Motorsport’s rare BMW’s; M5, 6-Series and 8-Series
The undisputed champion of the touring car world, the box-arched E30 M3. The steroidal-pumped endurance specialist M3 GTR. The multiple race-winning and WTCC championship-winning E90 320si. The ill-fated but much-admired M1 Procar. The elegant but brutally effective E9 CSL Batmobile of the ETCC seventies. Yup, BMW can build a racing legend.
Yet some of their performance products are about as likely to bag race win as a Maybach is of scooping the European Car of the Year gong. Slightly unfair, but you’re hardly likely to spot an E34 M5, 635CSi 6-series or 840i 8-series in the top flight. But such machines are out there, built by individuals who ignore the obvious and go for the obscure, or by companies prepared to ignore pitfalls simply to prove they can overcome them, so German Car Magazine found three of the best examples out there…
Being undoubtedly the most unlikely race car of our trio makes the 840i the biggest freak show. Never what you’d call a highly-charged bundle of pent-up speed, the 8-Series’ ability to go very fast was easily eclipsed by its portly frame. The fact that you’re unlikely to find a more wild, more comprehensively modified, more successful 8-series racer in the world (if you can find any other 8-series racers in the world) just makes this 840i all the more cool.
The Wagenstetter Motorsport team have built a truly impressive creation, not least because they dreamt it up over the course of a drunken Christmas party. The original plan was to use a 12-cylinder lump, but a lack of availability for tuning parts ruled it out. Instead, power-train research and developers FEV Motorentechnik were charged with developing the 840i’s original 286bhp, 4.4-litre, M62 V8 into a 480bhp race unit (although this has now been replaced by an E39 M5 4.0-litre V8, modified by Matthes Racing to 555bhp and 472lb-ft). The six-speed gearbox is also from an E39 M5, but everything else is pure one-off or competition-spec: Bilstein coilovers attached to fully-adjustable, rose-jointed suspension components; BBS 9.5×18-inch front and 10×18-inch rear three-piece split-rims; carbon-fibre bumpers and fibreglass wheel-arch extensions and vented bonnet; multi-point roll-cage and carbon dashboard.
The Wagenstetter 8-Series’ first race was the Nürburgring 24-hour in 2000, and gradual improvements over the seven subsequent years eventually meant success, with numerous class podiums in VLN (the Nürburgring-based endurance championship). As well as the M5 engine, more development by Wagenstetter saw the aerodynamics evolve dramatically: those whopping front and rear wings, the extended wheel arches, fixed headlights and sculptured canards on the front bumper are all a result of gradual evolution.
Last we heard the 840i was heading for BMW’s Munich museum, where you’d have to assume development isn’t exactly going to be feverish. But at least it’s not going to end up getting stuffed into an armco. Talking of which…
The interloper of this threesome: this 635CSi is a BMW creation, rather than a product of a third-party’s enthusiasm and bravery. The odd one out: the 6-Series probably actually quite famous for its competitive past. But no mistake, this is still an unlikely motorsport candidate.
It’s a pretty special one too, as this 6-Series started out as prototype 001, the first ever Group A 635CSi. You could argue that strictly speaking it isn’t, though, because chassis 001 was written off when Hans Stuck rolled it into an armco at Thruxton and the car was given a new shell. Either way, the history is still there. Campaigned in both BTCC (where you might remember it sporting a fetching green-polka-dot on-black number) and ETCC, it didn’t actually do hugely well (which kinda highlights the fact that, really, the 635CSi isn’t a natural race car) until it went endurance racing and promptly won three Spa 24-hours and two Nürburgring 24-hours. And that’s where we found it, at the Nürburgring.
The engine is a 330bhp AC Schnitzer works unit based on the 635CSi’s 3.5-litre M30 ‘Big Six’, one of the last to come off the line. Group A rules dictated the standard inlet had to be retained, ineffective butterfly and all, so to get that kind of power the cams needed to be pretty wild. “It’s like a turbo, in that it comes in at 5,000rpm and just takes off, but it’s un-driveable below that. So if you use a diff that’s too long you’re doomed because it just won’t pick up,” says Jody Halse, whose job it is to hustle the beast around the Nürburgring. Hence the close-ratio competition ‘box (with dog-leg, steel-syncros and a 75%-locking diff’ out back).
The two-way-adjustable Koni inserts, aluminium suspension legs, E30 M3 Group A hubs, hand-made trailing-arms, adjustable rose-joints, solid alloy mountings and Dunlop slicks on 9×17 BBS slip-rims means the 6-Series an extreme drive. “Everything vibrates – you get tingly fingers after a while,” says Jody. AP Lockheed four-pot front and rear calipers do the stopping. Modern regs mean the alloy roll-cage, old-school bucket seats and harnesses and unsilenced side-exit no longer remain, but apart from that it’s the real deal from the ‘80s.
And so to our last oddity, the VDS Racing Adventures E34 M5. Thought to be the only competition E34 M5 in existence, it was built in 1997, by André Carlier, because “nobody else had done it”, and has actually enjoyed success in the Belcar Championship, runner-up in 2001 with a class win at the Zolder 24-hour. André has since sold the car to Raphaël van Der Straten, and they both drive the car in the Belgium Gentleman Drivers Cup.
So, what are Raphaël’s thoughts? “The M5 is obviously heavy [1550kg], but that means it is more stable. It’s like the limousine of the race car world! We have done sprint races, but it’s too heavy. The more hours of racing the better, because it is more important to be stable and strong than quick and agile; the strategy for endurance racing is to maintain a rhythm and not necessarily be the quickest.”
What makes this E34 all the more impressive is that it started out as a humble 518i. “I cut where it didn’t fit and made pieces where they didn’t exist,” says Andréa. “I used BMW components where possible, so if there is a BMW part that will do the job, it is fitted.” The engine is the later 3.8-litre version of the S38 straight-six, producing a modest 350bhp, the slight increase over standard coming from a custom-made exhaust and Motec management. The gearbox is a mix of BMW parts, the home-made unit containing both M3 and M5 components with custom ratios, and it runs a 75%-locking Motorsport diff’.
Chassis highlights include Leda front coilovers and Aragosta rear coilovers (running springs of the same spec as those fitted to Juha Kankkunen’s Paris-Dakar Toyota), massive home-made front and Turner Motorsport rear anti-roll bars, and welded and strengthened suspension components throughout. Braking is done by AP Racing six-pot front and four-pot rear calipers, 850i front discs and 750i drilled rear discs. The Rondells wheels are, according to André, “heavy but very strong”, and even the 1cm-thick fibreglass bodywork is deliberately over-engineered for strength.
An unconventional build philosophy for an unconventional race car. Built to last, though, which is a bonus because, unless BMW are gonna build an E60 M5 race car any time soon, it’s got to be one of very few M5 racers still going. Still, you wouldn’t put it past BMW to give the E60 a go…