One of the most common topics among car enthusiasts is: What would you have in your fantasy garage if you were ludicrously wealthy? This question is discussed in car enthusiast circles just like how I assume healthcare is discussed in Washington, D.C.: endlessly, and with no apparent resolution in sight.
Indeed, I don’t really have an answer to the question of which cars would fill my 10-car dream garage, or even my 5-car dream garage, but I know exactly which cars I’d pick as the first three in both scenarios: a new Range Rover. A Porsche Carrera GT. And a BMW 1 Series M. I’ve already explained my love of the Carrera GT, and you can’t really explain why you love the Range Rover — it’s more of a sickness than a romance. Today, I’m going to tell you why I’d pick the 1 Series M.
This is happening because I recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of a low-mileage 1 Series M, lent to me by a viewer named Glenn, who runs a YouTube channel called Glenn’s Car Collection. Glenn has some excellent cars — a Porsche 993 Turbo, a BMW M2, a Mercedes GLA 45 AMG, a Honda S2000 — but when Glenn emailed me to see if I wanted to review anything in his stable, there was only one answer: the 1 Series M. The mint, unmodified, beautiful, perfect 1 Series M, with something like 15,000 miles on the odometer. Dream car number three in my dream-car garage.
Before I get too far into drooling over the 1M, here’s a little history on the car. Back in the day, BMW made the "E30" M3, which was this small, gorgeous lightweight coupe, based on the 3 Series, that you could really fling around back roads. Then the 3 Series got bigger, and bigger, and bigger, to the point where it is currently the size of a little-league baseball complex.
So in 2008, with space newly freed up at the bottom of the BMW lineup, they debuted the 1 Series: a small car that was offered solely as a coupe or convertible in the United States. At the time, BMW was thinking that "performance-car buyers" wanted more power, bigger engines, more technology and faster transmissions, which is why the M3 of that period had a V8, and the M5 had a V10. But there was a small group of holdouts who wanted something purer, more original and more like the E30 M3 — and so, in 2011 (and in 2011 only), BMW offered the 1 Series M.
The interesting thing about all this is that BMW never thought the 1 Series M would be a hit. BMW assumed the people clamoring for a "new E30 M3" were actually car enthusiasts who only bought used cars, and they figured nobody would really purchase this thing. They were wrong: People flocked to the 1M, virtually every single example traded above BMW’s suggested retail price, and to this day — 6 years later — the few 1M examples listed on Autotrader are still selling at or above their original MSRP. It seems that more people wanted — and could afford — the 1M’s pure driving experience than anyone could’ve ever predicted.
And when you get behind the wheel, you immediately find out why.
I try to fairly assess cars with both positive and negative remarks, but I truly can’t find anything negative about the 1M. It looks a little weird, maybe, if that’s something you want to say about it. Some people find it a bit short and stubby. Personally, I like how it looks.
But that’s balanced out by the fact that every single other thing about this car is truly, unendingly, ridiculously amazing.
For instance: acceleration. Since the M3 had that big 420-horsepower V8 in the late 2000s, and the M5 was using a 500-horsepower V10, BMW "hamstrung" the 1M with a 335-horsepower turbocharged 6-cylinder so it wouldn’t steal sales from the more important models. But the 1M didn’t suffer from its "lack" of power. Instead, BMW near-accidentally created a car with absolutely perfect balance in a way that so few modern cars have today. The 1M does zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds, which isn’t that amazing — but while M3 and M5 owners were arguing over quarter-mile times and exhausts and horsepower and drag-strip tuning abilities, 1M drivers were doing something else: enjoying their cars on beautiful, sweeping back roads.
That’s because the 1M is, quite simply, the most excitingly tossable car I’ve ever driven in my entire life, bar none. Unlike my Viper, it won’t get loose coming out of a corner. Instead, it goes into and comes out of every corner with perfect, amazing, unending predictability, and balance, and poise. The car is just the right size to have fun with, to smile over, to giggle in when you’re going around corners, and has just the right power so you can floor it constantly without always breaking speed limits and worrying that you’ll crash into a nearby tree or ditch. Steering is telepathic and sports-car quick; the car feels planted and stable in every situation and circumstance. If you’re like me and you’re obsessed with balance and curvy roads rather than big power in a straight line, the 1M is truly a wonder to drive.
Then there’s the interior. Although it has a few high-tech creature comforts — like a center screen and automatic headlights — this was the last car in the era before BMW started adding so much technology and switches and buttons to the interior that you felt like you were driving a Boeing 747 (which, incidentally, is only 4 inches smaller than the latest 6 Series). Everything in the 1M’s cabin is simple, everything is logical, and best of all, everything is well-built and well-executed with high-quality materials. It’s the perfect place to spend time — unless you have to sit in the tiny back seats.
Normally, when I drive viewers’ cars in order to review them, I’m generally pretty excited to return them, simply because I’m eager to avoid the liability of crashing a vehicle owned by someone else. But with the 1M, I wanted to keep driving, and driving, and driving — for two reasons. Number one, it’s among my favorite cars, and there simply aren’t very many of them on the road. I didn’t know when I’d have the chance to drive one again. And number two, I felt so in control of this car it almost seemed there was no way I could possibly crash it. Coming out of each turn, I felt like I had been driving this car for years; like I knew every one of its ins and outs.
But, eventually, I did give it back — and as I drove away from Glenn’s house, I couldn’t help but keep my eyes focused on his driveway, and on that beautiful 1 Series M: one-third of my all-time dream-car garage.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.