Many would argue BMW’s golden era took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, when revered sports cars such as the E46 M3, E39 M5, M Coupe, and later the E92 M3 and E60 M5 all arrived on the scene. Pulling the strings from the R&D side of the house was none other than celebrated engineer and board member Burkhard Goeschel, who left the company in 2006 and now runs his own consulting business serving automakers and suppliers. We spoke with Goeschel about the state of BMW and its M division today and some of the famous cars he helped create during his tenure.
AM: Back in 2002, we asked you what your favorite BMW of all time was. You didn’t hesitate to say it was the M Coupe. Is that still true?
BG: Yes. It was one of the most interesting cars we built because it was pure. The M Coupe was only for driving and was so full of feedback it makes me still want to drive it all the time. … It just looked so exciting! Such a small car with its unique shape and the way the wheelhouses fit with the body— it was like a Porsche 911 Turbo S.
The Z3 engineering team had been pretty independent … we did [the car] openly with a few prototypes, and made the case for simple production and a low-cost approach. Some love it and others just hate it. It was the same within the board. We had a lot of discussion about if we really needed such a sports car, and debates about if the car was too ugly. Our European sales chief, an Italian, told the board you couldn’t understand the M Coupe with your brain. It was something you had to grasp with your heart.
AM: How do the E36 and E46 M3 stack up with the M Coupe?
BG: My preference is the E46 M3 CSL. It’s a car I created. A driver’s car in every sense, with a hell of a lot of feedback and sensation. They’re hard to find now.
AM: Do you think it is harder today to engineer a car like the CSL given safety requirements and the like? How do those restrictions affect innovation?
BG: In today’s world a lot of people want it. If you make a pure car though, you need to give the customer the option to keep that stuff out. The other part is cultivating the right kind of engineers who have a passion for driving and are able to drive fast as well as evaluate how the cars perform at the limit. It’s harder to find those kinds of engineers. Today’s engineers need to worry about managing departments and such, but to go to the edge you need a spirit for going fast. I trained myself by driving the race cars, in order to know what the standard was. I’d go for the McLaren F1 GTR or M3 GTR, because I needed to know what the benchmark looked like. Maybe engineering education is going in a different direction, but I think especially the M division needs to make sure those kinds of engineers are on board.
AM: Do you think the modern-day M division has veered off course?
BG: In my opinion BMW sometimes needs such cars that are really specific and on the edge—something that generates emotions, positive or negative, as well as debate. All of BMW, but especially M, needs cars you can truly love. That hasn’t changed so much with the M versions; you can use an M3 as a business car, but it has the soul of a race car. But BMW also needs something more specific at the M division to really get hearts beating. That was my intention with the M Coupe. Sometimes you need something like that.
AM: Do you still keep in touch with your former colleagues at BMW about the state of the M division and otherwise?
BG: We are always discussing whether M is strong enough, what it’s doing, if there’s enough emotion. I’m satisfied with what they’re doing, particularly with the M3, not so much with the M4. The M3 has the same specifications, but as a four-door it’s more compact.
AM: What about the M2? Is that a car you can get behind?
BG: Yes, but I’m imagining it with the M4 GTS engine and 500 horsepower. Then it would be perfect.
AM: What types of cars do you own?
BG: My passion is high-revving naturally aspirated engines, so I collect them. I have an E30 M3 Johnny Cecotto edition, an M5 V-10, and E92 with a special, high output and exhaust that screams like hell. The responsiveness is what I love. But naturally aspirated engines will largely disappear from performance cars outside of racing. It’s a pity.