BMW’s high-performance M division hardly suffers a shortage of products these days. But what’s been missing in the proliferation of M-badged models is a raw, high-end sports car — a modern incarnation of the iconic M1 that got Motorsport GmbH into street car production way back when. The time — and the high-tech hardware—for such a supercar may have finally arrived.
“Now that we won our first DTM race, the leadership team is much more open to persuasion. They understand that the brand would benefit from a leading-edge sports car,” comments a top manager for the M division.
The M1 is not to be confused with the souped-up version of the i8 sports car that BMW had once considered building but rather is a distinct model with a different mission.
“If the i8 is the world´s sportiest green car, then our new mid-engine two-seater needs to be the greenest sports car,” says our insider.
To achieve that mission, the M1 will capitalize on but won’t limit itself to technology developed for Project i. For instance, carbon fiber and aluminum—the centerpiece materials in BMW’s green-car program — will likely feature prominently in the M1 but so will magnesium, titanium, and high-strength steel. The unofficial target weight is 2750 pounds — that’s 440 pounds less than a Porsche 911 Carrera S, 400 pounds lighter than the McLaren MP4, and 500 pounds more svelte than a Lexus LFA. Key ingredients are said to include front and rear control-arm suspensions, carbon-ceramic brakes, electrically assisted power steering, and a mid-mounted engine.
The core of the M1 will be an uncommonly stiff carbon-fiber monocoque with a slim center backbone, strong sills, compact subframes, and firewalls with integrated rollover-protection extensions. As with many modern supercars, the M1 will rely on powerful computers to oversee stability control, steering, and torque vectoring to access new levels of grip and control.
BMW expects that a sophisticated active aerodynamics package will provide the car’s most profound advantage over its competition. Adjustable flaps, morphing air deflectors toned into shape by wind force, and selectively blocked air intakes will work together to progressively dial in more downforce as the M1’s forward momentum increases. With the help of a designated onboard computer, axle lift can be reduced independently front and rear to respond to different surface qualities and variations in vehicle velocity. Other efficiency-enhancing factors are the commendably small frontal area, an excellent drag coefficient, a smooth underbody, lateral air curtains that bypass the separately vented wheelhouses, a full-width rear diffuser, and a so-called wiperless wind chute that allegedly keeps the windshield virtually rain-free. Our source estimates that these aero-reducing measures would be equal to adding 100 hp to the engine.
About that engine. BMW currently favors a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 rated between 600 and 650 hp. The transmission of choice is a fast-shifting dual-clutch automatic with eight or nine forward ratios. Other high-tech elements are variable induction and exhaust manifolds, adjustable camshafts, different-size progressive-vane turbochargers, plus plenty of new lightweight materials with low-friction surfaces where required. Rather than using cylinder deactivation for efficiency, the direct-injected V-8 can “dim” the fuel intake, thereby spreading the eco effect smoothly and evenly across all cylinders. Automatic stop/start, brake-energy regeneration, and on-demand auxiliaries are also part of the CO2-reducing strategy. To warrant the lowest possible center of gravity, the M version of the V-8 boasts dry-sump lubrication with an external oil reservoir.
BMW has thought about a using a high-output in-line six-cylinder, but it would be both longer (the current plan calls for a longitudinal engine layout) and less potent. Although either option could meet the top speed target of 205 mph, the V-8 is projected to be quicker, with an estimated three-second 0-to-62-mph time. And of course, it also would be much more difficult to charge in excess of $300,000 for a sports car powered by a six-cylinder engine, no matter how advanced it may be.
BMW has also abandoned the idea of fitting the new M1 with a second electric heart. The hybrid layout theoretically offers better weight distribution, new torque-vectoring opportunities thanks to on-demand front wheel drive, and an extra 100 hp provided by two small electric motors. However, according to another senior M engineer, such an application would add cost, complexity, and weight—about 330 to 660 pounds of it—while at the same time imposing severe packaging constraints and reliability concerns.
The M1 will be an emphatically modern car in terms of safety, visibility, and ergonomics. But since it would be foolish to ignore history, we can expect certain touches that pay homage to the original car, like louvered air intakes, small BMW roundels above both taillights, and an evolution of the original’s trademark window graphics.
If the M division can sell the BMW board on this plan, we could see a thinly disguised concept car in 2014 and a production model two years later. Two years after the coupe, the M division intends to release an M1 spyder, not in the least because in North America—the M1’s biggest potential market—soft-top supercars tend to outsell their coupe twins two to one.
Rendering by AUTO BILD/LARSON