Rare Rides: The 1981 BMW M1, Where BMW Had All the Problems (Part I)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1981 bmw m1 where bmw had all the problems part i

BMW presently sells the hybrid i8 to the eco-conscious performance driver. It is mid-engined, has butterfly doors and what have you, and it’s quite striking.

But did you know that it’s not the first mid-engine BMW? No, that title goes to our Rare Ride today — the M1, from all the way back in 1981. Don’t worry, it’s not all that Malaisey.

Now when we say “it’s a BMW,” one immediately looks at the badge and sees the blue and white Roundel. But at its base, this vehicle is not much of a Bimmer.

Back in the middle part of the 1970s, BMW contracted with the well-known mid-engine, sporting automobile maker Lamborghini to design and build a race car for entry in a championship series. Design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the body, which is why it looks fantastic even today.

In order to go racing with the M1, the production of a specific number of street-ready examples was required (a process known as homologation). The original idea was for BMW to enter the World Sportscar Championship in 1979. Here’s where the problems began.

The issue we’re covering in part one of this two-part Rare Rides story is Lamborghini itself. A world financial downturn occurred in 1973, and that put Lamborghini on rather shaky financial ground through the remainder of the decade. Shortly after development started, Lamborghini went bankrupt. The year was 1978, and a total of seven rough prototypes had been completed during Lamborghini’s tenure.

This left BMW in a predicament, but a savior was at hand. BMW signed a new contract for the remainder of M1 development with a group of former Lamborghini engineers.

The engineers formed their own company after departing Lamborghini, calling it Italengineering. This solved the development problem, and eventually BMW began building the M1. The end result was our Rare Ride today.

Finished in a lovely navy blue (and featuring the original luggage!), this 1981 example is from the final year of production. The mid-mounted 3.5-liter inline-six engine has 8,000 miles on the clock, and this pristine beauty has been in the hands of just one owner since brand new.

It’s not available on eBay at the moment, but it was a few days ago (and didn’t sell). The seller was asking $658,000.

Tune in next time for Part II, where we address the other major hurdle BMW faced in getting the M1 on the track.

[Images via eBay]

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2 of 27 comments
  • Manbridge Manbridge on Nov 21, 2017

    Any driving impressions? Or is that in a future “Rare Drives”? Like to hear about the tactile stuff too. In fact if you (Corey) are ever in Colorado Springs you can start with my old 911.

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Nov 22, 2017

    I think the M1 and the original NSX head a very short list of Supercars with Restraint. I also think if I could pick any supercars to drive once from throughout automotive history, it would be those two (plus of course a McLaren F1 while I'm dreaming).

  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.
  • Inside Looking Out Scandinavian design costs only $600? I mean the furniture.