1981 March BMW M1C
1981 March-BMW M1/C #81P-01
2.0-liter M12/9 turbocharged four-cylinder, 650 hp @ 9,000 rpm
BMW USA Classic (since 1981)
Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey
By the time March Engineering built its first prototype race car, its Formula Two partnership with BMW had been running for more than a decade, and it was only natural that March and BMW would collaborate on a car for IMSA’s new GTP class. March’s Robin Herd designed an aluminum monocoque that borrowed its rocker arm/inboard coil spring suspension from March’s F1 and IndyCar racers, topped by revolutionary bodywork by Max Sardou. The March M1/C thus became one of the very first “ground effects” race cars, in which the entire body, not only the wings, produces aerodynamic downforce.
Making its IMSA debut at the 6 Hours of Riverside on April 26, the M1/C ran with BMW’s proven 3.5-liter M88 six-cylinder mounted behind the cockpit. The M88’s 476 horsepower couldn’t match the 700 hp produced by Porsche’s 3.0-liter six or the 600 hp in the Lola T600’s Chevy V8, and drivers David Hobbs and Marc Surer finished 6th. Driving solo for the next two rounds, Hobbs qualified 2nd and DNF’d following an accident at Lime Rock, then qualified 2nd again at Mid-Ohio and finished just 5th.
The M88 simply wasn’t powerful enough, so motorsport manager Jim Patterson requested a transplant. Engine supplier McLaren had parts left over from the 320 Turbo program, and Wiley McCoy was able to build one turbocharged M12/9 after Paul Rosche sent over everything else he needed.
At Sears Point, Hobbs had more than 600 hp at his disposal, but the M1/C was “still a slug,” McCoy says. Hobbs qualified just 9th before DNF’ing with suspension failure. At Portland a week later, Hobbs finished just off the podium in 4th, then drove the M1/C to DNFs at Road America and Road Atlanta. “It wasn’t a very good car,” Hobbs said, “and we floundered badly with it.”
At the end of the season, chief sponsor Kenwood Audio pulled its support, and so ended the M1/C’s racing career. “It was a brand-new car that could fly upside-down on the road, and we had a big learning curve that got cut off too soon,” Detrick says.
The one-off M1/C (#81P-01) didn’t fare well in retirement, either.
Four years after its last race, new motorsport manager Erik Wensberg learned that BMW NA’s old race cars were about to be donated to a trade school. Wensberg and marketing VP Hans Riedel rescued the M1/C and other cars from destruction, and #81P-01 was restored for static display. The car makes regular public appearances, showing off its revolutionary bodywork and reminding viewers of BMW’s groundbreaking participation in the initial season of IMSA GTP racing. The car is owned by BMW USA Classic.