Matthew Jones29 October 2012

Classified ad of the week: BMW M1

Gott im Himmel! Super-rare mid-engine’d BMW pops up for sale…

Classified ad of the week: BMW M1

Notice when the BMW 1M G-Power - the most powerful 1M... in the world - popped up on our oily corner of the Internet last week? Its nameplate reminded us of this, the anagrammatically similar BMW M1. Naturally, we set a course for the nearest car classified website to see if any of the one-of-399 roadgoing examples were up for sale. Unbelievably, we found this - Chassis No. 4301154.

Doesn't look much like a BMW, does it? Well spotted. It's actually a racer, designed to take on Porsche in the FIA's Group 4 division. It's also the first car unveiled by the carmaker's independent Motorsport division. But how on earth did a relentlessly German company like Bee Em let something so fun slip through the net?

It was a bit of an accident, really. It started with a bloke called Jochen Neerpasch, who came to BMW in 1972 and created a semi-autonomous company for racing, imaginatively named BMW Motorsports GmbH. Under the auspices of which, he tweaked and fettled the 3.0 CSL coupe until it dominated the European Touring Car Championship.

But by 1975 the CSL dropped off the production line. It also wasn't quite right for new Group 5-based World Championship of Makes series, which allowed manufacturers to modify pretty much everything apart from the bonnet, roof, doors and rail panel in the Special Production Car category.

Neerpasch decided that BMW needed something new to take on archrivals Porsche, so he decided to call on the aborted work of designer Paul Bracq. Back in 1972, he'd built a BMW Turbo concept around a mid-mounted turbo'd 2002 four-cylinder. After some beer-mat calculations, he began plotting the birth of his E26 project...

The scheme was thus: it would be designed by Giugiaro and Ital Design and use the CSL racing engine, Lamborghini would build 400 cars making it eligible for Group 4 racing, and once it was homologated, they'd strap a turbo to the factory race car and start filling up the trophy cabinet.

But there were problems at Lambo. Its financial issues delayed production beyond the original 1977 deadline, forcing BMW Motorsports to throw together a racing 320i for Group 5 as an interim. Considering how much face the Bavarian giant had lost on the grid, it sacked off its contract with the Italians and found a new partner.

The new plan was to have Marchese build the car's tubular chassis, TIR mould the fiberglass, and then Ital Design put everything together and install the interior. They'd then be shipped from Italy to Stuttgart, where Baur would chuck in the CSL-based oily bits before a final inspection and tune-up at BMW Motosport in Munich.

Finally, in 1979 (after BMW had proudly launched it back in January 1978), it found its way to the grid. But it was a bit... rubbish. There were engine problems, turbo issues, and mixed reviews of its competency through bends. In 1980, it was swinging from the gallows after BMW Motorsports' budget was cut by nearly 75 percent.

Thing is, while it failed spectacularly as a racer, it was a fantastic road car. In its de-tuned normally-aspirated state it did precisely what it Neerpash said it would: "[be] a normal car, but normal at a higher speed than other cars."

The 3.5-litre six-pot engine had two camshafts, four valves per cylinder, a dry sump, tubular exhaust manifolds, and spacey Bosch Kugelfischer fuel injection. All of which conspired to a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed a shade over 160 mph. Its tubular chassis, mid-engined layout and race-bred suspension set-up earned it fantastically stable and predictable handling proclivities too.

And this is one of the last of 399 road-spec examples built, supplied new by Hardy & Beck of Berkeley, California in April 1981. Since then, it's racked up 30,000 miles and still as its original tool roll.

Seeing as its sellers won't tell us how much it'll set you back (it's listed as POA), we'll open the question to you - how much would you pay for this M1? Or would you prefer to spend your hard-earned on a more modern 1M?

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