This year marks the 50th anniversary of BMW’s M Division, so the Bavarian brand is naturally celebrating that milestone by showing off some of the most iconic cars in its history. While there are countless classics in the M Division’s history, there’s one car that stands out above them all, in terms of importance — the BMW M1.
Admittedly, the BMW M1 was developed before the M Division was truly used for building road cars. At the time, BMW M was genuinely a motorsport division and developed the M1 as a race car. To enter the races BMW M wanted to participate in, the M1 race car needed to be homologated for the road. Which made the road car version of the M1 more of a necessity than anything else. Despite that, it became an icon for the brand, even if it wasn’t as appreciated in its time as it should have been.
To be honest, the M1 was sort of doomed from the beginning. BMW first commissioned Lamborghini to design the M1 but the Italian brand’s financial issues caused it to back out of the project, leaving Giugiaro to pick up the design contract. While Giugiaro penned a stunning mid-engine supercar, the rest of its manufacturing required separately shipping the body, engine, and the chassis to a central location for assembly and it was all overly expensive and complicated.
Then, once BMW had it all figured out, the racing series for which the M1 was supposed to enter was cancelled, leaving BMW M with a very expensive car that now couldn’t earn its money back with race winnings. Which made the road car absurdly expensive and, ultimately, a sales failure.
It’s a shame the M1 was such a sales failure, though. Through all of the complications and controversy, the BMW M1 was somehow a brilliant car to drive. Its chassis was balanced, its suspension was shockingly supple, its steering was precise and communicative, and its engine — a motorsport-bred 3.5 liter naturally-aspirated inline-six — was an absolute joy to use. Many pundits claim it to be the first everyday supercar, as its performance rivaled genuine V12-powered supercars of its time, yet it was comfortable and easy to drive on a daily basis. Cars like the Audi R8 and McLaren 570S owe their existence to the M1.
Despite its unusual and checkered past, the BMW M1 remains one of the most iconic and beloved Bimmers of all time and worth of celebration during the 50th anniversary of the road car division it started.