Opinion: Why I (Still) Need the 1M

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I ‘ve been a BMW enthusiast since I could talk. My dad ‘s 2002 did it to me. Some of my first memories were of me helping him with the hood up in our driveway. Ok, maybe not the best picture of BMW reliability but in my 3 year old mind this was what cars where. But oddly when he sold it (I was seven) I had this feeling of regret. It defined him as an enthusiast in my mind. Someone who had owned Detroit muscle and yet had the foresight to think differently.

These days BMW as a brand is too omnipresent to be categorized under thinking different. Yet among enthusiasts there is still a badge of honor associated with buying the right BMW. And that brings me to the 1M. I have wanted a 1M for as long as I can remember. Ok let me explain. I ‘ve owned a half dozen 3 series (five of which were gently used) and know in embarrassing detail the entire history of the small BMW. Yet as the brand and the 3er grew I found myself looking elsewhere for that experience. Enter the MINI. I owned three during the 2000 ‘s and in many ways they were my 2002. They embodied what BMW meant to my dad in a way a modern BMW never could achieve. At least from the factory.

BMW 2002

Then something happened that changed everything. BMW announced the 1 Series. First came the 120i and 120d. Of course living in the US Gran Turismo and trips to Europe were the only ways I could experience the car. And lets be honest, with five doors and a lowly four cylinder non turbocharged engine, the first 1 Series was anything but special. Yet, I saw something that moved me. A small rear wheel drive BMW that harkened back to the E30 or even 2002.

If only they made something like a tii I thought. Then came the 125i. Followed closely by the 130i. Then finally BMW brought out the Coupe. It had been rumored for years but when it finally debuted I was in love. Finally, BMW did one better and released 135i. The tii for the 2000s one could argue. On the press drive I called it more enjoyable than the M3. It was to me and I loved it. Yet there were flaws. A suspension that wallowed when pushed and power delivery that desperately needed an LSD. In short it needed the M brand ‘s attention. At that point I made a promise to myself to wait to only buy a 1 Series if it was transformed by the M Division. I sat patiently and put myself on the list (which I essentially created) at my dealer. It was February 2008.

Fast forward to 2010 and I ‘m at Road America and talking to Dr. Kay Segler about the new 1M. I ‘m among the first journalists in the world to see it on US soil (granted it ‘s just the front fender). I tell him a few moments later that I ‘m buying this car. A good laugh ensues (you can watch the video of this moment here) but I ‘m clearly serious.

In February 2011 BMWNA released full specification, pricing and dealer allocations. I find out my life-long quest for this car (ok technically four years) has another six month wait. Yes, I have the dreaded September build-date. My mistake? Being loyal to a small dealer North of Chicago who only ended up getting two cars through BMWNA ‘s complex allocation process. I had known for some time that there was a chance of this happening but I just couldn ‘t bring myself to do business with another dealer after such a long personal relationship.

Unfair. Absolutely. Am I upset. A little. Does it change my desire for the 1M. Not really. But that doesn ‘t mean there aren ‘t other viable options. In truth There are three other cars out there that I ‘ve lusted after for awhile.

I ‘m going to gloss right over the first by just mentioning the letters 997. There will be a time for a P-car. Now is not the time.

Then there ‘s the Z4 M Coupe. It ‘s no clown-shoe (the Z3 M Coupe) but it ‘s prettier and packaged in all the ways that I love. And it ‘s got the best bits of what will become known as BMW ‘s post classic period. From the CSL brakes the best engine ever under the propeller logo, the Z4 M Coupe is the quintessential M car. The big minus is that it houses only two seats. It ‘s simply not feasible considering the two most important things in my life need rear seats to enjoy their dad ‘s Sunday drives.

Enter the E46 M3 Competition package. CSL brakes and all the tastiest bits of the time-period. This is the true predecessor to the 1M and a car I was moments away from buying last year. But in the end it ‘s not small and lightweight enough. But more importantly it ‘s not special enough.

I want the E30 M3 of my generation. I want something that will define my generation of BMW enthusiast. I want the 1M.

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  • Bob Hayhurst

    …I really enjoyed reading this piece Gabe; it reminds me of why I like to read Peter Egan so much. I will own (in the not to distant future) a Z4 M coupe; but for the moment I need to bide my time. When I introduced my wife to the idea that I needed this car (with it’s 2 seats) she looked at me as though I had suddenly grown a third eye.

    Thanks for your writing and enthusiasim, I enjoy both immensely…

  • JonPD

    Glad to hear the 1M is still resonating so well for you Gabe. In a great many ways it still does the same to me. I have money down on one but also admit that I am still questioning this decision a bit. For everything the 1M is it does still feel like a 90% ///M product. I have zero doubt with the proper aftermarket tuning it could finish out the remaining 10% in my mind. Guess my question with the price point of the car could I just be happy for what it is. For me I look at my GP which I think falls into the same general feeling, very potent car but still left short of feeling 100% special. I have kept the car stock since I picked it up although in a great many ways I would love to build it into something truly special. I wonder if I could do the same for a 1M or if because of the ///M badge I would be able to deal with knowing that a E89 with essentially the same motor and less weight could likely stick with me most the time (on the straights). ///M has created quite a car here but it doesn’t quite live up to a standard /M model still for me.

    I second your second paragraph Bob.

  • Steve Mask

    I’m with ya, Gabe. I just recently purchased the JCW WC50 and was torn on whether or not to hold out for the 1M but it was now or never on the WC50 before someone claimed it. Wish I could have both. Good write-up.

  • Dave

    Gabe if you didn’t have kids and was tossing up between the Z4M coupe and 1M what would you get?!

    I don’t have kids.

    Dave

  • Gabe

    Gabe if you didn’t have kids and was tossing up between the Z4M coupe and 1M what would you get?!

