The BMW M1 was race-based to its core. It was conceived - by BMW Motorsport - as a response to the Porsche 935. The BMW CSL was now past its sell-by date - and struggling to compete with the Porsche. That was in the Group 5 Silhouette series. Lest race circuit woes impact on road-car sales, it was imperative that the shortfall be remedied asap. Enter the M1! And, its M88 straight-six motor. The M1 was the first roadster to be fitted with this race-bred powerplant. The cast-iron bottom-end was sourced from the BMW parts bin. In every other respect, it was state-of-the-art. The engine's 24-valve twin-cam head was chain-driven. The crankshaft was fashioned from forged-steel. The M88 had longer conrods - and a race-derived dry sump. It was fed by Kugelfischer-Bosch indirect injection. The net result was that the M1 sped to a top speed of 161mph. BMW were back on track!
The reason the M1 so closely resembled its racing counterpart was Group 5 homologation. It required that 400 road-going equivalents be built before the M1 be allowed to compete. Unfortunately for BMW, by the time the M1 was ready to go racing, the homologation rules had changed. It was now stipulated that 400 cars must already have been sold. That threw a giant-sized spanner in the BMW works. By the time the German firm had complied with the new rules - in '81 - the M1 was no longer competitive. At the racetracks, that is. On the road, it was more than a match for most of its rivals. A tubular steel chassis - mid-engined, to boot - provided near-perfect handling. The ride was comfort incarnate. Initially, Lamborghini had been asked to design the chassis. Mounting financial problems at the Italian marque, though, meant BMW had to grasp the reins back. A 5-speed ZF trans-axle transferred 277bhp to the tarmac. Massive vented disc brakes retarded the M1 plot with aplomb.
The M1 was drawn by Italdesign. Saying that, a substantial debt was owed to Paul Bracq's 'BMW Turbo' prototype. The M1 was a model of classic supercar styling. It was built in Italy, as well as Germany. It may be said to have embodied the best of both. For all that, a mere 450 M1s were manufactured. The harshest of critics might deem it a failure. After all, it never did scorch round racetracks, in the way intended. The BMW M1, though, was about as good an all-rounder as a road-car gets ... which must surely smack more of success than failure!