The most powerful letter in the world
BMW M, or to give its full official name, BMW M GmbH. This specialist tuning arm of BMW started out with just a handful of enthusiastic employees who happened to know a thing or two about getting the most out of a BMW.
Responsible for creating some of the world's most sought-after performance cars, BMW M was originally set up in the early seventies to facilitate BMW's motorsport program.
It has since gone on to produce BMW M cars for the road, which sit at the top of the range as high-performance models. Discover our comprehensive timeline of M car history below.
BMW M ensured BMW dominated various European Touring Car championships in the seventies, winning multiple titles, along with taking a notable victory at the infamous Nürburgring Six Hours in 1973. This was all thanks to the first car developed by BMW M - the legendary 3.0 CSL a.k.a 'The Batmobile'. A nickname adopted thanks to the car's striking aerodynamic styling.
By the late seventies it was clear that BMW M knew a thing or two about creating championship-winning racing cars. After dominating on track, BMW M thought they may as well have a go at beating their competition when it came to road cars as well.
Harnessing true motorsport DNA, BMW M cars offer incredible performance, fine dynamics and pure driving nirvana, whilst still keeping hold of the all-important traditional BMW comfort and luxury.
The very first BMW road car to be blessed with the now iconic BMW M badge was in fact a supercar, ingeniously named the BMW M1. Launched in 1978, the M1 is the only ever mid-engined M car. It featured supercar looks, performance, and was also supercar expensive, costing over £2,000 more than a Ferrari BB12 of the same era. The 273bhp M1 could hit 62mph in just 5.6 seconds, topping out at 161mph.
Whilst not supercar-fast today, back in the late seventies the M1 had more than enough power to embarrass some of the supercar elite.
Incidentally, Lamborghini were due to build the BMW M1, but with financial commitments elsewhere, they pulled out of the project. BMW M therefore built the M1, their first ever M car. The rest is history.
After the BMW M1 supercar, BMW M had to turn their attention to more sedate BMW models. This probably had something to do with the accountants telling them to be a bit more sensible or something...
Therefore a luxury saloon was the perfect foundation, and so BMW M set to work on the 5 Series (E12). Although not technically a full-on M5, the car was still created by BMW M.
Enhancements to the chassis and aerodynamics were just the start, as the M535i was given a 3.5-litre inline-six cylinder heart, for some luscious M grunt. Producing 218bhp, this M-fettled 5 Series was just the beginning for fast 5 Series models.
M635 CSi E24
'Let's Go Crazy' was a number one hit by music icon Prince in the eighties. BMW M must have had the song playing on repeat in the office, as they too went crazy and released three epic M cars during this era, the first of which was the M635 CSi.
The 'E24' 6 Series may have been born in the late seventies, but BMW M created the M635 CSi in the early eighties. North American and Japanese-spec cars were simply badged 'M6'.
It took just over six seconds to reach 62mph thanks to a 3.5-litre straight-six lifted from the M1 supercar, albeit with a few modifications. GT coupe styling and the iconic 'Sharknose' front end, ensure this 'M6' is undoubtedly one of the prettiest M cars ever produced.
The mid-eighties gave us some properly iconic moments. Queen and Freddie Mercury at Live Aid. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd acting in one of the most iconic films ever in Back to the Future. And how can we forget, BMW launched the first M5, the birth of the legendary super saloon.
With a tad under 280bhp, the E28 M5 was properly 'schnell'.
If you look up 'Legendary' in the dictionary, it really ought to say 'BMW M3'. This performance icon was born in the eighties and is undoubtedly one of the greatest names in performance car history. And it all started with this iconic, boxy, wide-arched German perfection known as the BMW E30 M3.
Built so BMW could go and beat its German neighbours on the racetrack, just like the 3.0 CSL did back in the seventies, the E30 M3 was built for homologation purposes.
With 200bhp, later increasing up to 235bhp in Sport Evolution models (pictured), and thanks to the E30's light weight, the E30 M3 did indeed dominate on track, and was also superb on the road.
