BMW’s missing link

by Tim Whittington |

It’s 30-years since Group B cars rampaged into rallycross but sometimes we may be so hung-up on those cars that we forget other cars. In August 1987 a new car appeared that, were it drop into the pack today, would not look so very out of place.

Having run a unique home-brewed four-wheel drive version of the Talbot Lotus Sunbeam, former superkart racer Arild Martinsen went away in the winter of 1986 to make something better.

By the following summer the Norwegian’s new mount was ready and appeared as a distinct contrast to the Group B dominated field in the FIA European Rallycross Championship.

Based on the BMW M3 (E30), Martinsen put together a car that featured a turbocharged engine drawn from BMW’s IMSA programme and an Xtrac transmission.

The first FIA event for the car was at Arendonk in Belgium, the small and twisty track perhaps not the ideal arena for a car that was among the most powerful in the pack and – with the boost turned up to 11 – was widely rumoured to be good for 1000bhp.
Perhaps it was the stark contrast to the rear-engined Group Bs, perhaps just the innate good looks of the E30 and that classic BMW Motorsport paintjob, but Martinsen’s car cut a dash and quickly became a favourite with fans.

In terms of results it’s probably fair to say that it never quite lived up to its promise. In the European Championship Martinsen’s best result was a run to fifth place at Lydden. After just four events he was classified 17th at the end of the year.
Car and driver returned in 1988 and drove in ten of the 11 events (skipping Ireland). An A final appearance in Austria was the best result and Martinsen ended the year classified 12th

The car appeared in the season-closing MSA British Rallycross Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in both 1987 and 1988, the long uphill drag to the first corner played to the strengths of the musclebound BMW. In 1987 Martinsen qualified fifth and finished eighth in the final, returning the following year, Martinsen qualified third and placed fourth in what would stand as the best International performance for the car.

And then he was gone; car and driver not seen in the 1989 European Rallycross Championship.
The lack of success should probably mark this down as a failed exercise, but Martinsen’s car was a spectacular act of indvidualistic trend bucking that deserves to be celebrated. Perhaps more importantly the DNA of the that BMW M3 is present in the current Supercars and it clearly helps to bridge the gap from the pre-Group B era to the Group A-based cars of 1993 and beyond.

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