BMW Motorsport expects the new M3 middleweight to do everything in the World Touring Car Championship next year – except win races – Car and Car Conversions
BMW motorsport does not expect the new M3 to win races next year. Says motor sport engineering chief Thomas Ammerschlager – who came to BMW via Ford’s Zakspeed Capri and Audi four-wheel drive work – “l don’t think we will be able to win overall with the M3″, A pause. “We do think, however, that it will be very competitive in it’s class, “Pause two, “And we can also win the World Championship this way.”
But with the big 635CSi coupe winning Eurosaloon series counters this year and bound for the new World Group A series next, does BMW need another overall race victor? There is a thought in BMW’s slick, separate Motorsport Gmbh operation on Munich’s Preussentrasse that if the twin-cam, four-valve M635CSi supercar takes off in the United States, then that too might finally be homologated in Group A, Selling the necessary 5000 of the near-£40,000 car in Europe in 12 calendar months has defeated BMW in the past, but if the US will take up the slack in sales, then, for 1988, BMW can hit the opposition with an M6-M3 one-two.
So this £17,600 BMW M3 appears to be what used to be called an homologation special: a pejorative term coined to dismiss hard-riding, torque-less, noisy, limited-production machines aimed solely at letting a manufacturer chisel its way into international motor sport. Not true, BMW believes that final M3 production over the model’s unspecified lifespan will total 13,000, much more than the 5000 required to give the car a Group A homologation number and a free passage onto the starting grid. And, naturally, the M3 is closer to being a pedigree machine than simply a crude raiding of the company parts-bins in the name of sporting glory.
For a start, it looks radically different to any other yuppie-dream three-series. Steel wheelarches with quattroid flares are designed to mask racing tyres up to 10in wide. There is a deep front airdam, complete with blanking plates over brake cooling ducts. A neat, surprisingly low-key rear wing echoes back to 1973’s BMW 3.0CSL, the first European production-based race car to up the aerodynamic ante.
Even the rear window is raked an extra 3, and the plastic bootlid raised by 40mm for aerodynamic gain. Add into that mix front and rear screens which are bonded directly to the bodyshell to slick out the airflow and up chassis stiffness and BMW’s intentions look a shade more serious, in the windtunnel, the drag factor drops from Cd 0.38 to Cd 0.33 with a front/rear lift coefficient of 0.12/0.04. While the rival Ford Sierra RS Cosworth creates negative downforce at all speeds, the M3 is only a jot less efficient: yet neither car has a rear aerofoil with an adjustable centre blade to finely trim downforce from track to track.
Thomas Ammerschlager’s men have worked long and hard on the road car suspension. At the front end, castor angles have been tripled over three-series norm to dial some steering feel into the M3. Beefier five-series wheelbearings are used in now stub axles. Thickening the anti-roll bar, pivoting it on the outside of the strut and altering the mechanical advantage of those pivots has effectively doubled the roll- stiffness of any previous three-car. By contrast, save for the same twin-tube shocks, super-duty anti-roll bar and 25% locking factor limited slip differential, the rear axle of the M3 is much closer to off-peg BMW. Larger diameter and thicker ventilated discs hide behind 15in BBS alloy wheels and come with ABS anti-lock as standard.
Ammerschlager would like to see the M3 suspension become available across the three-series range as a factory option – which immediately highlights just how supple the ride on 205/55 low-profile rubber is. “It depends if the sales people can sell it for what it (should) cost” he says, “its brakes, suspension, struts and steering, “Ammerschlager smiles, “It isn’t cheap. It’s not just changing shocks and fitting shorter springs, you know….”
If the suspension and brakes sound good, then the new M3 engine should be even better, To pigeonhole it a little too neatly, this 2303cc four is simply two-thirds of the glorious twin-cam, 3.5-litre, 286bhp straight-six previously employed to leer butchly from the engine bay of BMW’s labeled M1, M5 and M635.
Why a four and not a unit based on the 325’s smooth-as-Jeffrey Archer six? A shorter crank lets the race engine scream at 9000rpm with a projected 10,000rpm maximum and there is, claims BMW, more torque pumped from down below from four big 93.4mm pistons. The block is the BMW 1500 heart from the ‘sixties which was the high-boost core of Nelson piquet’s 1983 World Championship-winning Brabham BT52B-BMW.
Unlike the gear-driven cams of the M12/13 Formula One engine, the M3 unit uses a duplex chain to rotate the twin overhead cams. Valve sizes are 37mm inlet and 32mm exhaust with a central spark-plug in a clean, pent-roof combustion chamber. Four throttle butterflies each feed an individual inlet tract with a Bosch Motronic engine management system monitoring the mixture and all other vital functions.
In line with the new German motoring morality-high performance is almost acceptable while exhaust pollution certainly isn’t – the M3 is available in two versions. With and without an exhaust-cleaning catalyst. The cat-car loses 5bhp from the free-breathing specification’s 200bhp at 6750rpm and has 7lb/ft trimmed from the cat-free’s 177lb/ft at 4750rpm torque output. On the road, the comparable 0-62mph times are 6.7 seconds down to 6.9s and top speed is reduced from 146mph to 143ph.