Old BMWs are highly sought-after, with good reason. The E34 demonstrated build quality and attention to detail of the highest order. There is something about the looks of the E34 too, it just looks so right, if a bit sinister, again adding to its overall appeal.
A Touring version (Estate) was also available, proving that you can be fast and practical, even in 1988.
BMW individual colours of a purple nature, such as Daytona Violet and Techno Violet make this era of BMW even more alluring. They just ooze class and style. Quick too, but then it is an M car after all.
The second ever M3, following on from the legendary E30 M3, the E36 M3 had a lot to live up to. Unlike its predecessor, the E36 M3 wasn't built for homologation reasons, but being a full-on M car it certainly had motorsport heritage and flair, being the first M3 with a 6-cylinder engine.
It was also available for the first time as a saloon and convertible too. A rare M3 GT came along in 1995 with just 350 (plus 6 pre-production) examples made, all finished in British Racing Green, although a Silver one is also said to exist.
850 CSi E31
The shape is like nothing else. Ultra-sleek, ultra-smooth and fitted with a glorious V12 engine, the M division's 8 Series M car had all the right ingredients. Although it didn't actually have an M badge, interestingly.
It was more a grand-tourer with a monstrous engine that was ideal for long journeys. Perhaps this is why it was never introduced as an M car? Either way, although not officially an M car, it was still made by BMW M. It was also painted by famous artist David Hockney as part of the BMW Art Cars (pictured).
Z3 M Coupe E36/8
The BMW Z3 wasn't particularly fast, despite its sports car roadster looks. BMW M therefore decided to give the Z3 the power it deserved and with 321bhp, the Z3 M Roadster was born. This meant 62mph happened in a shade over five seconds and with near perfect 50/50 weight distribution it handled well too.
They even did a Z3 M Coupe (pictured). A car which divided opinion in the looks department. 'Breadvan' or 'Clown Shoe' depending on which side of the 'pond' you were from.
A unique car, from a unique division of BMW and a car which is properly sought-after and celebrated. No wonder really, as cars like this simply won't come round again. An M legend.
Alexander Hildebrandt - project leader for the E39 M5, and therefore the guy responsible for giving the M5 a massive V8 powerplant. We approve. With 394bhp and 62mph met in just 4.8 seconds, the M5 was a properly 'schnell' supersaloon.
This was perhaps the turning point for the M5. It had been given a proper monstrous engine that turned out to be a mere foundation of what was next in the M5 pipeline.
That engine. Quite simply the best bit about this iconic drivers' car. The E46's 3.2-litre straight-six 338bhp naturally aspirated heart howls in such a distinct way, that this particular engine is still looked back at fondly.
The undeniable standout of the E46 M3 range was the CSL (pictured), built to provide an even purer experience. Carbon fibre was used for the roof and rear diffuser, along with a hike in power enabling a sub five seconds 0-62mph sprint. It sat on gorgeous lightweight 19-inch wheels and in total was 110kg lighter than the standard M3.
"One of the ugliest and most annoying cars in the world, but at the touch of the button, it becomes one of the very best, it becomes an M5". Jeremy Clarkson knows a thing or two about cars, and this was his view on the E60 M5.
We all know V8 engines are cool, but V10 engines are on another level. So BMW M decided to place one in an M5, making it a true supercar slayer.
The car had somewhat of a split personality however, as Clarkson alluded to. 400bhp is enough for the normal mode, yet press the M button and you get 507bhp. Remove the limiter and this M5 will go over 200mph.
Nowadays, sticking a motorsport-inspired 500bhp naturally aspirated engine in a striking super coupe is unheard of. Thank goodness the BMW M division decided it was necessary in 2005, making the E63 M6 another awesome creation form the M division.
Today, turbocharging has been widely adopted for economy and environmental factors, along with performance. But can you really beat a naturally aspirated engine? No lag, and a wonderfully evocative noise make it quite the occasion.
