1973, and a head-turning new coupe rumbles its way onto the start line at race circuits around the world. It is powered by a four-valve six-cylinder engine developing 415 – 440 hp. With its blue/purple/red striped livery, jutting spoilers and handsomely flared wheel arches taking the lead, the BMW 3.0 CSL soon hurtled into the public consciousness worldwide. The bedroom walls of children – and garage walls of grown-ups – across the land were soon decked out in its image. Six European championship titles made the BMW 3.0 CSL the most successful touring car of its era and one victory after another in the IMSA series stateside added to the trophy haul. Never again would an American dare suggest BMW stood for “British Motor Works”.
How to make an entrance – the BMW M1 of 1978.
In 1977 the fabled race engine powering the BMW 3.0 CSL was earmarked – with a few tweaks – for action in the forthcoming BMW M1. The first car to be developed by BMW M GmbH celebrated its premiere in 1978, the instantly responsive six-cylinder unit with four-valve cylinder head and fuel injection at its heart developing 277 hp in road form. The BMW M1 also made headlines in Procar race specification in 1979 and 1980, as Formula One stars such as Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet got behind the wheel in F1 support races. While the naturally aspirated versions of the engine produced 470 to 490 hp, the turbos were good for 950 hp – enough to send shockwaves through Monaco’s exalted asphalt. Today, the BMW M1 is a highly prized collector’s item.
Give me five – the BMW M5 of 1988.
The first BMW M5 (an E28) was to all intents and purposes a hand-built creation of BMW M GmbH. Its 1988 successor could be more accurately described as the flagship model of the E34 range, but it likewise adopted the BMW M5 badge. Although the sedan was a somewhat sedate-looking car, the new 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine with 315 hp below its surface conjured the performance of a super-sports car. Those figures later rose to 3.8 litres and 340 hp. And you could also get this BMW M5 in practical Touring guise – another first for the M people.
Plus two: new M3, new straight-six.
If the first-generation BMW M3 (of E30 persuasion) was every inch the thrusting athlete, its 1992 successor (the E36) was most often spotted in elegant coupe attire – although convertible or sedan versions were also available. Its engine was based on the six-cylinder M50 unit, rejigged here as the S50 and stirring a burly 286 hp from its 3-litre displacement. This engine introduced the gifts of VANOS technology, bringing continuously variable adjustment of the intake camshaft. In 1995 this was superseded by Double-VANOS, which added adjustment of the exhaust camshaft. Output duly rose to 321 hp and displacement to 3.2 litres, road testers in increasing numbers adding a BMW M3 to their private fleets.
A fresh take on a proven recipe – the BMW M3 E46.
1998 saw the launch of a new BMW 3 Series – the E46. But it wasn’t until the year 2000 that a BMW M3 broke cover to top the range. Double-VANOS and an appetite for rpm coaxed 343 hp out of the engine’s 3.2-litre displacement. The S54 was a box-fresh design and its broad, deliciously accessible rev range wasted no time in spreading joy and affection. Despite the high-revving nature of the beast, 80 percent of maximum torque was on tap from 2,000 rpm. A special-edition CSL variant imbued the M3 with even greater allure, courtesy of 17 bonus horsepower and an induction sound (credit the carbon airbox) that left fans nursing goosebumps. And yet the 360 hp engine was also a thing of high efficiency; one might even call it frugal given the performance at hand.
Reaching higher – the BMW M4 GTS.
It took Formula One until 1970 or thereabouts to come up with a car that could lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 min. 28 sec. – and yet this was where the new (and road-legal) BMW M4 GTS stopped the clock in 2016. This even sharper version of the BMW M4 became the first series-produced road car to be fitted with an innovative water injection system.
Its engine brought together a trio of BMW developments: Double-VANOS, VALVETRONIC and M TwinPower Turbo technology. 500 hp catapulted the M4 GTS from 0 to 100 (62 mph) in 3.8 seconds, and only at 305 km/h (189 mph) did the electronics do their intervening thing. All 700 examples of the small-series M4 off-shoot were sold before deliveries began.
And so the “power of six hearts” has propelled BMW M models to some extraordinary triumphs. We haven’t even mentioned the multiple “Engine of the Year” awards collected by six-cylinder M engines – and there is still plenty more left in the tank. M Power indeed.
Time for a little aural indulgence?
A new take on the sports car concept. The engine powering the E46 BMW M3 of 2000 was again a six-cylinder, but of an all-new design. Customers could no longer buy the BMW M3 in a sedan variant.
A 500 hp straight-six engine with TwinPower Turbo technology and water injection accelerated the BMW M4 GTS from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.8 seconds. All 700 examples of this small-series BMW M4 off-shoot were sold pre-launch.