- Racer for the Road #E26 #BMW #M1 #AHG #BMW-E26
Only ten E26 #BMW-M1-AHG versions were produced and here’s one of the survivors. BMW’s M1 was a stunning road car and in its ProCar form was a pretty dramatic race car, too. German tuner AHG decided to combine the best of both worlds and created ten stunning bespoke M1s for the road Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Andrew Tipping.
Despite having British parents my wife and her siblings (there are six in total) were all born in Peru and my wife lived there for the first ten years of her life. Naturally enough they were all pretty fluent in Spanish with the odd phrase of the indigenous Quechua language thrown in for good measure. While the majority of them have forgotten most of the language they spoke as kids there are a few phrases that still get bandied about when they all get together these days. Most of these words seem to centre around food but there’s one in particular that has always fascinated me: ‘huachafa’.
It took me quite a while to work out what they were going on about and I still haven’t really mastered the perfect translation, although ‘naff’ comes pretty close. It’s generally aimed at someone with more money than sense, someone who’s a little nouveau riche and has yet to develop a proper sense of style to go with the accompanying cash. If you had ventured to the Geneva Motor Show this week you’d have seen plenty of machines from some styling houses (that I won’t name here for fear of being sued) daubed in dubious paint finishes or wraps, slathered in carbon and wearing quite ridiculously large wheels and bearing equally ridiculous price tags. These machines would have all have fallen into the huachafa category.
You could argue that this makes me sound like a frightful snob but to my mind there are some things in life that simply shouldn’t be messed with. Those items that appear to be so intrinsically right from the get-go that trying to improve upon them is a massive folly. Friends at school used to lust after Koenig 512BBs but I just couldn’t stand the wide-bodied bespoilered monsters, preferring the delicacy and purity of the car’s original form. These days I’ve mellowed my views somewhat and machinery such as Koenig Ferraris do exude a certain period charm, a reminder of some of the excesses of the 1970s and 1980s; who knows, perhaps some of those machines in Geneva that I’ve just vilified will one day be looked upon just as kindly?
But if we turn to the matter in hand, this AHG modified M1, I’m not entirely sure what I would have made of it back in the day. I’d probably have lumped it in the same category as the Koenig as the notion that anyone was actually going to be able to successfully modify Giugiaro’s strikingly simple lines of the #BMW-M1 was utter heresy. But that would have been doing the car an injustice as there’s actually quite a lot to like about the #AHG-M1 and it does now have bags of period charm going for it. But before we go any further we should have a very quick recap on the M1 itself.
Designed from the get-go to be a racing car that would be able to take on, and beat, Porsche in Group 4 racing the M1’s long gestation period and protracted and complicated production cycle meant that by the time the car was ready the rules had changed and the car wasn’t able to compete competitively. This wasn’t really BMW’s fault, although you could argue that #BMW-Motorsport shouldn’t really have put so much trust in Lamborghini’s ability to manufacture the car in the first place. Eventually, though, cars did slowly begin to trickle down the ‘production line’. The fibreglass bodies were joined to the tubular space frame chassis by Ital Design in Turin before being transported to Baur in Stuttgart who installed the engines and running gear (supplied by BMW) before the cars then returned to Munich for the final finishing and sign-off. Given this complicated process there was no way BMW could produce the 400 road-going examples to homologate the car for racing in the required time and as a result the #ProCar Series was born. For two years this was a glorious support series to the #F1 circus and had F1 drivers pitting their skills against racers from other disciplines – have a look for some of the period footage on YouTube – it was quite a sight (and sound!).
Sadly the ProCar series ran for just two years – #1979 and #1980 – and the production cars continued to trickle their way to market until the middle of #1981 . At the time there were plenty of small BMW tuning companies out there, some of them based in #BMW dealerships, and one such dealer was AHG in Bielefeld in the north of Germany between Hanover and Dortmund. It had a proactive MD, Peter Gartemann, and it was his idea to do something a little special with the M1. The company already had a decent sideline going tuning the #E30 3 Series, #E28 Five, #E23 7 Series and the #E24 Six. We’re not talking about just adding a set of spoilers and wheels here, the company offered engine conversions and suspension upgrades, too.