Z4 M Coupe E86
It is argued that by removing the roof of a car, it becomes prettier. When BMW launched the E85 Z4, it was first offered as a Roadster (convertible), but then they released the Coupe, which arguably looks even more stunning. Especially with full-on M car treatment.
Prices have stayed strong too, especially on the Coupe. As a successor to the Z3 M Coupe and Roadster, it is much more handsome and subtle, yet is still like its predecessor with values staying strong.
The fourth-generation of the M3 had to grab attention, and it did so with a V8 engine at the heart of the mix. It was naturally aspirated and rear-wheel drive too; a sought-after combination for the keen driver or petrolhead, and something we are unlikely to ever see again, especially with a V8.
Available as a convertible (E93), along with a rare Saloon (E90), the Coupe (E92) is the most popular choice. The unicorn of the E92 M3 range was the ultra-rare M3 GTS. This was a bright-orange special edition, built for the track with only 150 built worldwide - only 9 came to the UK. A racing car for the road - literally.
X5 M E70 and X6 M E71
BMW decided to give their M power to some of its SUVs back in 2009. The BMW X5 was first up, and then its Coupe equivalent - the X6. The BMW X5 M and BMW X6 M were born. Offering immense practicality as well as huge performance, these were not just some of the fastest SUVs out there, they were fast in general.
Okay, so they are not an M car as such, but there is no denying the genius of BMW giving their SUVs M power to appeal to new customers and explore another possibly lucrative niche. Updated Competition models followed in 2014 and then again in 2020.
One of the first proper M cars to be turbocharged, the 335bhp 1M has become a properly sought-after M car, fetching more as a used example than it cost brand-new. All this despite its somewhat backwards name, so that it didn't take the shine away from the original M1 supercar.
As M cars go it's pretty rare too, with only 450 made. The short wheel base, manual transmission and pumped up looks have ensured the 1M will be one of the most sought-after M cars of recent times. Based on the 1 Series Coupe, this was the first 'baby M car'.
A controversial part of BMW M history, especially in the case of the super-saloon M5. With the previous 'E60' M5 featuring an incredible naturally-aspirated V10, the updated 'F10' M5 used a smaller 4.4-litre V8. What had happened?
In search of more efficiency, manufacturers had to reduce engine sizes and adopt turbo power. In this case, the 'F10' was fitted with two of them, so M enthusiasts needn't have worried. Especially with 552bhp on tap - over fifty more than the V10.
Need a less practical M5? The 2012 M6 is essentially just that, just in a more alluring coupe package. Therefore you still get the same crazy power of over 550bhp, enough for 62mph in under 4 seconds. Not bad considering the weight of this GT which has been putting in overtime at the gym.
Available in a 2-door Coupe, Convertible and even a 4-door Gran Coupe, the BMW M department was ensuring ever performance car niche was catered for.
The first M3 to be available in four-door only, after BMW introduced the 4 Series - effectively a 3 Series Coupe, just with a different name - more on that later. But this is an M3, so let's talk power. No longer naturally-aspirated, the F80 is turbocharged, with 425bhp available. Official 0-62mph time is quoted at 4.3 seconds - although various sources state they are in fact quicker.
With a notably larger derrière than its M4 sibling, the M3 looks properly menacing, just like an M3 should. Helping prove that opting for turbo charging is no bad thing after all.
A Competition Package came in 2016 which included more power as well as various suspension and styling tweaks. An M3 CS (Club Sport) became available in 2018, offering a more track-focused M3, with lighter weight, more power and sharper looks.
Effectively the F82 M4 is a Coupe version of the M3. Clever marketing, range expansion or a sign of the times? No matter what your take, the M4 is another incredible M car. It is also the first ever M4, and appeals to those who are after a properly focused drivers' car. Rear-wheel drive and using the same 425bhp turbo-charged lump as the M3 - it is seriously fun to drive.
