Balancing work and play can be tricky. But if you’re like Max Marshall and making fast cars faster is your bread and butter, there’s no need to compromise…
The BMW 1M is an awesome car in standard guise, so can you imagine how good this MMR tuned one is? You don’t have to…
Sometimes when we talk to feature car owners, there’s one key phrase that really sticks in the mind, serving to characterise the whole thinking behind the project. When speaking to Max Marshall, director of MMR Performance, about the company’s rather aggressive BMW 1M project demonstrator, such a phrase presents itself: “We’re just about to fit the 16th set of rear tyres in 20,000 miles.”
Any suspicion that this is a trailer queen which gets wheeled about to events to show off its shiny parts is blown out of the water by that one simple sentence. This thing gets used, and used hard.
The fact that MMR chose a 1M as a base is interesting in itself, as this niche M-car is an obscure little thing. You see, back when the fresh new 1 Series was launched in 2004, the bean counters clearly hadn’t envisaged a halo performance variant in the vein of the M3, M5, et al, as the M1 name had already been taken back in the seventies (remember that wedgy supercar that was meant to be built by Lamborghini but then wasn’t – it was the first M car).
So there were presumably one or two scratched heads in the product planning meetings, with clearly many forms to fill out and pencils to sharpen and what have you, but by late 2010 BMW were ready to announce a bona fide M-developed variant of the 1 Series, which would go by the natty name 1 Series M Coupé. Tricky, as it didn’t quite fit in with the M naming structure. But then they couldn’t have people confusing it with a 1970s supercar, could they?
Don’t lose any sleep over it though, as everyone just calls it ‘1M’ now. So what exactly was the 1M? Well, it was a car originally limited to a global production run of 2,700. But people seemed to quite like it, so when production ended in 2012 they’d sold 6,309.
The principle was simple: take an E82 coupé shell and significantly widen the track. Bulk out the wings to match, and shove on a set of wide, staggered 19-inch wheels. Throw in a tweaked version of the proven N54 twin-turbo motor (OK, an M car would normally have a bespoke engine rather than a reworked unit from elsewhere in the model range, but let’s not split hairs), and bolt it to the only true transmission to appeal to the discerning petrolhead: a six-speed manual with an LSD out back. Paint it in a fashion-forward shade and the job’s a good ’un.
The plan worked too, as the 1M has become a genuinely sought-after, aspirational model. Its limited-run status – there were just 450 built for the UK market – meaning as many are being bought for investment purposes as are out having their necks wrung on road and track.
Its £40k retail price made it expensive for a 1 Series, but really quite cheap compared to a Porsche Cayman S, which it could happily run rings around in the right hands. 335bhp was pretty handy in a car that weighed just 1,495kg, allowing it to hit 60 in 4.8 seconds. And you got all sorts of fun toys, like the MDM button (for the stability and traction systems) and the M button (for throttle response). Gamified, next-gen stuff.
What’s also interesting to note is that MMR didn’t actually choose a 1M as a company demonstrator at all. This is Max’s own car, which he purchased for his personal collection and had absolutely no intention of modifying. “But having a BMW tuning company and knowing the potential of the N54 engine and the 1M platform, it was only a matter of time before it started,” he grins. “The more heavily involved I’ve become with the BMW tuning, the more likely this was to happen. I never plan to sell it anyway, so I just decided not to worry about its resale value.”
Admirable sentiment indeed, and it’s allowed Max the freedom to stretch the 1M’s potential way beyond its already formidable factory spec. After all, with even the most capable production car, there will be mainstream tolerances and compromises to iron out. And just look at the thing. It’s mean, isn’t it? At first glance it appears close to stock (ish). But the more you look, the more you can see it’s been tweaked for maximum attack. Particularly when Max screams past you sideways with the hammer down, bonfiring the rears and laughing like a demented hyena.
The fact the 1M is quite rare means it’s a fairly mad thing to run as a tuner demo anyway, does it not? The pool of potential buyers is always going to be pretty small. Ah, but that’s where Max has been clever: “Although I wouldn’t say there’s a huge market for tuning 1Ms due to the limited number that were produced, many of the parts carry across to the E-series 135i/335i and so on, so it was still worth developing parts to fill the gaps in what we were lacking for our car,” he explains. “These upgrades also complement the other
BMW parts we have in development or on the shelves; intercoolers, charge pipes, and so on. So we’ve spent many hours testing and comparing our products on our own car in day-to-day environments and on the track.
“It was a fairly logical build,” he continues, “and it helps sharing the suspension with the E92 M3. Bits have just been added as and when parts have been available, or depending what shows the car has been to – and which of our suppliers have wanted to use it for testing!”
The latest upgrade is the Alcon brakes, featuring forged callipers (6-pot front, 4-pot rear) which work in conjunction with MMR’s own braided lines, for real bite on track. The suspension is upgraded with Bilstein B8 dampers and Eibach Pro Kit springs, a forthright and considered pairing in a world of off-the-shelf coilover options, and Eibach also provided the thicker anti-roll bars.
In terms of power, that shiny new carbon fibre engine cover hides a host of well thought-out tweaks to the brutal N54. Here it’s been massaged by MMR’s Stage 2 software, along with an MMR intercooler and charge pipes, an Arma/Pipercross V1 carbon fibre intake system, and a valved Akrapovic exhaust with decat downpipes which makes all the right noises. The upshot of all of this is somewhere in the region of 420bhp, which tells you why Max is smiling quite so widely.
“All of the work was done at ‘The Power House’ – MMR HQ at Bruntingthorpe,” he says. Yep, their headquarters has a former US air base as its proving ground, which explains a few things. “The 1M gets used at a lot of track events at Bruntingthorpe, like VMAX and so on, and it’s been on a few road trips to Le Mans, Cannonball Ireland and suchlike. I plan to use it on more track days.”
And that sums up the point of this car. OK, it’s ostensibly a demo piece for MMR Performance, but in reality it’s just a project car for a true-blue petrolhead which just also happens to have a little work to do on the PR circuit. Max may have bought this with the idea of keeping it stock and pampering it, but that was never going to fly. With his company’s know-how, coupled with his heavy right foot, we’ll expect the 17th set of tyres to be arriving soon.