Classic: BMW M1 & 333i
We get behind the wheel of two very special limited-edition BMWS
BMW may have produced many acclaimed performance sedans, coupés and roadsters, but mid-engined BMW sportscars are notable by their absence. Prior to the i8 hybrid, you would have to go back to the late 1970s for a similar model: the now legendary M1. Arguably BMW’S rst real sportscar, its genesis came about in 1975 when the Bavarian company decided to compete in the Group 5-based World Championship of Makes for cars with production silhouettes.
With the 3.0 CSL “Batmobile” now obsolete and out of production, the decision was taken to develop and homologate a mid-engined road car. Giorgetto Giugiaro was commissioned to rework the 1972 BMW Turbo concept car and none other than Lamborghini was tasked to build it. Unfortunately, nancial dif culties saw the Italian marque go into receivership, forcing BMW to cancel the contract and construct the car itself. That meant by the time production nally began in 1978, the World Championship of Makes formula already folded. BMW then launched its own one-make series, called Procar, which was canned after just two seasons.
The pristine example you see here is owned by BMW SA and, having spent part of its life tucked away in Rosslyn, the car was recently given a full restoration. The Giugiaropenned shape is a stunner and, in the esh, the M1 is even more low-slung than pictures show. At just over 1,1 metres in height, you really have to drop down and into the driver’s chair. The interior is pure retro with barely a curve in sight, and fabriccovered seats that wouldn’t look out of place in a lounge.
M1s are LHD only and, as is typical of the era, the pedals are heavily offset towards the centre of the car. As expected, the view rearwards is nearly non-existent and the slim side
mirrors are more of a nod to safety regulations than actual functional items.
If there is one car credited for creating the signature BMW inline-six soundtrack, the M1 is it. The multi-valve M88 lump mounted behind the cabin features six individual throttle bodies and its soundtrack is the stuff of petrolhead heaven. After firing with a reassuring mechanical whirr, the M88 idles innocuously and the noises that emanate from the engine bay belie the performance potential that it possessed in its day.
Setting off, I am immediately struck by the heftiness of the controls; they endow the M1 with a real plugged-in feel. There is a creaminess to the audio delivery in mid-range that turns into a wonderful, hard-edged but muted racecar-like howl as the rev needle climbs to the redline. During my time behind the wheel, I make several gratuitous upshifts just to downshift and make the motor sing its tuneful song again and again.
Hardly quick by modern standards, with its 204 kw comparable to that of a modern hot hatch, the M1 would have felt plenty quick in the early 1980s, especially given that it could top 260 km/h. The ride quality is far better than I had anticipated, a pliancy that I did not expect of the mid-engined supercar; by today’s standards it feels more like a GT car. The steering action is extremely heavy with plenty of armtwirling needed from the slow rack. In fact, all the driving controls are hefty, from the meaty, long-throw gearshift to the cable-linked throttle.
With only 450-odd built by the firm’s M Division, M1s are highly prized and are currently being offered for anywhere between €300-600 000. BMW SA has insured its M1 for just over R4,5 million.
clockwise from below The rear view, with two BMW roundels on either end, is unmistakeable as an M1; the pop-up headlamps are seen here in their less common open position; all M1 models are LHD and feature a slab-faced dashboard.