The South African branch of BMW created the first-ever 7 Series race car in 1985 on the basis of the E23 745i SA model. The BMW South Africa is famous worldwide for creating some daring projects, such as the recently restored 530 MLE (E12), the 325iS and 333i (E30), the special 745i SA (E23) or, lately, the limited-edition 330is (G20).
Like in the case of the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition street car used to homologate corresponding racing model, the first 7 Series race car in history was as well developed starting from the 745i SA road vehicle. The parents of this project were racing driver Tony Viana and mechanic Kobus van der Watt and the final car was homologated by BMW SA Motorsport.
Of course, compared to the 745i SA which also featured significant tweaks compared to the European turbocharged version, the E23 745i race car was equipped with a special aerodynamic body kit, including a rear spoiler, and exhibited a lowered ground clearance and special racing tires with narrow profile.
The heart of the 745i race car was a specifically modified M88 straight-six engine, with 24 valves and double overhead camshaft (DOHC) architecture. Compared to the 3.5-liter engine of the 745i SA, the race-tweaked 3.6-liter M88 produced a peak output of 340 kW / 450 PS (444 hp), achievable at 7,500 rpm and revving as high as 8,250 rpm.
The impressive power was sent to the rear axle with the help of 5-speed Getrag manual gearbox. The 745i race car was also equipped with a limited slip differential which ensures a transmission ratio of 3.64:1.
In 1985, BMW South Africa registered the 7 Series race car in the Group One Championship and paved the way for Tony Viana to win the motorsport season of that year, outpacing competitors such as the Alfa GTV, Ford Sierra XR8 and Mazda RX7.
The South African champion of 1985 also managed to set record lap times at Kyalami (1:56.80) and Zwartkops (1:10.00) circuits. Thus, the E23 745i race car established its meritorious place in the rich BMW Motorsport hall of fame, joining glorious models such as the 3.0 CSL and the BMW M1.
In 2006, the Evolution 2 Motorsport company in the Kyalami area managed to finalize the restoration process and bring one example of the 745i Winfield-badged race cars back to its former glory.
As part of the mechanical and chassis upgrades, the restored car was fitted with H&R springs for all wheels and Bilstein shocks all around, with additional canisters at front. The exhaust system was also modified with the help of specialist company Van Der Linde Systems.
The wheels that were installed came from Compomotive and BBS and had a 10×16 dimension at front and 11×16 at the rear. A high-performance brake system was also on the list, together with a 70-liter capacity fuel tank equipped with a Bosch fuel pump.
Together with the driver in the cabin, the restored 745i race car weighed as little as 1,550 kilograms. Currently, the owner this 7 Series motorsport jewel is Paolo Cavalieri, the former team mate of Tony Viana.
The successful, original 745i race car together with the 2006 restored unit made their special appearance in 2017 at the BMW M media track experience event held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There, the 745i was joined by the M4 DTM Edition and back-then recently revealed M760Li xDrive for the on-track formation.
The legacy that the 745i SA and 745i race cars have left for the future BMW model generations is impressive and shows the commitment to achieve technical perfection. The M7 that never was is now a true ///M pioneer, motorsport frontrunner and the worthy predecessor of the M760i/M760Li high-end luxury limousines.
Scroll down to see more photos from the BMW M event in Port Elizabeth. Enjoy!