The rare BMW M1 Procar.
The rare BMW M1 Procar. Iain Curry

Breathtaking resurrection of BMW M1 Procar

OF THE great many special cars we have in Australia, few can eclipse the latest addition to the famed Bowden's Own Collection.

This is BMW's first supercar - the M1 - which debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 1978 and became both a fearsome road car and a sublime racing machine.

As well as taking the road-going fight to Porsche and Ferrari, BMW wanted a competitive machine to participate in the popular Group 4 and Group 5 racing series' of the day.

The project was plagued by delays, preventing BMW taking the M1 racing immediately in Group 4 (it needed to build 400 road-going M1s to meet homologation rules), so the German company created the Procar Series where identical Group 4 M1s were raced by some of the best F1 and touring car drivers of the day.

This Bowden example was one of these M1 Procars, built in 1979 by Ron Dennis's engineering shop Project Four.

The original race team that was to campaign it in Procar fell short of money, so it was sold to Speed Star Wheels in Japan where it instantly made an impact on track.

At the 1979 Suzuka 500km it finished first in class and fourth outright, while in 1980 it was class winner at the Mt Fuji 500km, 500 mile and 1000; and in 1981 class winner at the Fuji 1000km.

It was sold to Auto Beaurex in 1981 and converted to Group 5 spec, where it won three events at Mt Fuji and one at Suzuka.

From 1983 it was kept in storage and only rarely used at track days, before Chris Bowden found it on a trip to Japan searching for Group A cars.

"Chris went back to Japan with dad (David Bowden, pictured right) and they started six or seven months of negotiation to buy the M1," his brother Dan Bowden said.

"The owner had owned it a long time, so it was a tough thing to part with."

Dan Bowden said the Bowden's example is the only BMW M1 Procar in the country, and there are only two or possibly three road-going M1s in Australia.

Arriving in its Group 5 guise when it touched down on the Sunshine Coast over a year ago, the team at Bowden's have spent months painstakingly restoring it to original Group 4 spec and Japanese racing livery, and the result is breathtaking.

But Dan Bowden said the highlight of these cars wasn't their striking style.

"They're beautiful to look at, but it's the noise when they're on track; no sportscar sounds like them, they sound just like an old F1 car," he said.

Such a rare BMW and its impressive provenance makes the Bowden's M1 eligible for most historic racing events worldwide, and Chris and Dan hope to give it its first outing at the Phillip Island Classic just before the Australian Grand Prix next March.

1979 BMW M1 Procar.
Details: Rear mid-engined rear wheel drive race cars built in 1979 and 1980 for the one-make BMW M1 Procar Championship.
Owner: Bowden's Own Collection, Sunshine Coast.
Number produced: 54 competition versions, 399 road going versions.
Engine: 3.5-litre inline six-cylinder BMW M88/1.
Transmission: ZF five-speed manual with dogleg setup.
Performance: Top speed of 311kmh, 0-100kmh in 4.2 seconds.
Did you know? The inaugural season of the Procar Championship in 1979 was won by Austrian triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda in a Project Four BMW M1.