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In the 50 years of its history, BMW M has put many models on the road that have gone on to become classics, legends, even icons. And all this on top of the tremendous sales successes that the BMW M models have celebrated and continue to celebrate. It seems an almost impossible task to select a mere seven of them for the landmark anniversary, because the BMW M3 CSL, BMW M Roadster and many others thoroughly deserve a place on this list too. But back to the chosen 7: Models that were ahead of their time – and perhaps still are today – have made it onto the ultimate bucket list for BMW M fans. BMW M fans are not the only ones who can look forward to this great transformation in automotive engineering. The BMW Concept XM is living proof of this. So, now the curtain rises on 7 milestones from half a century of BMW M history.
What’s the best way to start a historical listing? With the original! In the case of BMW M, this is the 3.0 CSL. The data sheet of the first car of BMW M in its final stage of development in 1973, developed with the help of Alpina, reads as follows: 3.2 liters of displacement, naturally distributed over six in-line cylinders, 206 hp. With a curb weight of just 1,270 kilograms, it certainly does full justice to its name – CSL stands for “Coupé Sport Leichtbau” (lightweight construction). The racing version (➜ Read also: Historic racing cars from BMW) of the CSL can even reach 750 hp on the asphalt. The design is as spectacular as its performance data. The 1973 version in particular is seared onto the memory. Large wings and spoilers formed part of an aerodynamic package and soon earned the nickname “the Batmobile.” A hand-picked 167 units cross the counter of the BMW M. This brings us back to the origins. All great things start off small.
People speak of icons or legends when talking about rare classic automobiles. It's not always fully justified – however, there is no question at all that the BMW M1 deserves these superlatives. Giorgio Giugiaro’s design language was way ahead of its time. The engine was a state-of-the-art four-valve with 3.5 liters of displacement, and the handling was sporty through and through. Of course, you would expect nothing less from a car originally designed for the racetrack. The BMW M1, which stands just 1.14 meters tall, also made its name by competing in the Procar series as part of the Formula 1 supporting program. And because the world-famous artist Andy Warhol took it to his heart and turned it into a rolling work of art (➜ Read also: The BMW Art Cars). But as is so often the case, the good guys step aside all too soon. After about three years of production from 1978 to 1981 and about 450 units, it was all over. However, this only had the effect of cementing its iconic status.
Speaking of icons, ask any BMW enthusiast today about their favorite from Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW), and you will frequently hear: “E30.” And when asked about the version, the instant response is: “The M3.” No car of that time better epitomizes the “Joy of driving” slogan (➜ Read also: The story of the BMW slogan). In 1986, 195 hp out of a mid-size car was quite an achievement. The sporty design and, above all, widened body of the first M3 differed markedly from its more civilized brothers in the model series. Before the BMW M3 could be used as a racing car – which is what it was originally designed for – BMW M had to first sell 5,000 units. It came as a bit of a surprise to BMW M that they achieved this very quickly. Success with customers was one thing; success on the world’s racetracks was something quite different. But within just a few years, the sportiest of all BMW 3 Series had won just about every title going in the touring car world. And in the process, it earned itself legendary status on the race track, too.
10 cylinders in a BMW Touring – this unique selling point simply must be celebrated. Anyone searching for such an engine (➜ Read also: BMW engine highlights) in a luxury shooting brake back in 2007 could only find it in the BMW M in the form of the BMW M5 Touring. The V-shaped engine turns in the rev ranges of a racing engine and delivers 507 hp to the rear wheels. It is the only ten-cylinder production engine built by BMW and also represented the pinnacle of the naturally aspirated engine era at BMW M. This is because the subsequent BMW M5 generations – although none of them available as Touring models any longer – were all turbocharged, as they are today. A good 1,000 examples of the BMW M5 Touring were produced. This already makes it a collector’s item, and not only for shooting brake fans.
Crossing an SUV with a sports car cannot possibly work. At least, that’s what the automotive world thought until BMW M presented the X6 M. In fact, the engineers in the BMW Sports department of 2009 were so successful in combining the high-tech components of the brand-new bi-turbo with the BMW X6 genes that the result was a truly impressive menu of cars. Eight cylinders meet a six-speed sports automatic transmission and a massive 555 hp is delivered through all-wheel drive. BMW M incorporates this technology in the shell of the BMW X6. Meaning that the Power SAC more than does justice to the BMW M Trikolore (➜ Read also: This is where the BMW M colors come from), which brings us to the next M model on the milestone list.
Anyone looking for the quintessence of the term “Joy of driving” need look no further than the 2019 BMW M2 CS. CS, the abbreviation for “Competition Sport,” clearly shows where the journey in the sportiest of all BMW 2 Series is headed: right into driving paradise. And sometimes on closed-off racetracks as well. Because that’s where the compact sports car feels most at home. Plenty of power under the hood (the biturbo in-line six-cylinder generates 450 hp), a chassis tuned for cornering, and the reduced curb weight thanks to numerous carbon components (➜ Read also: Carbon in automotive engineering) create a combination that means the biggest hurdle the BMW M2 CS driver will face is having to wrench themselves away from it. Because no true car fan will ever want to leave this driving machine.
How does a vehicle earn its place on the BMW M milestone list a mere year after its release? Simple: by being the first BMW vehicle sporting the M Performance badge to be powered by an e-motor (➜ Read also: All e-car concepts). Combustion engine fans will soon drop any questions about whether the BMW i4 M50 is worthy of the M badge when they find themselves pressed into their seats by the sheer force of the 795 Nm of torque and 400 kW (544 hp) during acceleration, their breath taken away. It fully deserves its M suspension, sports steering and sports brakes. So ultimately, the features of the BMW i4 M50 ensure that it is a fully-fledged member of this article’s milestone BMW M family. And what’s more, it leaves car fans eagerly looking forward to future electrified sporty models that BMW will be rolling out on the road in times to come.
What is BMW M?
BMW M GmbH was founded in 1972 as BMW Motorsport GmbH and is a BMW AG subsidiary. BMW M produces high-performance and particularly sporty BMW models. Many have legendary status and are classics. These include the BMW M1 super sports car and the BMW M3, the base car for one of the most successful touring cars ever.
Author: Nils Arnold; Art Direction: Lucas Lemuth, Verena Aichinger, Madita O'Sullivan; Photos: BMW