Two factors emerge from this backhanded acknowledgement that Germany’s environmentalist Green Party might just have a point. Firstly, with the catalyst in place and having sophisticated plastic bumpers which meet all worldwide requirements as standard, the M3 can be exported to America to dawdle musclebound in a 55mph world. Secondly, it proves that for fresh-air reasons BMW will ease back on the M3’s power output a little.
Now, eventually, the M3 will go to right-hand drive Japan but not to right-hand drive Britain. Why not? Because in Japan driving a European quality left-hooker confers a certain status: in Britain left-hand drive cars, however rare, are a fiscal disaster when finally traded in. And Ammerschlager reckons that unknitting the exhaust manifold on this angled engine – to feed a right-hand drive steering column through – would slash horsepower. “Technically speaking, anything is possible, of course. But a substantial docrease in engine power in right-hand drive form would distort this car’s character. “How much power would any British-market car lose? “About 15.20bhp, l’d say.”
On the road, the M3 chassis immediately excels while the jury is out over the ultimate engine performance. Compared to a standard three-series, the M3 underpinnings lose nothing and gain everything. The ride/handling manifesto is a marvelous compromise, with a supple ride being matched by a consistent grip. Turn-in is neat and tidy, the ABS-brakes are phenomenal, right up there in the Sierra Cosworth bracket, yet without even the slightest hint of that car’s steering-wheel tango under hard usage. Indeed, the overriding feeling issued by the M3 is one of thoroughly engineered quality: even the engine mounts are hydraulic to damp the four-pot buzz from perculating into the cockpit. The whole car feels solid, beautifully finished, clean and somber and crisp. It feels, well, like a BMW.
On the track, the road car reveals a gentle oversteer which can be provoked on the throttle and an easy-going understeer through slow to medium-speed turns. Firm and understated driving brings out the best in the chassis: sideways is slow in this car.
Looking at the power and torque curves for the M3 engine they seem meaty enough. But on the road, there is little effective power below 4000rpm. This is an engine which has to spin to deliver, and all from 4000rpm to the cut-out at 7250rpm. Keep the engine alive on the throttle and the car becomes quick rather than staggeringly fast, but it is a technique which places demands on the driver. There is little about getting the most from this engine which is easy or relaxing: yes, it will pull from 30mph in fifth gear, but that is not the point. To go quickly the gearbox must be used, the right ratio found at exactly the right time.
And that gearbox has a racing gate, with first opposite reverse and the top four gears filling out the H. Ratios are close, top is direct rather than overdrive and the shift can seem clonky thanks to insipid spring loading across the horizontal plane. You need closer to three days than three hours to begin to suss out the M3. A long, hard journey would answer all the questions over whether or not you could live with the peaky power band and the stolid shift.
Chances are you could. Chances are you’ve been spoilt by a succession of blandly obsequious user-friendly cars, and to use this real driver’s car on real driver’s road is, initially, enough to send your system into sugar-shock.
Right now, race prototype one, the muletta, has spent 2000 miles being pounded around Italy’s Mugello circuit by Austrian saloon ace Dieter Quester. He says it is going to be a great race car. “It’s much more neutral than the road car” he confirms as he chauffeurs you around the superbly challenging Tuscan track in a fine whistle or road M3 Uniroyal-squeal. “But this car is good for a road car, no? “he says as he uses the kerb to straighten out his corner exit. Next lap he turns-in earlier to compensate for the rear tyres going off a fraction. Tomorrow he will be back in the muletta, working on 1987.
BMW won’t run a works M3 team next year. Instead, Quester and Ammerschlager’s army will work on producing a Group A racing specification for any race team to buy. “There will be an engine kit, suspension, wheels, even the fuel tank” says Ammerschlaer. “It will be like a CKD (completely knocked down) kit in a box, “Charley Lamm’s Schnitzer team will get to open the M3 box along with a host of teams contesting both the World and various national European Group A series. Except for Britain, of course: BMW GB won’t race a model that is not sold in this country.
A 300bhp 2.3-litre BMW M3, even though Ammerschlager promises the car will be on the 960kg class weight limit, won’t be able to hold the turbo-torque of, say, a 400bhp 2.0-litre Ford Sierra RS Cosworth on the race-track. But when you ask BMW Motorsport what they learned most about developing the Formula One engine since 1981, the reply does not centre on materials technology, Bosch Motronic programming, fuel chemistry or valve timing. No, says Ammerschlager, what BMW learned about is turbocharging. Does this mean BMW Motorsport’s future might include a turbocharged car? A turbocharged M3, perhaps? Ammerschlager says, carefully, “that it’s a bit premature to talk about any projects we envisage for the future. But it’s possible, yes”.
And rallying? There is a four-wheel drive 325i in the BMW brochure now. Would that driveline fit snugly beneath an M3 to produce a Ford Sierra XR4x4-beating, 4wd Mazda 323-pummeling loose-surface rally star? Ammerschlager worked on engineering Audi’s Quattro-system to its more prosaic models and building on the all-wheel drive future: privately he can talk of a day, 10 years hence, when torque-split changes progressively through a corner from turn-in power on. But a 4wd M3?
“I’m pretty sure that this won’t become a four-wheel drive BMW, because the engine modifications to get the system to fit would be so substantial that they wouldn’t be worth it….”so BMW Motorshport does not want to win rallies, does not expect to win races. A World Championship, saloon car style, would do nicely instead. And so, even more than it appears initially, the BMW M3 will become the definitive class act.