Driving the legend - The BMW M1 - I am Jealous

by Tim Jones on July 17, 2012, 4:40 pm
driving the BMW M1

The BMW M1 is a 70s super cars best thought about with with teenage nostalgia. Like so many other poster car plastered on burgeoning auto enthusiasts walls the M1 looks best when viewed from afar with the details left to imagination. At the BMW F12 M6 convertible and 6 Series Gran Coupe press event I got a chance to spend some hands on time with an M1. Seeing the machine in the metal, or fiberglass, was an special experience, but if I'm honest some of the rose color glass shine was lost.

The first devastating blow was that I will probably never be able to drive one. Ignoring how devilishly rare the M1 is with only 433 made world wide and only a few examples gray marketed into the US, I simply don't fit. The M1's miniscule 101 inch wheelbase and 45 inch height means my long 6'5" body doesn't fit. I did manage to shoe horn myself behind the wheel, which required several ungraceful maneuvers, but the possibility of operating any of the controls was non existing. My legs were so tightly crammed into the steering wheel I'm not sure it would turn, and I couldn't see anything with the 90 degree crook in my neck to get my head in the car. So driving the car is out for me, but Insideline has shorter editors and were able to get some time behind the wheel of an M1 -

On the road, I can't shake the feeling that the BMW M1 is too easy to drive. In spite of its exotic specification, it's quiet, with a bizarrely compliant ride, and it ambles along in a high gear at next to no revs without protest. Were its interior not so useless, you'd be convinced you were in a low-slung 7 Series.
BMW M1 driving review

Beyond my physical inability to fit behind the wheel, the details of the M1 up close are somewhat disappointing. The interior is laughably basic. It's not the quality, which is poor, but the completely lack of concern for the interior at all. There is a way to go about making something simple, and that simplicity creates a sense of purpose. The M1 doesn't have it, they just didn't have an object to meet so the threw some stuff in there. The radio is made in Mexico, it says so on the front, as if we should all know the best radios come from Mexico.

The exterior is no better. The body is make from fiberglass laid up by Italians, with a tube chassis made by other Italians, with BMW really only supplying ideas, money and engines. After a string of mis-starts final assemble was left to the Germans, but not BMW's Germans, it was instead the German car builder Baur. To say the M1 had a rough life from start to finish would be an understatement. With the production of the parts being done by so many different companies the low quality was inevitable. Of course all super cars at the time has relatively terrible quality.

And that takes me back to why 70s super cars, the posters you had on your wall, are best left to dream about. Unless of course you're given a chance to drive one, which I would jump at in a heart beat. I would trade the sweetest childhood memories of those poster cars for an afternoon driving one. It might not live up to my childhood poster dreams, but I wouldn't care. Being behind the wheel of such a rare car, flaws and all would still be a dream come true. And that is why I'm so jealous of the anyone who gets an opportunity to drive my boyhood poster car, the BMW M1.

Read the complete M1 driving review and let us know what you think. Would you trade the nostalgia of what you always dreamed the car would be like for the chance to drive one, flaws and all?

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4 responses to Driving the legend - The BMW M1 - I am Jealous

Turbo_525 commented:
July 17, 2012, 4:58 pm

In many ways, I have to agree, espcially with your assesment of the interior & body. Sure, it's a great car and always will be honored for what it was. However, that said, get beyond all the superlative-filled reviews, get to thinking about it as a "real" car and it's clearly missing something.

Recently, while digging through and eliminating extra "junk" I ran across a Road & Track special publication on Porsche - from 1988. They tested all of them (and wonder of wonders, everly last one in the issue was a real manual transmission, humm...) and gave a really consice review of each. Sure there were some over the top comments, but in most instances, the reviews were realistic, giving due note to short comings, not just the aspects they appreciated. Maybe even more impressive was the photography - quite stunning, especially when you consider that it was all film - no digital as of then.

Some of the Porsches had great, if simple interiors. Some others, the interior was an afterthought. But wow - it was so nice to read reviews again about the actual car - not the 16 + airbags, traction controls, Sat-nav screens, etc, and all the other stuff that's been loaded onto cars to literally try and protect us from ourselves. Just simple, honest, fun to drive, durable and tight cars that actuallyed helped the driver perform His Task: Drive the car.

That said, it wasn't all peaches & roses back then, as this review of the M1 rightfully suggests.
jusmills commented:
July 18, 2012, 10:08 am

I agree with your assessment of the car, but I think the thing really is that we all a guilty of looking at the great cars of yesteryear through the lens of today's automotive refinement. The thing that really illustrates that is the comment that you made that the interior especially the radio were afterthoughts. You and I both know that that's true. Back then performance machines were just that, the soundtrack to your exotic was meant to be the exhaust note, the engine noise and wind whistle as it intrudes the passenger cabin. All this stuff fostered the feeling of speed that these cars were capable of. These cars were designed for the sole purpose of running like a man with his hair on fire on the track; homologized for the few individuals with the means to buy them for the road and the passion to drive them like they should be.

All that nostalgia and respect for the machine has changed though as our notion of value for the money has changed. That doesn't mean that today's super and hyper-cars aren't fantastic. They are, but most people agree that they've lost a lot of that "good fear and respect" that exotics use to bring. Now anyone with the financial means to lease one can; whether or not they are capable of driving the machine. The companies that build these machines realize that its not good practice if every rich 16 year old/rapper/business executive that decides to show off wraps themselves around the oak tree in the first curve; hence you end up with a 700 hp Lamborghini that's just as easy to drive at insane speeds as an A4.

The point to all this is that the old classics were built at a time when if you were looking for a performance machine that's what you got. A no-frills car, sometimes barely glued together, meant to make you focus on how to execute the perfect heel-toe downshift, clipping the apex of a turn to hit the exit at the perfect speed as to shave off a tenth here or there. If we examine these cars using today's standards, they classics look archaic and unrefined. Technology has bought us a long way, but I think, unfortunately, it has caused us to lose some of the respect for speed and technique that driving use to call for.

At the end of the day, I think your article rightly, shows the compromises that were made back then, and I think you did a great job of illustrating the counter-point that these classics we never intended to do anything more than thrill.
car-fan commented:
July 19, 2012, 9:58 am

I had one of those M1 posters on my wall too - by BF Goodrich... Before I got to examine an M1 in person I go t to hear one, the owner of a tire shop in S.F. drove his gold BBS adorned - Black M1 to work almost every morning. The sound that these cars make is virtually unmistakable for anything else. Yes, the interior is very spartan, the ones I've seen fitted with checker cloth seats/interior, unlike the layout of the car chronicled in this piece. Luxury was an afterthought of course as posters here have mentioned - so the placement of a "Becker" Mexico radio seems par the course. When I got to look at one in person I also realized that the taillights appear to have come from the E24 6 Series - that being said the mystique of these cars still exists today IMHO
Stealth.Pilot commented:
July 20, 2012, 10:34 pm

That's funny about the M1 being so easy to drive. This is exactly why Richard Hammond compared the F10 M5 to the M1 - "meet the new boss, the same as the old boss".