BMW M1: A Sports Car Ahead of its Time

I think it’s about time this blog talked about the BMW M1. No, not the souped-up version of the 1-Series, the mid-engined sports car produced by the Bavarian behemoths from 1979-1981. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s understandable. Only 453 of these pieces of automotive eye candy were ever made, so they’re left as a curio.

BMW M1

It’s frankly shameful how few people know about these cars, and in this article I’m going to tell you why, if you see a BMW M1 for sale, you should snap it up.

The M1 mixes the best of both worlds, designed by Italian company Giorgetto Giugario, whose other credits include the gorgeous Maserati Ghibli, Lancia Delta, and the VW W12, and laid down with meticulous German engineering. It was actually originally meant to carry the Lamborghini name, but due to a string of financial troubles, they eventually lost the contract.

Indeed, the designers created one of the most attractive supercars since the Lamborghini Miura. The car’s low, sleek, wedge-shaped profile bears a strong resemblance to the Lotus Esprit of the same era, also designed by Giorgetto Giugario, and the Ferrari Testarossa, which wouldn’t come along for another six years.

BMW M1

Below the hood, you’d find the small, almost delicate radiator grille, and above, atop the sculpted hood, you’d find a pair of flip-up headlights and a few more narrow vents.

The car’s rear is also extremely distinctive, bearing a BMW badge on either side (there’s no forgetting who made this thing,) twin vents, and a rather large plateau behind the rear windshield. With all these large, obvious vents, you might be picturing some kind of not-for-mass-production prototype in your head, but like a punk in ripped jeans, they made it work.

When the M1 is in its Procar form, with the blue, navy, red, and white livery of BMW Motorsport, it’s nothing short of jaw-dropping. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay to the M1’s design is that, unlike the Esprit, it doesn’t look retro. If BMW decided to re-release it today, I don’t think many would bat an eyelid.

BMW M1

Judging by the car’s pedigree, you may be expecting a large engine, perhaps a throaty V12, or a V8. No, BMW would rather leave that sort of game to other manufacturers. Instead, you get a 3.5L straight six. Now that might not seem a lot, particularly when you compare it to the sort of engines found in most muscle cars.

But then you look at the performance figures. 277 horsepower, 0-60 in 6.5s, and a top speed of 162mph, squeezed out of an engine smaller than you’d find in some sedans. In its racing form, you’re looking at even higher figures: over 470 horsepower, a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds, and a top speed of 192mph.

Inside, practicality reigned supreme, rather than Aston-Martin levels of interior design (hand-stitched leather, anyone?) That’s not to say that you’re going to be sitting in Spartan discomfort either – you still get AC, a stereo, power mirrors, etc.

BMW M1

All of these elements harmonized into a smooth driving experience, with the car noted as having excellent cornering ability. It may not be the fastest machine of the era, but it’s a real goer.

So why, with all these positives, wasn’t the car a roaring success, I hear you ask? Well, as Car and Driver said in this archived article from 1981, it appeared at the wrong time. BMW had attempted to cash in on the “silhouette car” ideal, where the road and race variants of a car are superficially similar. Unfortunately, by the time the M1 had been completed (production was delayed due to Lambo’s troubles,) the silhouette car was no longer fashionable. Engine problems had also stymied the Procar’s racing potential. The market had shifted, and the M1 was left in the lurch.

BMW M1

Despite its problems, the M1 is drop-dead gorgeous, speedy, and good to drive. It’s a car that, had it been released at a different time, may well have been a huge success. Perhaps even have spurred on more BMW supercars. Today that mantle has been picked up by the i8, which is truly special in its own way, getting the recognition that the M1 never did.

If you want to pick up an M1, you’re looking at a massive hole in your wallet. A good example will go for around $400,000-800,000. But for a car as rare, as interesting, and as beautiful as this, you could do a lot worse.

Also Read: BMW M1 to Set Record Price at Auction