BMW’s world-famous Art Cars are rarely seen outside of Fine Art Museums like The Louvre in Paris, The Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City – along with occasional special exhibitions. It’s a distinct privilege for the Saratoga Automobile Museum to display this spectacular BMW M1 Procar Racer, the fourth in a long series of eighteen BMW Art Cars – it’s a remarkable cre ative effort by the late Andy Warhol.
BMW Group’s background statement on its Art Car collection describes Andy Warhol as “...an American artist who became influential in the Pop Art movement. Warhol began his art career as a commercial illustrator, and later he became famous worldwide for his work as a painter; an avant-garde filmmaker, a record producer, an author and a pop culture figure known for his presence and influence in diverse social circles.
Warhol’s wide range of associates ranged from kinky street people, to distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats. A controversial figure during his lifetime (his work was often derided by critics as a hoax or "put-on"), Warhol has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions, books and documentary films since his death in 1987. He is generally acknowledged as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.”
Andy Warhol painted this car in 1979, when he was at the peak of his popularity. Unlike the three previous Art Car artists, who painted 1:5 scale models called maquettes, and then delegated associates to transfer their designs to the full-sized car, Warhol worked directly on “his” M1, painting the car himself, helped by a single assistant. He is reported to have just 23 minutes actually painting the car, then ran his fingers through the paint to leave a personal touch.
Warhol explained the sweeping strokes of his work saying, "I tried to portray speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred." The BMW M1 was the perfect choice for the fourth Art Car. It was the most exotic road-going BMW of its era. Its development began in 1972 when BMW unveiled its Turbo show car. Highly advanced for its time, the Turbo had gullwing doors and a state-of-the-art turbocharged 2-liter I-4 East-West-mounted engine positioned amidships. Some of its styling touches, like a sculpted hood power bulge that tapered into a modernized twin-kidney grille opening, were adopted soon afterward for production BMWmodels.
The public’s response to the Turbo was enthusiastic, but no plans existed at the time to bring it (or a tamer production version) to market. BMW had experimented with the concept of a radical sports coupe, but the company was selling all the conventional cars it could manufacture at the time, so the idea went no further for a while.
While the Turbo had been considered quite radical, the next evolution of the design would be somewhat more practical. Ital Design and its brilliant founder, Georgetto Giugiaro, were retained. Building upon the basic Turbo concept, Giugiaro refined the already low silhouette, and proposed a fiberglass-bodied sports coupe with conventional doors. The engine was BMW’s DOHC 3.5-liter I-6 from the CSL racing coupes. Although the car was o riginally known as the E26, to correspond with the factory’s then-current racing designations, it became the M1. The sleek new M1, with a choice of available engines, was considered ideal for European Group 4 and Group 5 racing classes. The decision to competitively race the new coupes presented Munich with a challenge and an opportunity.
Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) regulations required that 400 examples of the M1 coupe be produced within a two-year (1979-1980) period. The project was beyond BMW AG’s capability to assemble this type of specialized car at the time, so a complex but achievable manufacturing program was devised using BMW’s competition affiliate, Motorsports Gmbh in Munich. The racing subsidiary had worked on the prototype in conjunction with Ital Design; the first car had been built by Lamborghini – an exotic carmaker with a great deal of experience with small production.
Despite receiving the initial order for 400 cars, Lamborghini was unable to help. The Sant’Agata Bolognese firm lacked the cash to finance the deal and they were suffering from labor unrest at the time. In its place, an Italian firm called Marchesi welded together the M1’s tubular space-frame chassis.
The M1’s lovely, hand-formed fiberglass body panels were supplied by another Italian firm, Transformazione Italiana Resina. The steel and plastic components were then shipped to ItalDesign where the sub- assemblies were assembled and painted. Then the partially complete M1s were transported to Baur, a Stuttgart coachbuilder that had previously helped BMW with cabriolet versions of several models.
The craftsmen and women at Baur trimmed the new bodies, added leather Recaro seats and installed the DOHC six-cylinder engines, the suspension and the running gear. The M1s were then shipped to BMW Motorsport for final testing and a comprehensive quality check. BMW quickly sold all 400 of the M1s and very few initially came to North America. They remain valuable collector cars today.
The Warhol M-1 Art Car raced on one single occasion, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979. Driven by Manfred Winkelhock (Germany) and the Frenchmen Hervé Poulain and Marcel Mignot, it placed sixth overall and second in class.
Like most of the BMW Art Cars, the Warhol M-1 no longer functions as an automobile. Whether one considers it “rolling sculpture” or more simply, an expression of modern art on wheels, it has ceased to be a car and instead, remains a striking metal canvas that helps memorialize the man many acknowledge as the “King” of Pop Art.