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The BMW M1 had a complex international gestation. Its birth established several firsts for the Bavarian brand. As a toddler, the M1 got its own F1-style sandbox. The Giugiaro-BMW Motorsport mashup lives on today as a classic Italian styling landmark cross-pollinated with proper, stolid Teutonic engineering.
In the late 1970s, Italian supercar manufacturer Lamborghini entered into an agreement to develop and build for BMW a production sports car for FIA Group 5 homologation (400 cars). Giugiaro drafted up a masterpiece on his engineering boards. Lamborghini’s then-difficult financial position meant that BMW reassumed control over the project in April 1978, after seven prototypes were built.
Since the production engineering of the car was still incomplete, a group of former Lamborghini engineers that had founded Ital Engineering proposed to Munich to complete the car’s design. That offer led to Ital building fiberglass M1 bodies draped over a square section steel tube frame. These units were shipped north from Italy to Baur in Stuttgart, who mated the chassis to the driveline. The now near-complete units were then sent east to Munich for BMW’s final assembly and quality control.
The resulting road legal E26 was sold to the public from 1978 to 1981 as the BMW M1. It was the first mid-engined BMW to be mass-produced, and first fiberglas body BMW.
Only 453 M1s were produced, 399 street plus 54 race. Though the design brief had called for a new 3-liter V10, development funds were lacking, so a derivation of the I6 engine from the outgoing E9 CSL (see Blau Bat sculpture) was employed. This M88/1 inline six, DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder engine was also seen in the M5 and M6 of the late 1980s. In the production M1 a mechanical Kugelfischer fuel injection system was used, producing a then-respectable 277 hp.
At least 20 cars were built to FIA Group 4 specification, still with the I6, but now with 477 horsepower, wings and flares. In 1979 the head of BMW Motorsport, Jochen Neerpasch, devised a one-make “Procar” championship racing these Group 4 M1s. Procar served as a support series at Formula One events, and included many Formula One drivers in identical specification cars. The Procar series ran for two years, with Niki Lauda winning the 1979 season, and Nelson Piquet in the 1980 season. Both drivers became 3-Time World Champions in F1.
After M1 production met the homologation standards for Group 4, the Procars were used by various teams in the World Championship of Makes as well as other national series. The M1s never fared particularly well against the lighter and more numerous Porsche 935s.
Both Andy Warhol (official) and Frank Stella (unofficial) each transformed one of the Group 4 M1s into a “BMW Art Car”.
The challenge of depicting the wide oblique stripes of the BMW Motorsport cars had appealed to me for some time. The slabs were “trued” in the stone machine shop, and glued together before commencing the M1 sculpture rough-out detail. I called upon artistic license in the choice of colors, to tone down the usual BMW Motorsport purples and reds to a less multi-chromatic palate.
The majority of the car is Sodalite from Bolivia, which is primarily deep blue with moderate white and gold mottling. Such inhomogeneity of the background sodalite, in my mind, dictated that each colored stripe stone be fairly homogenous in character.
Having done most sculptures to date with separate wheels and tires I was keen to experiment with the M1 as a flying pod — where the wheel wells are solid stone same as the car body. As this M1 pod is displayed “flying”, the wing element profile generates lift rather than downforce.
Flying pods need a stand. The BMW logo is suitable to sculpt from stone, so the four post stand features the Roundel rendered in three types of stone.