Rare Rides: The 1981 BMW M1, Where BMW Had All the Problems (Part I)

Image: 1981 BMW M1BMW presently sells the hybrid i8 to the eco-conscious performance driver. It is mid-engined, has butterfly doors and what have you, and it’s quite striking.

But did you know that it’s not the first mid-engine BMW? No, that title goes to our Rare Ride today — the M1, from all the way back in 1981. Don’t worry, it’s not all that Malaisey.

Image: 1981 BMW M1Now when we say “it’s a BMW,” one immediately looks at the badge and sees the blue and white Roundel. But at its base, this vehicle is not much of a Bimmer.

Image: 1981 BMW M1Back in the middle part of the 1970s, BMW contracted with the well-known mid-engine, sporting automobile maker Lamborghini to design and build a race car for entry in a championship series. Design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the body, which is why it looks fantastic even today.

Image: 1981 BMW M1In order to go racing with the M1, the production of a specific number of street-ready examples was required (a process known as homologation). The original idea was for BMW to enter the World Sportscar Championship in 1979. Here’s where the problems began.

Image: 1981 BMW M1The issue we’re covering in part one of this two-part Rare Rides story is Lamborghini itself. A world financial downturn occurred in 1973, and that put Lamborghini on rather shaky financial ground through the remainder of the decade. Shortly after development started, Lamborghini went bankrupt. The year was 1978, and a total of seven rough prototypes had been completed during Lamborghini’s tenure.

Image: 1981 BMW M1This left BMW in a predicament, but a savior was at hand. BMW signed a new contract for the remainder of M1 development with a group of former Lamborghini engineers.

Image: 1981 BMW M1The engineers formed their own company after departing Lamborghini, calling it Italengineering. This solved the development problem, and eventually BMW began building the M1. The end result was our Rare Ride today.

Image: 1981 BMW M1Finished in a lovely navy blue (and featuring the original luggage!), this 1981 example is from the final year of production. The mid-mounted 3.5-liter inline-six engine has 8,000 miles on the clock, and this pristine beauty has been in the hands of just one owner since brand new.

Image: 1981 BMW M1It’s not available on eBay at the moment, but it was a few days ago (and didn’t sell). The seller was asking $658,000.

Tune in next time for Part II, where we address the other major hurdle BMW faced in getting the M1 on the track.

[Images via eBay]