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Lot 217

1981 BMW M1

  • Chassis no. WBS59910004301426
  • Engine no. M88-503

$800,000 - $1,000,000

277 bhp, 3,453 cc M88 DOHC inline six-cylinder engine with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, five-speed manual transmission, front and rear dual A-arm independent suspension with coil springs, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 100.8 in.

  • A superlative example of BMW’s ultimate supercar
  • One of 399 road-going examples
  • Extremely low mileage; never sold into private ownership
  • Accompanied by original, unopened toolkit; recently serviced


The familiar propeller-inspired badges and the dual grille cutouts denote a celebrated German manufacturer, but the aesthetic lines of the wedge-shaped body are indubitably Italian. An eradicator of stereotypes that achieved so much more, the M1 was the first automobile in BMW’s legendary M-Class line and remains the company’s sole mid-engine supercar to date.

BMW’s interest in defeating rival Porsche at the races led the company to abandon the modified 3.5-liter CSi coupes it had been campaigning, which had delivered competitive if unspectacular results. As the thinking went, by engineering a race-purpose mid-engine car from the ground up and then de-tuning it for road use to meet homologation requirements, the company could build a race winner from a philosophically different direction.

BMW Motorsports was responsible for tuning the M88 inline six-cylinder engine, but manufacturing the chassis and running gear of such a project was too formidable for the company’s production lines. Therefore, the design and build of the chassis and body were farmed out to Italian concerns, helping to ensure race-worthy performance and aerodynamic flair.

With Lamborghini contributing to early development, the chassis was designed by the great Gian Paolo Dallara, the Indy Car builder who was responsible for legends like the Miura and Countach. The dynamic body, appearing at the height of the wedge styling movement in automotive design, was penned by the influential Giorgetto Giugiaro, and it undoubtedly resembles his great designs for the Lotus Esprit and the DeLorean. Preliminary construction was executed in Italy, with the final assembly and fitting of the engines supervised by Baur in Germany.

Intended to be a disruptive force to the Group 4 and 5 racing pursuits of Porsche, the M1 never fulfilled its production mandate, as the FIA changed the formula to render the model ineligible for competition. Not to be completely undone, BMW reached an agreement with Formula One’s sanctioning body to create a new junior series of racing featuring M1 cars only. The so-called Procar series was staged before each European grand prix and featured the same team drivers that would participate in the F1 race to follow.

While other manufacturers fumed over this marketing coup, a clamorous disruption in itself, BMW gained publicity and the M1 earned added cachet. That cachet multiplied even further at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans when BMW entered an M1 with bodywork painted by pop artist Andy Warhol. Still in the company’s collection, the early entry in BMW’s Art Car series finished 6th overall and second in class, and it has been pronounced by top BMW executives as “the company’s most valuable car.”

With performance times comparable to, or better than, the day’s fastest Ferraris and Porsches, the M1 was manufactured in a limited quantity of approximately just 450 total examples over three years (with just 399 cars specified for road use), giving the model a genuine rarity to add to its other superlative attributes. As a disruptive force, it revolutionized BMW’s approach to motorsports and remains the only true mid-engine exotic supercar in the company’s storied history.

M1 NUMBER 4301426

Chassis number 4301426 is undoubtedly one of the most original M1 examples in existence. Initially unsold from a European dealer, the BMW sat in an American warehouse for over three decades before being acquired by the consignor. One of the later cars produced of the 450 examples made, this M1 was handsomely finished at the factory in Arctic White paint and black-checkered cloth upholstery, and it was initially delivered to BMW Italia S.p.A., Palazzolo, where it remained unsold.

Enter Don Rosen, a longtime Pennsylvania-based BMW dealer and authority on collectable automobiles who advised a number of celebrity clients, including Major League Baseball All-Star Pete Rose. Late in the M1’s production run, the legendary slugger approached Rosen to inquire about the possibility of buying one of BMW’s supercars. Always delighted to help a friend, Rosen made inquiries far and wide, but all of the M1 examples imported to the United States had already been sold or earmarked for other customers.

Not to be deterred, Rosen used his considerable reach to contact BMW AG, the parent company in Munich. Told that no more cars were available from the factory, Rosen persuaded the manufacturer to check with all of its European distributors, and sure enough, one car remained unsold in Italy. Thrilled that he was able to master such a coup de grâce, Rosen immediately arranged for a purchase and legally imported the car to the United States.

As the story goes, Rosen was far from pleased when he then learned that the baseball player had already located a different M1 through his own channels and had purchased it three weeks prior without telling the dealer. Rose no longer wanted the car. And so, the low-mileage, as-yet-unused M1 sat on the showroom floor for some time before being stored in one of Rosen’s warehouses, where it remained until 2015.

A longtime acquaintance of Rosen, the consignor had been begging the dealer for 25 years to sell him the M1, and he finally relented. Since the purchase, the BMW has been treated to a sympathetic freshening intended to facilitate good running condition. Numerous ancillary soft parts were replaced for freshness, and all replacement pieces were sourced directly from BMW AG to ensure the utmost originality and authenticity.

Currently displaying approximately 682 kilometers, this M1 is almost assuredly one of the most original and low-mileage examples in the world. It still features its original drivetrain and gently aged cosmetic livery, and it would make a splendid entry to modern preservation-class competition. Or the next caretaker may appreciate the M1’s cutting-edge style and brisk performance, which in combination with its unique pedigree make it a preeminent BMW—one of the most significant and mold-shattering automobiles that the company has ever built.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more