1981 E26 M1 Group 4
1981 BMW E26 M1 Group 4 #4301223
3,535cc M88 OHC inline six-cylinder, 490 hp @ 9,000 rpm,
BMW USA Classic (since 1981)
Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey
Timing is everything, especially if you’re talking about race cars. The BMW M1 was conceived as a rival to the Porsche 911, a race-ready sports car that could run as a Group 4 entry. Full homologation was planned for the 1979 season but production problems at subcontractor Lamborghini delayed that process for more than a full year. It wasn’t until March 1980 that BMW had completed the requisite 400 cars for Group 4 homologation, making the M1 eligible for series like the European Touring Car Championship and the North American IMSA series. It entered the latter by way of privateers Kenper Miller and David Cowart, who purchased an ex-Elio de Angelis Procar (#4301040) from BMW Motorsport and ran it with Red Lobster sponsorship for two seasons. Low production numbers saw the M1 classified for 1980 in the GTX category, where its 490-hp M88 was thoroughly outgunned against the 600+ hp competition.
For 1981, IMSA reclassified the M1 into the GTO class, and the Red Lobster M1 fettled by Jack Deren scored an astonishing 11 class wins in 15 races while Cowart and Miller finished 1-2 among drivers. “That M1 was the easiest car to drive fast,” Cowart said. “The handling was neutral, the front and rear of the M1 being so well-balanced.”
By then, BMW of North America had already begun campaigning its March M1/C prototype. With that car suffering teething problems, BMW NA motorsport manager purchased a pair of M1s as back-up cars. At Daytona, M1 #4301223 was pressed into service at Daytona to satisfy BMW NA’s commitment to sponsor Kenwood Audio.
In Group 4 specification, the car was eligible for the GTO class but was entered in GTX just as the M1/C would have been. With Dieter Quester, David Hobbs and Marc Surer sharing the driving duties, the M1 finished the 24 Hour classified 16th, having completed 555 laps to the winning Porsche’s 708. In truth, the car had been retired before dawn after one of the drivers brushed the wall and damaged its right-side bodywork. The car was repaired by BMW NA’s 1981 race team, DM Engineering, but Daytona would be #1223’s last race.
BMW NA’s other M1, chassis #1269, was converted by DM Engineering to Group 5 spec, which was legal in GTX. Further problems with the M1/C found Hobbs driving that M1 at Watkins Glen and Riverside, but both races ended with mechanical DNFs.
In total, some 453 M1s were built before production ended in 1981, a far cry from what Neerpasch had envisioned.
“Imagine if BMW had continued with the M1, with all the modifications, with all the development,” Neerpasch says. “They would have thousands of private customers racing M1s like Porsche does with the 911.”