1997 M coupe: BMW Manufacturing
1997 BMW E36/8 M Coupe widebody #XXXX
Euro-spec S50 inline six-cylinder
Greer, South Carolina
Even while BMW Motorsport was campaigning the E36 M3 in IMSA and other forms of touring car racing around the world, the factory team continued to explore interesting alternatives. One was the Z3 M coupe, which had a more rigid chassis than the E36 3 Series, let alone the open Z3 roadster, and a much shorter wheelbase—both of which gave the M coupe encouraging prospects as a race car.
But building a successful racecar requires engineers to work within the rules of the class and series in which the car is intended to compete. Even formula cars have to be carefully built within the prescribed limits for engine displacement and output, overall dimensions, wheel size, wing size/placement, and countless other parameters which are strictly enforced. Street-based GTs have to conform to even greater restrictions, particularly where aerodynamics are concerned.
Giving the M coupe more downforce at the front was easy. BMW Motorsport’s one-piece front spoiler incorporated elements of the roadgoing bumper along with a deep lower section, and it proved effective at holding down the front. Deep side skirts produced effective downforce, as well, channeling hot air out of the front wheel wells and allowing cool air to enter at the rear.
At the rear of the car, however, the M coupe’s roofline didn’t allow airflow to reach the rear wing—at least not when the wing was positioned within then-current regulations regarding size, shape, and critically the proximity to the top and rear of the bodywork. IMSA wouldn’t budge on this score, neither would the Europeans, and that was that for the M coupe’s racing prospects.
The car you see here remained a one-off, an interesting experiment that paved the way for the 2006 Z4 M Coupe racer and the 2013 Z4 GTLM, the latter of which can be seen elsewhere in this exhibit.