    Great question. Honestly go drive both if you can. Ok the 1M may be tough to get (and even test drive) if you don’t have a deposit down already. The Z4M Coupe is a very aggressive car that take the E46 M3 and turns it up a notch. Lighter with quicker reflexes (with the sport button on) it’s truly a special car.

  • greg

    gabe, what is this dreaded bmw september build date that you speak of? i’m new to bmw and not familiar with this. thanks

  • chad

    @ Greg- Gabe just means he has to wait a long time to get the car. Build dates are supposed to be from March until near the end of the year only. So a September date is a long time to wait.

    @ Gabe- Not sure about the E30 M3 for our generation. That is such a huge statement. Great car, no doubt. A car to define BMW Motorsport for 20+ years, not likely.

    I must say, brilliant piece. Home run.

  • Drill

    That was great Gabe, thanks. I have similar opinions on the 1M. I was ready to put an order in for a 135, but it was just missing a few things (suspension/LSD/feel), I think these are things that ///M has specifically addressed. While the 135 is still a great car, I think the 1M is going to be something special.

  • Ralph Schollähn

    I´m with you too. Thanks for your writing. My Dad worked more than 20 years for the brand, so I´m a family member as you. Still driving a 120 convertible grey in grey. Waiting for 4wheel option. And dreaming about an Z4M coupe and the 1M…

  • Elegiac

    Great article. I too have been torn between finding a lightly used Z4M coupe versus the 1M. But I agree with you – the 1M is going to be something special.

    I am #1 at my dealer, but nonetheless suspect I will also be waiting many months to receive my baby M. But that’s okay since anticipation is part of the fun.

    However, I don’t understand why BMW fails to use a more straightforward allocation process. Is it such a big deal to assign most of the ~600 allocations several months in advance instead doling them out month by month?

  • Joe

    Gabe, yet another great piece. You really pull me in as a reader with your intense personal take on the cars and the brand. My take on it is thus: I moved from a 335i Coupe to a Carrera 2S to move further out on the connectedness spectrum, even though I truly loved my 335. Nevertheless, I have been following the 1M development methodically. If I were to buy a new car today, the 1M would be it. But my 2006 C2S thrills me every time I can open it up. People can nitpick the 1M all day long (i wish it had this or that). The important thing is that BMW is building this car and endorsing what I consider a correct value system: that a car should provide a viceral, connected driving experience that produces intense driver involvement, with just enough practicality to live with in the contemporary world.

  • goat

    Gabe – this was a joy to read… the passion this site has for bimmers is legitimized by your PERSONAL enthusiasm (+ enthusiasm of the other contributors, and of course us as readers / commenters).

    I saw the 1M at the Toronto Auto Show last week and after chatting with the friendly staff manning the display I guess the enthusiasm me and my friends had for BMW was enough to convince them to unlock it and let us sit in the car – a nice bonus! My impression in person is that this is indeed a special car and worth the M designation for the suspension and interior changes alone. And if the motor has the “sparkling” quality and sharp throttle response the “is” version of the N54 is said to have (and it will, based on your reporting), that is itself a “special” motor also worthy of the M nomenclature. That was my take-away at least. I also thought price was fair for an M… in Canada the stretch to an M3 is MASSIVE. The 1M will be attainable and still undercuts P-car offerings (Cayman) so while this isn’t an inexpensive car, IMO the value is there and BMW has priced it fairly.

    My other takeaway was more personal – I love the look/feel of the M3 steering wheel much more than the M-sport wheel and am leaning towards that for my e90 over the alcantara flat-bottomed BMWPerf wheel – although the redesigned guages available in the BMWPerf wheel are very enticing too. :)

  • Neil

    Gabe -

    Great post. I’ll be replacing my much-modified ’99 M Coupe (tags MDORPHN) with a 1M and am confident that it will be a worthy successor.

    Neil

  • Que

    I also sat in the BMW 1M @ the Toronto AutoShow. My impression, its a M Car, maybe missing a bespoke engine block, but thats okay, I think when one drives it, it will address those who are concerned. Its lighter, has a LSD out back, and 3 pedals, what else would one need? The price point is right on, but I think with the current CAD dollar, we should have the same price with the folks in the 50 states below. Gabe, be patient, cause good things happen to the ones that wait, and from the looks of it, a good thing will be happening to you soon with the 1M…

    Que

  • Wild Bill

    Great article, fortunately I live in SoCal where there are some big dealers, got a production number and a week 11 build date. Black is the color.

    Bill

  • Mr Mowse

    With my October build date I am weighing my options. Drove a Cayman S today. It was SICK. Hard to imagine the 1M out performing it. On “paper” does but I don’t know…..

    I would save $10k+ too….decisions….hmmmmm

  • goat

    @MrMowse – if you don’t need the rear seats, grab a Cayman S and don’t look back. Porsches have a purity over the road and in their design that BMW necessarily doesn’t have (being developed from sedan chassis). And as good as steering feel is on BMW’s – and it is very good especially compared to numb Audi and Mercedes tillers – the Porsche is in a different class (perhaps due to having so little weight over the front wheels). I won’t even get into the lovely styling of the Cayman and the intimate feel of the proper sports car interior, the sound of the engine freely revving behind your right shoulder, etc.

    BUT if you want more flexibility, the 1M is a properly small 2+2… a rare thing these days (most 2+2 cars are much larger and feel more “GT-like”). Either way, you are in a pretty sweet predicament!

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  • the-russells

    I sure like my new 1M  !!!!   It is NOT an M3, was never meant to be- BUT- it sure is FUN to drive! I mean FUNNNN !  Did I say it was fun to drive?  Sorry `bout that! sackboy