A fast "5" from BMW Motorsport

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It’s a new BMW with a “Big M.” A brand of milk for Australians perhaps, but a new driver’s car for European motorists. The German motor manufacturer’s new motorsport orientated M535i, shown at the recent Geneva Motor Show and due in British showrooms in September with a price tag of £13,745, joins the M1 Coupé of ProCar fame as the only cars from the Munich stable to carry an M as a prefix to the model code. The car, with its Series Five body and 3.5-litre fuel-injected engine, is a product from BMW Motorsport GmbH and is being built with an annual production target of 1,200 in mind, 200 of which are destined for the British market. 

Originally conceived as a motorsport special, the car will keep its close birth links with the company’s respected motorsport division as customer production will be very much of a combined divisional effort with the company’s main production houses. Eight-five per cent of the new car is being built by the company’s traditional production lines and the final 15 per cent will be completed in the hands of the motorsport division. 

Motorists are likely to see more of these combined productions in future as a BMW spokesman told me in Munich recently that one of the BMW GmbH’s future areas of activity would be in that of high performance road cars. It sounds a very logical step for the company. It has a successful competition sector and as motor manufacturers go motor racing to sell cars, it’s appropriate to link the activities of a motorsport division as closely to customer production as feasibly possible. The only constraint to large numbers of cars being built in this manner by the German company is likely to be the physical ability of the hard-pressed motorsport division to complete the task at hand. 

The 3.5-litre engine used for this model is the same unit as fitted to the company’s 635 CSi Coupé and 735i Saloon models. With the lighter Series Five bodyshell, the engine develops 218 h.p. at 5,200 revs. and has a maximum torque of 224 lb. ft. at 4,000 revs. With a compression ratio of 9.3:1, the six-cylinder unit boasts a stroke of 84 mm. and a bore of 93.4 mm. A close-ratio five-speed gearbox is fitted and, to care for the lighter bodyshell, there are up-rated ventilated disc brakes front and rear as well as up-rated suspension at both ends. The suspension at the front is McPherson independent with an anti-roll bar while at the rear, it’s independent with semi-trailing arms, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. Steering is of the power-assisted recirculating ball type. The BMW M535i, which sports a limited-slip differential among its mechanicals, is seated on light alloy wheels and Michelin 195/70VR 14 XWX tyres. 

With the already mentioned lighter bodyshell and peppy 3.5-litre fuel injected power unit, this new machine from Bavaria has a claimed top speed of above 136 m.p.h. and a 0-62 m.p.h. acceleration figure of 7.5 seconds. And fitted to the car to help maintain its stability on the open highways of Europe are front and rear spoilers, no doubt adding to the car’s cosmetic appeal but there for functional reasons too. 

I say Europe because this car will not be destined for the United States market, the 3.5-litre engine not having been homologated by the authorities for sale on the other side of the Atlantic. Once inside this car, there are a couple of quite inviting Recaro seats for the driver and front passenger. These seats are not only snug and comfortable, but give good lateral support. The driver controls are easily operated and the instrument panel view is clear while waiting to occupy the hands is a leather-covered small sports steering wheel. The car’s gearbox provides easy changing once one has gained the confidence of the first gear position, sited in a dog-legged fashion down to the left. There’s no overdrive gear, all five closely-set gears being direct drive, but cruising at high speed in fifth is a pleasure. 

I had a brief drive in this new car in Germany recently, courtesy of BMW and C.R. who found himself unable to make the two-day trip at the last moment. The car’s running gear provides plenty of welcome torque, the ride is sure and comfortable and the braking firm and direct. The car’s handling on fast, open corners is sure and the steering very precise. Thugh the steering is power assisted, it offers a good “feel” and sure-footed stability. I’m not a great fan of power assisted steering, but the BMW designers have come up with a good “balance”. 

The BMW M535i was an enjoyable car to drive, even if my first taste of this new machine was a little short, partly the fault of the premature arrival of the Munich Airport car park and a need to abide by the departure schedules of British Airways. With only 200 of the cars destined for our shores in the first year of production, motorists with a yearning for a fine motorsport oriented BMW should perhaps start counting their pennies and joining a probably queue. 

The BMW M535i is not all the German manufacturer has in its kitty for British motorists. The existing Series Five saloons will be available with an optional overdrive fifth gear, an obvious plus for fuel consumption. The addition of the fifth gear to the model range adds £266 to the price, but the claimed fuel consumption improvement is 5.9 per cent. The existing four-speed units will still be available. 

While in Germany, we had the pleasure on our travels in Bavaria to take in the small country town of Buchloe, the home of Burkhard Bovensiepen’s famous Alpina factory where, as the friendly man says himself, the best BMWs in the world are built. Bovensiepen, who has now expanded his business activities to include the importing of quality Italian wines, insists he is a manufacturer and not simply a small town tuner of cars and it doesn’t take much convincing after a short drive of some of his products to believe him. BMW supply him with bodyshells and many of the parts for his own cars, but most of the mechanical development work is done under Bovensiepen’s direction in his incredibly clean Buchloe workshops. He expects to turn out 300 cars this year with prices ranging up to 82,900DM for the BMW Alpina B7 Turbo Coupé. Bovensiepen uses two engines for his customer cars. They are the B6 2.8-litre six-cylinder unit which has a maximum speed of 220 k.p.h. in a Series Five bodyshell or the B7 Turbo 3.0-litre unit which offers 250 k.p.h. plus when fitted to the BMW 635CSi shell. As well as being decked on light alloy wheels with 15 in. or 16 in. rims on Pirellu P7 tyres depending on the car, the Alpina touch has also been added to the interior of the cars with snug Recaro-style seats and a sports-oriented variety of equipment. Though we only had a short drive of the fine Alpina products to a lunch stop in an adjacent town, it was sufficient to gain very favourable initial impressions. The acceleration of the Turbo unit in the saloon bodyshell which I drove was terrific and the braking from those quickly-reached high speeds clean and immediate. It was a pity we didn’t have a lot of time but the time was sufficient to whet the appetite. If only the bank manager would listen! — R.G.S.