For a auto maker – enthusiasts are the hardest groups to please. Think about it – the general masses want cars that are attractive, technologically advanced, comfortable and efficient. Most people, in luxury cars, want leather seats, sunroofs, navigation units, automatics, 25 speaker surround sound systems – a plethora of luxury, electric everything. That can make things difficult from an engineering standpoint when the goal is to incorporate performance with luxury.
Enthusiasts want all of those things as well – plus none of the compromises they bring – and more power. In some cases, enthusiasts want none of the things the average car buyer wants – they want simplicity, no technology, no frills – sometimes no rear seats! “Simplify, then add lightness” as the great god of motorsport Colin Chapman once preached – a principal still maintained by his creation: Lotus Cars.
However, nearly all car manufacturers aren’t small, enthusiast/track-oriented manufacturing concerns and don’t have the opportunity of building cars that are both simple and light but must build increasingly heavy, safer, more refined vehicles. As many have noticed, this trend has been continuing since the 1960’s – and constantly been a point of contention for the die hards in the car community – the days of the featherweight AC Cobra or light 2002tii are sadly gone.
However, to combat this – many car manufacturers have continued to add power to offset the growing girth of cars – prime examples being the Mercedes AMG lines from the 1980’s with the AMG-built Hammer or even the original M6. Heavy hitting luxury and weight with heavy hitting power relative to the times to compensate.
Mercifully, some manufacturers have begun to wake up and realize that Chapman was correct as Nissan have demonstrated with the 370Z producing more power, weighing less and carrying a shorter chassis than its predecessor. BMW have started to work toward this same goal – the 2003 M3 CSL being the stand out of this thought process applied in Munich. A high performance engine and suspension combined with lighter weight materials plus revised cams and intake and you have a recipe for a track car that keeps enthusiasts up at night wondering about how much faster their lap times would be if they could get access to such a rare piece of Bavarian iron.
BMW, rumor has it, is going to continue a trend of more power and lower weight in a small car with the supposed forthcoming “M1″ or M-derived 1 Series. The specifications that have been described read like a hit list of track day goodies: 340HP to 350HP from a modified twin-scroll turbo inline-6, dual clutch transmission, minimized weight, revised brakes – a new, properly tuned M car. Speculation puts the performance somewhere just shy of the M3 and its montrous V8 as well just shy of the M3 on price. Similar to the idea Nissan was after with the 370Z, BMW is going for a focused, determined 1 Series – one for the fans. A smaller, lighter, focused car that puts performance paramount to luxury – or so we hope.
These cars, M cars and especially an M-derived 1 Series, they’re important and not because they’ll sell “X” number more cars for BMW. They’re important because they keep we enthusiasts alive inside and lets us know that we’ve not been forgotten – we are the minority, the unappreciated few who cling to our gasoline engines and manual transmissions and cloth interiors. We are the few that get excited when we can take options off cars and that people don’t understand when we get excited that a $40,000 car doesn’t come with a sunroof or power seats. We prefer our daily drivers to share more with the touring car variant than the road going version.
Thankfully, BMW is a company staffed with a large number of enthusiasts – enthusiasts who understand these peculiar traits and our needs in terms of vehicles. Thus, a car such as a 1 Series M may manage to combine a smaller, lighter package with a powerhouse engine – a recipe for driver enjoyment. A venue for what can happen when you find the rare group that has enthusiasts both in the engineering as well as the sales and marketing departments. Coincidentially, BMW has this elusive combination and this is important for one sole reason: to keep hope alive for the ever evaporating group of enthusiasts – to keep the hope alive within us that car companies haven’t forgotten our passions despite ever-growing pushes for efficiencies and heavy, technology-laden consumer cars. We crave cars that let us fly by the seat of our pants if even for a few short moments on abandoned stretches of asphalt. Those are the moments car enthusiasts live and die by.
In must-see-for-car-fans Love the Beast, star, director, and dyed-in-the-wool car nut Eric Bana says that his custom Ford Falcon sports car was always a camp fire for him to rally around and reconnect with his friends. Well, in what could be the dying fire of the days of motoring enthusiasts, tiny burning embers of cars like the forthcoming BMW “M1″ give enthusiasts a place to rally for warmth in the knowledge that someone still cares about what gets us excited. I say, bring these cars on, BMW, who knows how much longer we’ll be able to enjoy gasoline engines and manual transmissions – continue to build cars that reach into our imaginations and fill our heads with curled roads and full driver involvement. Even Collin Chapman himself would be happy to see the direction performance cars are beginning to take.