The BMW M1’s existence originates from the need for a production based car for a proposed Group 5 ‘Silhouette Formula’ to compete in the World Sports Car Championship. The mid-engined concept car was designed in-house by Frenchman Paul Bracq. Ex-racing driver Jochen Neerpasch was responsible for initiating this ambitious project which was intended to take on rivals Porsche and hopefully yield a victory at Le Mans.
Internally dubbed the E26, the M1’s development was a cooperative effort with top Italian specialists. Lamborghini was initially contracted to build the car but Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design ultimately took over the project. The coach assembly was performed at Ital Design featuring a fiberglass body built by composite specialist T. I. R. on a multi tubular space frame chassis supplied by chassis specialist Marchesi & C.
Assembled bodies were shipped to BMW’s German partner Baur for the mechanical assembly, the last stop then being BMW Motorsports for final preparation and distribution. The twin-overhead-cam, four-valves-per-cylinder 3.5-liter six was all BMW with tweaks by the Motorsports division. A five-speed ZF transaxle was used to transmit power to the ground. Lamborghini’s Gian Paolo Dallara was responsible for developing the suspension, which followed racing practice by using unequal-length wishbones at front and rear. The M1’s wedge-shaped coachwork proved highly efficient aerodynamically, needing very little in the way of additional spoilers and wings, even in race configuration.
The M1’s interior was exceptionally well equipped for a sports car. It featured Recaro seats in leather with fabric inserts, air conditioning, electric windows, remotely operated door mirrors and heated rear screen.
First shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1978, the road-going version came with 277bhp and a top speed of 160mph. The abandonment of the Group 5 Silhouette Formula robbed the car of its raison d’être, but production nonetheless continued. An M1-only Procar Series was run at Grand Prix races in 1980 and ‘81 provided BMW Motorsport with a valuable showcase by way of consolation. Some 453 M1s were built thereby fulfilling racing homologation requirement that400 be produced. Production ceased at 399 road cars and 54 Procars.