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BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar Track Test

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 12/18/2014 Chris Tedesco, Brian Vance, Randy Pobst

For a vegetarian in the Land of Fruits and Nuts, food is a joy. I sampled everything from tofu-tempeh Reubens to savory kale and almond salads as I drove from L.A. to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in a not-yet-available BMW i8 hybrid sports car. For a car-lover at the RMMR, an even greater joy is being offered a drive in a rare 1980-vintage BMW M1 race car. And when you think of it, the i8 is the spiritual descendant of the BMW living-museum artifact I was to race—the very first of a long line of Ultimate Driving Machines to flaunt the now-legendary M.

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At least in part because I failed to shatter the carbon-fiber chassis of their DTM M3 in Spain last year, the curiously risk-immune execs at BMW had invited me to the track again, this time to go wheel-to-wheel with other million-dollar classics at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In the paddock, my German exotic was resplendent in white with broad swaths of blue and red motorsport colors, with a BMW Formula 1 car on one side and the 3.0 CSL that won Sebring in 1975 on the other. The latter was to be raced by our host and teammate for the weekend, BMW North America president Ludwig Willisch. It's always a good sign for enthusiasts when a CEO likes to strap in behind the wheel.

BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar© Provided by MotorTrend BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar My ride was one of my all-time favorites, perfectly proportioned to my eye: the clean, Teutonic shape of the street M1 beefed up with massive flares and wing that bulge like the muscles of an all-pro running back. The classic BMW 3.5-liter big six is rated at 470 horses and makes a lovely wailing shriek on its way to almost 9,000 rpm. Its long inline design stretches the body shape, making it more graceful in its wide racing stance than the stubbier 911, 308, and Corvette of the day. The crew worried if my 6-foot-1-inch frame would fit, but I'm skinny and flexible and green like Gumby, and I slipped right in with just a padding trim for helmet clearance.

The tranny is a competition-style dogleg five-speed, first down and to the left below reverse, with full synchros like a street car. The clutch is a puppy, smooth and easy to idle around the pits, and the box shifts about as fast as I can slide the lever through its long, wide throws. The gears are tall. Very tall. I did most of Laguna in second gear! A downshift into first for Turn 11 was tricky but necessary. BMW PR man Matt Russell said they believe the car was last raced at Daytona in about 1981. That was pre-chicane, folks, all the way around the high banks flat out.

The sweet six loves to rev, has to rev, coming on the cams hard at about 6,500, and thus the long, wide gear splits mellowed the high-rpm potential on the short straights of Laguna Seca. The ride to redline was an internal combustion symphony every time.

The sweet six loves to rev, has to rev. The ride to redline was an internal combustion symphony every time.

Under BMW, the M1 only ever competed in a one-make series during F1 weekends called “Procar.” Niki Lauda won in 1979, Nelson Piquet in 1980. It was then cancelled.© Provided by MotorTrend Under BMW, the M1 only ever competed in a one-make series during F1 weekends called “Procar.” Niki Lauda won in 1979, Nelson Piquet in 1980. It was then cancelled. The brake pedal travel started out long, like the shifts, and got a bit longer as the laps accrued, causing caution in deference to the highly valued machinery just ahead of me: the Momo Porsche 935 in race one and a drifting BMW 3.0 CSL in race two. The pedal effort was surprisingly light, and I'd recommend a larger master cylinder to reduce travel, and I'd hook up the brake ducts again, but, hey, it's a museum and show car, no longer shooting for championships.

BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar Track Test

The profile of the M1 is dominated by the enormous wing and the largest Gurney flap I've ever seen, making the car aero-stable in the high-speed Corners 4 and 9. This rear downforce probably made the front end float over the crest of the first corner, the fastest point of the circuit. It demanded a late apex to stay on pavement for the immediate near stop at Turn 2. Turn-in behavior was clean, like a surgeon's scalpel, resulting from the low polar moment of the mid-engine chassis with little sensation of body lean but just a hint of roll-oversteer at the first crack of the wheel. The unassisted steering gives great feedback without feeling like a workout, another benefit of the mid-mount setup. It feels distinct from all other Bimmers we've known and loved, not so tossable but very precise. In the middle of the corner, the M1 understeered heavily and got worse with a new set of Avon slicks in the second race, but it remained planted and put down power well, howling off the hairpins. I suggested softening the front anti-roll bar for the next lucky devil, maybe adding some front rebound damping and shortening the bump rubbers. As a racer, I'm always looking for ways to make it faster.

The BMW M1 has aged well. It combines the angularity of the '80s with a fluidity of proportion that remains pleasing 30-plus years later. At the wheel, it feels much more recent. It has the looks, sounds, and moves of a sexy, aging pop star, whereas its grandchild, the i8, is all 21st-century style and tech. I cannot help but wonder what might be next. An M8? Only 453 M1s were built from 1978 to 1981, and of those, only 20 became race cars. This car’s last competitive race is believed to have been Daytona in 1981.© Provided by MotorTrend Only 453 M1s were built from 1978 to 1981, and of those, only 20 became race cars. This car’s last competitive race is believed to have been Daytona in 1981.


1980 BMW M1 (race car)
BASE PRICE$100,000 (1980)
VEHICLE LAYOUTMid rear-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE 3.5L/470-hp/307-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve I-6
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT2,507 lb
WHEELBASE100.8 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT174.7 x 71.8 x 44.9 in
0-60 MPH*3.5 sec
QUARTER MILE*11.6 sec @ 122 mph
LATERAL ACCELERATION*1.15 g
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECONNot rated
*Car and Driver test, 12/81. Road car specs: 266 hp/229 lb-ft, 3,000 lb, 0-60 mph 5.4 sec, qtr mile 13.7 sec @ 102 mph

BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar© Provided by MotorTrend BMW M1 Group 4 ProCar
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