The Best F1 Engine Ever Created

June 8, 2009

In my mind the BMW M12/M13 hand-grenades from the mid 80’s were the best F1 engines ever to be created.


Take a little look at how the most unhinged engine in all of f1 history started out.

The M10 block, originally designed for BMW by Baron Alex von Falkenhausen in the early 1960’s, was intended and created to be an engine that suited a large variety of applications carrying with it a very long shelf life. Starting out in the humble BMW 1500 and packing all of 60kw, the M10 saw no fewer than 20 years of service and over that 20 years, more than 3.5 million units were produced making it one of the longest serving engine blocks man has ever created.

pic- 058

The ingenuity behind the block was that, from a starting capacity of 1499cc, it was cast within tolerances that allowed it to be bored out to capacities of up to 1990cc thus making it a very flexible unit, useful in a wide variety of chassis including a large array of specifications for the 1500, 1600, 2002, 3 series and 5 series BMW’s of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The M10 made it all the way from the BMW 1500 of 1961 to the 318i E30 of 1985 before being discontinued.

Winding back a little, in August of 1980, BMW decided to embark on an audacious all out attack for the 1981 F1 World Championship. At that time, few realized just how significant and historic the next few years would turn out to be as Honda, BMW, Ferrari and Renault waged a traction-less, jungle juice fueled, all out war during the “Battle of the Boost”.

Granted, the engines detonated within a few laps but they packed 1300 to 1500 BHP all from an engine displacement of only 1.5 liters. The Turbos they were fitted with were routinely hammered with 50 to 60psi of boost.

That is around 6 bar.

That is not madness. No Spartan could simply ever be that mad!

There is no F1 engine that has ever been able to match or beat this and probably never will…at least not while Mad Max Mosley is around, it won’t.

The M12 / 13 was the most certifiable engine ever created for F1 in a championship filled with utter lunatics.


Gordon Murray, who designed a number of the BMW Brabhams and later, the more well known monster McLaren F1 road car, was quoted as saying he designed the Brabham BMW BT55 F1 cars with 70% of the weight over the rear wheels because there was no way he could get all the power to the ground any other way.

In my mind, Murray’s “arrowhead” BT53 was the more beautiful car in any case but according to those that drove it, an absolute animal to try and drive quick.

They all were.

Unsurprisingly, ramming 50psi of boost through a 1.5 liter block is going to cause some lag issues and sure enough, the BT50 was hampered by huge amounts of it but was still an utter sledgehammer to try and drive F1 quick. It was a real point and shoot car.

By 1983, Brabham, Ecclestone and BMW had worked things out well enough to produce this, the BT52:


It may as well have been called the B-52 because it absolutely creamed the opposition in some races and bombed in others…

These were only 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder road going BMW engines remember, and if you believe the reports from Bavarian engineers at the time, some of these blocks were apparently being pulled straight out of road cars with over 100,000 kays on the clock. Folklore tells us M10 engine blocks were also reportedly weathered in the rain and urinated on by mechanics prior to becoming 1500 HP banshees.

Now that is a sure fire way to make an engine a modern legend. I would pay good money to see the rice boys lay the same claim on their SR20’s, 1JZ’s and F21’s and still keep a straight face!

Check it out:


How I wish the good old days were today…those days when engine freezes and budget cuts were the trades of anti freeze salesmen and hired thugs on a shoestring budget…

I guess I should point out here that the F1 and BMW influence left a very large and pronounced impression on me as a kid. Not only did we have these ludicrously powerful cars coming to Adelaide every year, on top of this, the old man was a sucker for all things Bavarian Moter Werks. We had 5 of them during the 80’s, the most memorable being an E30 M3 converted to RHD after he imported it back from Germany.

Sadly, this one was stolen and found stripped and torched sometime around my 10th birthday. A tragedy in many senses.

One of my first cars was an BMW E21 320i with an M64 engine. The engine block from this old thing – the same M10 that powered Piquet to the Championship in 1983 and the same block that 1400HP of angry stallions pumped through was also capable of propelling the cars to speeds of up to 350kph and a direct decendant was sitting right under the hood of that old 320i I loved.

Not many engines you can claim to having shared the most powerful F1 pedigree with these days, now is there?

Heck, I wish I had the thing as it was around 1982 – I’d have been a candidate for an engine block for the F1 M12’s and in turn would have made it into the history books!

Just in case you didn’t understand this engines superiority, Gerhard Berger still holds the all time record for the fastest speed ever recorded in an F1 car on circuit at just over 350kph.

Made from a block cast in the 60’s.

As a side of fries to go with your order, it took only 1000RPM for this monster to leap from developing 450BHP to developing 850BHP…all in a matter of a couple of seconds.

I still remember as a kid of only 7, watching the T-visions of Piquet, Fabi and Berger all over the track, struggling to control ~1500BHP. I grew up in the wild wild days of F1, where engines from Honda, Renault and BMW were built to seemingly limitless regulations, a land where boost was your oyster and where cars were sideways everywhere ( and airborne at certain tracks ) at over 300kph…on slicks. In the rain. I will never forget that or how few people perished despite this lunacy. They even came to Adelaide so I could see them up close!

Little wonder then why F1 has left such a massive imprint on me.

I like Nelson Piquet Jr and Nico Rosberg. They are two of the best 20 drivers in the world in 2009 but let’s face it. Old man Nelson Sr. and Keke have infinitely bigger balls that Jr. or Nico ever will.

They drove those unrestricted, boost injected, traction-less BMW and Renault monsters to championship victories. That is a different level of skill altogether right there.

These days, when people “boast” about how much “boost” their Skyline or Supra is running or about how much power their N/A 2 liter twin Cam is developing, or how well they take the corners on their fast and furious NOS’d cruiser, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside.

These people have no idea.

If only they knew how insignificant their numbers are in the grand scheme of things!

And those people will be the same one’s that tell you that technology from the “old days” is outdated and irrelevant!



  1. Decent write up, and relevant to my interest’s.


  2. Adam,

    Good little blog you have here.

    I’ll add you to the blog roll on my roadster one.


  3. “I like Nelson Piquet Jr and Nico Rosberg. They are two of the best 20 drivers in the world in 2009 but let’s face it. Old man Nelson Sr. and Keke have infinitely bigger balls that Jr. or Nico ever will.”

    I agree. F1 being safer than the wild wild days, which is why the parents are allowing their children to drive F1 cars as careers. Or else you’d have guys like Schumacher say no, I want my children to stay in school and do something else.

  4. Stunning, I didn’t heard about this topic up to now. Thanks.

  5. Berger’s old car is now in Sydney and being raced in historics. After a very big project to get the car running again and putting out impressive HP (we have to limit the boost to 2.5 bar now) but it still puts out over 800hp.
    The power comes on like a light bulb – had to put a pad behind the drivers helmet because when he changes gear kept banging his head farily hard…
    Out on some practice days and races at Eastern Creek and Philip Island

    • That’s fantastic news CB – I am also an Australian and it makes me so proud to know we have this little piece of global history in our backyard.

      I would love to come and see this car first hand some day if it is at all possible.

      Do you have a link to what it is you do with the car?

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