The 1M Remains Peak BMW

bmw 1m
The 1M Remains Peak BMWYve Assad
2002 bmw 1m
That the 1M received more nominations for this list than the 2002 is surprising yet entirely justified.Yve Assad

Don Quixote had a dream. In Cervantes’s still-amazing 17th-century novel, the hero imagines Dulcinea del Toboso as the perfect woman. Virtuous and beautiful in every way, she inspires the delusions that drive Quixote through his adventure. She isn’t real, but the dream of her is powerful.

This story originally appeared in Volume 22 of Road & Track.

Imagine your IPO hits big and then you fill a block-long barn in Montecito, California, with Ferraris, Lambos, and a few glorious race cars. Exotics and legends. All constant inspiration. That dream may be enough to drive someone to toil and work their entire life to make it real. And even if that person doesn’t get that Barn of Awesome, great things may be achieved along the way. Motivation matters. The car-guy’s Dulcinea.

The BMW 1M isn’t a car that belongs in that barn. It’s the car one gets after achieving reasonable goals. There’s no IPO, but you’re the top systems analyst at a company that pays well. Or you’re the best-paid associate at the law firm. It’s the car that’s wholly satisfying on a track day, or when commuting between your condo in Manhattan Beach and the clinic in Torrance where you perform assembly-line LASIK surgery. It’s achievable, ordinary stuff.

2002 bmw 1m
BMW’s 1M was the first in the country and used as a pace car. Delivered in white, it got only a quick exterior coat of orange paint.Yve Assad

“BMW has given M purists plenty of reasons to dislike the BMW 1-series M. It is not much quicker than the 135i, and— gasp!—is not powered by a high-revving, small-displacement, naturally aspirated engine,” explained Dan Pund back in 2011 when he was working for Car and Driver. “Indeed, it is powered by exactly the same 335-hp twin-turbo engine that powers the Z4 sDrive35is, which not only carries one of the industry’s dumbest names but isn’t even an M car. The truth is that the 1-series M is a parts-bin car.” The quality of the car comes from the excellence of the parts bin BMW’s Motorsport division was raiding. A great parts bin.

And a great history.

Road & Track is built on sports cars and exotics. All that stringback-driving-glove stuff right after World War II eventually morphed into the geosynchronous insanity of Lamborghini Miuras, Ferrari F40s, and McLarens. Great fantasy stuff (and great cars) and impractical for how most of us live. But around 1968, BMW invented the “sport sedan” as we have known it by shoving a 2.0-liter four into its 1600-2 compact two-door to create the 2002.

bmw 1m
Flared fenders barely containing fat summer tires and big brakes never lose their appeal.Yve Assad

R&T first wrote about the 2002 in the May 1968 issue. “At about $3000 it is fully comparable in performance, handling, ride and finish with sports cars costing as much as $2000 more—although it has an unpretentious sedan body,” wrote our ancestors 56 years ago.

What R&T didn’t see back then is the revolution the 2002 represented. Here was a daily-usable 2210-pound car—four seats, a trunk, not fragile—delivering the driving sensations that made sports cars, well, sensational. Sports cars were a fantasy, but the sport sedan is an attainable dream.

The 2002 gave way to the first 3-Series in the mid-Seventies, and over time, the 3 grew larger. So, BMW conjured up the 1-Series to backfill the compact slot starting overseas in 2004 and finally reaching North America for the 2008 model year. The 2011 1M was the twerp-series M3 and a purer distillation of the M3 spirit than any M3 since then.

bmw 1m
Yve Assad

Pulled from BMW’s museum and showing a touch over 14,000 miles on its odometer, the 1M started instantly on a cool Spartanburg, South Carolina, night in January. The warm glow of BMW’s once-signature orange dash lighting brought a comforting familiarity during a sprint up to Asheville in North Carolina. As Pund wrote back then, there’s “a distinct whiff of economy sedan” about the 1M’s interior. Nostalgia for simple, old-school Bimmer virtues has spackled over that criticism.

The N54 335-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six is viceless, though it grunts when previous, turbo-free M-spec sixes zinged. It’s astonishingly flexible in power delivery; plenty of low-end torque but still giddy enough as it reaches for the redline. The six-speed manual transmission needs clear intent to make perfect shifts. So pay attention.

When new, the 1M blitzed to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and knocked out the quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds at 109 mph. Those were astonishing times for 2011 before expectations rocketed forward on the back of overpowered turbocharged V-8s and the massive well of battery-fed electric torque. It turns out, 13 years ago is a relatively long time ago.

bmw 1m
Rotary knobs and buttons and dials? What once felt down-market is now as comforting as your childhood home.Yve Assad
bmw 1m
Yve Assad

With a short wheelbase, lots of Michelin tire on 19-inch wheels, and quick steering, there’s an instinctiveness to the 1M’s rear-drive chassis that’s missing from many current BMWs. Or anything else. Consider that, even with twitchiness implied by a relatively short 104.7-inch wheelbase and a tall sedan-like body, the 1M pulled 0.97 g on the skidpad. That’s still awesome.

The 1M’s successor, the current M2, is close and has 453 hp aboard, but it’s longer and weighs about 400 pounds more. Inevitably, that dulls reflexes. Not that the tech-forward M2 doesn’t have digital compensations. But it’s not the same and it’s not better.

When new, the 2011 BMW 1M carried a $47,010 base price and Pund’s subject carried a stout $50,810 as tested chit. There aren’t a lot of 1Ms out there, but $50K today will only get a so-so example with serious miles on its odometer. At $60K there are good ones to be had. The low-mileage one in BMW’s collection that was driven here? It would be a steal at $80K. And still likely a good deal at $90K.

bmw 1m
Yve Assad

The market has spoken. The 1M is a beloved modern totem. With a few years more behind it, there will be no way to deny that it’s a classic.

Don Quixote imagined his inspiration and ideal woman as Dulcinea. He didn’t end up with Dulcinea because Dulcinea wasn’t real. Very few of us will wind up with our Dulcinea. There’s not even a single Ferrari or Lambo or pristine 1969 Camaro Z/28 in our garage. We end up with, if we’re lucky, something like the person to whom we’re married. Someone we can cherish through thick and thin, whose flaws are obvious but can be overcome. The 1M is the real thing; not perfect, not exotic, but worth the sacrifice to attain. Not Dulcinea, but a reality to love.

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