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Before the M division was established, BMW had a reputation for successful racing saloon cars and as an F2 engine manufacturer.
The origins of BMW's M cars are buried somewhere in the 1960s and '70s when BMW was just climbing the first few rungs of the automotive ladder. At the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show, the German automaker revealed a new platform on which a compact sedan and coupe were to be assembled. It was still a year away from its commercial launch, but the crowd was hard to control. During that time, however, BMW was far from the powerhouse it is today.
At least two decades were to pass before it would take on the might of Daimler-Benz, and another decade would pass before it was recognized as a manufacturer of luxury cars. No one dared in 1961 to envisage its climb to the top of the world's premium car manufacturers. The M brand, which had an important role to play in that Cinderella story, had still yet to be conceived. In the automotive world as well as in car marketing, there is one certain way of gaining your competitors' respect and your potential customers' attention and admiration: using the motorsport platform to prove your products' competence.
During the '70s as BMW became more and more successful, it became clear to its dominant manager, Eberhardt Von Kunheim, that in order to promote his cars and give them a unique character and flavor, a radical course of action was needed. And since competing head-to-head against Daimler-Benz in the premium segment was out of the question at the time, the motorsport route remained the only viable alternative for fast glories. The motorsport course was partially taken during the '60s when BMW took part in competitions on the national and international levels with its BMW 1500 model, the first product of the New Class series.
The New Class possessed excellent potential as a racing machine and that was proven in 1964, the car's first year of competition, when Hubert Hahne established easy domination over his rivals. He recorded 14 victories in 16 races on the way to being crowned the German circuit racing champion. In 1966 with the 2000TI, propelled by an enlarged engine, Hahne won the European Touring Cars Championship title in Division 3. Two years later Austrian Dieter Quester repeated this success with the 2002. The New Class was also a competent competitor in rallying, winning 8 out of 10 rounds in the 1968 German rally championship.
The engine block of the 1500 endured a long career and its peak was reached almost at the end of its life. During the Formula 1 turbo era (1977-1989), BMW developed on that engine block a turbo charged racing engine used by the Brabham team. In qualifying configuration it was the strongest ever F1 engine with over 1500hp, however it was dogged by poor reliability. That didn't prevent Nelson Piquet from winning his second out of three F1 world titles in 1983 driving a Brabham-BMW. Its fuel legal status was a source for malicious rumors ever since.
The racing success of the New Class led to the foundation in 1972 of BMW Motorsport GmbH, known also as either M-Technik or just as "M" (for Motorsport) that facilitated BMW's racing program. It then became more complex with the introduction of the BMW Formula 2 engine. Those 1600 cc engines propelled single-seat cars of various marques in the European Formula 2 championship when that category was at its zenith, second only to Formula 1. F1 drivers at the time were even still competing in Formula 2. For a few years BMW-engined single seaters dominated the F2 series, winning multiple races and a few championships.
In later years when BMW Motorsport GmbH became more involved with road cars than racing, the "Motorsport" was replaced by "M" only. Also at that time the famous M logo was decided upon. It was designed with the M and to its left three slightly angled stripes. The one on the right was red, representing the team's biggest sponsor at the time, Texaco. On the left was BMW's traditional blue and in the center was purple, a combination of the two. When Texaco ended the partnership, BMW bought out the rights to the logo, a transaction they would never come to regret. Editor's Note: This is Part 1 of our BMW M Evolution Series.