1981 March-BMW 812 F2
1981 March-BMW 812 F2 #812-7
1,999cc M12/7 OHC inline four-cylinder, 321 hp @ 10,000 rpm
If one engine holds the key to BMW’s motorsport activity in the postwar era, it’s the M10 four-cylinder, introduced in 1961 to power the New Class 1500 sedan. The 1.5-liter M10 was unusually robust, with 5 main bearings rather than the usual 3, overhead camshafts rather than pushrods and a stout iron block that could be enlarged to 2.0 liters with no loss of reliability.
In the mid-1960s, the M10 also served as the basis for the experimental Formula 2 engines developed by Ludwig Apfelbeck, who’d designed BMW airplane engines during WWII. In 1969, BMW built a 1.6-liter F2 engine using Apfelbeck’s radial-valve cylinder head, and the newly-designated M12 carried Hubert Hahne to 2nd place in that year’s European F2 championship. Perfected by Paul Rosche for 1970, the M12/2 produced 240 hp at 10,000 rpm, and BMW-powered Derek Bell and Dieter Quester finished 2nd and 4th, respectively. BMW withdrew from racing in 1971, but the arrival of new sales chief Bob Lutz at the start of 1972 and the founding of BMW Motorsport created an opening for further development—as did a new 2.0-liter Formula Two.
With 275 hp, Rosche’s M12/6 was the class of the field when BMW rejoined the series in 1973, and the March-BMW F2 team became wildly successful. Stints with March-BMW launched the careers of Hans-Joachim Stuck, Jacques Lafitte, Ronnie Peterson, Eddie Cheever, Manfred Winkelhock, Marc Surer and many others.
Between 1973 and 1984, six drivers won F2 titles using the BMW M12/6 or /7, all but one in a March chassis. Over 12 seasons in Formula Two, BMW’s M12 won 89 of 148 races, making it one of the most dominant racing engines of all time…even before it conquered F1.
The car shown here: A 1981 March 812 powered by a BMW M12/7 four-cylinder, chassis #812-7 was raced by 23-year-old Christian Danner in his first year with the BMW works team. (Note: The car’s current livery does not reflect Danner’s Hugo Boss/Penthouse sponsorship for 1981 but the “BMW M Style/M Power” graphics used in 1982.) Danner scored just two points from a 5th-place finish at Thruxton, while teammates Thierry Boutsen and Corrado Fabi took three wins between them in identically-prepared cars. 1982 was another learning year for Danner, but improved to 5th overall in 1983 and ’84, and in 1985 he became the first Formula 3000 champion after taking four wins in a March 85B powered by the series-spec Cosworth V8. He went on to a long career with BMW in sports car racing, winning the 1992 Spa 24 Hours in an E30 M3 with Steve Soper and Jean-Michel Martin.