Industry insight: BMW Motorsport

M Power

Motorsport by name, mini manufacturer by nature, BMW Motorsport GMBH is the expanding specialist arm of the Bayerische Motoren Werke; the BMW M3 saloon which GC tests alongside the Cosworth-Ford Sierra in this issue (see page 136), is an outstanding example of the work this company-within-a-company can now complete. From basic design to production and racing readiness the M3 project was energised by the limited liability company (thus the “GmbH”) formally created in 1972.

If you think that implies BMW expects a lot more from a sports department than the turbo engine which won the 1983 World Championship, or a succession of European Touring Car winners, you are absolutely right. You do not employ 400 people and two substantial factory sites without seeking further profitable developments upon the basic sporting theme . . .

To the company press-release authors, BMW Motorsport existed “exclusively with the design and construction of racing cars in mind” when it was created in 1972. Nothing within a major car corporation is ever so simple.

However, BMW’s competition department was never a formula car manufacturer. Motorsport’s single-seater racing success in Formulas Two and One deployed the chassis of Lola, March, Chevron, Martini, Osella, Ralt, Brabham, Arrows and ATS. The nearest BMW got to being a complete monoposto car manufacturer was in 1969 with the Bavarian Dornier aircraft company constructing its Formula Two chassis, which led to the “BMW 269/270” series. These did win races, but it took the 1973 2-litre fommla and red, STP-backed, March 732s with BMW’s final 16-valve answer to the dominant Cosworth to finally conquer that coveted European Championship.

If BMW does decide to go ahead and build its own, complete, Grand Prix challenger — and it was suggested to me more than once that they would follow such a course in preference to World Championship “silhouette” racing — it will be a brave decision. Some would call it ignorant arrogance in the wake of Porsche’s 1987 CART bellyflopper, the 2708.

It does seem that BMW has long-term ambitions to make a complete Formula One car— it apparently feels due recognition of its abilities has been overshadowed by those it supplied with winning engines (the main company line) or (the sports engineers’ line) that any deal with outsiders leaves it at the mercy of the competitiveness, or otherwise, of the chassis employed. There are just not many factors outside BMW’s engineering control, if it sticks to just engine supply.

In the spring of 1972 former Porsche works driver and Ford competition manager Jochen Neerpasch arrived to take on the responsibility of running a newly-created and separately’ funded motorsport department. But BMW had regained post-war sporting impetus long before Neerpasch arrived. It is also technically wrong to say that BMW designed and built only racing cars before, or after, Neerpasch’s arrival.

For the company’s competition comeback included factory rally cars (2002-based) to world class level. It is also worth recalling that it quite often carried out other tasks to offset a budget ravaged by such things as the 1973-74 fuel crisis.

Even in the early Eighties, Miunch’s motorsport department earned money by re-engineering a large Ford saloon to run BMW’s diesel motor, a deal annexed by the collapse of the US diesel market. This was in stark contrast to the flamboyant CSL racing coupes, the accident-rate per kilometre of BMW’s original junior team and the 1100 qualifying bhp quote for its 1.5-litre GP engine at 4-bar boost. . .

Responsibility for BMW’s sports activities was initially shouldered by engineering chief Alex von Falkenhausen (now a spry 80-yearold). Since his time fewer than half-a-dozen men have directed BMW’s sporting intent, none of whom have had the commercial inclination of the General Manager since 1985, Wolfgang Peter Flohr.

Peter Flohr has ensured the department’s vigorous expansion by boosting turnover sharply. In 1985 Motorsport reported “annual turnover of BMW Motorsport was roughly DM 70-million (£24.1 million today) . . . The realistic objective in 1988 is to increase turnover to about DM 325-million” (£112 million). Such growth (profits were not mentioned) is the result of marketing the M badge with brilliant awareness of its potent effect upon profit margins.

From clothes to “rolling chassis” competition M3s, from general accessories to specialised products such as M Technic suspension options, BMW Motorsport is now in the sales game in a manner unequalled anywhere else.

I do not advocate this M Power marketing as necessarily a good thing for customers, or for the BMW engineers struggling to defeat a turbocharged Ford in the European and World Touring Car battles of 1987. I merely report that it is so, and that is one reason why an already rich car company could spend more than a Formula One budget on saloon car racing without upsetting shareholders.

In fact the latter should be delighted, for Flohr leaves no commercial route unexplored in his bid to make sure corporate identity is always maintained on the track, and paid for by the punter thereafter.

I revisited the Munich motorsport department again recently to find that the Preussenstrasse building still housed the hardcore engine men. As at Porsche a couple of weeks earlier, I found a department withdrawn from the business of F1 engine supply, but there was no doubt in my mind that Motorsport engines boss Paul Rosche would welcome a return to the category immediately.

Certainly there are BMW competition engine programmes to make a C2 World Sportscar racing unit, and exploring the potential of the latest M40 four-cylinder as a lighter and more compact alternative to the M3-based Formula Three prototype displayed at the 1987 Frankfurt show.

At the time Motorsport was charged with improving the M3 in detail, but not as a turbocharged version. . . yet. That must wait until new 3-series sheet metal justifies the economics of making thousands of motorsport specials.

