Some say you should be measured by how you deal with failure. If that is the case, then BMW’s reaction to the 1972 European Touring Car Championship defeat must be seen as one of the finest moments in motorsport history.
Plagued by the loss to Ford, BMW created its motorsport division. For 50 years it has been a source of success for the Bavarian manufacturer in touring car racing, sports car competition and Formula 1, not to mention some of the greatest road cars of all time.
Ford team manager Jochen Neerpasch was recruited into the project, and other key figures joined, including Ford’s 1972 DRM champion, Hans-Joachim Stuck. The winged 3.0 CSL (actually with 3.3-litre and 3.5-litre versions of the sweet straight-six engine) swept Ford aside in 1973, with Toine Hezemans taking the ETC driver’s crown. BMW was also the best in its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mission accomplished. But actually it had only just begun.
The ETC’s competitiveness waned as the decade progressed, save for the arrival of the fast but unreliable Broadspeed Jaguar XJ12C which should have been more successful and BMW drivers would take every crown from 1975 to 1983. These successes largely lagged behind to private teams, but BMW Motorsport’s broader presence increased with the Junior programme, the fire-breathing Group 5 320i Turbo and then the M1.
The initial idea of working with Lamborghini on the M1 fell through and the mid-engined supercar’s success in endurance competition was limited, but the Procar Championship made the M1 a staple of F1 weekends and is fondly remembered as one of the big one-make cups stay .
Although the M1 was also produced as a road car, the introduction of the E12 M535i in 1979 steered the motorsport department down a new path. The super saloon was the start of a line of road machines that would become legendary, including the M3 and M5, creating a strong brand that continues to sell cars to this day.
The 3.0 CSL established BMW as a motorsport powerhouse in 1973 when it won the European Touring Car Championship and the 24 Hours of Spa
Photo: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images
In motorsport, BMW turned to Formula 1 in the early 1980s. It had achieved European F2 success in the 1970s, usually in March chassis, and had experience with turbocharging in tin tops. The turbo era of Formula 1 was appealing (after all, the board of BMW wasn’t initially enthusiastic) and new motorsport boss Dieter Stappert helped broker a deal for BMW to partner with Bernie Ecclestone’s premier Brabham team. 13.
The project was rocky at times, the engine proved unreliable and Brabham returned to the Cosworth DFV until BMW issued an ultimatum. But Nelson Piquet helped push the program forward, taking a decisive win at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix just a week after his BT50 failed to qualify in Detroit.
Meanwhile, BMW continued to compete at the forefront of international touring car racing, first with the shark-nosed 635CSi and then with the legendary and edgy E30 M3
A conversion to a digital electronic control system and specialty propellant to solve detonation problems were the final pieces of the puzzle in 1983. Piquet famously snatched the title from Renault’s Alain Prost in the South African final in Gordon Murray’s BT52. It was the first F1 championship won on turbo power.
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BMW also supplied powerplants to ATS, Arrows and Benetton, although there were no more titles before withdrawing in late 1987 and Arrows letting the Megatron-badged engine run.
Meanwhile, BMW continued to compete at the forefront of international touring car racing, first with the shark-nosed 635CSi and then with the legendary and edgy E30 M3. The M3’s agility and reliability allowed it to take on more powerful machines, primarily the turbocharged Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. Roberto Ravaglia won the inaugural World Touring Car Championship in his M3 operated by Schnitzer and there were further successes around the world, including in Great Britain, Australia, Italy and the German DTM.
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BMW remained at the forefront of the big-budget super touring era through the 1990s, with two- and four-door versions of the E36 3 Series also getting wings after Alfa Romeo upped the aerodynamic deployment in 1994. His last major success was Johnny Cecotto’s 1998 Super Touring Car Cup title with Schnitzer, by which time BMW had teamed up with Williams and had both F1 and Le Mans success in their sights. The V12 LMR won the French endurance classic in 1999 and BMW re-entered F1 the following year.
Smokin’ Jo Winkelhock leads Schnitzer teammate Steve Soper in the 1993 BTCC at Snetterton – the German later secured the crown
Photo by: Motorsport Images
The partnership could be described as moderately successful, but brought no title. The P80 V10 was often considered one of the most powerful of the time, but Williams was a little behind on aero and chassis, and Ferrari was in the midst of its strongest era with Michael Schumacher. There were 10 GP wins and Williams twice finished second in the Constructors’ Championship before the relationship collapsed.
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Frank Williams and Patrick Head were unwilling to relinquish control and instead BMW bought Sauber before 2006. The combination developed strongly and Robert Kubica briefly topped the 2008 standings thanks to victory in Canada before BMW fell behind to finish third in the Constructors’ Championship. Championship. The F1.09 was not a successful response to the new F1 rules and BMW sold the team at the end of 2009.
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By the 2000s, BMW’s success in tin-tops had continued. The Super 2000 versions of the E46 and E90 3 Series were competitive in the revived WTCC, with Andy Priaulx scoring a title hat trick between 2005 and 2007. Seater category with Mygale chassis.
Since then, BMW has been a key player in the competitive GT3 arena, running a brief GTE program with the M8 and entering Formula E but then withdrew as a LMDh contender celebrating BMW Motorsport’s half-century and is developed in collaboration with the high-performance single-seater designer Dallara.
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Not bad for a story that started because of the Ford Capri.
BMW returns to prototype racing in 2023 with its M Hybrid V8 and competes in the IMSA SportsCar Championship
Photo by: BMW