The rare BMW M1 supercar – the first official "M model" that the Bavarian brand produced – is an icon, but the racing version, the M1 Procar... that's the stuff dreams are made of! Cars.co.za attended the BMW M1 Procar revival held at the Norisring, in Nuremberg, Germany in July 2019.
In celebrating 40 years since the M1 Procar appeared on a race circuit, BMW Group Classic unleashed not just 1, but 14 examples to the street circuit of the Norisring. Not only were the cars present, but some of the original drivers were there too. Jan Lammers and Marc Surer, both of whom are former F1 and Le Mans 24 Hour drivers, raced these cars competitively 40 years ago; it was epic to see them pilot these machines again.
The creation of the M1 and M1 Procar is a fascinating story. Designed by Giorgio Giugiaro, the mid-engined BMW M1 was created for homologation purposes (the Bavarian manufacturer hoped to compete with Porsche in the Group 5 championship). Interestingly, it had a Lamborghini connection as the Sant Agata-based supercar firm was contracted to supply the body and the chassis. However, the Italians ran into cashflow difficulties and Italian companies Marchesi and T.I.R. took over to supply the M1's spaceframe and glass-fibre reinforced plastic bodyshell respectively.
Designer Giugiaro's outfit ItalDesign assembled and supplied the interiors for the M1s, after which the vehicles were shipped to Germany for the fitment of mechanical components and final assembly. The BMW M1 made its official debut in 1978 and came to market with a 3.5-litre 24-valve straight-6 petrol engine. With outputs of 204 kW and 330 Nm, it was capable of a top speed of 260 kph – potent for the era. It's interesting to note that this engine also featured in the E28 M5 (the world's first super saloon) and E24 M635i CSi, as well as the South African special 745i.
After the Norisring event in Nuremberg, we caught up with a pair of BMW M1 Procars arriving back at BMW Group Classic in Munich
However, when BMW developed the road-going supercar into a track-focused racer (as it had originally intended), things changed dramatically. As you can see, the bewinged M1 Procar looks race-ready, with a dominant rear wing, flared wheel arches and, depending on which category it competed, a more powerful motor. Revisions to the M88 saw power climb to 345 kW and 390 Nm, while later Group 5 versions were turbocharged, with cars developing between 630 kW and 745 kW (1 000 hp)! The additional power meant the top speed moved beyond 320 kph. Under the skin, there were revisions to the suspension and braking setups, to cope with the extreme stresses of demanding circuit racing.
Few things are as emotional as watching a BMW M1 Procar hurtle down the main straight at full throttle.
The Procar Series formed part of a typical European Formula 1 race weekend, where 5 of the fastest F1 drivers in practice would be invited to race BMW M1 Procars against one another, as well as other racers. In terms of marketing and public relations value, the strategy was priceless. In its first season in 1978, the overall winner was the late (3-time F1 champion) Niki Lauda, with (another 3-time F1 champion) Nelson Piquet taking the title the following year. The BMW M1 Procar wasn't just an F1 attraction though – it competed at Le Mans as well as many championships around the world. The BMW M1 Procar series lasted just 2 seasons and was cut short when BMW shifted focus from Procar to creating F1 engines.
Watch SA-born DTM racer meet the iconic BMW M1 Procar
11 minutes of glorious BMW M1 Procar goodness...