- Andrea Bogoni
The BMW who dreamt to be a Ferrari
Germans and Italians are far too different to work together, according to usual clichés. However, reality is far from platitudes for those who are familiar with the automotive industry: Germanic companies make use of Italian components and the other way round is also true. This means there is a close collaboration that is clearly successful. One of the most illustrious examples is the M1 project, the only BMW authentic supercar.
At the end of the '70s in Munich BMW was convinced they could hinder the competitive success of Porsche that was piling victories in the GT. These wins also meant excellent results in terms of sales and the 911 become an icon in the automotive field.
Top management decided to entrust part of the M1 engineering and production to external partners, mostly Italian, in order not to interfere with mass production. The Italdesign of Giorgetto Giugiaro took care of the style, Lamborghini was entrusted with mechanics and assembly while the tires were produced by Pirelli. The Bavarian technicians kept full control of the engine-gearbox group.
The financial situation of Lamborghini shut the deal down and only after a period of uncertainty, the project was made possible thanks to independent suppliers of the brand. Fratelli Marchesi and TIR respectively took care of the construction of the frame and the body, while the assembly was finalized by Italdesign.
The engine, housed in a central position as on the Italian emblazoned super sports, was a classic BMW setting: a 3.5-liter inline six-cylinder capable of delivering 277 bhp. A truly exceptional result for the time.
A minimalist chassis and a wedge-shaped body recalled the famous Italian competitors of the time: Ferrari 308, Lamborghini Urraco and Maserati Merak (the latter designed by Italdesign itself). However, M1 was one of a kind: the simple and sharp lines, the absence of appendages, the functionalism of the interiors gave it a certain sober elegance, typically Germanic.
The result was an iconic and beautiful car with better performances than those of its cousins beyond the Alps. Nonetheless, the features that made the M1 even more special were the exceptional drivability and comfort for cars of this kind.
Unfortunately, delays in production made it difficult to adapt to the FIA regulations that were frequently updated at the time. The new born struggled to keep up to date with it and its competitive career was compromised.
However, thanks to critics, the M1 became and still is an almost mythological creature for BMW passionate. The Italian-German super sport, on top of the undisputed skills, was the first creation of the new Motorsport division whose sporting and commercial history was so lucky to become a brand in itself.
After the M1 in Munich they abandoned luxury super cars for successful road and racing ones. These come from the BMW range and distinguish themselves thanks to the "M" brand.
No doubt that in the '70s the propeller men were aiming seriously high. It turned out that they never beat the 911 and probably never worried the managers of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. They, however, certainly sow the seeds for the fastest and most fascinating cars of all time.
Leo Burnett said, "When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either".
The M logo
Few people know the origin of the iconic BMW M logo. M stands for Motorsport. The three oblique stripes not only evoke speed and dynamism but take a precise meaning only if interpreted from a chromatic point of view: the blue evokes the Bavarian flag; the red represents Texaco that in the 70s was the main partner of the Motorsport division and the violet in the middle is the fusion of the two shades. This last colour represents the collaboration between the two companies and creates a harmonious and recognizable color combination.
I have got a few close friends who gave their little contribution to the propeller brand. This is for them.
Credits: - Cover and last photo by BMW Group - Other photos by Classic Driver
- Infographic by Marta Bissichini - English translation by Paris Nobile
- "BMW M1: Die Story", Jochen Neerpasch und Jürgen Lewandowski, Delius Klasing