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INTERVIEW: We Speak with Jochen Neerpasch, the Founder of BMW M

In case you haven’t heard, this year commemorates the 50th anniversary of BMW M. On the M Division’s birthday, there is no better person to speak with than the guy who founded it all–Jochen Neerpasch.

We got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Neerpasch at the 2022 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, where BMW M has some of its most renowned vehicles on exhibit. We spoke about BMW M’s origins, history, and future plans. Neerpasch is regarded as the inventor of the M Division, so we were naturally excited to speak with him and learn how the most renowned letter in the car industry came to be.

From the Ford to the BMW

INTERVIEW: We Spoke to Jochen Neerpasch, Founder of BMW M

Jochen Neerpasch was a very successful manager for Ford’s racing business before becoming the eventual creator of BMW M. Neerpasch was a huge success at Ford, where he was instrumental in producing the popular Ford Capri RS. That domination at Ford piqued the interest of BMW, which wanted to establish its own racing outfit on the European Touring Car scene. As a result, BMW snatched Neerpasch from Ford.

“It was the end of January. “One evening, I received an unexpected phone call from [BMW board member] Bob Lutz,” Neerpasch said. “At the time, I was Ford’s competition manager, and we built the Capri [2600] RS, which was quite successful, winning the German championship and beating the BMW coupés.” So Bob Lutz contacted and asked if I was still interested. They sought to consolidate BMW Motorsport operations.”

Neerpasch was first hesitant to join Lutz and BMW. BMW’s racing program was a shambles at the time, and it was left to tuners like ALPINA and AC Schnitzer. Furthermore, Neerpasch and his considerably lighter Ford Capris were crushing BMW’s automobiles. So why join a losing team?

“My second response was that this may be an opportunity to start an independent racing organization and leverage the race expertise for high performance vehicles,” he said. “Then I traveled to Munich the following day.”

That’s where Neerpasch first met Bob Lutz, with whom he discussed a possible future and arranged an agreement. After alerting his previous supervisor, he was obligated to stay at Ford until May 24, 1973, which is why BMW M was legally established as a registered GmbH on May 24, 1973.

The CSL 3.0

INTERVIEW: We Spoke to Jochen Neerpasch, Founder of BMW M

When Neerpasch initially arrived at BMW M, he was really on the ground floor. There were no offices, teams, drivers, or mechanics. Martin Brown and, more notably, Paul Rosche, BMW M’s engine guy, joined at that time. Hans-Joachim Stuck was one of the team’s original drivers, and the vehicle Neerpasch started working on first was the iconic BMW 3.0 CSL. However, things did not begin as well as they had intended.

Neerpasch and his crew were bringing a new type of racing, with fresh, forward-thinking ideas, and the old-school officials at BMW AG didn’t like it. There was also conflict between the tuners, who had previously had contracts from BMW AG, as well as large sums of money, to go racing, and BMW, which now had its own motorsport section for racing and components, which affected those tuners’ business. Despite opposition from tuners and resistance from Munich suits, BMW M was able to establish itself and create and deploy a new racing vehicle in only eight months.

BMW M was successful with the 3.0 CSL, but it was becoming too costly to make a racing car out of a road vehicle, and Neerpasch desired a car that was designed from the bottom up to be both a racing car and a road car, which is how the renowned BMW M1 project started. The BMW M1 was designed by Neerpasch to be utilized in a variety of motorsport sports, including rally racing and both Group 4 and Group 5 Touring championships.

The BMW M1 Could Have Been A Porsche 911

INTERVIEW: We Spoke to Jochen Neerpasch, Founder of BMW M

As you may be aware, the M1 finally failed and never competed in many competitions, with the exception of its own single-car M1 Procar series. However, Neerpasch is still bothered by the fact that when he left BMW M in 1980, BMW was ready for Formula 1, therefore the suits in Munich lost interest in the M1. “However, I believe that if the M1 had been improved year after year, it might have become like the 911 for Porsche.” Consider a BMW M1 that has been constantly refined through generations to be a perpetual Porsche 911 adversary.

It’s incredible to believe that what began as a ramshackle company with no headquarters and a workforce assembled apparently overnight could grow into the performance automobile behemoth that it is today. Jochen Neerpasch is one of the persons most responsible for BMW M’s current success, and speaking with him on the 50th anniversary of the brand he founded was an honor.

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