Driving is becoming a guilty pleasure.
In today’s modern society of pocket-sized computers, there’s an obvious wariness of mechanical objects. Electric cars are slowly appearing in every part of the world as the days of screaming V12’s fade away into the whooshing of a new turbo era and footrests take the place of our beloved third pedal, replaced by two pieces of plastic behind your already overburdened steering wheel. Machines are only becoming smarter and our part as conductors diminish as the world advances around us to the beat of an entirely different drum. But not everyone marches to the same beat, for some understand what truly constitutes the orchestra of emotion we’ve all become so addicted to when we’re behind the wheel of a machine. It’s a fine balance, incorporating new technologies without sacrificing what makes the experience human. When executed poorly, it’s an off-tune, disastrous affair with poor cadence – but when done right, it’s a waltz so elegant you’ll never want to stop dancing. Music has Frederic Chopin, but in our world of automobiles, nobody constructs a waltz quite like BMW.
Born on March 7th, 1916, Bayerische Motoren Werke first began as an aircraft manufacturer under the name Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, but only after changing it from Rapp Motorenwerke in 1913 until returning to the BMW name in 1922. If you have ever wondered where BMW’s odd model naming traditions come from, therein lies your answer. Before they became known for making cars like the M3 and the 5-series your dentist drives, BMW made motorcycles and farm equipment. Their first production car wasn’t until 1928 with the BMW 3/15, which was a rebadged Dixi based off the 1904 Austin 7. As the company’s grasp on manufacturing tightened and the vehicles became more reliable, there was only one thing left to do to truly test their craftmanship – take the lads out racing!
BMW has a long history of motorsport; the art of racing is quintessential to the fiber of their DNA, already claiming victories as early as the 1930’s while the company was still in its infancy, claiming both class victories at the legendary Le Mans 24h and outright wins using more streamlined models at the prestigious Mille Miglia. BMW proved to be unbeatable in their class and it wasn’t long until they got involved with fish from other ponds, planting their German boots firmly into the world of single-seater racing in Formula 2, later developing into their Formula 1 program, and making their mark on the world as the new kings of touring car racing with the most successful road racer ever in the history of the sport – the M3.
What started off as call to action as a result of Mercedes’s success in the German touring car series with their 190E platform, the M3 was not made with the same principles you’ll find scribbled on the back of a brochure at your local BMW dealership today. This thing is a racecar; it was always meant to be a racecar and the only reason you’d even see one on the road is due to the logistics of homologation rules. This car was built without compromise and BMW’s team of bonkers engineers only supplied it with a diet of the finest grain, feeding it with parts taken from their already successful ensemble of motorsport heroes, such as the M1 and the 3.0 CSL. A new benchmark of automotive performance was in the making and BMW’s Motorsport division (very creatively called ‘M’) was brought into fruition. But it wasn’t enough to just make a good racecar, as the FIA’s homologation rules required a specified number of road variants to be built and sold. This still didn’t stop the new ‘M’ team from testing each rendition of the car around the gruesome Nurburgring – a tradition the company proudly instills onto every car they make to this very day.
Given that the road variant was only made out of necessity; not a single soul at BMW could have predicted the commercial success of the car, given its highly focused function as a track car in a world that was already battling a rise in gas prices and a car market that prioritized luxury and comfort above all else. The Group A regulations demanded that 5,000 M3’s were built. By the end of its production in 1991, the company sold over 17,970 models, a number that can be highly accredited to its reputation of winning races – and boy did this thing win races. The M3 went on winning its inaugural season at the World Touring Car Championship in 1987, adding a European title to its claim right after, followed by national championship wins in France, Italy and England, along with claiming its rightful place as the champion of the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), fulfilling its goal as the finest road racer the world had ever seen. Since then, the company has continued producing more conquering winners with the help of customer driven international GT3 series, such as the M6 and the M8 GT3/GTE’s, now also hosting a GT4 program in its already impressive arsenal.
Very few automakers today understand what truly makes a car worth driving – not out of the need for transportation, but for the sake of the drive itself. There’s a reason why an M car is still a performance benchmark to this very day and why people are less interested in the sort of lap times it produces and care more about how big of a smoke trail you can leave behind as you slide out of corners with your wheels pointed in the opposite direction. BMW doesn’t make cars – they make dancing partners. It’s the practice of making technology work with you in a world convinced that it should instead work for you. Whether you prefer the waltz of a 5-series or doing the tango with an M5, there’s a dancing partner for everyone, each instilled with that same surgical precision that earned the brand its victories both on and off the racetrack – and perhaps that’s the greatest victory of them all and it’s definitely one worth celebrating.