2022 is shaping up to be quite the year for BMW. Bavaria’s favourite carmaker is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its legendary Motorsport or ‘M’ division, and earlier this week it revealed its all-new 2023 LMDh prototype, the BMW M Hybrid V8. That’s the car you’re looking at now, if you were wondering.
Scheduled to make its debut at the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona - the first round of next season’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship - the M Hybrid V8 is BMW’s first prototype race car since the V12 LMR. Exciting stuff, but perhaps most exciting of all, is that it is set to be joined by other similar LMDh entries from Cadillac, Audi, Acura, and Lamborghini for 2024. Endurance racing has been made great again, make no mistake about it.
Anyway, apart from the fact the chassis will be constructed by Dallara and the engine will be a V8 hybrid unit developed and made in-house by BMW, Munich has revealed very little about its all-new prototype challenger.
What is clear though, is that the M Hybrid V8 is very much a modern-day BMW. The front end is characterized by an enormous, flaring kidney grille found on a number of its contemporary models, and if you look further down the car you’ll notice BMW’s trad ‘Hofmeister Kink’ on the cockpit’s side windows.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the M Hybrid’s V8 camouflage livery, which is a mosaic of the cars BMW has successfully run in IMSA since the foundation of BMW Motorsport in 1972. With that in mind - and to celebrate one of the great names in motorsport - here is a list of some of the most iconic race cars ever conceived by the bright and the brilliant minds in the BMW M department.
BMW 3.0L CSL ‘Batmobile’
The BMW 3.0 CSL is an important car for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the Godfather of the BMW M cars; secondly, it sealed BMW’s reputation as a motorsport powerhouse. The ‘Batmobile’ proper - with its deep chin spoiler, rubber fins atop its front wings, and lurid rear spoiler came to light in 1973 when BMW decided it wanted to go racing and topple the all-conquering Ford Capri RS2600 in the FIA’s Group 2 category. The result was a fire-spitting, 3.0L 1,165kg super saloon, which took a Le Mans class victory in ‘73, and the European Touring Car Championship title every year until 1979. The car also enjoyed similar success in the IMSA Sportscar Championship in the United States and cemented BMW’s place as a regular entrant in the championship, where it still competes today. By 1976, BMW had bolted twin-turbos onto the 3.0 CSL’s M30 engine. With the turbos turned up to full boost, the car produced 440 bhp and it generated so much heat that its floor would glow orange and cause its drivers’ boots to melt. Speaking of drivers, Niki Lauda, Hans-Joachim Stück, and The Greatest Beard in Motorsport History - Harald Ertl - all drove 3.0 CSLs at some stage in their careers.
On the back of the immense success BMW had enjoyed with the 3.0 CSL, its motorsport boss Jochen Neerpasch decided it was time for Munich to take on its arch-rival Porsche in sports car racing… and it’s for this reason alone that the beautiful BMW M1 came to be. After producing 453 M1s to meet the FIA’s minimum homologation quota of 400 cars, BMW tweaked its mid-mounted, six-cylinder transverse engine to produce 577bhp and created the BMW M1 Procar Championship, which would make the car eligible for Group 4 competition and further homologation for Group 5. A supporting series for the 1978 and 1979 Formula 1 seasons, the Procar championship attracted drivers such as Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet who took one title apiece in subsequent years. During the time it had taken BMW to develop the Group 4 M1 into a Group 5 car, it had become a truly astonishing machine. BMW dominated the 1981 IMSA GTO class with Dave Cowart and Kender Miller winning the championship, and eight of the remaining top 10 drivers in the standings all driving BMW M1s.
