This Is What It’s Like To Drive The BMW M1
Everyone always says not to meet your heroes, I think that’s crappy advice when it comes to cars. Hero cars are awesome for a reason, they’re larger than life, and just like their comic book counterparts they have their own faults and weaknesses. The BMW M1 is a hero car for many of us, and a few weeks ago I had the chance to meet it in its natural environment, a slick highway in the middle of the Bavarian wilderness.
“Don’t push it in the corners when it’s wet out. The CSL you can recover, but the M1…if you lose grip it’s gone.” Explained the technician on handing me the keys. It’s not surprising, this particular M1 had just been fully restored by BMW Classic, to the tune of many more hundreds of thousands of dollars than I’d like to reimburse them for any time soon. I stepped right foot first into the car, not quite as awkwardly as you would in a 300SL Gullwing, but not exactly the smooth criminal I’d envisioned myself to be.
Settling into the seat the first thing I had to adjust to was the pedal offset. Everything is roughly arranged into a pile on the right side of the footwell, meaning you’re sitting at about 15-20 degrees off center to the right. Not insurmountable, but definitely a superhero flaw. There’s next to no room in the car for anything other than a jacket. Oh, there is a trunk, but it’s a weird sensation to put your camera gear into a tub that shares a breathing hole with an engine. It’s essentially the exact opposite of a Tesla in this respect.
The gearbox was typically buttery for BMWs of this era, the clutch reasonable, and slipping out of the parking lot was a breeze. The M1 is squat, about as perfectly centered as you’re going to find out of this era. I tossed it back and forth on a dry patch of road and was positively stunned by the lack of body roll. I was beginning to have a hard time understanding, even in the rain, what the German Mechanic was talking about.
I wasn’t driving the M-M1, this was a bone stock, as new, low mileage M88/1 DOHC Inline Six netting out around 276 horses. I’d wager that we’d all be hard pressed to make a car this balanced, this planted, and that aerodynamically tuned really step out without purposefully trying, even in the rain. Every aspect of the car just felt tight, and while I wasn’t blown away by the power, I can’t say I really needed or wanted any more. The car feels fast just sitting at a stop light.
In the curves it’s planted, in the straights it was torquey, all in all it was a delight to drive – but I will say this: when you’ve spent your whole life staring at posters and pictures of a car like the M1, you kind of expect it to bite you a little bit, like the BMW tech was alluding to. Instead I found myself driving a car that was just happy to cruise along with me, looking lean and mean but generally feeling soft and humble. Perhaps that is part of BMW’s legacy, remarkably well built cars that do what they say they’re going to do, not necessarily what your imagination says they will do.
Photography by Ted Gushue