Thirty Years: to The Power of ///M
1978. A year that left a mark on history in so many ways. Ted Bundy was finally caught, while John Wayne Gacy admits to his illegal wrongdoings to much surprise, Emilio Palma is the first person known in history to be born in the Antarctic and also the southernmost birth known, Pope John Paul II becomes Pope, along with the son of Sam being sentenced to 25 years in prison. While all of these were some of the most important headlines of not just that year, they were also news that would change history in one way or another. 1978 was also the year that would further change the automotive industry forever with no one ever expecting it. Since 1972 BMW Motorsport GmbH had been making performance modifications for racing and road going BMW’s and while having only eight employees at the time meant that everything was made by hand and engineered perfectly efficient. With its three pinstripe slanted lines in front of the M symbol in their signature colors of sky blue, blue and red. Six years later BMW Motorsport or ///M as every enthusiast and person knows them finally built their first road going ///M car, the M1.
The M1 was designed by the famed automotive designer of the 20th century, Giorgetto Giugiaro and was originally commissioned to be made by Lamborghini, but, following some hard money times for them they folded on the project, leaving ///M to finish the job. What they were able to accomplish was a road car that had a 3.5 liter mid-engined inline-6 layout that produced a modest 277hp and 243lb-ft of torque qualifying it for a sub 6 second 0-60. The car was supposed to run in the Group 5 racing series but missed the number of cars to be made for road use by the time the season had started so BMW looked elsewhere for its exotic sports car. They finally landed on the Procar series, which was raced by many of the current Formula 1 racing drivers of the day before the F1 races were to start. The M1 remains the only BMW to be made for road use with a mid-engine layout. The M1 was also a popular racer due to a few cars being hand painted by a number of famous artists including Andy Warhol to be raced in competition. With production ending in 1981 BMW had to find something new to compete.
Throughout the 80’s ///M made a few notable cars, notably the M635CSi and the M535i, Neither being full on Motorsport vehicles like the M1 before them. Then in 1985 came the E28 M5 and E24 M6 both with versions of the 3.5l I-6 featured in the M1. Now BMW ///M was back on track making dedicated cars for road and track. The M5 being the 4 door saloon that no one could beat and the M6 being the 2 door GT car that only Aston Martin, Ferrari and Maserati were producing at the time. Then BMW did a one up with an even smaller engine and car, 1987’s E30 BMW M3 that had an M1 derived engine except as a 2.3 4-cylinder and perfected to compete in Group A Touring Car Racing against the still amazing Mercedes-Benz 2.3-16V. The E30 M3 is the winningest race car in racing history, having won in every major Touring Car series in Europe and even the World Touring Car Championship in 1987. The M3 also won the 24 hours of Nürburgring and the Spa 24 hours. It was continued in the inline-6 engine E36 M3 of 1993 to 1999 in sedan, convertible and standard coupe form. The E36 M3 remains to this day to be the most popular among BMW enthusiasts because of its easy accessibility to afford and modify.
There was a Z3 ///M roadster and coupe made with a smaller version of the 3.2l I-6 of the E36 M3. Originally making 240hp just like the E36 M3 they were modified to make 315hp in 2001. Stopping production in 2002 they were decently popular and good enough to make the new Z4 platform into an ///M car. The new Z4 ///M coupe and convertible use the E46 M3 333hp 3.2l I-6. They have so far been very popular and successful while kicking ass in racing form and road going form.
The BMW E46 M3 was probably the most popular BMW of all time. Being built in a staggering 90,000+ examples over the world, it was a car that surpassed all even on its death bed. It could still be seen doing battle against the V8 Audi RS4, that was notably quicker, but not by too much. In CSL form it was one of the Nürburgring kings even to this day. The CSL was a racers delight. Essentially meant solely for racing, it had the bear essentials with no air or radio. The seats were lighter, the roof was carbon fiber, and the wheels were made to be especially lightweight rims. It had a special 6-spd sequential manual gearbox (SMG) that utilized paddles on the back of the steering wheel to keep the drivers hands on the wheel at all times. The trunk was made of plastic and the floorboard of the trunk was made of cardboard. The car was only offered in Europe and every American ///M enthusiast to this day is pissed. You had to sign a disclaimer upon purchase stating that you understand the tires on the car were not meant to be used in anything other than absolute dry conditions and the car with the stock tires was not meant to drive outside in temperatures less than warm. The CSL was roughly $100,000 in U.S. dollars and did battle very well with the Porsche 911 GT3. The standard 3.2l I-6 was upped in performance ability and horsies from 333hp to 350hp.
The E34 M5 of the 90’s was a bigger and bolder car than the E28 it replaced and with the M6 being discontinued in1989, the M5 was left to be the big bad wolf of the big saloon class of the world. Having an all new V8 and newly tuned suspension, it was the first V8 in ///M’s motoring history. This was still one of the few if not the only true racing sedans in the world at the time until models from Mercedes-Benz and Audi tried to compete to not such great success. Even with the E39 M5 of the 2000’s no one really was able to do battle successfully against the BMW. The E39 M5 had an even bigger 400hp V8 attached to the ///M standard manual transmission. Sure the S4 was good competition to the M3 but the Audi S6 and Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG never really met the strict standards of the M5. That is until BMW upped the mark with the 500hp 383lb-ft of torque V10 E60 M5 and the all new E63 M6 and were soon followed by MB and Audi with the E63 AMG and the new Audi S6 and soon the RS6. Even the Americans have joined the fight with Cadillac’s CTS-V and STS-V models with increased racing dynamics and Chrysler’s 300C SRT-8. Now BMW has new competition in the super sedan world. Still as the dog fights rage on none are ever a true match for the on track super abilities of the ///M cars. The ///M cars of today are mini race cars for the road in terms of technology with the new F1 inspired 500hp V10 of the M5 and M6 to the F1 derived 7-spd paddle shift transmission of the SMG.
Now BMW Motorsport has released its newest of the bunch, the E92 M3 with an M5/M6 sourced 4.0l V8 (think 5.0l V10 just with 10 less liters and 2 less cylinders) producing an amazing 414hp and 295lb-ft of torque. This is the first V8 in an M3 and at first most if not all true fans were upset, but were smiling again when BMW released that the new engine was 33lbs lighter than the outgoing E46 M3 I-6. The new M3 is going to also be made in E90 sedan form for the first time since the E36 M3 sedan, along with a hardtop convertible E93 following later. A new M DCT transmission is to replace the SMG tranny in the near future as well. Could a U.S. bound M3 CSL be in the works? ///M denies it but I think it is possible to the disagreement with many Motorsport enthusiasts.
How do they continue to do it? From 1978 to today ///M has produced cars that outperform the best in the world and prove to be some of the best in the world for 3 decades. As you can see with the length of this blog I am a huge BMW guy. I love the cars and am a great enthusiast of them. BMW Motorsport has been so outstanding in racing and road cars there has never really been any real competition. BMW even produced the amazing V12 engine for the McLaren F1 and sponsored it in the Le Mans racing series. There will never be another series of cars that can thrill its drivers and passengers with as much delight as ///M cars. The only true cars that can be driven to the race track, achieving good gas mileage, to then lap up the track and drive back home again safe and sound. I read an interesting quote from Mercedes-Benz AMG saying “M is only 1/3 of AMG” where I read it as ///M doesn’t need three letters to sound official. ///M: The most powerful letter in motosport as BMW says.
Videos Courtesy of: Fifth Gear, BMW, Fifth Gear, Top Gear and Fifth Gear (all videos from Youtube)