From the outside, the BMW CCA Foundation’s headquarters in Greer, South Carolina looks like the converted pharmaceutical warehouse that it is. Step inside, however, and you’ll find yourself in The Ultimate Driving Museum’s latest exhibit, The Power of M. Belying the building’s modest façade, it’s a treasure trove of 25 high-performance cars (and one motorcycle) from throughout BMW Motorsport’s 50-year history. The Power of M will enthrall any fan of Bavarian automobiles.
More than just race cars and rarely-seen special editions, The Power of M is about history: of BMW Motorsport, its drivers and engineers, and also about the devoted owners who own and care for these special machines.
Take the 1974 3.0 CSL that greets you as you walk through the door of the museum. Recently treated to a stunning restoration, it’s one of just 167 built in this particular specification, with the 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine designed for racing along with the wild aerodynamic bodywork that gave the car its “Batmobile” nickname. That giant rear wing wasn’t street-legal when this car was new, so it was packed in the trunk for installation by its owner, along with a few other parts “for competition use only.”
The CSL was every BMW enthusiast’s dream car when it was new—as it is again today—but at some point even dream cars become affordable. In 1983, Alain de Graeve was just 17 years old, but he’d saved enough money to buy it from its original owner in Germany for the equivalent of $6,500. He shipped it to the US from his native Luxembourg and used it as his daily driver while attending college. A year later, he sent it home to Luxembourg, where it remained in his mother’s garage until de Graeve happened to look up its serial number online. He knew he had a nice old CSL, but he didn’t realize that he owned an original Batmobile now worth well in excess of a quarter-million dollars. “I couldn’t believe it!” De Graeve said.
Emphasizing the close connection between BMW’s race cars and its road cars, The Power of M pairs de Graeve’s CSL with its racing counterpart, in this case a car that predates the founding of BMW Motorsport. Dating to August 30, 1971, it was prepared by Alpina for the Dutch national team, but it was turned away from its first race because it hadn’t yet been homologated, i.e. produced in sufficient numbers to qualify. Once its lightweight CSL aluminum parts were replaced with standard 3.0 CS parts in steel, the car was allowed to race. In full CSL configuration from 1973, it won countless races as well as the Dutch national championship before its retirement in 1975.
As the CSL’s career was winding down, BMW Motorsport was working on its replacement. The M1 become BMW’s first and only supercar, a wedge-shaped wonder that has captivated enthusiasts since 1978. Only 454 M1s were built, and The Power of M includes an immaculate 1980 M1 imported to the US from Kuwait in 1985. It’s paired with a beautifully restored M1 Procar that was driven by Dutch ace Toine Hezemans in the first five Procar races of 1979.
More of these road/race pairings occur throughout The Power of M, highlighting the influence of racing on BMW’s M cars throughout the decades. Some feature rare special editions, like the 1990 E30 M3 Johnny Cecotto edition displayed alongside the E30 M3 raced by Steve Soper in the DTM series. The Cecotto M3 was never sold new in the US, and very few have entered this country since it was built in 1989. The same is true of the E46 M3 CSL on display. Just 1,383 of these high-performance M3s built in 2003, the car on display at the BMW CCA Foundation is one of perhaps two to have entered the US. The E90 M3 CRT is even rarer: It’s one of just 67 cars built by BMW M in 2012, and again, one of just two in this country. It constitutes a true highlight within The Power of M.
We could go on and on, waxing enthusiastic about the E36 M3 race car used as a development mule by BMW Motorsport before racing in the US with Team PTG, here paired with one of the 126 M3 Lightweights built to capitalize on its success. We’re equally excited by George Whiteley’s European-spec M635CSi, the row of M5s that shows that model’s evolution through five generations—including a 30 Jahre M5 for which NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick paid $700,000 at auction in 2015, with proceeds benefitting the Foundation—the impossibly sophisticated factory M8 GTE that won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2019. All the cars on display within The Power of M are guaranteed to thrill enthusiasts, and their stories—displayed alongside each car—are filled with fascinating detail about each one’s life on the road or track. Large banners with photos of their engines adorn the museum walls, interspersed with vintage driving suits and posters. The 50-year history of BMW Motorsport is outlined on freestanding pylons scattered throughout the museum, along with glass cases filled with memorabilia. For art lovers, the work of Romanian artist Adrian Mitu is on display, including his “Blue Hero” painting depicting the life of BMW Motorsport founding director Jochen Neerpasch.
The Power of M is the fifth major exhibit from The Ultimate Driving Museum, and it’s among its very best. Now in its 20th year of “Saving Lives, and Saving History,” the Foundation continues to save lives though its Tire Rack Street Survival program, which teaches safe driving to teenagers across the US. As for saving history, The Power of M will be doing that through January 2023, with opening hours and more information at www.TheUltimateDrivingMuseum.org. They are located in Greer, SC, just across Highway 101 from BMW Manufacturing and virtually next door to the BMW Performance Center. If you’re picking up a new car, stop into The Ultimate Driving Museum and pay a visit to its ancestors!