40 Years Of The M Series - A Pictorial History. Chapter 2

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
40 years of the m series a pictorial history chapter 2

In the first chapter, we watched how BMW’s in-house motorsports department morphed into a separate company, that soon made its own cars. 16 years later ….

In 1988, the BMW M5 saw its second generation. The straight-six was pumped up to 3.8 liters, its power rose to 340 hp.

To confuse people, the engines dropped the “M” in their internal production code. The M was replaced by an S. To more than make up for the lost letter, the valve covers now sported a big M.

The next 3 Series was set to make its appearance in 1990.

Motorsport GmbH had advance notice, and was already working on the new BMW M3 which was launched in 1992. The new M3 lost its big spoilers and bulging wheel arches. Reflecting the more understated signs of the times, the new M3 looked more discreet. But you could hear it right away. The sound created by the three-liter six was unmistakable. The four-valve plant produced up to 286 hp. It was also BMW’s first engine with VANOS variable valve timing, an infinitely adjustable system varying the intake camshaft.

Customers and the media loved this M3 right from the start. Immediately, the order books were bulging more than the old wheel arches. Awards, from multiple “Car of the Year” to one “Car of the Century,” rained on the M3.

Instead of chopping off the roof as an afterthought – the usual genesis of a ragtop – a convertible was included in the planning process right from the early start.

Fort the racetrack, the M3 GT was produced in a small, special series. It moved up the performance benchmark to 295 hp. From 1992 to 1996, Motorsport GmbH built more than 85 four-door racing 3 Series based on this M3. Amongst the many wins, it brought home the IMSA title in 1996.

If you wanted an M3 – or for that matter any BMW – that nobody else had, then you could order it from BMW Individual, a business unit started by Motorsport GmbH in 1992. Whatever the customer wanted, BMW Individual made it happen – for a price. With BMW Individual, Motorsport GmbH was a pioneer in the market. Soon, other mass market makers copied the idea, and even the name.

With all these activities, “Motorsport GmbH” became a bit cumbersome and limited. On 1 August 1993, the former Motorsport GmbH was re-christened BMW M GmbH.

In 1995, the M3 received even a little more power, 321 hp from 3.2 liters. Double VANOS variable timing was used for the first time.

The BMW M GmbH became the first car maker in the world to introduce the Sequential M Gearbox (SMG), which debuted in the M3. To shift gears, you pulled or pushed the gear lever up and down one level. There was no clutch pedal: The SMG activated the clutch electrohydraulically when changing gears. In the beginning, drivers furrowed their foreheads about this new-fangled technology, but soon, almost every other BMW M3 was fitted with the SMG.

Also in 1995, a big six-liter 12-cylinder based on the 750i engine powered the closed-top McLaren sports car to victory in the 24 Hour Race at Le Mans. Four-valve technology, a titanium crankshaft and an aluminum clutch helped to give the V12 maximum output of more than 600 hp.

In 1995,BMW Motorsport Ltd was established in the United Kingdom, taking over all of BMW’s motor-sport activities. M GmbH concentrated on M Cars, BMW Individual and Driver Training.

1997 brought the M roadster, an eye-watering combination of the Z3 roadster with the 321 hp power unit of the M3.

The M coupé followed shortly thereafter.

What will also follow is the third and last chapter.

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8 of 26 comments
  • Graham Graham on May 20, 2012

    This is a PARTIAL history, not a PICTORIAL history, Do your research and get it right or don't do it at all.

  • Robert Gordon Robert Gordon on May 21, 2012

    One might also respectfully point out that four valve technology was scarcely worthy of a mention in a Toyota Camry's spec sheet in 1995. Four valve technology was already de rigeur in high end exotic sports cars by the 1930's. Furthermore 600hp out of a 6litre engine engine is hardly breathtaking power.

    • See 5 previous
    • Jonathan Gitlin Jonathan Gitlin on May 26, 2012

      @outback_ute Couldn't agree more. To gloss over the engine in the first place doesn't really do a 'history of M' much credit, but the V12 shares far more with the straight six from the E36 M3 than it does with the 5l V12 in the 750 or 850.

  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.