In 2016 a Competition Package was available with the M4, offering a few upgrades such as enhanced springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, along with some styling enhancements and a 19bhp power increase.
An incredibly rare M4 GTS topped the range in 2016 with a £120,000 price tag, whilst a less expensive CS version became available in 2017 offering track-focused performance, just not as hardcore as the GTS.
Taking after the 1M, the M2 took on the role of the latest baby M car in 2016. Small cars with big power are always a hit, and this particular baby M car had all the right ingredients. Bulging rear arches, classic M car rear-wheel drive and 365bhp produced via its straight-six N55 engine meant the M2 was quite the package. The engine is actually a tuned version of the one found in the BMW M235i, albeit with pistons from the F80 M3/F82 M4.
Despite the baby M car status, Jeremy Clarkson on an episode of The Grand Tour even went as far as saying that "I think this is the best M car BMW has ever made". In 2018 the M2 Competition became available, this time with an M engine - the S55 out of the M3/M4.
More power and sharper styling tweaks were used. In 2020 a range-topping M2 CS was introduced, offering yet more power, lighter weight and more striking details, such as gorgeous 19-inch 763 M alloy wheels finished in matt gold.
Four-wheel drive in an M car? Welcome to the ultra-powerful 592bhp F90 BMW M5, a proper weapon, in a super-saloon body. But has the rear-wheel drive M car magic been lost? Quite simply, no. If you are a fan of getting the back end sliding - on a track of course - then you can select the M5 to be rear-wheel drive at the touch of a button.
62mph is dealt with in just 3.4 seconds, a whole second quicker than the version it replaced. If you want a super-saloon that can bully supercars, the M5 is still the king of saloons. A Competition version was also available, following the BMW model evolution - adding more power, suspension tweaks and sportier styling.
X3 M Competition G01 & X4 M Competition G02
After the success of the BMW X5 and X6 getting the M treatment, it was only a matter of time until BMW gave smaller SUVs the same level of attention. 2019 saw BMW launch the X3 M Competition and the X4 M Competition.
Offering M car performance in a more compact SUV offering, this pair of M SUVs took after the popularity started by the X5 M, attracting new buyers.
M8 Competition F92
Brand-new M cars cause quite a stir. But when it is the first model of its kind, they tend to cause an even bigger one. The first official BMW M8 Competition was released in 2020 bringing with it a 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged, engine making a massive 617bhp.
62mph from a standstill in just over 3 seconds sees this colossal beast able to cover ground at a frankly incredible rate. There is also a Gran Coupe version for enhanced practicality, and a Convertible version for those who ideally like the wind in their hair - at high speed, where legal of course.
M3 Competition G80
In 2020 the sixth-generation M3 was unveiled, showcasing a bold new look. The iconic BMW kidney grilles have been increased in size - a nod to vintage BMW models. The new look has certainly got M car aficionados and petrolheads talking, that's for sure.
One thing that is more familiar though, is the impressive power on offer. As this M3 Competition comes with over 500bhp for the first time ever, thanks to a TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder petrol engine, ensuring the 0-62mph sprint happens in just 3.9 seconds. This will also be the first time ever owners can specify their M3 with typical rear-wheel drive, or the new option of all-wheel drive.
M4 Competition G82
Effectively a coupe version of the G80 M3 Competition mentioned previously, this new BMW M4 Competition features the same huge 503bhp power from its TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder petrol engine, along with the increased BMW kidney grilles - for that bold new look.
The digital interior and incredible seats ensure occupants to the cabin will be in awe too, if they are not taken back by the 503bhp. M cars are still showcasing that despite bold new looks, they still unleash tantalising power and performance capabilities.
Experience BMW M for yourself
With BMW M continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible from a performance car, and with a back catalogue of legendary models, we can help you get behind the wheel of your very own BMW M car at Stratstone.
Whatever your enquiry, our portfolio of Stratstone BMW retailers will be happy to assist in finding your perfect M car.