The 1970s BMW M1 Procar Series Makes a Comeback This July

Clifford Atiyeh
Photo credit: Daniel Golson - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

  • BMW will host a Procar Revival in July celebrating the M1, a car with a limited but memorable racing history.
  • With its 3.5-liter inline-six derived from the winning 3.0CSL race car, the M1 was a stunning supercar.
  • Even though the M1 failed to establish itself in motorsports and was dogged by failure, the Giorgetto Giugiaro–designed supercar is a legend.

On the first weekend of July in Germany, 14 BMW M1 racing cars will lap the Norisring street course in Germany during a weekend of the German DTM touring-car championship series. This is a rare moment to witness these spectacular mid-engined supercars as they were at this very track 39 years ago. It's also a stark reminder of how badly the M1 failed to ignite the racing circuit.

BMW intended the M1 to compete in FIA Group 4, a class of exotic machinery that, a decade before its 1979 debut, had included legends such as the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 917. But BMW contracted Lamborghini to build the car, and because this was Lamborghini in the late '70s, the Italian carmaker was ever on the brink of bankruptcy. BMW alleged Lamborghini was funneling M1 development money into the Cheetah (the military prototype that would become the LM002). This is when things got really expensive.

When Lamborghini couldn’t produce-which delayed the car's introduction by two years-BMW scrambled to find several Italian suppliers to piece together the homologated road cars. By the fall of 1978, BMW couldn’t meet the deadline for FIA homologation that season. So it asked the FIA to sanction an M1-only series called Procar and decided, after years of frustration, just to have fun. It mixed together amateurs, junior-league racers, and Formula 1 stars including Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi in identical M1 race cars. The cars competed in 19 Procar races in 1979 and 1980.

Photo credit: BMW

But racing a race car against itself doesn't prove much. When BMW finally made it to Group 4 in 1979, the cars didn't finish at Le Mans or Watkins Glen. And despite running the M1 up to 1000 horsepower in FIA Group 5, BMW couldn't catch a podium. Road-car sales were poor, and the M1's racing pedigree was lost before it could start. BMW's board shut everything down by the end of 1980.

Viewed today, the M1 isn't a scandal-riddled failure. It's a stunning supercar with a 3.5-liter inline-six derived from the winning 3.0CSL race cars. Even if the M1 couldn't prove anything on the race circuit, seeing 14 of them rip up the track for no reason-just as they did in 1980-is reason to celebrate.

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