InsideLine heads to Germany to drive the BMW M1, that is the iconic M supercar and not the 1M launched last year. Before jumping into the unique and exciting test drive, let’s take a quick look at the history of BMW M1.
The M1 came to life in 1978 at the Paris Motor Show as the M divisions first ever creation.The M1 coupe was hand-built between 1978 and 1981 as a homologation special for sports car racing. The body was designed by Giugiaro, taking inspiration from the 1972 BMW Turbo show car.
At the time of its launch, it was one of the fastest and most dynamic cars on the market. It featured a 277 horsepower 3.5-liter straight-six engine and could reach speeds in excess of 160 mph. The redline came at 7,000 rpm and the M1 was capable of accelerating from 0-62 mph in 5.6 seconds.
So how does it drive nearly 35 years later?
Shockingly Easy To Drive
Yet this 34-year-old supercar is as easy to get in and operate as a new BMW 328i. If you know how to drive, you can drive an M1.
Mind you, the ZF five-speed manual gearbox has a dogleg 1st gear, so 1st, 3rd and 5th are all in the lower plane. Only reverse gear proves difficult to engage in my car. And I’m not even out of the driveway before I appreciate the M1’s visibility — the sight lines are as good as any midengine car I can recall.
On the road, I can’t shake the feeling that the BMW M1 is too easy to drive. In spite of its exotic specification, it’s quiet, with a bizarrely compliant ride, and it ambles along in a high gear at next to no revs without protest. Were its interior not so useless, you’d be convinced you were in a low-slung 7 Series.
It’s 30 Years Young
But once some temperature has been registered in the oil (all M1s were dry-sumped, by the way, so the inline-6 engine could be mounted low and upright in the chassis), I give the M1 more throttle and its personality starts to change.
It’s no Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation, but when you load up the car’s double-wishbone suspension and run the inline-6 at higher rpm, you won’t miss the signs. The engine note, smooth but indistinct so far, becomes clear and hard. Unpolluted by power assist, the precise rack-and-pinion steering slowly fills with life. A car that had felt slack now feels poised, ready for action. The only thing to do is go faster.
This is a leap of faith because you’re asking a car that’s over 30 years old to perform as if it were new — something I might ask of a Porsche 911 from this era, but certainly not a brutish Countach or Ferrari Boxer. Yet, the midengine M1 feels light and trustworthy, and it likes to change direction.
But this isn’t why I love the BMW M1. Nor is it the slow but precise gearbox or the unexpectedly powerful brakes. It’s the way the car feels in your hands. Despite being sired in Germany and Italy to more parents than a Labradoodle, the M1 behaves like the purest thoroughbred.
Grip levels are not massive. The rear tires measure just 225/50R16 (with skinnier 205/55R16s up front) and look as if they belong on a Mazda 3 or something, but they’re perfectly in keeping with the car’s less-is-more character. The sensation when you feel the M1 flow into gorgeous neutrality would feel entirely alien in a heavier, modern supercar with huge tires, adaptive suspension and a full complement of electronic safety aids.
Driving an M1 with the wheel constantly squirming in your hands, trimming the car’s attitude to an approaching corner with tiny movements of your foot soon becomes a natural state. In this regard, the BMW M1 is closer to a Caterham than a modern supercar. And it is breathtaking, sublime fun.