Welcome to Fritz Wagner’s stockpile, where BMW M1 Procar parts await their next assignment

Photography by Dirk de Jager

That’s an M1 radiator he’s kicking out of the way. Correction: That’s an M1 Procar radiator. 

And over there is a turbocharger for a Group 5 M1 that seems to have taken on a temporary function as a doorstop. This place is mind-blowing. 

Everywhere you look, parts have been dumped–on the floor, in the attics, in the barn, in the barnyard–and it’s exclusively M1 Procar stuff. 

These are all parts nobody wanted at the time,” explains Fritz Wagner. “But I knew the M1 Procar would become an important car at some point, so I took it all home.” Wasn’t he right?

Wagner cuts an unlikely figure as the standing authority on all things M1 Procar. But as you wade through the piles and piles of parts and documents, you realize this is it. 

This stockpile about 30 minutes south of Munich isn’t how we pictured Procar heaven, but that’s what it is. “For me,” he explains, “it began in 1978, when I first laid eyes on the new BMW M1. It was love at first sight: the most beautiful car I had ever seen. And I said to myself, ‘One day, I must have one.’” 

Wagner, a race mechanic, made sure he was involved early in the M1 Procar project: “It started already before the first Procar season in 1979. I was working with Ron Dennis’ Project Four, where we prepared half of the privately entered M1s in the Procar series. Osella in Italy were doing the other half, and BMW built up the five works cars plus one spare car. One month before the season started, we were still working flat-out building cars.” 

Later, Wagner worked for Cassani Racing on the cars driven by Hans Stuck, Christian Danner and Manfred Winkelhock.

Crash Fest

As the 1979 Procar season got underway, things went from hectic to crazy for all the suppliers involved in the project. And at BMW Motorsport as well. 

“They were producing parts like there was no tomorrow,” Wagner recalls. “For 1979, the whole Procar field was running under a full Omnium insurance cover.” BMW paid about 10,000 deutsche marks–about $5600 at the time–to insure each car for the year. 

“The repair costs, however, were not covered,” he adds while shaking his head. “So what happened was that almost every crash meant a new car. And the old parts were simply chucked in the bin. Nobody cared.”

Nobody except Wagner, who went round collecting as many discarded parts as he could carry. 

“It was incredible,” he recalls. “Max Mosley, who ran the financial side of the Procar season, put pressure on BMW so that they would have at least 15 cars ready to run at any given time. With all the crashes happening, there was a constant frenzy to get enough new parts ready before the next race. 

“I was the only one to show any interest in the old parts,” he recalls. “I’d haggle with Ron Dennis over a gearbox. I’d give mechanics some drinking money in exchange for parts. It was no free ride, but really, they all charged just a fraction of what these parts cost–and I was the only one willing to give any money for them. 

“In Munich, the Motorsport guys would throw it all away. Again, I was the only one who would come to retrieve these parts before they were destroyed. I would just leave them here on the floor at my home. At the time, I had no clear idea what to do with all this, but I knew it would come in handy one day.”

But things changed for the 1980 season as the insurance company politely declined to renew the policy. “As a consequence,” he continues, “I have tons of parts from 1979 but a lot less from 1980. Now that the teams had to pay for the damage themselves, they were a bit more careful with the parts.”

Lauda’s Spare Car

But there’s more to this amazing collection than bits and pieces. The cars hidden left and right are something else still. As Wagner shows us around, he walks to a shed in the corner of the yard and lifts a tip of the cover on one car. “You might know this one,” he says. Marlboro colors become visible. Impossible. 

“This is the spare car Niki Lauda had for the final round of the Procar series in Monza in 1979,” he tells us. “Lauda had his eye on the title from the beginning. In the end, the title fight would be between him and Stuck. So for Monza, Ron and Niki decided to leave nothing to chance and hold a spare car ready should it be needed. That was this car. 

“I did the stickering on the car myself, together with Ron Dennis. He had brushed aside the mechanic who had done the first work, unhappy with the result. We redid all the stickers together. That was typical Dennis. He would be in the workshop behind us, sweeping it clean with a brush.” One wonders if Ron Dennis’ heart could withstand a visit to Wagner’s place.

In 1984, Wagner managed to buy all the remaining Procar parts BMW had lingering around. “For them, the Procar project was finished. They had turned their attention to the Formula 1 turbo project with Brabham, and they just didn’t care about the Procar M1s anymore. They got rid of it all. 

“Can you imagine? They had sold the M1 Procar at 160,000 German marks [$90,140] before taxes before the season. And now, BMW was selling the works cars for just 50,000 marks [$28,200]. For 100,000 marks [$56,200], I bought all the parts they had lying around. At Marchese in Italy, I managed to buy frames and I got body parts from Italdesign. 

