The 40-Year-Old Ford and BMW Touring Car Rivalry is Still Alive and Well
Photography by Robb Pritchard
In the mid 1970s, touring car racing was run by wonderfully liberal rules which allowed flared bodywork and engines that expelled fire and drank from slide throttles. Developing monstrous racers from pushing street car concepts to the limit of the regulations, BMW and Ford battled it out on tracks all over Europe for supremacy in the ETCC. Revered drivers such as Jochen Mass, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Niki Lauda, and Ronnie Peterson raced for burgeoning Zakspeed and Schnitzer and Alpina teams before the factories got really involved, and between the privateers and the works team duels, it made for one of the best eras of tin-top racing. Forty years later at the recent and very well attended Hungaroring Classic run by Peter Auto, they were back to test each others mettle once more.
They may now be in the hands of privateers instead of the world’s best talents, but between the leaning suspension, puffs of tire smoke, and more than one burst of unburnt fuel from a side-exit pipe it looked just like it did in the ‘70s. This reunion was exclusively a BMW and Ford affair—seeing as the Alfa Romeo and Jaguar teams didn’t turn up—and while the historic Touring Car Cup might not seem the most stand out series on paper that includes 917s having a go at the circuit, this section of the Hungaroring Classic delivered the best racing of the weekend.
When the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) was born in 1970 from the earlier European Touring Car Cup, it was Ford who jumped first and built the homologation special Capri RS2600. A thousand road cars with the bigger engine were made to fulfill the requirements to race, and with team manager Jochen Neerpasch and drivers Dieter Glemser and Jochen Mass, Ford dominated the burgeoning championship in 1971 and ’72.
But BMW also saw the benefit of motorsport exposure and the old “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” adage still rang true, so Bob Lutz got Neerpasch a job working for BMW to establish a new Motorsport program. Leaving Ford in 1972 before the season was over, Neerpasch and BMW Motorsport went about turning the E9 Coupe into the CSL (Coupe Sport Leichtbau) for the 1973 season to hunt the Capris.
Ford did no laurel resting though, and upped the arms race ante with the RS3100. Among other upgrades such as aluminum heads and dry sump systems, the rules allowed the race engines to be bigger than the ones in the road cars, so the new Ford was also powered by a 3.4L Cosworth six developed with the experience gained building the DFV F1 engines a few years before. It put out 415bhp in a car weighing just 1040kg (about 2300lbs), and had a top speed of 174mph.
It was BMW who kept winning the fight though. The 3500cc BMW straight-six from Paul Rosche was even meaner, putting out 440bhp by the end of its factory development. And with such good drivers in the best cars of their day the racing proved excellent even though the oil crisis would put a damper on things.
The Ford team withdrew at the end of 1974, leaving BMW the undisputed masters of the ETCC. They did not rest on the CSL though, and as that car was left to be raced by privateers, BMW went and built a new Group 5 car for the World Championship for Makes and World Sportscar Championship, but those E21-based cars are another story. While the 320 Turbo took works team priority, thanks to successful privateer teams such as Luigi, the aging 3.0 CSL was still winning races all the way until 1979 before the last cars were replaced with the new 635 CSi for a new era of the sport. The CSL “Batmobile” has gone down as one of the winningest touring cars of all time.
We can’t relive it fully, but having 29 cars on the Hungarian Classic’s touring car grid was a decent stand-in for proper time travel. Fords from the venerable Mk1 Escorts, all RSs, vividly colorful Capri RS2600s to the beastly RS3100s mixed with BMW 2002s to 3.0 CSLs in Group 2 and 4 specification, along with three well-presented examples of the Group A 635 CSi that followed in the ‘80s. And despite the age and the originality of some of the cars, it was no parade lap. Some were raced so hard that they broke something before even taking their spots on the grid, such as pole position winner Maxime Guenat who damaged his Capri’s V6 in qualifying and had to sit out the race.
Michael Erlich took over the pole start, and from a roll his black Castrol-striped 3.0 CSL led the group into the first corner. But a slow exit from the long turn allowed Yves Mahe in his Capri RS3100 to force an inside line for Turn 2; an aggressive move between a BMW and a Ford that set the tone for the rest of the run.
Quickly up to 3rd from 6th at the start, Yves Scemama trailed closely in his red and yellow RS2600, a move which can be credited to driver skill, as he was ahead of two supposedly faster, later-spec cars. He was looking to finish third until Christian Traber got up to speed in his 3.0 CSL (in the iconic works color scheme), and found a way through.
At the front another lead change came when Mahe slid his Ford wide at the back of the circuit, letting Erlich and the black BMW take the front, the car letting out a concerning amount of black smoke under braking at the end of the pit straight.
The Group A cars from the ‘80s had much less race-specific modifications done in period, so although they were much newer machinery, Franz Wunderlich was only as high as 6th in the beautiful Wurth-liveried 635 CSi, which became 5th when Schindler in the second Capri RS3100 pulled off with a mechanical failure.
A couple of laps later Erlich got crossed up at Turn 2 and the lost momentum allowed Mahe to push back through into the lead. The smoke kept billowing out of the side-mounted exhaust under braking, but it was more likely to be from over fueling rather than an oil leak and it didn’t seem to slow him.
Around 20 minutes into the hour-long race Franco Meniers in his 1975 Escort RS1600 ground to a halt in a place deemed dangerous enough for the safety car to be sent out, at which point Mahe’s Ford’s engine decided to give up, dumping oil all over racing line at the fast Turn 4 kink.
Mandatory pit stops are a part of the race. Some change drivers but it’s not a requirement to have a pair in the car so for most it’s a few moments to open the door and relax for a minute while the mechanics clean the windscreen. Bunched up under caution it was a BMW Batmobile in 1-2, Erlich having his 30 second lead wiped out, but once the green flags came out again Traber never once looked like he was going to mount a challenge.
One of the three Swiss Vogle brothers in a Capri RS1600 was in 3rd, but was losing a couple of seconds each lap to the BMWs, ahead while the stunning ex-Zakspeed Group 4 Ford Escort of Martin Kuendig was behind in 4th.
A BMW 2002’s engine dumped oil and enough pieces of metal at the end the straight that the organizers didn’t have enough time to clean it all up and called the race under the safety car. Back in the day of the Capris and CSLs, Ford was beaten in the ETCC by BMW and then pulled out of the series. Four decades later, it still seems that the Bimmers still have the upper hand even if even the youngtimers have gotten a bit older.
I would like to thank the lovely Anita Toth for her help and hospitality during the weekend.