The E26 BMW M1 — the first car ever from a new subsidiary of BMW, creatively called “BMW Motorsport” — is one of few cars ever produced that began life as a racing car and then was developed into a road car solely to satisfy homologation regulation over how many have to be built to allow the car to be eligible for certain motor racing championships.
Cars developed this way are in ultra-exclusive rarified air, but the M1’s development was so fraught with problems that it was never allowed to go racing in the way its maker originally intended.
However, the car’s fundamentals were spectacular, from its beautiful Giugiaro design to its powerful BMW M88 straight-six to its Lamborghini-Dallara racing chassis. It received nearly universal acclaim — as quick as the 12-cylinder Ferrari 512 BB and the Lamborghini Countach, but civilised and docile to drive.
The difficulties in getting production ramped up mainly were the fault of Lamborghini, which went bankrupt during the development – as we have previously written about, here – after misappropriating funds received both from BMW for the M1 and from the American government to develop an off-road military vehicle and then being sued for copying another company’s work.
BMW was able to gain entry to the factory and retrieve its parts and tooling and move production elsewhere. But the car was never produced in enough numbers to participate in FIA Group 4 and FIA Group 5 sports car racing — the classes for which it was conceived.
As a race car first and foremost, it is the purest expression of any car created by BMW Motorsport GmbH — and its impact has trickled down into every car M puts its badge on today, which is, to say, the majority of cars that BMW produces.
Its backstory was a disaster, but the M1 itself is one of the most incredible cars of its time.
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