“I worked crazy hours to finance it all. I was just a humble racing mechanic; I had to come up with the money just as well. And I never had money. If I made 1000 marks, I would spend 1050 marks on M1 parts. I told my wife she had to take it easy on the shopping and go to a budget supermarket, because I needed money for the M1s all the time. In the end, she couldn’t take it anymore and she left: ‘I can’t stand another M1,’ she said. I understood. We get along fine.”

M1 Prototype

The first M1 Procar Wagner brought home was the one Hans Stuck spectacularly parked on the guard rail at the swimming pool complex in Monaco in 1979. More followed. 

Wagner’s hunting trips around BMW’s dustbins led to some extraordinary finds. He showed the way to a tiny shed. 

Two cars were parked here. 

He pointed out the serial number of the silver car: 001. 

“This is the very first M1, and actually it is the only remaining M1 prototype that was built by Lamborghini,” he says. After Lamborghini was on the brink of running into bankruptcy, BMW set up an emergency operation to retrieve all M1-related material from Sant’Agata, where Lamborghini had been scheduled to take on M1 production. 

“There were five prototypes in total,” Wagner explains. “Four were used for crash testing and disappeared. Only this one remained, but it got involved in an accident as well and it was put aside for crushing when I found it.

“Later on, I went looking for all the remaining parts and reconstructed it. The prototype differs from the final M1 in a number of points, most notably with the air extractor in the front bonnet. It has a different interior as well, and it does not sport the characteristic BMW badges at the rear.”

The engine is different, too, as a different cylinder head cut power; where the production M1 made 277 horsepower, this one made do with just 245. So, some 40 miles away from BMW’s own museum is one of the brand’s most important cars–in a shed. 

The car behind it? “Oh, this is Nelson Piquet’s 1980 Procar championship-winning car,” Wagner explains. “This will be my final restoration before I hand everything over to my son Marco.” The Piquet works car was damaged in a fire and, again, unceremoniously cast aside by BMW, only to be retrieved by Wagner.

As the tour continued, we were guided to the final works engine. Of course you would find that here. Engines, cylinder heads, crankcases–they’re all over Wagner’s floor. 

“Don’t worry,” he tells us, “I know where everything is. I just didn’t want to get things organised. 

“The M1s have always been a passion for me, but never a job. I always worked as a racing mechanic. My son Marco has a different job as well.” 

Nonetheless, Wagner has become the M1 Procar pope. Long lost original parts, like the magnesium-cast brake callipers, can still be found here. “We can fix or we can replace. In any case, if you want to replace a part, I want your original part in return for mine so I can fix it and have, once more, an original part.”

Never the Fastest

There’s not much else in Fritz Wagner’s life than his M1s these days. “I wake up, get out of bed and I start work here,” he tells us, “seven days a week. I don’t need anything else.”

In the shop, work is underway on two Group 5 cars. In German classic racing, Wagner stands synonymous for M1 Procar. At the 2019 Norisring M1 Procar revival, quite a few Wagner M1s filled the grid. 

“We have been racing the M1 Procars for quite some time now,” he says. “At first, we were always the fastest M1s in the field. Then, some 10 years ago, with all the modernization, all of a sudden ours were the slowest M1s on the track. 

“But we decided to stick to our philosophy and maintain originality as the most important factor in our cars. We only use original parts that were used at the time. To us, this is about showing how the BMW M1 Procar was in its time. It was never the fastest car in its time, but it was special all the same. We want to keep it that way. Originality is key.”

That leaves us with just one question: How did he enjoy driving them? 

He looks back, astonished. “Driving?” he replies. “I don’t drive them. For me, it’s all about working on these cars. I don’t care about driving them.”

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apexdc
apexdc New Reader
6/17/22 5:55 p.m.

Unspeakably cool!  I was lucky enough to drive an M1 for Don Walker in IMSA, at Riverside and Daytona. It was the peak of the mountain for me. Just an incredible car. The Mustangs and Camaros were starting to make so much power in GTO class that they let us run a rear wing and big splitter. We were making close to 500 hp and there wasn't any way to make more power without turbos. They had also pulled a couple of hundred of pounds off it by IMSAizing it. IMSA allowed more modifications than the FIA did. 

It would readily pull with a 935 to about 130 where the additional power of the 935 would come into play. They were in a higher class, so it really didn't matter much.   

Chuck and Tommy Kendall raced one, as well in that period. I think there were only 3-4 at the most that were raced in the US. 

My hat is off to Fritz!  He called it right, for sure!  

 

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