One of the highlights on my annual calendar is the Test Fest—an eagerly anticipated event hosted by BMW of North America. This gathering showcases the latest BMW cars released in the current calendar year. This year’s edition was nothing short of spectacular, with a staggering lineup of 110 cars available for media enthusiasts to experience firsthand. The event blends thrilling track components with real-world street drives, offering a comprehensive and exhilarating exploration of BMW’s cutting-edge offerings. But of course, there’s always one more thing. And that’s the BMW USA Classic Motorsport fleet.
As you’d expect, the media doesn’t really get a stab at these, and for good reason, because some of them are truly one-offs and irreplaceable. But they do offer the next best thing: a hot lap with driving instructors and professional racing drivers. This year, renowned racecar driver Bill Auberlen piloted the BMW Z4 GTLM, Tom Pluscinsky, Head of BMW USA Product Communications, handled the M1 IMSA Group 4, and Mike Renner, BMW Performance Center Instructor, took the reins of E92 M3 GT.
Each and one of these cars are special, with a long racing history behind them. And they’re also quite different since they hail from different eras. Let’s take a closer look at the history of these beautiful machines.
BMW M1 IMSA Group 4
The No. 2 BMW M1 IMSA Group 4 car that was campaigned by BMW of North America at the 24 Hours of Daytona and Mosport during the 1981 season and driven by the likes of David Hobbs, Mark Surer, and Dieter Quester. BMW’s prowess in motorsport was underscored by the engineering feat of the M88 straight-six engine, meticulously designed for Group 4 competition long before hitting the racing grid.
These high-performance machines were outfitted with forged pistons, reprofiled camshafts, enlarged valves, modified exhaust manifolds, and a transition to slide throttles from conventional butterfly configurations. The result? A staggering power surge, nearly doubling from 277 to an impressive 500 horsepower.
Several BMW M1s, adhering to Group 4 specifications, including the 1980 model, ventured to the U.S. to compete in the IMSA endurance-racing circuit. The year 1981 witnessed M1s clinching the top two spots in the GTO championship, marking a significant triumph for BMW. Distinguishing an IMSA-spec M1 is a choir, but here is a quick hint: the gas filler caps seamlessly block out the rear quarter “windows.”
BMW M1 IMSA Group 4
E92 BMW M3 GT
I was surprised to see Auberlen favoring the Z4 GTLM over the E92 M3 GT, especially since he drove the car during the ALMS (American Le Mans Series. But from what I heard, he has a soft spot for the Z4 GTLM. The E92 M3 GT is propelled by BMW’s P65 engine, a remarkable 4.0-liter naturally aspirated powerhouse that emits an absolutely sensational sound. This brilliant engine, when unhinged, produces around 500 horsepower. Yet, adhering to ALMS rules throughout its illustrious racing career, the engine’s on-track performance was restricted to 460 horsepower.
Auberlen dominated the Sebring 12 Hour in this very car. Even more than that, though, the BMW Team RLL swept all categories in 2011, winning the GT manufacturer, team and driver championships. This very car also took the GT class win at the 12 Hours of Sebring the following yet.
BMW M3 GT E92
BMW Z4 GTLM
The No.24 BMW Z4 GTLM is another special racing car. Not only because of its performance, but also because of its special livery. In 2015, BMW commissioned a unique livery to celebrate the premiere of the Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Of course, BMW had some success with the Z4 GTLM but that’s not what made fans love it.
Instead, there are two major reasons for why the Z4 GTLM is so desirable. The first is its design. Just look at it. The second-gen Z4 was always a gorgeous car but the GTLM is even better. The second reason is that, rather than a comparatively dinky inline-six from the road car, the Z4 GTLM used a 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8. Imagine a V8 in that little body? Sounds incredible.