One more (and probably the most famous) in the BMW “Art Car” series: the Groupe 4 M1 that Andy Warhol painted for the German maker in 1979. And not just a artistic exercise: the car successfully competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that year, inscribed by French racer Hervé Poulain and achieving a formidable 6th overall position (second in the IMSA class) with the German Manfred Winkelhock, the French Marcel Mignot and Poulain himself at the wheel. That was the only time this rolling work of art took part in a race, moving to the Museum of the Bavarian car maker immediately afterwards (exactly as it finished the race, including the dead insects stuck to the front bonnet…)

This “Andy Warhol M1” is #4 in the ART Car series of BMW, following the 3.0 CSLs of Alexander Calder and Frank Stella, and the 320i Gr. 5 of Roy Liechtenstein. As of the date of this post, there are 15 models in the Art Car series, but several of them are pure “artistic exercises” and never actually raced or were ever driven.

Andy Warhol

The name Andy Warhol is nowadays almost synonymous with Pop Art. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) in 1928, he studied from 1945 to 1949 at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and immediately after this started a successful career career as a graphic artist in the advertising sector. His work went on display as early as 1952 in New York; in 1956 he received the coveted “Art Director’s Club Award” . At his legendary “Factory”, where he employed a whole team of workers, classic art concepts were negated and overturned in an unprecedented manner. His “mass productions” of prominent faces became well known, as well as painted trivialities such as soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles.

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe

Warhol died in 1987 in New York. Two years after his death, the MoMA – Museum of Modern Arts in New York dedicated a full retrospective exhibition of him.

The Art Car project

Andy Warhol’s M1 in action at Le Mans 1979

I adore this car. It’s much better than a work of art.

Andy Warhol

In keeping with Andy Warhol’s view of art, a car as rolling work of art is more typical than unusual. Anybody who declares soup cans to be a work of art or suggests closing a whole department store and keeping it as a museum for posterity must be unable to sense any conflict between functional technology and free artistic composition. The studio therefore became a “factory”, and the dichotomy between sophisticated art and everyday life was virtually eliminated.

Photo (c)

Andy Warhol set about work in an equally unabashed manner after being commissioned to transform a Group 4 BMW M1 into an Art Car as he thought best. All the other artists who had previously decorated BMW racing cars had done so by painting a draft version on a scaled-down model; this was then transposed to the actual car by assistants under the artist’s supervision. Warhol, however, was the first to paint everything himself. By transferring his ideas to the car in this spontaneous and direct manner, he could clearly stamp his own character on it.

I tried to portrait speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred.

That is how Warhol explained the weeping strokes he chose. Most artists take days, if not weeks, to complete a piece of work of this dimension, but Warhol painted the entire M1 in less than 30 minutes. He used brushes, but also his own fingers, smelling the paint, feeling the lines of the car’s body with his own hands… He also left his signature printed in the left side of the rear bumper.

The Car

The basis for Warhol’s Art Car was a Group 4 BMW M1, a car built by the Bavarian maker over their M1 street model to compete in GT and Endurance racing. It had a six cylinder inline engine mounted in central-longitudinal position, with twin overhead camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder. The gearbox was 5-speed manual, with rear transmission, and the chassis was a steel tube space-frame. With 3,500 cm3 displacement, the engine delivered 470 HP, allowing the car to reach a top speed of 307 km/h.

The M1 base car was BMW’s “flagship” sports car during the late 70’s and early 80’s. The car, a 2-door coupé, was designed by Italdesign (Giorgetto Giugiaro) and built as a joint venture with Italian maker Lamborghini, from 1978 to 1981. Only 483 units were produced, and many of them were used for racing.

The Race

The 24 Hours of Le Mans of 1979 was a very “private” event, as there were no factory prototypes inscribed by Porsche or Renault-Alpine, the dominant makers in the endurance and sportcar scene of these years. The entry list was full of road-derived Gr.4 and Gr. 5 cars, run by “customer” teams. A few famous names could also be seen in the entry list, including one… Paul Newman, as good a performer in the car racing scene as he was on the stage.

The #76 Gr.4 M1 inscribed by French racer Hervé Poulain was the only M1 that participated in the race, achieving a remarkable final 6th position overall (second in the IMSA class), after a tough fight with the armada of fast and reliable Porsche 934 and 935 inscribed by customer teams of the Stuttgart maker. Other M1 competed in the the legendary race at the Circuit de La Sarthe in the following years, but none of them managed to match the result of the “Andy Warhol” car, or even reach a top-10 result.

PNo.Team / CarDriversLaps
141Kremer Racing
Porsche 935 K3 (Gr. 5)
Klaus Ludwig (GER)
Don Whittington (USA)
Bill Whittington (USA)
270Dick Barbour Racing
Porsche 935/77A (IMSA)
Rolf Stommelen (GER)
Paul Newman (USA)
Dick Barbour (USA)
340Kremer Racing
Porsche 935/77A (Gr. 5)
Laurent Ferrier (FRA)
François Servanin (FRA)
François Trisconi (FRA)
482Lubrifilm Racing Team
Porsche 934 (GT)
Herbert Müller (SWI)
Angelo Pallavicini (SWI)
Marco Vanoli (SWI)
55Jean Roundeau
Rondeau M379 – Ford Cosworth
Jean Ragnotti (FRA)
Bernard Darniche (FRA)
676Hervé Poulain
Manfred Winkelhock (GER)
Marcel Mignot (FRA)
Hervé Poulain (FRA)
742Sekurit Racing
Porsche 935/77A (Gr. 5)
Edgar Dören (GER)
Dieter Schornstein (GER)
Götz von Tschirnhaus (GER)
872Dick Barbour Racing
Porsche 935/78 (IMSA)
Edwin Abate (USA)
Bob Garretson (USA)
Skeeter McKitterick (USA)
973Dick Barbour Racing
Porsche 935/78 (IMSA)
Robert Kirby (USA)
Bob Harmon (USA)
John Hotchkis (USA)
104Jean Roundeau
Rondeau M379 – Ford Cosworth
Henri Pescarolo (FRA)
Jean-Pierre Beltoise (FRA)
1979 24 Hours Le Mans overall classification

The Model Car

This 1:18 scale replica of the BMW M1 Gr. 4 Art Car by Andy Warhol was built by Minichamps exclusively for the Bavarian maker, with BMW part number The model was produced in 2002, as a Limited Edition (although the actual number of units produced is unknown). It was sold mainly at the BMW Museum in Munich, and also selected dealers of the brand around the world. The model was sold out quickly, and given the relevance of the real model is very sought after, not just by model car collectors but also because it is a small work of art in itself.

Minichamps produces as many as 30 versions of the M1, mainly the Procar versions and the Group 4 used at Le Mans and other GT races. This version, in particular, shows the high level of quality typical of the German model maker. Here the emphasis is obviously set on achieving a color scheme as similar as possible to the real Art Car, but the detailing in the body, cockpit and engine bay are also noteworthy.

Other scale model makers of the M1 include:

Norev – Street version of the 1980 M1 in different colors.

IXO – Group B Rally version driven by Bernard Darniche at the 1982 Tour de Corse.

OttOmobile – Group B Rally version driven by Bernard Béguin at the 1983 Tour de Corse.

With apologies to Mr. Warhol, this would be the “negative” view of his M1…

Photo Gallery