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Peter Anderson | Aug 21, 2012

BMW Motorsport GmbH, now known as M GmbH, turns 40 this year. To celebrate, BMW has released a video about the performance division's exploits.

Formed in 1972 with just 35 employees, M was launched with the mission of running BMW's racing operations. By the 90s, its workforce had grown to over 400, and now continues to expand with BMW's ever-growing model line-up.

The first M project was the BMW 3.0 CSL, a homologation special developed to allow BMW entry into production racing in Europe and internationally. It was devastatingly effective, winning multiple championships all over the world.

The roadgoing CSL went through a few evolutions over three years, the final version arriving in the hands of German customers with the aero kit in the boot, rather than on it - the wings were illegal on German roads.

Two 3.0 CSLs were also immortalised as BMW Art Cars.

The first M-badged car to be offered for sale was the iconic M1. Launched at the Paris Motor Show in 1978, the M1 remains the only mass-produced mid-engined BMW.

That engine was the legendary twin-cam, 3.5 litre M88. The straight six-cylinder set the rev-happy tone of M cars for years to come.

In the case of the M1, the M88 had individual throttle bodies for each cylinder - a hallmark of two of the great M engines, such as the S70/2 in the McLaren F1 and the S85 B50 V10 of the E60 M5.

The M1 formed the basis of the PROCAR championship, a race series that acted as a support for the F1 championship.

The M1 also campaigned successfully - with a lot more power than the road car - on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first M model of the passenger car-based type we've come to know, was the M535i of 1979. The quick 5 Series sported the M30 163kW 3.5 litre straight six, and chassis and aero enhancements.

The M535i set the scene for M into the future - sports sedans to sit at the top of BMW's most popular model lines.

The M3 and M5 have been the mainstays of the M brand but there have been some notable - and sometimes notorious - exceptions.

The Z3-based M Coupe was derided for its breadvan looks and Frankenstein underpinnings; but it was also one of the liveliest cars to come out of M's workshops.

After the M535i, the 1985 E28 M5 was the next (fast) cab off the rank. Again, the M88 straight six was pressed into service under the bonnet, and with a tauter chassis to torture.

Soon after came the E30 M3.

The M3 opened up a new audience for the M brand. The two-door 3, with the headbanging 2.3 litre S14 four cylinder, is one of the most sought-after M cars of all time.

Its racing success is well-known, including DTM and European Championships.

The M-enhanced 3 has evolved over the years from its hardcore beginnings to its current, high-revving V8-powered E90-based set of coupe, sedan and cabriolet.

The E36 M3 also debuted the Getrag-sourced SMG paddle-actuated gearbox. The single-clutch SMG was updated for the E46 M3 (SMG II) and E60 M5 (SMG III). The dual-clutch M-DCT came in with the E92 M3 and now features in the M5 and M6.

The M5 has played an equally significant role in building the M brand's image. Its evolutionary change - from a straight-six, to a V8, then a V10 and back again to a V8 - have sought to cement the M5's place as the sporting sedan benchmark.

Since the E30 M3 broke the mould, M cars have been high-revving, naturally-aspirated - some might say peaky - race-derived engines.

This approach was epitomised by the E60 M5's stratospheric 8250rpm redline and eulogised by the E9x M3's 8400rpm mark.

bmw 1 series m coupe australia 01

Now, with new legislation both in the EU and the US, M cars have had to change. Gone are the high-revving V10s and V8s, replaced with torquey, but still-powerful turbo engines.

The 1 Series M was the company's toe-in-the water for forced induction performance, with a twin turbo straight-six N54. Like the E30 BMW itself compared it to, the 1 M set out to change the way M cars are viewed.

Since then, M5 has joined the turbo M brigade. The new M3 is expected to do likewise thanks to efforts to reduce emissions while maintaining the performance levels expected of the badge.

In 2012, BMW announced the mid-tier of M Performance cars, starting with the M135i, a turbo-charged six cylinder 1 Series with a number of M-style enhancements over and above the M Sport pack available on most models.

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