Nowadays, F1 drivers are focused on F1 and F1 only, apart from the odd adventure Fernando Alonso undertook in 2017 as he entered the Indy 500 and allowed Jenson Button to take his place for the Monaco Grand Prix. Decades ago though, drivers would compete in multiple races on a single race weekend, all for the thrill of speed and competition. Perhaps the most famous F1 support category outside of open-wheel championships such as Formula 2, Formula 3 or Formula 5000 was the M1 Procar championship. This one-make championship pitted some of the greatest F1 aces up against sportscar and touring car champions and sadly lasted only 2 seasons. Nevertheless, it cemented the legacy of the BMW M1 as a truly iconic car both on the road and on the track. Some people even took it racing after the M1 Procar series folded, with mixed results. But there’s one M1 variant I bet you haven’t seen or heard of; the mad 1,000bhp Jägermeister orange BMW M1 Group 5 racer we’re featuring in the Petrolhead Corner today!
The BMW M1 & the Procar series
The BMW M1 is one of those cars that a lot of people know of and admire, but few actually have seen in person. I consider myself lucky enough to have seen and heard one blast around Zandvoort during the Historic Grand Prix event a few years back, and it was a lasting experience for sure. Part of the reason that so few people have actually experienced an M1 up close is the fact only 453 were made, making it one of the rarest BMWs ever. From that production run of 453, 399 were made for the road, and the rest were converted to racing specs.
How the BMW M1 actually came to life is another classic example of competition. BMW was in fierce competition with Porsche for years, primarily in Touring Car style racing. The brand’s 2002 Turbo, 320 Turbo and 3.0 and 3.5 CSL racing cars all competed against a multitude of Porsche Racing cars. Jochen Neerpasch, head of BMW Motorsport GmbH at the time, wanted to finally build a racing car from the ground up and have it homologated with a road car to take on Porsche’s might (specifically that of the 935), instead of converting a road car to go racing. The result is the wedge-like M1, penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro and inspired by the 1972 BMW Turbo concept car.
The racing M1 was intended to enter the World Sportscar Championship in 1979, as well as Group 4 and 5 type championships. As the car was being built to a minimum of 400 units to homologate it for Group 4 and Group 5 racing, Neerpasch came up with the idea of a one-make racing series to demonstrate (and test) the M1 before it was set out to compete against other manufacturers. His connection to Max Mosley, the head of March Engineering and a prominent figure in the racing scene at that time, opened the door to adding the newly formed M1 Procar Championship to the F1 calendar as a support racing series.
For the 1979 season, the M1 Procar series would be introduced in the European races only but would field quite a few F1 drives as well as top drivers from other categories. The lightweight fibreglass car was fitted with a 3.5-litre straight-six engine taken from a roadgoing M1 but tuned to 470bhp. Top speeds were in excess of 300kph, and zero-to-100kph would take less than 4.5 seconds.
Names that competed in either the 1979 or 1980 season (or both) were Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, and Riccardo Patrese. By 1982, BMW had complied with the stipulation of 400 built cars and as such, the M1 was homologated to compete in Group 4 and Group 5 racing series. However, as BMW shifted its focus to building Formula 1 engines for Brabham, there was no need for the M1 Procar Series any longer, and the championship was laid to rest after just two seasons. Niki Lauda won the title in 1979, with Nelson Piquet being the best in the 1980 season.
one thousand horsepower
But the career of the BMW M1 didn’t end there, as the car showed huge potential in its M1 Procar Series. The cars used over the 1979 and 1980 seasons were sold off to racing teams or privateers to be used in the World Sportscar Championship or other racing series. Several of these teams started experimenting with increased power levels or more advanced aerodynamics in order to keep the M1 eligible for various classes of racing. The team of Schnitzer for instance, rebuilt an M1 to twin-turbo power, boosting the engine to 800bhp!
Another example is this wild BMW M1 Group 5 racing prototype in Jägermeister colours, a racing suit it officially is not supposed to wear but was the idea of Fritz Wagner, an M1 expert and the man who rebuilt this specific one. Originally it is said to be built for the Walter Brün racing team, who slipped a modified BMW M88 turbo engine into a modified M1 Procar chassis. The car was fitted with Group 5 compliment bodywork, including a massive front splitter, wider wheel arches and a huge rear wing. The result, even though the orange paint job isn’t original (nor licensed for that matter) looks menacing. It also doesn’t hurt that this Jägermeister livery has gone down in history as one of the best ever, up there with Martini, Rothmans, Marlboro, Gulf Oil and so on.
For reasons that are unknown to Classic Driver, and BMW as well, the car never saw any officially sanctioned racing action, leaving behind an unanswered question of what it could achieve. Following the car’s complete rebuild, it was tested on a dyno and just before it broke down the engine kicked out a monstrous 1,000bhp and 930Nm of torque. More than plenty to cope with the mere 1,020 kilos this car puts on the scale.
According to Classic Driver, the source for this specific car, the current owner intends to take it out on track days and attend revival-style events on a regular basis, which should be quite a sight to behold. Just imagine, seeing this orange missile blast down the straight at Monza, up Eau Rouge, or through Maggots and Becketts in a whirlwind of turbo-flutter…..