n the mid-1970s, a production-based formula (which would result in the dominant Porsche 935) was instituted by the FIA in Europe for Group 5 (Grand Touring) racing. BMW proposed to build a flagship car which would compete in this series and join the ranks of the World's "supercars." The M1 was the result.

Contracted out to Lamborghini first, and then Giorgetto Giugiaro's Ital Design, the M1 featured a multi-tubular space-frame into which was inserted BMW's magnificent four-valve per cylinder, 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine producing some 285 bhp. Four hundred cars needed to be produced to qualify the M1 for the Group 5 series and 456 were actually built, the majority in Germany. In Group 5 they played second fiddle to the Porsches but achieved a marketing triumph with the Procar series run in support of Grand Prix's, with the F1 drivers racing against each other in 480 horsepower-plus winged versions of the M1.

When it emerged as a road car, the M1 was applauded by journalists in every country for its performance, handling and build quality. The car pictured here is the very last BMW M1 ever built and the only M1 with the attractive custom "M-Technic" colored seat fabric inserts. With a mere 5,750 miles from new, it is one of the few opportunities left to enjoy BMW's legendary build quality with performance which, even today, puts this German supercar into a class of its own.

I often wonder why so few enthusiasts find these exotics interesting, beautiful and for a BMW rather compelling. Remember, BMW was specializing in building slab-sided, four-wheeled boxes at the same time that they produced the M1.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1981 BMW M1
Years Produced:1979-1981
Number Produced:450 (including 56 race cars)
Original List Price:$60,000
SCM Valuation:$60,000-$70,000
Tune Up Cost:$1,800-$2,000
Distributor Caps:$550-$600
Chassis Number Location:Under engine bonnet (Factory); door jamb and bottom of windshield (US import)
Engine Number Location:On block, starts with 88 prefix
Club Info:BMWCCA, 345 Harvard St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Alternatives:Ferrari Boxer, Lamborghini Countach, Maserati Bora

Offered by RM, crossing the podium and selling for $69,300 (including commission), this M1 represented a fair value. Even though it had covered just 5,750 miles, its luster was gone, and it had certainly not been a garage queen. It seemed more like a Southern California sun worshiper that forgot its SPF 30 sunscreen (or car cover).

With faded black trim, poor engine detailing and a just overall tired feeling, it looked like a well-used European car that had covered 25K to 50K miles. Perfect, fresh out of the box M1s might get close to the $100K mark, but this car, and its market value, were far from that.

These cars have languished on the car market for ten solid years. And when the name “M1” is mentioned in classic and exotic car circles the common response is often a big yawn. Why? Part of the answer may be that BMW never imported this low-volume exotic (just 394 street versions) into the US. Unfortunately, many of the speculator-driven federalizations done to get these cars to meet DOT/EPA standards were quick and dirty-it’s commonly accepted that you can either have a “clean” M1 that will pass emissions, or a “dirty” M1 that will run like a cheetah ahead of a brush fire-but you can’t have both. The lack of a strong racing history (look under expensive failure in the BMW annals), a rather drab “2002-like” interior and no outsized flares or spoilers may also contribute to the yawn-effect. The already slim market for M1s has been flooded in the past few years as well; there’s certainly been no shortage to pick from. The current market sees asking prices up to $95K; $55K-75K seems where they are actually changing hands, here and abroad. Parts, while not common, are not impossible to find either.

It’s somewhat of a shame that this car, the grandfather of all things “M” in the BMW world, has quietly become the unwanted red-headed stepchild of its generation. Gordon Medenica, owner and Roundel (BMWCCA Magazine) contributor, may have hit it perfectly when he referred to the M1 as “the NSX of its day.” Like the NSX, M1s are fast, reasonably reliable, and not devoid of visual appeal. But, for someone who is looking to plunk down $60K-100K to make a statement to their friends, a Porsche twin-turbo or Ferrari 348 Spyder will get more looks and respect than either an M1 or an NSX.

However, it’s a truism that “price solves all problems.” Sixty thousand dollars may be the natural price level for an M1 in average condition, and at that level represents exclusivity and even some good taste on the part of the owner. But an M1 will always be a car that fills out a collection rather than a single-car statement like a Daytona or a Miura. If you don’t mind having a second-tier collectible in your garage, at a reasonable price, the M1 is worthy of consideration.-Steve Serio

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