14 Cool BMW Race Cars from LeMay America’s Car Museum
Heroes of Bavaria: 75 Years of BMW Motorsports exhibit is open now
On a hillside in Tacoma, Washington, overlooking the Puget Sound, sits a rather uniquely designed building that is home to an even more unique collection of cars. The building is home to the LeMay museum, aka America's Car Museum, which was founded through the wishes of the late Harold E. LeMay—a noted car collector and automotive enthusiast in the Tacoma area.
The most recent headlining exhibit at the museum is called Heroes of Bavaria: 75 Years of BMW Motorsports, and it's a collection of cars worth seeing. Sponsored by the BMW CCA, the exhibit is essentially a sectional slice of the brand's racing history with cars dating from last year's IMSA SportsCar series BMW M6 GTLM all the way back to a 1930s BMW 328i Roadster. Here are 14 favorites from the exhibit, in chronological order.
1937 BMW 328i
The 328i was BMW's premiere sports car between 1936 and 1940 and featured a 2.0-liter inline-six engine making around 80 hp. Examples of this car were very successful in racing, even clinching a class victory at Le Mans in 1938. This particular car was bought new and raced by a Dutch driver, who hid the car during WWII, only to recover it and resume racing after the war.
1961 BMW 700R
No, it's not a Porsche 550 Spyder, though the resemblance is certainly there. Instead, this BMW racer is one of just two ever built, with a steel tube space frame wrapped in aluminum bodywork. It has a rear-mounted 697 cc boxer-two-cylinder engine making 78 horsepower and was raced by Hans Stuck in-period.
1965 BMW 1800 Ti/SA
A racing version of BMW's "Neue Klasse" sedan, this is one of 200 cars built to homologate the Touring Internationale/Sport-Ausfuhrung specials. As such, a five-speed Getrag gearbox, limited-slip differential, Koni shocks, and a sump guard were all fitted. The engine is a 1.8-liter inline-four that produces 130 hp.
1975 BMW 3.5 CSL
Famously dubbed "Batmobile" for its winged profile, BMW Motorsport's CSL race cars were based on the handsome road going 3.0 CSL coupe. In race trim, this CSL boasts a 3.5-liter inline-six that cranks out 430 hp at a huge 8,5000 rpm. This car's first race was at the 1975 24 Hours of Daytona, where it failed to finish with Hans Stuck and Sam Posey at the wheel.
1977 BMW E21 Turbo
The successor to the CSL racing program, this E21 Turbo was driven by racer David Hobbs (famous more recently for his Formula 1 commentary) to wins at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca in 1977. Though this car somewhat resembles the U.S.-spec 320i road car, it has slightly more power—650 hp, in fact.
1981 BMW-March M1/C
A true 1-of-1 race car, this GTP class car was BMW's first prototype sports car racer. It was powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing a whopping 650 hp at 9,000 rpm, mated to a Hewland five-speed gearbox. Unfortunately, the engine's reliability was the car's weak point and though the aerodynamic bodywork was capable of producing 2,000 pounds of downforce at 180 mph, the car's success was limited.
1982 BMW-March Formula 2
This car was driven by Christian Danner in the 1982 Formula 2 season, F2 being a training ground of sorts for the top-tier Formula 1 series in the day. While Danner only managed fourth that year, March and BMW had a very successful run at the F2 series, winning the championship in six out of the 10 seasons they competed.
1987 BMW E30 M3
Built from the first U.S.-spec E30 M3 built, this car was one of two campaigned by Korman Autoworks (with BMW's blessing) in the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship, where it was up against significantly more powerful cars, such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Nissan 300ZX. Though it didn't have as much success in the U.S. as it would have in various touring car series in Europe, such as DTM, Korman's M3s did score a handful of wins by virtue of the car's well-balanced chassis and robust build quality.
1992 BMW E36 M3 GTS-3
The very first Motorsport racing E63 M3 chassis built in 1992, this car was originally used as a test mule until being sold to the PTG Group in 1994. Thereafter, it was raced in the IMSA series from 1995 through 1997. It gets its power from a 3.0-liter S50 inline-six making 380 hp at 7,000 rpm.
1994 BMW 318i BTCC
After being campaigned in the British Touring Car Championship in 1994, this race car was bought by BMW Australia the following year and driven in the '95 season by Geoff Brabham (son of F1 driver and constructor, Jack Brabham). That year, it scored five wins—good enough to finish second in the championship. The car's 2.0-liter inline-four engine made some 270 hp at 8,300 rpm.
1994 BMW E34 M5
A rare sedan entry in the IMSA Bridgestone Supercar Championship in the 1994 and '95 seasons, most of this M5's competition came in the form of Porsche 944s, Lotus Esprit Turbos, and Mazda RX-7s. With 450 hp on tap from a race-tuned 3.5-liter S38 inline-six, the car was more than up to the task and won the '94 championship with David Donahue (son of Mark Donahue) at the wheel.
2000 BMW-Williams F1 FW22
While Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher was building his legacy at Ferrari, his brother Ralf Schumacher was trying to cement one of his own at Williams F1, with this FW22. Raced by Schumacher in the 2000 season, he scored three third-place finishes with this car and a handful of lesser results. This was a great era for the Formula 1 series, with screaming V-10 engines—this one produces 810 horsepower at a stratospheric 17,500 rpm. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari would go on to win the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championship that year for Ferrari, while BMW finished a strong third in the Manufacturer's Championship.
2014 BMW Z4 GTLM
Based on the Z4 GT3, this GTLM variant raced in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship series, which resulted from the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the Rolex Grand-Am series. The car ran a naturally-aspirated 4.4-liter V-8, producing some 480 horsepower and was campaigned by BMW Team RLL. This very car was raced throughout the 2014 season.
2017 BMW M6 GTLM
Derived from the M6 GT3 customer race car, this M6 GTLM was designed without ABS or stability control and a longer wheelbase. With up to 585 hp on tap from a 4.4-liter turbocharged V-8 and just over 2,700 pounds to push around, this car achieved some success in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar series. The special "Bill Power" livery commemorates factory driver Bill Auberlen's 400th race at the 2017 IMSA 10hr Petit Le Mans, which was won by this very car.