One of the first stories I wrote for BMWBLOG was about the original E31 BMW M8 Prototype, the “Supercar that Wasn’t“. Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot for it and desperately wanted to see it in the flesh. By a stroke of brilliant luck, I finally had my chance to see the original M8 a few weeks ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.
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We’ve talked a lot about our time at BMW’s recent Test Fest in Palm Springs, California. During this festival of testing, we had the chance to drive some pretty incredible cars, including the BMW M850i, Rolls Royce Cullinan and BMW M340i. However, my favorite part of the day, by far and away, was the closed-room viewing we were given of some even more special cars.
I’m not at liberty to speak about any of the other cars in that closed-room viewing: not about which cars were there, nor what they were like. But I can talk about the O.G. BMW M8. After they took my cell phone and camera, I had the chance to poke around the BMW M8 Prototype, as well as the rest of the amazing cars in the secretive garage flanking The Thermal Club’s South Track. It was an incredibly exciting experience for me, as well as incredibly nerve-wracking.
Upon first seeing the M8 Prototype, I simply blocked it out of my vision so I could see the other cars BMW had to show us instead. I wanted to save the M8 for last, to savor it. It’s such a special and wonderful machine that I wanted to take my time, absorb it all without having to think about the others. When it finally came time to poke around the M8, I was nervous.
The BMW M8 Prototype on hand in Palm Springs is the M8 Prototype. There isn’t another one. BMW never made a second example. There’s just the one. It’s a one-off prototype that was built almost thirty years ago and it’s not exactly production ready. Not every body panel fits on perfectly, its interior is incomplete and we wouldn’t even open its carbon fiber hood for fear the latch would break. Not even the BMW exec who was showing me around wasn’t touching that. I didn’t blame him.
It’s truly something special to behold when you see it in person, though. Back in the ’90s, it was considered far, far ahead of its time; remarkably high-tech and ambitious. It had a carbon fiber hood, carbon fiber door skins — which had the mirror housings actually built into the door skins themselves — and even carbon fiber wheels (in the ’90s!). It took decades after that for carbon fiber wheels to make it to a production vehicle. It was an astonishing thing then and it’s an astonishing thing now. Walking around it, my knees were weak.
Then it came time to sit in it. After the BMW exec opened the door with extreme caution and precision (wisely, as it didn’t make the most secure of noises as it opened), he motioned me to sit in it. Admittedly, the cabin looked solid, as it’s mostly stripped out with a roll cage, Sabelt racing seats and Alcantara everywhere. It’s essentially the cockpit of a race car and it feels as sturdy as one.
Still, wiggling my way through the very narrow opening into the very snug Sabelts was a bit frightening. (What if I accidentally broke off one of the switches with my knee on the way in?) Once in place, though, I was in heaven. The kick-ass M Sport steering wheel from the ’90s — no frills, no buttons, just a three-spoke steering wheel that looks great and feels great in hand — Alcantara-covered everything and the short shifter make the M8 Prototype feel far cooler than any other E31 8er. It’s odd to sit in because your brain tells you you’re in an 8 Series and they’re supposed to be luxurious and comfy but your body is telling you that you’re in a race car. It’s awesome.
Now, I have to say, I might have been the only one with such a reaction. Not only am I a huge nerd but I have a severe weakness for the M8 Prototype. It’s the only one. That’s amazing to me, to think that I sat in the unicorn that is the first-ever, and only ever, E31 BMW M8. I still can’t stop thinking about it.