We have all seen the spy photos and videos of what is an upcoming BMW Motorsport version of the 1 series. This vehicle will be a great addition to the M lineup as it will be the lightest weight M car available and potentially the greatest drivers car sold by BMW today. The issue with this vehicle being contested by enthusiasts is the potential name of this vehicle. Will they call it the 1M, M1, or 135is? Why is this even a big deal? Well, it is a big deal because what they call it will determine if BMW M has finally completed its downward spiral toward marketing over motorsport.
To understand why the issue generates such poignant responses it is vital for one to understand what "M1" means to BMW enthusiasts. The M1 represents the only mid-engine vehicle BMW has ever produced. Additionally, it represents the first official M-badged car that was for sale to the public. This was the first M sold and the "M1" designation was not chosen by accident. It was done to denote that this vehicle epitomized what M stood for. It was first in the line of all that was M, quite simply number 1. This car was the pinnacle of M road vehicles. It was the king of all that is, was, and ever will be, M.
When BMW honored thirty years of the M division, what vehicle was chosen for the occasion? BMW honored the history of the Motorsport division in the proper manner with an M1 homage concept. They specifically chose the name M1 to denote their modern interpretation of the first and only mid-engine sports car BMW ever produced. The only vehicle up to the standard of properly honoring 30 years of BMW Motorsport history was the M1. BMW acknowledged this with their homage concept which was not just an homage to the M1 but to their own history and what BMW Motorsport stands (stood?) for.
Has such a large amount of time passed that people no longer remember just how protective BMW was with the M badge on road vehicles? The 850csi was a vehicle that was tuned by the M division but never received official M car status. BMW resisted the temptation to put the badge on everything in their lineup as Mercedes was doing with AMG. Even when the ML55 AMG was putting pressure on BMW to produce an M SUV they refused. BMW protected the integrity of the badge winning praise from enthusiasts who respected the reverence BMW attributed to the badge and what is stood for. The 2002 X5 4.6is was produced instead, protecting M and highlighting what was special about M. The 4.8is would follow later and it too would not be an official M vehicle. BMW would state they would never produce an M SUV as an SUV did not highlight the characteristics that M cherished. This is exactly what was conveyed to Edmunds way back in 2001, "BMW says it wants to keep the Motorsport realm pure and only include cars." What happened to the purity of the Motorsport realm in less than a decade?
The decision on the name will reverberate through the BMW and automotive world. There have already been rumors that BMW has been considering going with M1 to target a new generation of M buyer. Well, I am 26 years old, and I fit right in that generation BMW is targeting. I am telling BMW right now my knowledge of BMW history is not as basic as the marketing department would have the executives believe for those in my age group. I have stood by and watched closely as BMW has diluted the M brand. I understood the pressure from tightening emissions and mileage regulations forced them to abandon the high revving M motor. I understood the changing economic climate forced them to look at other options to generate revenue. I accepted the decision to cancel the E92 M3 CSL in favor of M SUV's. As an American enthusiast, I can even live with the fact the E46 M3 CSL was not brought to the US and we again were passed over with the M3 GTS. However, I can not forgive BMW for spitting on its own history by naming this car the M1 when the decision is not being forced by the global economy, emissions, or a government agency.
By not naming this vehicle the M1, BMW would be making a stronger statement than simply taking the path that is easiest and most readily identifiable to the average person. By simply giving it a name that breaks the naming convention used for other numerically designated models, M3/M5, and naming it a 1M, they will be making a strong statement to their core audience. A statement which decisively tells the world BMW has not forgotten they once protected the M badge. BMW has not forgotten M1 belongs on the flagship Motorsport model. BMW has not forgotten they once stated SUV's were not fitting for the M division. BMW has not forgotten they once refused to take the path of least resistance with their motors. If they do not use the M1 namesake, it means BMW has not forgotten that their history means more than their marketing.