In an article I penned for The Truth About Cars back in 2016, I covered some of the development of the Wedge Era and how those spectacular show car designs channeled their design language down to more pedestrian models. One of the stars of that article were the cutting-edge looks from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign – the firm, and man, responsible for some of your favorites such as the basic shape for the Audi Quattro. But while the Quattro launched its brand into the luxury realm and redefined the 80s, the undisputed German star of the wedgey wonders was the BMW M1.
Like the Quattro, the M1 redefined and refined BMW’s core mission, helping to launch the Motorsport division along with the 3.0 CSL and 2002 Turbo. While Giugiaro had also had his hand in the M1’s design, the genesis of the shape lay in the much earlier Paul Bracq designed Turbo concept. Bracq, in turn, had undoubtedly been influenced by the late 1960s creations of both Giorgetto Giugiaro (at Ghia and ItalDesign) and Marcello Gandini (Bertone), as well as the efforts and splash rival Mercedes-Benz had made in 1969 with the C111 concept and record setter.
But while Daimler was hesitant to enter serial production with such a departure from their tried and true sedan designs, the M1 proved to be just the spark BMW was looking for to ignite the fire in driving enthusiast’s minds. It was, at the time, the Ultimate Driving Machine:
Update 1/31/2019: The seller has relisted this M1 now at $695,000 – nearly $200,000 down from last Spring, but probably still ahead of the market.
Update 7/29/18: After listing in May at $875,000, the seller has dropped the price to $725,000 – still high for the model, but not as far out of line. Will it sell this time around?
I give Audi a lot of credit for bringing the R8 to market. It took a fair amount of gall for a company best known for mid-range all-wheel drive luxury sedans to up and produce a supercar-beating mid-engine road car capable of being used year-round and every day. It’s a feat nearly without precedent. Of course, I said “nearly”.
That’s because BMW pulled off a similar trick the best part of thirty years before Audi did it. And arguably the development of what would become BMW’s fledgling Motorsports division was even more impressive than what Ingolstadt pulled off. The M1 burst onto the scene at a time of economic austerity, global oil crises and came from a company who not only didn’t have a history of producing such cars, but didn’t have connections to others who did (unlike Audi’s corporate Lamborghini partnership).
Speaking of Lamborghini, because of BMW’s lack of expertise in supercar design it was the Sant’Agata firm that was employed to produce the M1. But because of Lamborghini’s lack of expertise at being…well, a company capable of producing something on a schedule, BMW engineers had to first liberate the early molds from Italy and then find someone who could produce the car. Ultimately, it was a combination of ItalDesign in Turin, Marchesi metal working in Modena to build the frames and Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart that stuck the M1 together. Though it doesn’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, and indeed the M1 was a relative sales flop, it has nonetheless grown to cult status as one of the most user-friendly supercars of the late 1970s:
BMW has teased us with competitor’s to Audi’s S8 and the Mercedes-Benz S63/5 AMGs, and there’s no doubt that the current M760i is a weapons-grade executive. With over 600 horsepower and a 3.4 second 0-60 time, drives to you your business lunches will be brief to say the least. But BMW has stopped short of coming out with a full-fledged M7 to this point, and it turns out they’ve been teasing us all along.
The first 7-series was a big step forward for the company, and just like today’s top-shelf offering, the 745i was a turbocharged variant that offered the best performance. That is, of course, unless you were in South Africa. That’s because South Africa got a very special E23, and it all had to do with the right side – of the road, and of the motor. On the M102 and 106, performance of the M30 was boosted by a big KKK K27 turbocharger on the right side of the motor. The placement conflicted with right-drive steering columns, and as a result BMW didn’t build right-hand drive 745i turbos. But South Africa was having none of that, and decided to build their own super-saloon. Instead of turbocharging, BMW SA installed a M88/3 in a claimed 209 of their E23s, matching the performance with M5/6 brakes and a stiffer suspension, along with BBS wheels:
The M635CSi somehow gets lost among the other greats of the period from BMW. Perhaps, for U.S. fans, it’s the nomenclature that’s confusing. After all, there was a M1, an M3, and a M5, but when it came to the M version of the E24, BMW stuck with the moniker M635CSi in all markets but the United States and Japan. Confounding that decision was the launch of the E28 M535i. Like the M635CSi, it had additional body pieces, special interior trim and wheels from M-Technic. But while the M535i had a fairly normal M30 under the hood, the E24 received the full-fat M88/3 that was shared with the M5. Like the European M5 production started in 1984, well before they were available to U.S. customers. But while the M5 only sold in very sparse numbers over its short production cycle (about 775 sold in Europe between 1984 and 1987), the M635i was a relative hit, with just over 3,900 selling overall – far more than made it the U.S. market. Additionally, the European models were a slightly more pure form of the design; smaller bumpers, less weight, and about 30 more horsepower on tap without catalyst.
