The M badge, with its distinctive tricolour slash, has adorned dozens of BMW models over the years, as well as countless replicas and rip-offs. It's considered the greatest badge a BMW can wear to signify performance excellence, which is why plastic copies are so popular online. But what is M, and what have they done to make BMW cars so great? This should explain it all.
By the early Seventies BMW had seen nearly a decade of success, especially with their New Class and New Six models. But there was a need to push things further; to take the sporting proficiency of their cars to the next level. So BMW AG, from their shiny new headquarters in Munich, set up a new company known as Motorsport GmbH.
Tasked with tuning existing cars for performance racing, Motorsport started out as a small group of 35 people led by 26-year-old Jochen Neerpasch, a former racing driver. Neerpasch set about transforming the firm into a successful DRM (Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft) racing team. To do so, he took the designs for BMW's E9, and began a full rebuild.
The resulting product was the 3.0 CSL, a three-litre monster with a lightened steel chassis and aluminium panels, custom-made for racing in the German touring car series. To meet regulations a number of homologation models were built, resulting in a street-ready version of the CSL that stands as Motorsport's first product. The CSL would go on to incredible success, winning the European Touring Car Championship six times in seven years.
But Motorsport's dreams went further than customising existing BMWs. In 1976 the division initiated their first unique car design, which was unveiled two years later as the M1. This sporting leviathan only saw a production run of 456 units, but firmly established Motorsport GmbH's ability to create exceptional vehicles, working alongside not only BMW but also Lamborghini.
However, the product that defined Motorsport's future was the M535i. Launched in 1979, this adaptation of an existing BMW saloon demonstrated the perfect marriage of BMW's luxury and Motorsport's racing prowess. By squeezing a modified version of the M1's 3.5-litre motor into an E12 5 Series, Motorsport created the ultimate sporting saloon; a four-door car with 220hp and the styling to match.
From there, the only way was up. Motorsport went on to provide engines for Formula 1 teams, powering Brabham to a win in the Eighties, as well as dominating the German and European Touring Car Championships. Motorsport's touch on BMW models would be released as M-cars, with versions of the 3 Series E30 and 6 Series E24 bringing back a slew of awards and trophies to the Munich lair not only for their racing pedigree but also their wonderful stylings.
To better reflect Motorsport's work, the company changed its name to "M" in 1993. This allowed BMW to more clearly separate cars exclusively built by the Motorsport Division from standard models that had been gifted with upgrades from the M parts bin. The name Motorsport became a trim level denoting sportier characteristics, without treading on the toes of M's supremacy in the performance stakes.
To this day the Motorsport name is synonymous with sporting excellence.
Motorsport/M produced a range of products. They not only produce the M-Cars, but their engines, suspension, brakes and body kits are also extensively used on other BMW models. Accessories such as steering wheels are sold under the M-Technic brand.
- M1 - E26
- M3 - E30/E36/E46/E90
- M5 - E28/E34/E39/E60
- M6 - E24/E63-E64
- M8 - E31
- Z3M - Z3 roadster and coupe
- Z4M - roadster (E85) and coupe (E86)
- 1M - E87
As yet, no M7 version exists, as BMW does not want to install a high-revving sports engine in its flagship luxury saloon. The closest alternative is an Alpina version of the 7 Series.
To power the M-cars, engines were exclusively developed to provide the levels of horsepower necessary for sporting excellence. Rather than designing from the ground up, Motorsport usually used existing BMW engines as a starting platform; however, by the end of the development the motors would be so radically redesigned that they shared few, if any, interchangeable parts. The changes include completely new heads, custom pistons in a wider-bored block, fed by advanced oil pumps and, crucially, independent throttle bodies for the best throttle response.
Engines would go through evolutions based on their successes on the race track. This meant that some engines increase in displacement while retaining the same engine name (S14), with other engines going through changes significant enough to warrant a change in number while still forming part of the same engine family; the S5x range of engines is an example of this.
Since 1986, Motorsport engines have been given the S-prefix to distinguish them from standard BMW engines. They are easily identified by their distinctive M-Power rocker cover.
The current list of engines:
- M88/S38 - straight 6-cylinder engines from 3.5 to 3.8 litres.
- S14 - 4-cylinder in 2.0, 2.3 and 2.5 litre capacities, based on the M10.
- S50\S52\S54 - versions of the straight 6-cylinder M50\M52 engines.
- S62 and S65 - V8 engines
- S85 - V10 engine
M-Technic is the brand name of sporting accessories designed by Motorsport but fitted to standard BMW models. These may be mechanical upgrades, usually in the form of Brakes and Suspension, but also include cosmetic items such as body kits, seats and steering wheels. Cars fitted with M-Technic accessories are not M-cars, and do not usually receive the M badge.
To see what M-Tech options were available for the E30, check out our M-Tech brochures.