By the mid-1980s, the blue and white BMW ‘rotor’ badge had become a highly-respected part of the US racing scene. So, for 1986 BMW decided it would have a crack at racing in IMSA’s class for Grand Touring Prototypes or ‘GTP’ machinery with the succinctly named ‘BMW GTP’. The GTP’s chassis was fashioned from aluminum and carbon fiber honeycomb over a steel tube subframe. What’s more, it was not actually built by BMW. Instead, it was put together by March Engineering; an arrangement akin to the current one between Dallara and BMW for the 2023 M Hybrid LMDh car. Alongside some minor branding and aesthetic tweaks by BMW to make the March 86G (slightly!) resemble one of its road cars, Munich’s biggest influence on the GTP was its engine. The GTP’s motor was a 2.0L derivative of the turbocharged four-cylinder BMW M12/14 unit that had taken Nelson Piquet to the 1983 F1 title with Brabham. In race trim, this four-pot motor produced a moderate 800bhp to cope with the stresses and strains of endurance racing. Yet when BMW wound up the turbo to 11 for qualifying mode, this relatively compact motor was capable of churning out an eye-popping, rib-crushing 1400bhp. Despite its immense power and excellent chassis, the GTP’s results were a mixed bag due to the engine’s “fast but fragile” nature. From the 55 IMSA GTP class races in which it competed from 1986 to 1988, the BMW GTP took one victory at the 1986 Watkins Glen 500 thanks to Davy Jones and John Andretti who crossed the finish line 24 seconds ahead of their nearest competitor. It wouldn’t be until the following decade that BMW would go prototype racing again with the mighty V12 LMR…
BMW M3 (Group A/DTM)
Hold on a moment… before we get to the V12 LMR - this is a chronological tale of BMW motorsport prowess after all! - we need to look at the BMW M3 E30 Group A, arguably the greatest - and certainly the most recognizable - BMW M racer ever. Like the 3.0 CSL Batmobile and the M1 before it, the E30 M3 was another of Munich’s homologation specials. Introduced in 1987, this first-gen M3 was born from BMW’s unquenchable thirst for motorsport. This time, the thirst that needed satiating was the ETCC and DTM running Group A regulations. Powered by a 300bhp version of the naturally-aspirated 2.3L S14 engine found in the roadgoing E30, BMW’s uncomplicated, lightweight M3 touring car proved an immediate hit when it debuted in 1987; it won the drivers’ championship in its first ETCC season and racked up a DTM drivers’ title that same year courtesy of Eric van de Poele and the Zakspeed team. In 1989, another followed thanks to Roberto Ravaglia and Schnitzer. Astonishingly, the E30 M3’s success wasn’t just rooted in the DTM and the ETCC. To highlight how effective BMW’s now-iconic tintop was as a global phenomenon, it took five victories at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, two BTCC drivers’ championships, two Australian Touring Car drivers’ championships, seven Japanese Touring Car championships and - bizarrely - the 1990 Irish Rally Championship. When BMW officially retired the M3 E30 at the end of 1992, it had very much assured its place in BMW’s impressive back catalog.
BMW V12 LMR
Since its foundation in 1972, the BMW M division had achieved pretty much everything imaginable in motorsport with unprecedented levels of success in Europe and across the world. Yet despite a class win in 1973 with the 3.0 CSL and a fourth-place finish with the M1 in 1979, outright victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans still eluded BMW. With that in mind, winning the world’s greatest race was what it set out to do from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Initially, things did not look good for the Bavarians on their return to prototype racing. The V12 LM of 1998 was slow due to poorly-planned aerodynamics and cooling. At that year’s LM24, the V12-powered LM qualified way behind the leading cars fielded by Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan. The race proved little better, with BMW retiring both cars from the race due to vibrations. Following its disastrous Le Mans debut, Munich quickly abandoned the project to focus on its successor, the V12 LMR. Despite its similar appearance to the V12 LM, all of the bodywork on the new-for-1999 V12 LMR had been completely redesigned. Most importantly, BMW - with the help of the Williams F1 team - had redesigned the cooling ducts by moving them from the bottom to the top of the car. The Anglo-German contingent also exploited a loophole in the sporting regulations to fit a small roll hoop behind the driver’s seat, which ensured the airflow to the rear wing was smoother than its predecessor. The mass overhaul worked, and the V12 LMR with its 590bhp, 5.9L S70/3 naturally-aspirated engine took BMW’s victory at the 1999 LM24 courtesy of Joachim Winkelhock, Pierluigi Martini, and Yannick Dalmas. To this day, it remains BMW’s sole overall victory at the event.
