbH or was sent to Osella in Italy or to Ron Dennis in Great Britain to be completed. However, the assembled parts were always selected and provided by those in Munich. The mix of BMW M1 prepared by the factory and those prepared by privateer teams increased the appeal of the one-make cup.


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          Front view of the BMW M1 Procar.


          In the shadows of the Procar Series were the successes of the BMW M1 according to Group 5 regulations, where special production cars that had to originate from homologated cars of other racing categories were eligible to enter. That was about the extent of the regulations. The twin charged BMW M88/2 engine provided immense propulsion, while the striking wings provided the necessary downthrust. Schnitzer contested the Deutsche Automobil-Rennsport-Meisterschaft with the most powerful race car at that time. The super coupé with a Kevlar exterior and reinforced chassis celebrated numerous wins.

          1981 saw the BMW M1 dominate the American IMSA GTO championship. Dave Cowart and Kenper Miller finished in first and second place. Only one of the drivers in the top ten that year was not behind the wheel of a BMW mid-mounted engine coupé. Production of the BMW M1 ended in the same year, after a total of 46 Procar racing cars had seen the light of day.

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          BMW M1 Procar.


          Driving skill alone differentiated the victors in the BMW M1 Procar Series from the vanquished, and this aspect, in turn, provided the one-make series’ fundamental challenge. Equally, though, the breath-taking soundtrack provided by the BMW M88 engine and the sporty design of the racing car captured the imagination of spectators at the cars’ every appearance on the race track.


          The recipe for the series’ success was simple: the five fastest Formula One drivers during Friday practice sessions were pitted against touring car specialists. The first five grid positions for the Procar race were reserved for the stars, with the balance of the field lining up in accordance with times set during dedicated practice sessions for BMW M1 drivers. And everyone got involved: drivers and teams committed to take part, provided that this was not precluded by their contracts.


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          SUCCESSFUL DEBUT IN 1979.

          The series kicked off on 12th May 1979, when the first BMW M1 Procar Series was flagged off at Zolder. After a real tour de force – he started from 15th on the grid – Elio de Angelis of Italy went down in history as the first winner. However, by the season finale at Monza an established Formula One star was ahead on points: then-twice world champion Niki Lauda claimed the series with three overall victories and a second place – and was rewarded with a tidy sum of prize money as well as a brand-new BMW M1.

          The Procar Series gained immense popularity among both fans and drivers alike within a very short period of time. Nelson Piquet put it in a nutshell when after a Friday practice session he mused: “Maybe I was only so fast here because I wanted to drive a BMW.”

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          Three consecutive victories in the final trio of races: this was the route chosen to secure the BMW M1’s Procar Series’ second title in 1980 by Nelson Piquet. In the process he relegated Alan Jones and Hans-Joachim Stuck to second and third places respectively. Jones, who would go on to become a Formula 1 world champion, was one of the M1’s biggest fans. The Australian was one of the first to purchase one of the sports cars for himself.

          Equal opportunities for all drivers was of the utmost importance: The speed limiter calibrated to 8,500 rpm was combined with an off-board rotation speed sensor and memory system for the precise determination of differences.


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          • Technical Data of the BMW M1 Procar.
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