In just twelve weeks, BMW Motorsport GmbH developed a Group 5 version of the all new 'E21' 320 saloon. The new GT racer was ready in time for the 1977 season and replaced the ageing 3.0 CSL, which had actually started life as a Touring Car earlier in the decade. What helped to develop the car in such a short timespan was the fact that a suitable engine already existed in the form of the mighty 'M12' four-cylinder that had been successfully used in sports cars and F2 racers for several seasons.
Producing around 310 bhp from its two-litre displacement, the twin-cam, sixteen-valve engine was mounted inside a heavily modified production car shell. This had been stripped of all unnecessary components and fitted with massive flared wheel-arches and an aggressive aerodynamics package that been honed in the Pininfarina wind-tunnel. The end result was a truly spectacular machine that tipped the scales at just 740 kg including the driver and half a tank of fuel. With a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, it was also very well balanced and immediately reported to be a beautiful car to drive.
The Group 5 version of the 320 was introduced in December of 1976, ready to hit the track the following season. It was to be raced by BMW's loyal customers on both sides of the Atlantic and while the German manufacturer also fielded five works cars for their talented 'junior' drivers, another 27 'customer' cars would be supplied to race teams all over the world. In Europe, the cars were raced with considerable success in the World Championship and also in Germany's highly competitive DRM series. Especially on tight circuits the compact BMW did very well against the more powerful Porsche 934s and 935s. Several wins were scored but the championship titles remained out of reach.
In June 1977 BMW and Hervé Poulin entered a two-litre 320 Group 5 ‘Art Car’, liveried by Roy Lichtenstein, into the legendary Le Mans 24 hour enduro. The Pop Art 320 come home an impressive 9th overall after 24 hours of racing – demonstrating the reliability of the strong BMW four cylinder engine. Of course this means that Group 5 BMW 320s are therefore eligible for Peter Auto’s CER and their flagship Le Mans Classic.
This example, chassis E21-R1-17 was built by the factory and sold to well-known German BMW and DRM racer, Gustav Fischer. Under the Valvoline Deutschland Team banner, Fischer would go onto compete in the 1978 Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (DRM) season against the mighty Porsche 935s and Zakspeed Capris – taking in the great circuits such as Avus, Mainz-Finthen, Zandvoort, Kassel-Calden, Hockenheim GP meeting, Zolder, and Norisring. Despite having the best current equipment, Fischer wasn’t as competitive as hoped, and after some unreliability, he sold the car to Gerd Reiss who would enter the car under his private ‘Team Immobilien G. Reiss’.
After a limited DRM campaign, Reiss sold the car to Swedish ace Kenneth Leim. Leim would enter the car into the World Sports Car Championship for the 1982 season, with 1000km entries at Monza, Silverstone, Nürburgring, Spa and Mugello – sharing with fellow Swede Kurt Simonsen.
The car subsequently went back to Sweden from where Christer Simonsen (Kurt’s son) bought the car to take on the Nordic Special Saloon Championship, within which he was an overall front-runner, right through until the end of the 1985 season.
Finnish racer Eero Vesenterä would be the next owner and for 1987 and ’88 he would continue to run at the front in the competitive Nordic Series where many of these now obsolete Group 5 cars would find a home. At the end of the ’88 season, the car was sold to John K. Westman, who continued to enter the Nordic Series plus the domestic Finnish races – finally retiring the car in the early 1990s. It was 1996 that British BWM guru and racer Alex Elliott travelled to Finland to buy two Group 5 BMWs, including this car. The car was near complete with chassis, body, suspension, brakes, exhaust, interior etc all there, but minus engine, and now plain white. Even the original seat and inertia race belts were with the car. From 1996 to 2011, the car remained in the UK in the same state and engineless, until the current owner bought it and started planning a comprehensive and exacting restoration to 1977/’78 spec factory spec.
The stunning restoration was carried out over a three year period by Tony Hansford and his skilled team at H-Engineering, with every detail considered. The Group 5 320 in the factory BMW Museum was analysed and compared to ensure that original details were correct, and that in any cases where new items had to be manufactured, they were materially and visually correct. The correct 2-litre M12 race engine was of course reinstalled into the car, plus the ultra-rare 5-speed Getrag gearbox and magnesium differential. The finished article is not just period correct and beautifully detailed, but truly race-ready to modern standards. It is also complete with a new FIA HTP.
The car was rebuild for CER and Le Mans Classic and is only for sale due to the owner’s racing plans changing. Within the racing spares package is an extra set of correct BBS magnesium wheel with good wets fitted, a 4-speed gearbox (8hrs maximum), and an iron Le Mans differential (8hrs maximum) – The more valuable 5-speed gearbox (0 hours) and a period magnesium differential (0 hours) are currently fitted to the car.
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