Throwback Thursday: BMW M1

Welcome to throwback Thursday, where we look back at classic cars from days gone by and their impact on automotive history. This week’s throwback: BMW’s magnificent M1.

BMW’s M division is one of the most celebrated performance brands in the world. Since 1972, the M division has produced legends like the M3, M5 and even supplied the 6.1-liter V12 engine that powered the McLaren F1. But The M division’s story began with an often-forgotten mid-engine supercar: the M1.

1980 BMW M1. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

The M1 was BMW’s first attempt at creating a mid-engine machine and was intended to be BMW’s answer to Porsche in sportscar racing. BMW had originally partnered with Lamborghini to develop the M1’s chassis, assemble the prototypes, and manufacture vehicles for sale to the public. However, Lamborghini’s financial position soon became unstable and forced BMW to retake control of the project in 1978 after just seven prototypes were assembled.

The M1 featured a tubular space frame chassis designed by Dallara and a fiberglass body penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who used BMW’s 1972 Turbo concept car as inspiration. Under the hood of the M1 resided a 3.5-liter inline-six rated at 273 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. The engine featured a DOHC 24-valve configuration with six individual throttle bodies and could propel the M1 to speed up 165 mph.

1980 BMW M1. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Just 453 roadgoing M1 coupes were built by hand between 1978 and 1981. Though the car did see some success in professional racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1981 to 1986 and in Group B rally from 1982 to 1984, most motorsports fans best remember the M1 for its one make series that ran from 1979-1980.

The M1 Procar Championship was devised by BMW’s head of Motorsport Jochen Neerpasch. The championship was based around identically modified cars and served as a support race for Formula One. Many of the contemporary F1 drivers got behind the wheel to participate in the series. Niki Lauda won the inaugural championship in 1979 season, while Nelson Piquet would claim the crown in 1980.

Formel 1, Grand Prix Monaco 1979, Monte Carlo, 27.05.1979 BMW M1 Procar Serie Clay Regazzoni, BMW M1 Niki Lauda, BMW M1 , copyright: HOCH ZWEI / Ronco (Photo by Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images)

The M1s used for the Procar series featured modifications such as a front spoiler, an adjustable wing, wider rear wheel arches, and center-lock wheels. A stripped interior with a roll cage and lexan windows meant the racing spec M1s weighed just 2,250 lbs.

Mechanically, the M1 race cars utilized the same M88 straight-six as the road cars, but fitted with forged pistons, more aggressive camshafts, and larger valves. The result was a staggering 470 horsepower at 9000 rpm and a top speed of 193 mph.

Formel 1, Grand Prix Deutschland 1979, Hockenheimring, 29.07.1979 BMW M1 Procar Serie Hans-Joachim Stuck, BMW M1 Didier Pironi, BMW M1 Hans-Goerg Buerger, BMW M1 , copyright: HOCH ZWEI / Ronco (Photo by Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images)

Though the M1 is not as widely celebrated as popular models like the M3 and M5, its significance as the origin of all the M cars cannot be understated. The M1 cemented BMW as a major player in sportscar racing and established an impressive legacy that continues today.