Talking to Rosche one could see that none of the above was in the same league as front-running in Formula One. “It is hard in F1, sure, but when you can win you know you have beaten the best. But I think you know we have also seen the losing side with our engines. The four-cylinder was not competitive with the sixes when the pop-off valve regulation came in,” he grinned self-deprecatingly.

“Always it was at the mechanical limit with more than 11,000 revs and bigger pistons and rods than a six. Power was boost times rpm in its basic form. In 1986 we had 900-950 race horsepower, in 1987 about 900-910 bhp; both figures are on 3.9-bar boost, but in 1987 we had the regulation pop-off valves and reduced fuel allowance.

“We could not go over 11,000 rpm without blowing up, so we had to run at the limit of boost all season; it was like an old steam engine on these joke pop-off valves.”

There was more, much more on this and related F1 topics from a man whose competition four-cylinder turbo experience goes back to the 2002 racing machine of 1969 (and the 1973 road car), but it is literally book-length, so we will leave it at that for now . . .

Before and after the establishment of Motorsport GmbH, BMW was a winner in saloon can racing, and it was that expertise which indirectly took it into the specialist road can business. For years contracted aces such as Hans-Joachim Stuck would have the latest BMW cocktail to commute between events. Most of the time drivers’ “road smokers” were larger-engined versions of the old 5-series, 3 to 3.5-litre versions of the four-door.

Those unofficial “530, 533” and “535” conversions provided a basis for the main company to later produce the M and 535i production models in 1979, but were overshadowed by the expensive construction of the first M-for-Motorsport model, the M1. By the standards of most sports departments, the M1 was an expensive irrelevance, but BMW Motorsport overcame a false production start at Lamborghini in 1978 to eventually oversee the assembly of more than 450 by Baur and itself. The racing spin-off was the 1979-80 Procar Championship, the rnidships 470 bhp mastered by N. Lauda and Nelson Piquet.

For a BMW collector, the M1 ranks in desirability with anything the company has ever made, particularly as it was such a sweet-handling supercar. For BMW Motorsport its real significance was the 3453cc inline six, because it had started life as a four-valve-per-cylinder racing unit and yet had been made a reliable and flexible road unit.

Motorsport converted the saloon car racing six of more than 400 bhp into the 277 horsepower unit which propelled the M1 beyond 160 (autobahn) mph. Then the company saw there was further potential in the application of previous M Power motorsport units to a profitable public life.

Thus the 24-valve six received a wet sump, plus the later generation of Bosch engine and injection management to become implanted within BMW’s 6-series coupe as the 286 bhp M635CSi. Production of that 155 mph “Mcoupe” began in Spring 1984 and continues into 1988.

Unlike the similarly motivated but obsolete M5, it was not made by BMW Motorsport. Instead it was slotted amongst the general run of coupe production at Dingolfing. But harking back to the tradition of the Seventies, Motorsport did make at least one contracted driver a very special, and personal M635. Nelson Piquet took delivery of an example in black with 3.7 litres and 330 bhp to complement the champion’s taste for 170 mph travel.

The M5 combination of the production 286 bhp/24V unit and the upright 5-series body formalised Motorsport’s very limited production facilities at the Preussenstrasse site. Such innocuous-looking 150 mph BMW Motorsport saloons have been available since 1985. The company found that such customers also responded well to the individual finishes which could be applied when the cars were slowly assembled within a department of skilled hand-labour.

The 1986 M3 was a rather different concept, for neither the M5 or M6 had competition chores to complete. There was also a fascinating link between the M3’s engine and the inline six, as Paul Rosche revealed with dismissive laughter: “You know how we make the first M3 engine in 1981? I tell you. We slice the end from an M635 24-valve — two cylinders removed. Yes, now we have a cylinder head to put on the iron-block four. That’s what we needed to show us the M3 could work,”

What Paul Rosche does not tell you, but which is obvious talking to those who have to meet his standards and that of the parent company, is that the subsequent road version of the engine then had literally millions of and thousands of hours expended in durability and refinement running.

PR talk? No, I took a Brand X 16-valve down to Italy to meet the M3 upon its debut; Brand X split its exhaust manifold and had an obvious four-cylinder reverberation just above 4000 rpm, while the bigger BMW four made half the racket. An experienced middle-management motorsport engineer said quietly, “Ja, we had just the same problem as your car. Took nearly another year, many more development kilometres, and much more money to fix it, but they made us do it!”

It is also worth recalling that the M3 had to be built at a minimum rate of 5000 in a twelve-month period to qualify for international Group A sport, so there was no initial question of building it at Preussenstrasse.

I write “initial” because Motorsport is to make some M3s in 1988, constructing a strictly controlled number of M3 convertibles. To pursue this, and other assembly projects, the sports department has been sub-divided and expanded to embrace a new (built in 1986) factory at Garching. Still within Munich’s environs, Garching was purpose-built to make “approximately 1600 units a year” when working two shifts.

That production capacity will obviously not be absorbed by the M3 convertible alone. Possibly, the “end of 1988” alliance of the new 5-series and 24-valve M Power will occur at Garching too — 286 bhp ought to make that slippery new M5 exceed 160 mph. JW