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Top 7 – The very best of fifty years of BMW M

How can one letter evoke so many emotions? Just say ‘M’ to car enthusiasts and the jubilant stories and memories will come, mostly about the BMW Motorsport models in this list. Because in fifty years, the M-department has hardly taken a step wrong.

1 – BMW M1 (1978)

BMW designed the M1 for the Group 5 racing class. To participate, the brand had to build 400 road cars. Initially, the ailing Lamborghini would do that, but after seven prototypes BMW decided to bring production to Germany. Group 5 had meanwhile changed its regulations, as a result of which the M1 no longer complied with them. In order to be able to justify the development costs, BMW started its own Procar championship, driven by Formula 1 drivers.

2 – BMW M5 (1980)

This original M5 (model code: E28) is not the first production model from BMW M. That is the M535i of the E12 generation, with 218 hp from a 3.5-liter six-in-line. The 286 hp engine in the M5 is the same size, but born a lot higher. He comes from the M1 and therefore has real racing genes. When introduced in 1980, the M5 was the fastest sedan in the world. In addition, with a production number of only 2214, it is one of the rarest M models, after the M1 (456) and M5 E34 Touring (891).


3 – BMW M3 (1986)

The 1980s were heaven for homologation special enthusiasts. The Audi Quattro, Lancia Delta HF Integrale and BMW M3 E30 proved that ‘simple’ family cars could simply stick to the bumper of exotic sports cars. BMW had to build 5000 copies of the M3 to participate in the DTM; it became almost 18,000. Its four-cylinder engine comes from racing and only delivers its maximum power of 200 hp at 6750 rpm.


4 – BMW M Coupe (1996)

The ‘clown shoe’ had almost never been there. It started as a hobby project of some BMW M engineers, who tried to give the Z3 more torsional rigidity and precision by putting a roof on it. The BMW management saw little in the result, but hesitantly gave the green light for series production. With its 321 hp M3 E36 engine, short wheelbase and rear-wheel drive, the M Coupé was a crafty sports car. Many have disappeared backwards into the thicket.


5 – BMW M5 (1998)

The best M5 ever? According to BMW enthusiasts, yes. The E39 – as the model code of this generation 5 series reads – is the last analogue M5. That’s why he is so loved. It combines a modest design with a naturally aspirated V8 with 400 hp, a manual six-speed gearbox and rear-wheel drive. This technology can also be found in the retro-fantastic BMW Z8 (2000 – 2003). A modern classic that has become so sought after that it yields more than it cost new.


6 – BMW M3 CSL (2004)

Let’s spoil the fun with a hopelessly old-fashioned robotic manual transmission? No, because even with its slow SMG transmission, the CSL is the perfect M3. It is 110 kilos lighter than the ‘regular’ M3 E46 and 18 hp stronger (361 hp). BMW delivered its ‘Coupé Sport Leichtbau’ standard on semi-slicks and warned buyers that they could expect little grip in the rain and the cold. The high squeak of the M3 CSL is downright addictive: the sound of air being sucked into the engine at speed.


7 – BMW 1-serie M Coupe (2011)

Guess why this sporty two-door is not called an M1. Right, BMW didn’t want to create confusion with the number one in this top ten. The 1M was the second M model with a turbo engine, after the X5 and X6 M from 2009. Its N54 six-cylinder in-line engine delivers 340 hp and 450 Nm of torque (for a short time 500 Nm in overboost). The compact, light 1M is seen as the real successor to the M3 E30, as the later M3 models have become increasingly larger and heavier.

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