The car that started it all is really the odd man out, not fitting into the same production-car mold as the others that have come to bear the Motorsports badge. Nevertheless, it’s no coincidence the first M car was called the M1. It stands out because the BMW M1 was designed as a track car, with the near 400 street models being built as part of the Group 4’s homologation process. Besides packing the first M badge, it also featured BMW’s first—and only—mid-engine design as well as its first four-valve-per-cylinder engine in a road-going
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A dandy power plant, it featured two chain-driven overhead cams, dry-sump lubrication, and six individual throttles and produced 277 horsepower in street-car form. BMW’s Motorsport saw the potential to use that engine in another production car as well. The division had sprouted up in 1972 with work on the 3.0CSL and other special projects, and the company knew there was a market for high-performance variants similar to those planned by the growing Alpina brand. With that, BMW M began work on the first M5, and it led to the M6 and the M3. If you were to let yourself slide down the slippery slope, you could even say that BMW M’s success helped bring about Mercedes’s AMG and Audi’s S divisions.