A History of BMW’s M Division

Professional Florida man and DriveTribe refugee Shane Dohrer gives us an outline of BMW’s M division’s development.

When you think of BMW, there are a few things that come to mind. Perhaps you think of the guy who cut you off on the way to work this morning without using his turn signal? Maybe your annoying neighbor who enjoys tailgating people for fun? Or possibly, you think about the amazing M cars made by BMW? Regardless of the bad stereotypes regarding the company, there is one thing that must be admitted. The M cars are amazing.

The M Series of cars began as the M division of BMW. Created in 1972, the new M division had only 35 employees and was created to supplement BMW’s current crop of road cars with high-performance models.

The First

The first car to ever be sold under the signature M badge was the BMW M1. The M1 was designed to win races, and when it was announced at the Paris Motor Show in 1978, it caught the eyes of many in the industry. The M1 was equipped with only a six-cylinder engine, but that engine produced 277 horsepower and was capable of propelling the car to 165 mph.

Only 456 M1’s were produced, making it a rather rare sight. Regardless of the small number made, BMW’s M division made their impact on the industry. The success and love the M1 received would translate into the expansion of the M division, and put the M into Motorsport. The M1 competed in the short lived Procar series. But later, in 1979, the car that would really put the M division on the map would be released.

The M enters the mainstream

In 1979 BMW introduced the M535i, a performance model of the popular BMW 5 Series Sedan. It was powered by the M30B34 engine, which produced a respectable 215 horsepower. In 1983, the M division worked its magic with the BMW 6 Series, making it into the M635CSi, which produced 282 horsepower, and had a top speed of 158 mph.

Around this time, the famous BMW M5 would be released based on the E-28 generation of the 5 Series. It was well made, and well styled. Really helping to solidify BMW’s M car reputation, the M5 could go from 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and had a top speed of 153 mph… impressive, even by today’s standards.

BMW continued the M series with the BMW M3, based on the 3 Series. The M3 would go from 0-62 mph in 6.9 seconds. Some more notable additions were the 1988 BMW M5, which was known for its amazing handling capabilities, and powered by a 311 horsepower, 3.6-lier straight six engine. With a top speed of 177 mph, it was the fastest sedan in the world at the time.

Into the 90s

The M division continued to innovate with the BMW 850CSi, a 2-door V12 coupe. Many believe that it was an attempt by BMW to make a supercar.

It was powered by a 5.6-liter V12 engine. It was so powerful that it was assigned a new engine code, S70 and was the only M car with a 12-cylinder engine. This car produced 375 horsepower, reaching a top speed of 155 mph. It also had advanced features such as active four-wheel steering.

BMW continued to evolve the M3 by using the E36 as the basis for this new car. Initially offered with a 3.0-liter straight six engine, but later in 1995 a 3.2-liter option was added. The E36 M3 is considered one of the best handling cars of the 90s.

The M Roadster and M Coupe were both released in 1998, and both have a strong love from many enthusiasts.

The Modern Era

In 2005, another version of the M5 was released, this time it was the E60 M5. The E60 M5 came equipped with a V10 engine that produced 500 horsepower. This M5 was also capable of getting up to 200 mph when not restricted, again setting the bar as the fastest sedan of its time, continuing the M car’s reputation.

The M cars entered the SUV market in 2009, with the BMW X5 M and BMW X6 M, both having a 4.4-liter V8. In that same year, the 1 Series M car was released as well.

There was a big change for the M cars in 2014. The F-80 M3 was released, this car’s coupe version would later become the BMW M4. Another significant advancement is that the M3 would embrace using turbochargers for the first time. Later, the 1 Series M car would be replaced by the BMW M2, and in 2017, the F-90 M5 came out, with a twin-turboed, 4.4-liter V8 that would allow the sedan to reach 190 mph, and 64 mph in 3.4 seconds.

Still going strong

The M division is still making and developing new cars. The most recent addition is the BMW M8, which was based on the BMW 850CSi. It also shares an engine with the recent BMW M5. Having the same twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8. This engine in the M8 is tuned to produce 616 horsepower. The M division continues to innovate and make cars, and they seem to have no indication of stopping soon. I am glad that they are continuing with developing high quality performance cars, and I hope they continue to build on their great history!

Sources:

History of the BMW M division – picture special

Autocar The history of the BMW M logo and its colors

BMW.com From the Archive: The History of the BMW M1 (caranddriver.com)

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