BMW recently took the covers off its latest flagship models – the i8 Spider and updated i8 Coupe were visions of BMW’s future that became a reality, much the same as the iconic M1 back in 1979.
The striking Giugiaro designed wedge-shape was initially the responsibility of Lamborghini. BMW tasked the firm with building a production race car for homologation, but when the Italian firm hit financial difficulties, the Germans took back control. There’s even speculation that the original plans had to be retrieved from Lamborghini through less than legal methods. Regardless of the means, BMW and a few ex-Lamborghini engineers could now develop the prototypes into the finished article.
The BMW M1 might look retro sat next to the sleek shapes of today’s supercars, but this design was cutting-edge back in the 1970s. Pop-up headlights and engine cover slats helped with aerodynamics and cooling, but also gave the car a distinctive design.
At its heart was a 3.5-litre six-cylinder engine generating 270bhp – combined with a total mass of 1,300kg, it was no slouch. A top speed of 162mph was said to be easily achievable.
BMW’s ultimate aim was to take the M1 racing in the Group 4 class, but it spawned the one-make M1 Procar championships to help promote and develop the car. The stars of the series were the 850bhp variants of the M1. Procar acted as a support race for Formula 1, but many F1 drivers decided to get involved, too. Niki Lauda famously won the championship in 1979.
Just 453 BMW M1s, including racing cars, were built between 1978 and 1981 making it one of the rarest BMW cars.
In 2008 BMW revealed the Homage concept, a modern take on the M1 legend. Sadly a business case couldn’t be made and so the M1 successor was shelved. However, the Homage did serve to kickstart the idea of a new BMW flagship that would eventually become the i8.
Will there ever a be a true M1 successor to challenge the Audi R8? We hope so.
In 2017 a low mileage BMW M1 was spotted for sale with a price tag of nearly £500,000.