Last week, I had to write a story about an interview Horatiu did with Jochen Neerpasch, while attending the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Neerpasch is the godfather of the M Division, after BMW pulled him away from Ford to help create what we now know as BMW M. It was under his direction that the M Division built its first ever mid-engine supercar, something that was designed as a race car as well as a road car from the beginning–the BMW M1.
That isn’t news, though, nor is it why I’m talking to you. Instead, I wanted to talk about one specific line in the interview, something Neerpasch said that’s haunted me every since. “I think if the M1 would have been, year-by-year developed, it [could have been] like the 911 for Porsche.”
I can’t get that statement out of my head and it’s been frustrating me ever since. As you may already know, the BMW M1 was a pretty big failure for the brand. Not only did it cost a fortune to develop, it was stuck in development hell for awhile after a deal with Lamborghini to build it went south. Then, the racing series it was developed for was canned, shutting down BMW’s whole reasoning for building it. The road car version was also so expensive that almost no one bought it and the single-car racing series BMW developed for it was a dud. So, as incredible as the M1 was, and still is, it was a failure for BMW M.
However, it seems as though Neerpasch wanted to keep working on the M1 as a model, perhaps making another one to see if it could be improved. Though, that never happened. BMW wouldn’t go on to make another mid-engine car until the BMW i8, several decades later. But what if it did? What if BMW listened to Neerpasch and decided to keep making M1s, year after year, generation after generation, and continue to improve it?
That’s the thought I can’t get out of my head. Neerpasch said the M1 could have been to BMW what the 911 is to Porsche–a flagship sports car that simply no one else can beat. Can you imagine if BMW continued to make M1s over the decades, continuously improving it, making it more affordable, and more accessible? BMW would have been the champion of relatively affordable mid-engine supercars and it would have changed the shape of the industry.
Audi often gets credit for creating one of the best everyday supercars in history, with the R8. Honda did it before Audi with the NSX. However, it was actually BMW that invented such a thing, as the M1 was not only a genuine race-bred supercar, it was also easy to drive, comfortable to sit in, and even relatively relaxed at speed. Imagine if BMW still made the M1 today? The possibilities have been haunting me for a week now and I can’t help but continue to wonder what BMW as a brand would be like, and the industry as a whole, if a perennial M1 existed. What a missed opportunity by BMW.