The History of ///M, Part 1: 1972 to ’86

     Let’s take a quick detour from the E30 M3 and explore the history of the BMW M GmbH itself.  BMW M was created 14 years prior (1972) to the release of the E30 M3 to help facilitate BMW’s racing program.  They started out as an 8 man team, and their first project was the 3.0 CSL (based on the E9 chassis), the spiritual predecessor to the E30 M3.  It was the success of the CSL in the European Touring Car Championship that started BMW’s sports car image; with the help of M no doubt.

     Their next project was supposed to be developed solely by Lamborghini as a pure race car due to the financial problems BMW had at the time.  Ironically, Lamborghini also fell on some hard times and had to hand the project back over to BMW to finish.  The problem was that it wasn’t completed on time for the German racing championships due to the delays.  The next choice would be to enter the Procar Series, which required their racecars to be based on a production car.  It was beecause of this that the thinly veiled racecar was released to the public in 1978 under the M1 monikor with a small run of only ~450 cars.  So far, it’s the only M1 model ever created, and the only mid-engined BMW as well.

     A year later in 1979, BMW released an M version of the E12 5 series for everyday use under the M535i model.  It was basically a performance tuned version of the stock 535i, but basically for those enthusiasts who lusted for M1 power yet wanted everyday drivability.

     The next M model was released in 1983, and still wasn’t a fully badged BMW, but rather an M tuned 6 series.  Based on the E24 chassis, BMW M turned the 635i into the M635iCSi by using a modified version of the M88/3 engine they stuffed into the M1 six years prior.

     So what was next?  A racecar, a 5 series, and a 6 series were already “M”odified by M-Technik.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the M3, but rather another 5 series.  But not just “another” 5 series; this time it was badged as a “real” M car, under the first M5 monikor.  Based on the E28 chassis 535i, this M5 breathed through an evolution of the M88/3, dubbed the S30.  Pushing 286 horses, this wasn’t just any family four door, but it was the fastest performance saloon in the world at the time (1984).

     It was two years later that the E30 M3 was released to the public in 1986.  And thus the first M3 was born.  Designed from the ground up for the tracks, this road-going version was released only due to homologation purposes.  And we could tell.  It was a perfect mix of racecar and sports car, to the point where you could almost smell the burning tires seeping through the bulging wheel arches and feel the wind rushing through the massive front spoiler and over the rear wing.  It was hard.  It was mean.  It was ugly.  But it was beautiful.  Function over form with no compromises.  This was what the M3 was all about.  By the time 1988 came around, demand for the M models was high enough to persuade BMW to release an M version of every new generation 3 and 5 series.


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© 2009 Rusi Li

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