These European spec models were offered with some color combinations and interiors that never came to the U.S. market. A great example of the combination of these factors is today’s 1986 right hand drive model in the striking “AkaziengrÃ¼n” – Acacia Green Metallic:
I won’t bore you with an attempt to fully recount the storied history of the M1 here. But there are some interesting developments that helped create this halo car, changed its purpose and created the car that you see here. The M1 is a legendary car that, like the 959, 190E 2.3-16V Cosworth, RS200 and some other notable historic cars was born into a world that had already passed it by. It seems that often these ultimate cars have come about when the series rules have changed, and the M1 was part of that. The 959 moved from Group B to Le Mans, running high overall both attempts that it ran. The 190E took to the race track instead of rally, creating a new motorsports legend in the process – who can forget the images of Senna in the 190E? The RS200 moved towards the popular European sport of Rallycross, where it was extremely successful. And the M1? Well, the M1 was a bit lost; BMW had to build 400 of the expensive machines in a bit of a global recession, so they decided to make a one-make race series called the Procar series. Of course, it didn’t hurt that BMW was attempting to get its foot in the door with F1 management as an engine supplier, and the promise of the spectacle of F1 drivers let loose in supercars before the real race sure sounded appealing. What it was, most of the time, was a train wreck of crashes – but it was entertaining for sure, and they ended up building enough M1s to go racing where the car was intended, in Group 5 racing. While BMWs interests and technology passed by the M1 in the early 1980s, there was nevertheless a group of individuals who wanted their M1s turned up in the style of the wild winged, wide fendered and massive wheeled Procars. The result were the 10 AHG Studie cars:
In Paul’s recent M6 Roundup he celebrated the many different colors that the M6 came in, including a rare Bronzit example. It’s one of the many reasons I prefer the M6 over the M5. The second reason is the particular look of the updated 88 examples; with slimmed down bumpers, they look a bit closer in my mind to the original design than the other U.S. spec cars. Of course, in an ideal world I’d want a clean Euro example – with small bumpers, the right motor and perhaps an even more rare color combination, such as this Alpine White with Buffalo hide leather 1985:
A about a month ago I wrote up a M6 roundup, covering the many nice examples for sale. They range greatly in price and condition these days, so it’s really best to do your homework, find the one you like and try to get one with a solid maintenance history over a few less miles. But occasionally one pops up that you just say “Wow!” to, and this one is pretty high up here. With a reported 40,000 miles, this European-spec 1985 M635CSi is just jaw-dropping:
If you want a grand coupe, room for 4 in a pinch, looks to melt hearts and minds and a race car soundtrack, the E24 M6 and M635CSi are one of the few options for you. A supreme autobahn blitzer capable of hanging with sports cars on back roads, the M6 has a pretty unique skill set hidden beneath that flowing exterior. Right now, there are five great condition Ms up on Ebay, so I thought it was time to do a roundup of what was available and take a look at the options. The first is probably the best one money can buy, and not a stranger to these pages. We saw this ultra-low mile museum piece as part of the 1980s BMW M “Holy Trinity” post I did last fall, and while the location and seller has changed, the condition hasn’t:
If the classic 911 market has scared you, the Mercedes-Benz SECs are a little too soft and you worry about a foray into 928 ownership costs, M6 and M635CSi are a great alternative for a high-speed weekend transport for two. The U.S. received the quite potent and catalyst-equipped S38 motor, while the original daddy M635CSi got the full-fat M88 motor right out of the M1. With nearly 300 horsepower on tap, the M88 and those beautiful headers was a healthy upgrade from the U.S. version. If that wasn’t enough, you also got the much cleaner looking bumpers to go along with the extra ponies. Many M635s made it here thanks to the grey market, and occasionally one pops up for sale, such as today’s silver example:
Looking for some garage art and a BMW fan? This valve cover off one of the highest regarded engines ever may suit the bill. The M88 was and is a fantastic motor, redefining the place of BMW amongst the great car makers of the world for enthusiasts. While it’s not so cheap to buy a M88 engine or M88-engined car, you can pick up this great looking valve cover to adorn a wall and pay tribute to that monster inline-6:
Model: M1, M635CSi, M6, M535i, M5
Price: $175 Buy It Now
This is the Valve Cover pulled from a 1985 M635 with 100k miles on it. The cover is in mint condition. The finish is in beautiful shape. One of the nicest I have seen.
This is for the Euro M88 motor – 1984 – 1987 e24 M635csi and e28 M5. It will not fit the North American S38
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I love the slightly worn but still very presentable look. It has just the right patina to make it fly as wall art. At $250, it’s not cheap, but as I said it’s a whole lot cheaper than buying a whole car!