BMW M3 / M4 DTM
We’ve already seen how impressive and effective the E30 was as a race car, so when BMW returned to the DTM in 2012 with its V8-powered E92 M3 Coupé, it had one hell of a reputation to live up to. Thankfully, the BMW M division does things properly, so in its comeback DTM season, Bruno Spengler (whom BMW had gleefully poached from its long-term nemesis Mercedes!) claimed his first drivers’ title, the Schnitzer outfit running Spengler’s car took the teams’ championship, and BMW took the top spot in the manufacturers’ standings to claim a triple grand slam. In line with BMW’s renaming policy, the M3 DTM became the M4 for 2014, but despite the change in moniker, the second chapter in BMW’s DTM success story rolled on with Marco Wittmann taking two further drivers’ titles in 2014 and 2016. With the introduction of GT3 rules for the 2021 DTM season and beyond, the M4 - now running a turbocharged four-cylinder motor in accordance with the DTM’s downsizing regulations - was retired at the end of 2020. During its eight years of competition, the BMW M3-turned-M4 had won three drivers’ titles, taken 40 wins, scored a further 40 pole positions, and recorded 32 fastest laps. Without any doubt, the E30 would be very, very proud of its grandson. To underline just how great a race car the M4 was, here’s what Wittmann told Dyler.com about it: “I won two DTM drivers' titles with the M4, but things didn't stop there. During those seasons BMW also took the manufacturer's championship. The M4 was also really good looking and a very complex piece of engineering. It had a lot of carbon fiber aerodynamic components you couldn't really see, but they really contributed to the downforce it was able to produce. In fact, it felt more like a prototype to drive than a touring car! These are the reasons why I feel the M4 DTM should be considered one of BMW's greatest hits.”
BMW Z4 GTE
Prepared to run in IMSA and the European Le Mans series, the BMW Z4 GTE was another BMW M success story that competed from 2013 to 2015. Introduced to replace the championship-winning BMW M3 GT/GT2, the Z4 GTE was easily recognisable thanks to its aggressive flared wheel arches and enormous rear wing. Oh, its engine note was also pretty recognisable thanks to the thumping V8 up-front transferring all of its 480bhp to the rear wheels. Throughout its brief racing career, several BMW greats drove the Z4 GTE, with names such as Bruno Spengler, Bill Auberlen, Maxime Martin, and Dirk Müller all gaining significant seat time. From the 35 races it entered, the punchy little BMW took six victories, including wins at Long Beach and Lime Rock. For 2016, the Z4 GTE was replaced by the larger M6 GTLM.
BMW M8 GTE
The final BMW M racer is the BMW M8, a car so large that - much to the annoyance of BMW Motorsport bosses - that it even gained its own meme after the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans! The “Big M8” memes aside, the M8 GTE was introduced for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA SportsCar Championship seasons to replace the M6 GTLM. Despite being powered by a derivative of the powerful turbocharged, 592bhp V8 found in the F90 M5 and G15 M8 road car, the M8’s success in the WEC was relatively limited. Whether this was due to its substantial girth, it’s unclear. Nonetheless, two second-place finishes from the eight races comprising the 2018 - 2019 FIA WEC season and languishing fifth - and last! - in the constructors’ table by the end of the year was not good enough for BMW’s top brass, and its love affair with the M8 in WEC was over almost as quickly as it began. By the end of 2019, it announced it would be withdrawing from the championship with immediate effect. Thankfully in IMSA, “Big M8” found its calling and proved a more competitive machine stateside. By the time BMW switched its big, bruising V8 off for the final time after the 2021 Petit Le Mans it had scored three IMSA victories - two at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and another at Road Atlanta. With the M4 GT3 replacing the M8 for 2022 and beyond, it will be interesting to see whether a smaller racing car will be able to recapture some of BMW’s IMSA glory from years gone by.
To browse the thousands of BMW models we have listed, click here to look through them. Meanwhile, be sure to use #WeAreM on social media if you are an M car owner and would like to be part of the 50 years of BMW M celebrations.