BMW 1M Coupe: The Ultimate Driving Machine and One of the Best M Cars of All Time

BMW 1 Series M Coupe 12 photos
Photo: BMW AG
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Based on an entry-level Bimmer and powered by a twin-turbo six that wasn’t built from the ground up by the Motorsport division’s engineering wizards, the 1 Series M Coupe (as it was officially called) didn’t seem to deserve M badges.
Nevertheless, soon after it was released, everyone was blown away by its pure, no-nonsense demeanor and near-flawless handling. Referred to as a parts bin special by many so-called enthusiasts who were quick to judge, the 1M was actually the perfect M car in more ways than one.

Its story starts in the late-2000s when, according to BMW M lore, some of its engineers started working on a clandestine project. Dissatisfied with the direction of the sub-brand, which had started to move away from the small, lightweight, analog machines of the 1980s in favor of bigger, heavier, more luxurious, and often overpowered vehicles, they decided to take matters into their own hands and create a modern car that would encapsulate the original essence of BMW M. Working after hours, without approval from the higher-ups, the disgruntled employees began modifying a very peculiar model.

In 2004, the Bavarians discontinued the 3 Series compact model and replaced it with a new range called the 1 Series. Predominantly a hatchback, but also available as a two-door coupe or convertible, it was conceived as a more affordable and city-friendly version of the 3er. Despite retaining the RWD configuration, as well as most of the engine offerings from its bigger sibling, it was uglier, filled with cheap, plastic bits, and it didn’t quite feel like a proper BMW. However, it was lighter and had a slightly shorter wheelbase, which made it the perfect starting point for what the M engineers had in mind.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Photo: BMW AG
With a widened track, a larger, more powerful six-cylinder, and various chassis components borrowed from the V8-powered E90 M3, the 1 Series Coupe test mule was finished after several months of diligent work. During initial tests, even the engineers were blown away with what they had created, so they proceeded to convince management to turn it into a series production model.

Although the bosses were skeptical, the M-badged 1 Series eventually received the green light with a limited run of 2,700 units scheduled to hit the streets in 2011.

Available only as a two-door coupe, the production version received a visual makeover that made it look far more appealing than the dreadful 1 Series it was based on. In the front, it boasted a new bumper with larger vents and a built-in splitter. The rear bumper was also redesigned to include cooling vents for the rear brakes and accommodate the custom dual exhaust system. With a widened track and larger M rims wrapped with Michelin tires, the wheel arches were enlarged, which completed the 1M’s muscular look.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Photo: BMW AG
The dull 1 Series cabin got just the right number of sporty upgrades such as Alcantara-covered trims, Recaro bucket seats, and the M3’s steering wheel. Even if it had modern creature comforts like dual-zone climate control or an infotainment system, it wasn’t full of buttons, lights, or high-tech features that would divert attention from the road.

The chassis improvements included bigger brakes, stiffer shocks, and an M-tuned hydraulic steering rack that was a million times more engaging than the current electric variants.

Power came from the most capable version of the N54 six-cylinder, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter that was initially developed for the E89 Z4 sDrive35is. Yes, it wasn’t a true M engine, but with 335 hp on tap and able to send up to 369 lb-ft (500 Nm) of torque to the rear wheels through a limited-slip diff, it was more than enough. Available only with a six-speed manual transmission, the 1M could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in 4.8 seconds and reach an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph (250 kph). This meant that it was slower than the M3, but for many, it was a lot more fun to drive. In fact, those who got to drive one say it was more fun than any modern M model and some even go as far as calling it the best M car ever made.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Photo: BMW AG
it was so good that BMW had to increase the initial production run from 2,700 to 6,331 units to meet demand. Moreover, this fantastic baby M’s value has never seriously dropped, and nowadays, an low-mileage, pristine example demands more than $70,000.

With its perfect 50/50 weight distribution, incredible grip, and impeccable handling, it can deliver a raw, analog driving experience that few cars can replicate. But don’t just take my word for it and watch the Top Gear video below in which Chris Harris takes it for a spin and compares it to its successor, the M2.

Back in the 1970s, BMW introduced the “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan, and although they created many incredible machines in the decades that followed, I think that the 1 Series M Coupe is the perfect embodiment of that famed slogan.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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