BMW M1 restored for FOS appearance

14th June 2016
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

As you will know, BMW is celebrating its centenary at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this year and BMW GB wanted its very own M1 right in the thick of the display. The only problem was it had not been restored in the over 35 years of its life to date, so what better excuse for it to have a quick spruce up before the big show? At least that’s all that appeared to be needed.


‘You never know what you’re going to find with M1s,’ says Dan Norris, MD of renown BMW specialists Munich Legends who got the job. ‘Because their bodies are fibreglass and don’t rot, it’s only when you have a look beneath that you find out what’s really going on.’

The news was not good. ‘The corrosion was everywhere, in the chassis rails, the box sections, the doors, the sub-frames. It hadn’t quite gone far enough to make the car dangerous to drive, but it was well on the way.’

In other areas the car was not so terrible, but the engine was badly coked up, there was a compression leakage on one cylinder and it had lots of little oil leaks. The transaxle gearbox needed re-sealing and refreshing too. Indeed by the time Munich Legends was done with it, every single area of the car had been examined, restored, refreshed or where no other solution presented itself, replaced.

‘It wasn’t a ground up restoration partly because by the time the authorisation came through from Munich there was only three months to do the job,’ says Norris, ‘but also because of the near impossibility of finding some of the parts. We were able to source some components not even BMW had, but in other areas we had no choice by the work with what was already there.’


Nor was working on the car itself easy. ‘If you’re restoring an M3 or even a Batmobile, there are hundreds of experts all over the world, books and an excellent supply of parts. With the M1, there is almost nothing. And some components, especially fibreglass bits in the engine bay, are so delicate and irreplaceable, we didn’t ever dare lean over the side of the car.’ So the car was lifted up and the mechanics went in from underneath.

The M1 not only had its chassis completely restored, it had a top end engine rebuild, a bottom end refresh, its suspension and brakes completely rebuilt, the body repainted from scratch and over 500 nuts, bolts and washers re-anodised, working on the basis that if it could be saved and re-used to preserve the car’s originality, it should be saved.

I had to ask how much, but Dan is sworn to confidentiality. So I try another tack and asked if I were to bring an M1 in similar condition to be similarly brought back to life whether the final figure would contain six digits. ‘To a private customer? Easily.’


Why all the fuss? If you were to drive an M1 you’d know in an instant. Remember that this was a car conceived primarily for racing purposes and the road car merely a homologation requirement. So while the M1 has a superficial veneer of sophistication from its elegant ride quality to quite impressive refinement and very large boot, when you actually shift down a couple of gears and put the BMW Motorsport 3.5-litre straight six to serious and proper work, it changes character completely.

Seen in the context of the other supercars around at the time – wide and impractical Italians and one other tricky, rear-engined German – the M1 was shockingly easy to drive fast. You could see out of it, drive it with total precision at high speed and never worry that should you have to slow down in a corner that the back of the car would decide it would rather be at the front. The M1 had sublime balance, superlative steering and, of course, that howling race-bred engine egging you on. Anyone who said the M1 lacked soul simply wasn’t driving it fast enough.


In the end it is well remembered that the M1 was not a success in the showroom but then neither was the McLaren F1 and that’s not done too badly since. The impact of BMW’s first and, until the i8, only mid-engined supercar was never going to be felt at the time. The fact that, half a life time later, we are still talking about it, still feeling warm about it and I am desperate to go for another drive in it is a far better indicator of its real contribution to BMW’s brand. The truth is the M1 is not just one of the greatest BMWs of the last 100 years, but one the best supercars of all time. It is wonderful to think that thanks to the dedication and expertise of Munich Legends and BMW’s own determination not to cut any corners, that there exists once more in the UK an M1 that, in all probability, is now as good as it could possibly be.

  • BMW

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