1977 E21 320 Turbo
1977 BMW E21 320 Turbo #E21-R1-05 (McLaren #002)
1,999cc turbocharged M12/9 turbocharged four-cylinder, 625 hp @ 9,500 rpm
BMW USA Classic (since 1977)
Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey
When the 1976 IMSA season ended, so did BMW’s racing program with the E9 CSL. That December, the BMW Motorsport engineering team led by Rainer Bratenstein began preparing a new generation of E21 3 Series racers for the three-car Junior Team racing in the ETCC, plus a single-car BMW of North America entry in IMSA. Motorsport transformed the E21 into a lightweight exotic with titanium coil springs, magnesium uprights, and an aluminum roll cage and wheel hubs. Everything from the engine to the transmission to the driver’s seat was repositioned for optimum weight balance, and the steel bodywork was replaced by fiberglass shaped in the Pininfarina wind tunnel.
When the 320 arrived at BMW NA’s race shop, McLaren Engines in Livonia, Michigan crafted a new “cow catcher” front spoiler and giant rear wing, along with boxy fenders to accommodate gigantic 19 x 14-inch rear wheels. Unbeknownst to the BMW board, Motorsport directors Jochen Neerpasch and Paul Rosche had also engaged McLaren to develop the F2-spec M12/7 into a turbocharged engine for Formula One—something Rosche had been banned from doing in Munich.
McLaren Engines’ Gary Knutson and Wiley McCoy transformed the M12/7 into the 550-hp turbocharged M12/9; by 1979, output increased to 625-635 hp @ 9,500 rpm. Its experimental nature saw the 320 Turbo DNF 23 times over three seasons in IMSA, though when it didn’t retire it scored 8 victories and 6 more podiums. More importantly, the 320 Turbo paved the way for turbocharged M12/13 that won the 1983 F1 world championship for Brabham-BMW.
The car you see here, 320 Turbo E21-R1-05 (McLaren #002), was one of five works E21s built by BMW Motorsport in 1977, three of which went to McLaren. Chassis #002 began its career with an 8th-place finish by David Hobbs and Ronnie Peterson at Mosport on August 19, 1977. In September, with engine power boosted to 590 hp, Hobbs drove it to solo wins at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca.
For 1978, #002 had 625 hp, and Hobbs drove it to 4th at Laguna before scoring the car’s only win of the season at Sears Point. Peterson DNF’d it at Watkins Glen, and chassis #002 didn’t race again until Riverside on April 22, 1979, when Hobbs and Manfred Winkelhock suffered an engine-related DNF. At Daytona on July 4, Hobbs led the field in #002 until turbo failure took him out of the car’s last race.
At the end of the ’79 season, 320 Turbo #002 was stashed in a barn next to DM Engineering in Connecticut until 1985, when it was rescued by BMW NA motorsport manager Erik Wensberg and marketing VP Hans Riedel. DM gave it a cosmetic restoration before it was reunited with Hobbs for the 2001 Monterey Historic Races, after which PTG restored it more thoroughly. The car is owned by BMW USA Classic.