The History of BMW M Division

“The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

A bold claim, and probably the best slogan for a car company ever. However, while regular BMW models have excellent power and handling, they’re merely “Very Good Driving Machines.” If you want a real Ultimate Driving Machine, get one with an “M” on it.

M division is BMW’s automotive skunkworks that grew from early motorsport efforts. Originally eight serious-looking Bavarians with wrenches, M now tunes a modified version of almost every BMW.

1978 BMW M1
Conceived as a purpose-built racecar, the M1 had a protracted birth. BMW had no experience building mid-engine cars, so turned to the Italians, Lamborghini and Ital Design.

Unfortunately, Lamborghini was going through one of its periodic financial crises and promptly went bankrupt, leaving BMW with little more than a design. Forced to turn to outside contractors, BMW lost interest and only produced 455 units of the wedge-shaped supercar that combined Italian flair and performance with German reliability and luxury.

1984 E39 M5
Powered by the same straight-six as the M1, this super-sedan took a practical four-door and added as much performance as the chassis could handle: a recipe that took 14 years to perfect.

The 1998 E39 chassis M5 was not much to look at. This was the pre-Chris Bangle design period and the 5 series BMW was a model of restraint. Only a special set of alloy wheels, a single “M” badge and quad-exhaust pipes gave any clue to the beast caged within. Fangs poking out from under the sheep’s clothing.

With leather interior, A/C and electric memory seats, the M5 was unabashedly a luxury car. When asked, though, it would shrug off its weight and turn into a boulevard strafer.

1985 E30 M3
Homologation rules meant that entering the nimble 3 series in touring car races required a road-going version. Thus, the M3 was born. Launched in 1985 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the E30 chassis M3 was an instant hit.

Whereas the M5 was the kick boxer in a business suit, the M3 might as well have been wearing NOMEX racing gear. With its flared wheel-arches and rear spoiler, the M3 got speeding tickets while parked. The 200 hp four-cylinder engine was more than enough for the lightweight chassis, and racing versions dominated the track for years.

1998 M Roadster
Engineered in secret by five renegades who got a hold of a soon-to-be-released Z3 coupe and created a masterpiece, the M-Roadster might never have seen an open road. Luckily, the rogue engineers managed to convince the bean counters to give them the go-ahead.

A clown-shoe with jet-thrusters, the M roadster is pure performance with a hatchback big enough to carry a Labrador retriever – or your set of racing slicks. The car that M division’s managing director took home most often set performance benchmarks respectable even today, with 0 – 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and an unrestricted top speed of around 275 km/h.

Not many M roadsters sold and owners tend to be a bit self-deprecating given the wacky styling. Members of this exclusive club attend an annual gathering called, fittingly, Dorkfest.

Image courtesy of RuffLife

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