Gartemann wanted to produce an M1 that was closer to the ProCar than the production car but wanted it to still be usable on the road. The result is the machine you can see before you. It would appear that the original idea was to simply install modified ProCar spoilers while retaining the road car’s interior but pretty soon it became apparent that fitting the racing aerodynamic parts was going to be a bit of a nightmare if AHG wasn’t going to fall foul of the strict German TüV authorities which would mean its modified machinery would not be legal for the road. The main problem was that the rear spoiler was going to fall foul of what was permitted and in the end AHG had to resort to designing a new rear spoiler made from a softer material. The front spoiler was redesigned with ducting for the brakes and the three centimetre wider sill extensions blended in well with the new front end design. As well as the extended bodystyling Gartemann wanted his M1s to stand out from the crowd, so once the bodies were completed they were sent to the artist Hermann Altmiks for the distinctive paintwork.
In an article in a 1982 edition of German magazine Sport Fahrer the impression was given that Gartemann thought that the standard car’s performance would be more than adequate, and whether he had a rethink or his customers decided that the car needed more go to match the show isn’t known but he did subsequently offer some performance upgrades for the car, which we’ll come onto in a moment.
This particular machine that’s for sale at Canepa in the US is number 94 of the 454 M1s that were produced and actually started its life as a spare body for a ProCar. It was subsequently assembled as a series production car and sold by BMW AG Niederlassung to its first owner from Mainz in November 1979. It then changed hands in late 1981 and was then owned by an artist who used the car to display his designs and it was featured at shows and in contemporary newspapers.
It wasn’t until #1983 that the M1 was delivered to AHG ready to be transformed. As well as the special aerodynamic package it was treated to the Hermann Altmiks paint scheme and then underwent a series of mechanical upgrades, too. The most significant of these was an engine rebuild to 350hp spec and this was mated to a sintered clutch and a freer-flowing exhaust system. It sits on a custom suspension setup and is finished off with a set of period BBS alloys. As each AHG machine was built to its owner’s instructions there were plenty of different interior treatments available. In this particular machine the houndstooth cloth seat centres and door trim panels have been retrimmed in Alcantara and this also features on the dash pod, too. Presumably some owners wanted to go further than this as, truth be told, the standard M1’s interior was more functional than opulent and AHG’s price list of the day has plenty of ‘price on request’ categories for special leather finishes and the installation of more powerful speakers for the stereo.
This machine was only very lightly used after its conversion, covering less than 750 miles, before being imported into the US in the mid-1980s. Getting the M1 through strict US regulations was tough but once done the car was often seen on the BMW show scene before it entered long-term storage. It emerged from storage in #2012 before being given a thorough recommissioning, so it’s done less than 5000 miles since it was converted by AHG over 30 years ago! As you can see from the images, we weren’t able to drive the car but we spoke to Canepa’s marketing director, John Ficarra, about it and he was very enthusiastic about the AHG machine. “The car drives great. M1s are beautifully balanced cars but in my opinion they have always been woefully underpowered. With the AHG engine upgrade this M1 moves the way you’d expect a ‘70s supercar should, and the sound of that normally aspirated BMW straight-six through a racing exhaust is sweet, sweet music.”
Having experienced the aural delight of a standard M1 and watched plenty of M1 ProCar videos we can only say that John is a very lucky man indeed to have sampled this car.
Ultimately this really is a car of its time. If you proposed doing this to an M1 today you’d probably be shot by the BMW community but it’s a real throwback to a time when a few discerning owners wanted something a little different from a contemporary Ferrari or Lamborghini. How the car would have been seen back when it was transformed in the 1980s I’m not quite sure, but I’m almost certain it would have divided opinion between those who thought Koenig Ferraris were the last word in style and those who thought they were a byword for nouveau riche naffness. Today I think it’s a brilliant period piece and dream purchase for someone after an ’80s icon with added ProCar-style aggression. Huachafa? Not a bit of it.