BMW's performance division has made such a name for itself that the letter M has become synonymous with high-performance German sedans and coupes. But the vehicle that started it all was about as Italian as any Teutonic sports car could ever be: a low-slung, mid-engined machine designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro's ItalDesign and built in cooperation with Lamborghini as a homologation special.
The only mid-engine BMW ever made, the roadgoing M1 featured the naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter 279hp twin-cam six later used in the 635CSi and M5. Like a great many short-lived supercars, we have homologation regulations to thank for the M1's existence: 456 examples were built between 1978 and 1981 in order to qualify for Group 5 competition.
Although the turbocharged 850-horsepower version was never a great success in Group 5 racing, it was later entered in the Procar series in support of Formula One races in the late seventies, in which a Marlboro-sponsored Niki Lauda took the title in 1979. The M1 went on to win the IMSA GTO title in 1981.
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