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The BMW M1: History, Design, Specifications

All things BMW M1 on Automobile.

Rory JurneckaWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

BMW M1 Essential History

Think of the builders of your favorite supercars and BMW may not fall on your personal short list, but in the late 1970s, the German automaker developed one of the more interesting mid-engine performance cars of all time. Born out of a desire to replace the aging 3.0 CSL race cars that BMW's then-newly founded Motorsports division campaigned around the world, the M1 was to be a state-of-the-art Group 4 race car, but homologation requirements demanded BMW build 400 road cars to homologate it.

That's not to say that BMW developed the entire car by itself. In fact, one could argue the M1 was really designed by Italians. Lamborghini was hired to develop the space frame chassis, Gianpaolo Dallara (a former Lamborghini employee) designed the suspension, and Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had recently founded Italdesign, was responsible for styling the car's wedge-like fiberglass body. Still, the M1's beating heart was BMW's 274-hp, 3.5-liter, DOHC straight-six engine, paired with a five-speed ZF manual gearbox. In the end, Lamborghini's financial troubles caused development to halt after the first prototypes were built, so Marchesi, a Modenese chassis builder, was hired to build the production chassis. Another Italian firm built the bodies, which were joined to the chassis at Italdesign. German firm Baur oversaw final assembly in Stuttgart.

In early 1979 production finally began, but a high sticker price and BMW's decision to not take the car racing on a broad scale meant that sales were slow. Ultimately, 397 M1 road cars were built, along with 53 race cars, most of which were built to run in a single-model Procar series as a support race to larger events. The BMW M1 was discontinued in 1981.

BMW M1 Highlights

Though BMW's original intent with the M1 was to go racing, that never really happened on any large scale. Some Group 4 cars were built, as originally intended, with 470-hp engines, gutted interiors and lightweight plastic windows. Unfortunately, the cars were far too heavy to be competitive, being based on 3,000-pound road cars. The Procar series was a BMW Motorsports creation, pitting wealthy amateur drivers against racing champions in a support series to Formula 1 races. While the series probably didn't sell many cars, the Procar M1s looked fantastic with their huge wings, bulging fenders and fire-spitting exhaust. The racing wasn't bad, either.

BMW M1 Buying Tips

For decades, BMW M1s languished in the corners of enthusiast collections, misunderstood and undervalued. Today, it takes several hundred thousand dollars to start thinking about owning a BMW M1, with the best cars bringing even more money at auction and in private sales. Not many M1s have been sold in the U.S., which means being open to importing one from Europe will give you more options. Also, it's likely that your local BMW specialist won't know the first thing about maintaining an M1, so be sure to talk to other M1 owners about options for servicing before you take the plunge. Any factory-built BMW M1 Procar would be a welcome entry at vintage motorsports events, if racing is your thing.

BMW M1 Articles on Automobile

Munich's Italian Supercar.

Putting an orange M on the map.

The M1 in anger on the track

An M1 for a new world.

BMW celebrates 30th anniversary of M1

BMW M1 Recent Auctions

BMW M1 Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1979
  • Last year of production: 1981
  • Total sold: 450 (including race cars)
  • Original price (base): $115,000
  • Characteristic feature: The only true "supercar" BMW ever built, with Italian design and Teutonic power.

BMW M1 FAQ

How many BMW M1 are left?

BMW built around 450 M1s, including race cars, with just under 400 being road cars. It's thought that the vast majority—if not all—of these cars remain in service.

How much is a BMW M1?

When new in 1979, a BMW M1 would have cost about $115,000, or about double what a contemporary Ferrari 308 cost. Today, the cars are worth multiples of that with the best examples selling for as much as $600,000.

What engine is in the BMW M1?

The BMW M1's engine is a 3.5-liter straight-six produced by BMW and making around 274 hp in street trim and over 400 hp in race tune.

Will BMW make a new M1?

While it's been rumored time and again that BMW will build a new M1 supercar, thus far we've been limited to the 2008 BMW M1 Homage concept car. The brand has no current plans to remake the M1.

1979-1981 BMW M1 Specifications
ENGINE: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve I-6/274 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 243 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
LAYOUT: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
L x W x H: 171.7 x 71.8 x 44.9 in
WHEELBASE: 102.4 in
WEIGHT: 2,866 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.0 sec
TOP SPEED 162 mph