In 1972, the year that Munich was host to the Olympic Games, BMW founded their subsidiary BMW Motorsport GmbH. While the two door 2002 series and the four door saloons had been raced with great success by private entrusts using tuning conversation from Alpina and Schnitzer, rule changes demanded that any special competition parts be available in specified quantities, which could really only made by a manufacturer.

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So BMW had to get involved if the cars were to continue racing, even if the tuners ran the actual race team. Setting up a competition department, separated from the production in factory, was common practice among the companies that had works entries in International events. The long hours required didn’t upset the factory unions it was also sure way for the lessons learnt in racing to be transferred back to the factory engineers.

The mid seventies was a good period for touring car racing in Europe and America; BMW had their share of success with the 3.0 CSLs against the Ford Capris, and special versions even took on the Porsches. BMW were also to the fore in Formula 2 racing. By the end of the decade, touring car interest was waning and BMW wanted to join Porsche in GT racing, so the Motorsport department arranged to produce the mid-engined M1 in 1978; that it wasn’t a racing success wasn’t the fault of BMW.

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The rules had changed again, so they joined the Grand Prix world instead, using a turbocharged version of the original 4 cylinder BMW engine with the Brabham team, netting a 1983 championship with Neslon Piquet. Although there are subsequent Grand Prix victories in this 1000 bhp turbocharged era, BMW withdrew form Formula 1 at the end of 1986, by which time the name of BMW M-power was well established.

By now the Motorsport division’s name was being used for high performance versions of regular road cars, the first to hear the name being the 1983 M635 CSi which used for four valve engine that had been developed for the M1; with a later fuel junction system, this had 286 bhp. When the new 5 series saloon came along in 1984, this same engine was put into the top version early the next year to create the M5, the first time that BMW used this new model system.

The 2-door 3-series had been introduced in 1982, but the M3 appeared after the M5. This used the four cylinder engine as a 2.3 liter with four valve heads to develop 200 bhp. While M- power was the point of exercise, the car had to be completely reworked as they were handling more than double the power of the base models – wider wheels, firmer suspension, bigger brakes and aerodynamics appendages combined to produce sports car behavior in family saloons.

While the M5 was just a fast road car, the M3 was the basis of a very effective touring car racer and won many championships; it has continued to do so with the latest 162 mph M3 following its mid 1992 launch, now with a 286 bhp 3 liter six cylinder engine. The new 5 series came in 1988, the latest M5 equipped with a 3.5 liters six with 315 bhp; this was enlarged to 3.8 liters in 1992 with 340 bhp and given gear and even lower profile tyers in 1994.

It was in the final form that it clocked 170 mph, albeit in its 5th gear as 6th is very much a cruising overdrive. The M series have produced some remarkable cars and they are not just racing saloons; you can have the same specifications for an M3 convertible or the M5 estate car.