BMW's Rallying Days

April 29th 2014 | Benjamin Yong

Rallying is cool. It's a bunch of lunatics going very sideways on the world's most gruelling and extreme roads. A little known fact about BMW is that they didn't just stick to road racing when it came to motorsports, they also entered the occasional rally car. In 1982, BMW decided to enter a tuned version of their supercar - the legendary BMW M1. While the BMW M1’s roots in race car history are well documented, very little is known about the M1’s brief stint in the world of rally sport. And not just any rally sport, we're  talking about legendary "Group B" - an unrestricted class of motorsport in the 1980's in which the BMW M1 stood out as its most powerful entrant. 

For those of you not in the know on arguably the most interesting few years in rally sport history; Group B rallying happened in a four-year span when the world briefly went mad. In 1982, all manufacturers were in a race to build the most powerful rally cars in the hopes of catching up to the dominant Audi Quattros. The results were twitchy turbo charged rally cars with virtual suicidal drivers sprinting through rally stages at time travel speeds. In eerie similarity to the killer 50’s when F1 racing was discontinued for a number of years, the unrestricted Group B class was banned in 1986 due to too many fatalities. In its darkest days the sport was said to cause more deaths than finishers.

The BMW M1 was modestly described as "hard to handle" by driver Bernard Beguin, who wrestled the godly sounding beast around Europe’s dirt clad hairpins. The footage below shows the 430 bhp M1 terrorizing "the Tour de Corse" on the usually quiet and quaint island of Corsica. Nicknamed ‘The Rally of 1000 Corners,’ spectators would often shovel gravel onto the road to cause an even greater - sideways -  spectacle.

I guess it is safe to say that BMW learnt some valuable lessons with their stint in Group B rallying, as only a few years later they managed to produce one of the most victorious race cars in motorsport history - the BMW E30 M3. It was the summer of 1985 in Germany when the journalists first got their hands on the M3, and for the next six years, their pens waxed lyrically about the M3's 50/50 weight distribution, driving feel, and endless string of victories on the road, on the track, and on Europe's most challenging dusty mountain roads.

The fact that it originally started out as a "Group A" race car project, of which BMW was forced to make a (now legendary) homologiation production series for the road, helped make it an extraordinary machine for use on the road. It was light at a mere 1,200 kilograms dry weight, and it featured the 1983 F1 Championship winning engine block from the Brahbham BMW race car. Its crankshaft could withstand up to 10,000 rpm and its exhaust system was tested for over 150,000 kms at full throttle on Italy's Nardo test track. All these bits of specific information reveal why the E30 M3 road car was granted such high praise as it was a mere race car in disguise. How BMW managed to sell them at a halfway affordable price is beyond my comprehension.

Similar to the BMW M1, another legend had entered the books, albeit with a dramatically different end result. The M1 was a legend because it was a short lived monster, the E30 M3 because it was an absolute peach that led a long dominant life as Bavaria's most prized export. 

Today, let’s enjoy the footage for what it was and silently pay our respects to the drivers and spectators who paid the ultimate price in the name of motorsport.

Visit BMW Langley for more info on the BMW brand.

About the Author

Benjamin Yong is a freelance journalist and communications professional living in Richmond, B.C. He is often found writing about cars and the auto industry, amongst other things, or driving around in his work-in-progress 1990 Mazda MX-5.

Twitter: @b_yong
Instagram: @popuplights