BMW M1 Procar Has a Special Place in BMW Motorsport's History
It is hard to believe that the BMW M1 is over 35-years-old. The first super car from Munich was so ahead of it’s time, you can comfortably say that it still has a very modern look and an equally powerful performance even though it is already considered a “classic car”.
Its development started in the early 70s when BMW realized that they need to do something more to keep up with the burning motor sports scene. BMW wanted to outdo the super fast Porsche 911 and envisioned a mid-engine sports car with one of best BMW’s engines ever – M88/1 (straight six with 3,5 liters of displacement and 277 bhp).
Lamborghini deal that fell through
BMW contacted Lamborghini and asked for help to develop a new car. Lamborghini gave BMW the valuable know-how in making mid-engined sports cars but proved to be very slow in the process so BMW transferred the M1 project back to Germany in order to finish it on time.
The car was finally finished in 1978 and introduced to the eagerly awaiting public. The M1 was BMW’s triumph in engineering and also showed its progressive thinking since the car was fast, perfectly balanced, beautiful and powerful. However, it was also very expensive and had a long waiting list. This was totally new as a concept compared to the regular BMW market segment. So it is not strange that BMW only sold 453 copies between 1978 and 1981.
BMW had great plans for M1 and World Championship
However, even though it may not be remembered as a commercial success, the M1 will always be known as the perfect race car for a fantastic but short-lived racing series called the BMW M1 Procar Championship or simply as Procar. It was created by Jochen Neerpasch, head of BMW Motorsport, who had an idea of getting together the world’s best racing drivers in identical BMW M1s.
The first idea was to build a race car for the World Sportscar Championship in 1979. BMW Motorsport planned to build racing version of M1 to meet the Group 5 regulations but the rules were changed by FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile). The regulations required a minimum of 400 cars to be built to meet Group 4 regulations before the car could be further homologated for the Group 5 category. Development of the Group 4 race car was already in process during 1978, so Neerpasch proposed that BMW Motorsport could launch the new one-make racing series while they were waiting to build 400 road cars.
Max Mosley helped Neerpasch to create a new racing series
Neerpasch asked Max Mosley for help. Mosley was the head of March Engineering, which partnered with BMW in the European Formula Two Championship, but he was also a member of the Formula One Constructors Association. He was able to convince other Formula One constructors to support the new racing series. They agreed that BMW M1 Procar would be a supporting series of the European Formula One events.
The cars used in the Procar championship were built to be identical, although all cars weren’t manufactured in the same factories. BS Fabrications constructed five cars for the BMW factory team, while other cars were constructed by the British F2 team Project Four Racing (led by Ron Dennis) and the Italian constructor Osella.
BMW M1 race car: 470 hp and 310 km/h maximum speed
The racing cars, designed to meet Group 4 technical regulations, were based on the M1 road cars, but with numerous modifications. The aerodynamic package had a deep spoiler under the nose of the car and an adjustable wing at the rear. The wheel-arches were extended outward and the race car was 32 cm wider than road version of the M1. In the interior, all unnecessary things were moved out and the roll cage was built in.
The standard M88 straight-six 3,453cc engine was extensively modified and the power was increased from 277 to 470hp. The 5-speed ZF gearbox was the same, but gear ratios were changed. The car’s weight was brought down to 1,020 kilograms. Top speed of the BMW M1 Procar was about 310 km/h, with an acceleration from zero to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds.
Michelin, Ferrari and Renault forbid their drivers to compete
The Procar Association was formed to led the Procar Championship and the series was presented in spring 1978, at the official unveiling of the M1 road car. To attract Formula One drivers to the competition, seats were guaranteed in five BMW factory cars for the five fastest F1 drivers from Friday practice.
However, because the series ran Goodyear tyres, some drivers were not allowed to compete due to contractual obligations with Michelin. Some teams and manufacturer, as Scuderia Ferrari and Renault, also didn’t allow their F1 drivers to participate in the one-make series with BMW cars.
Greatest names in motorsport behind the wheel of M1 Procar
Despite that, the grid was always full of some of the greatest F1 drivers ever, such were Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Alan Jones, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Elio de Angelis, Didier Pironi, etc.
Formula One drivers earned spots on the grid based on their performance in Friday’s practice, but the organizers also were inviting some non-F1 drivers. Beside BMW factory team, the other teams in the competition were Project Four, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, Eggenberger Racing, Schnitzer Motorsport, Team Konrad, GS Tuning, Cassani Racing and Ecurie Arvor.
Niki Lauda was the 1979 BMW M1 Procar champion
The inaugural season of the BMW M1 Procar featured nine races, eight for points and one non-championship event as a part of Gunnar Nilsson Trophy at Donington Park. The championship races were held between May and September 1979, as supporting events for Grand Prix races at Zolder, Monaco, Dijon-Prenois, Silverstone, Hockenheimring, Österreichring, Zandvoort and Monza.
The winner of the first round at Zolder was Elio De Angelis. Niki Lauda, who competed in the opening round for the BMW factory team and seven races for the Project Four Racing, became the 1979 Procar champion, after winning three races (Monaco, Silverstone and Hockenheim). Hans-Joachim Stuck claimed two championship wins and finished second in the final standings. Jacques Laffite and Nelson Piquet won one race each. Piquet was also the winner in the non-championship event at Donington Park. Clay Regazzoni, who didn’t win any race, finished third in the points.
Different schedule for the second season
The next season was even more interesting and expanded into a series of its own with races rather than just being a support even for F1 events. The season started in April with the International Procar Meeting at Donington Park. The next race was held at the famous AVUS circuit. In May, BMW M1 Procar was again in Monaco and then the new event at Norisring followed. In the rest of the season, five more events were on the schedule during Grand Prix weekends at Brands Hatch, Hockenheimring, Österreichring, Zandvoort and Imola.
For the events which were separate from F1, five drivers were chosen to drive for BMW factory team. These five were Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite, Nelson Piquet, Didier Pironi, and Carlos Reutemann. Other F1 drivers which earned spots on the grid were Alain Prost, Riccardo Patrese, Mario Andretti, Derek Daly and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
Nelson Piquet was the 1980 BMW M1 Procar champion
On the list of the teams, old teams were Project Four, GS Tuning, Eggenberger Racing, Cassani Racing and Schnitzer Motorsport. Newcomers were BMW Holland, Sauber and private teams of Arturo Merzario, Dieter Quester and Helmut Marko.
The winner of the first race at Donington Park was Jan Lammers. Manfred Schurti has won at AVUS and then Hans-Joachim Stuck won races at Norisring and Monaco. The next two winners were Carlos Reutemann at Brands Hatch and Didier Pironi at Hockenheimring. Nelson Piquet triumphed in the last three races and won the championship title, ahead of Alan Jones and Hans-Joachim Stuck.
BMW focused to F1 and sold M1 cars to privateers
Everybody expected that BMW Motorsport would continue to organize Procar races in 1981 but the plan was changed, as BMW made an agreement to enter the Formula One in 1982 as an engine builder for Brabham. The factory did not have the capacity to produce enough cars and the M1 program was shut down. BMW shifted its interest to other things and 20 BMW M1 Procar race cars, which were eligible to enter international competitions, were sold to private teams.
The BMW M1 Procar series, even though was very short-lived, remained as one of the finest moments of BMW Motorsport history and deserves its place in a history of sports car racing in general.