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Driven: BMW M1

Simon Charlesworth October 18, 2016 No Comments on Driven: BMW M1

I loved my BMW M1. I cherished it, admired it, polished it and probably drooled over it a bit too. I treated it with huge affection and respect. Well, certainly at first…

After too much elbow oomph, it went careering into the skirting board in the kitchen. A full-on crash, bang, wallop shunt that warranted a stern rebuke from Mum. The house was chipped and so was my beloved Matchbox BMW M1.

Driven BMW M1

After that, it was all downhill. It collected more chips and scratches, and then the front boot lid started to get so loose that it would flap up and down when being zoomed over anything other than a billiard table surface. By then though, I’d bought something else – a liveried up Porsche 928 in jet black – and the M1 became just another toy car. To a fickle kid it was then just part of a sizeable scuffed and battered collection.

To this day it isn’t clear why BMW tried to move into the supercar business

Becoming jaded is a very real inevitability doing this job, but every now and then you are confronted with a car which just cuts through all that and reconnects you with why you earn a crust doing this. Like yours sincerely, the BMW M1 may be a child of the 1970s, but it has lost none of its ability to impress or leave you feeling ever so slightly awe-struck.

Driven BMW M1

Yes, those rear lamps come from an E24 6-series, but of the few bold concept wedges to make it to the showroom, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s 1978 BMW M1 is more striking and happier in its skin than the car which inspired it, Paul Bracq’s 1972 BMW Turbo concept. Gone are the minor irritants – Bracq’s rear wheel spats and rear lights which could easily have come from a trailer – and instead eyeballs are impressed by a more aggressive stance and those utterly groovy alloys wrapped with 205/55R16 rubber at the front and 255/50R16 following up behind. It’s the epitome of visual seduction and demands to be driven.

To this day it isn’t clear why BMW tried to move into the supercar business with the M1. Corporate keeping up with the Joneses – or should that be Porsches? A halo product? A toe in the water exercise…? Whatever the reason, BMW’s original plan was to contract out the E26 M1’s design, engineering and production – but that would go very wrong in its execution.

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The first sign of the wheels coming off this project became apparent when the company assigned to engineer the E26’s spaceframe chassis and running gear, Lamborghini, began to fall behind schedule. Prototypes did not appear. Lamborghini’s finances went rather wobbly. BMW then brought the project back in house, but orders were cancelled and the motorsport Gp4 and Gp5 regulations for which the E26 was designed had been changed. BMW’s solution was to invent its own single-make series, ProCar, which would support F1 GPs and feature F1 drivers. However, it was not to be – and orders were hard to come by, despite its price being lowered from 113,000 DM to 90,000 DM. Yes, it was powered by BMW’s race-bred M88 3.5-litre 24-valve six capable of 277bhp at 6500rpm, 0-62mph in 6.5secs and a top speed of 155mph, but 12 cylinders are always king in the realm of the supercar.

Driven BMW M1

Yesterday’s costly turkey though has become arguably one of the most usable of the 1970s performance art wedges. The monochrome interior is everything the flamboyant exterior isn’t. An inner rear screen sits behind you atop the rear bulkhead, adding an impression of claustrophobia. By any standards – modern or yesteryear – the M1 feels wide. Accentuated no doubt by the M1 only being available in wrong-hand drive.

Driven BMW M1

A comment is proffered that the M1 is like a German Lotus Espirit with more room. My head just about clears the roof-lining –so there’s no danger I’ll head-butt the header-rail each and every time I reach for the by-the-side-of-the-seat Hillman Hunter handbrake – but this roominess does not extend to the pedalbox.

Patience though is eventually rewarded. Transmission mastered, throttle burried. View blurred, ears happy.

Down there the offset pedals appear to cover in the right-hand side of the footwell, almost as if scared by the intrusion of the wheelarch. On top of that, BMW has also insisted on fitting a clutch footrest too. Thus skinny shoes are required, but unfortunately, skinny shoes were left at home. To cleanly change gear with the five-speeder, the clutch has to be fully depressed. Adding to the aggro experienced with BMW’s typical slightly crunchy gearbox and it’s confusing dog-leg change pattern. Position foot properly. Fully depress clutch. Right-hand better be on top accurate form. And remember the gears ain’t where they should be. Concentration is the name of this transmission’s demanding game.

Driven BMW M1

The M1 is far happier than I am about pootling in traffic. The roads are fantastically tempting and like a clothed stripper, full of potential, yet the view ahead and MPH-rich enjoyment is restricted by an ambling motorhome. Opportunities thwarted by the road’s modest girth and heavy oncoming traffic. Patience though is eventually rewarded. Transmission mastered, throttle burried. View blurred, ears happy.

Driven BMW M1

The 3453cc M88 twin-cam ‘six is rev-limited to 5500rpm, somewhat beneath the 6750rpm redline, but it is still a stonker. It’s wonderfully melodic, linear in output and dishes out meteoric acceleration. The steering is everything the gearbox isn’t. Gorgeously tactile, direct and wonderfully weighted, the three-spoke wheel only adds extra shine to the steering and the front-end’s polished swift responses. It feels phenomenally planted on these dry winding roads. Roll? Can’t really be detected at road speeds.

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Rear mid-engined cars are seldom either too nervously sprung at the front, too light at the wheel or are dominated by an engine that overwhelms a disappointing chassis that is not terrible quick to respond to your steering inputs. The M1 suffers with none of these issues, and instead ends up romancing me completely.

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