A 700bhp BMW X5 might sound ridiculous, but this rapid homage to the firm's 1999 Le Mans win was still heroic
Matt Burt
15 October 2015

BMW took a famous win at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999 with the V12 LMR, but by the following year the company was already pumping its resources into its Formula 1 partnership with Williams.

Rather than throw leftover components away, however, BMW’s engineers decided to find out what would happen if they transplanted the racing car’s 6.0-litre V12 into an X5 to, as Autocar’s Andrew Frankel reported, “test the X5 concept to the limit”.

In its Le Mans race trim, the 6.0-litre motor pumped out 600bhp but only because it was forced by regulations to breathe through a restrictor in its inlet tract. For the special X5, Munich’s engineers removed the restrictor, freeing up another 100bhp.

The X5 Le Mans needed substantial tweaks before it could safely deploy that horsepower and 520lb ft. The six-speed gearbox and rear differential came from BMW’s M division, the suspension was lowered and race-spec springs, dampers and anti-roll bars fitted. The brakes were full race items located within 20in BBS magnesium rims shod with 315/35 tyres at the back, and 275/40s at the front. There was neither anti-lock nor traction control. The cockpit was barely changed.

“There’s a roll cage around the driver’s race seat, itself equipped with a full harness,” wrote Frankel. “The passenger knows no such refinements and is left to slide around in a standard seat with a conventional seatbelt. It has electric windows, central locking, air conditioning and even a sunroof.

“How futile is this car? Sensationally so. Its engine would fail every emissions test, making the car unusable on the road, while its 2200kg weight (not to mention its sky-high centre of gravity) means it would be utterly hopeless as a track machine.”

Our Verdict

BMW X5

The X5 sticks to BMW's well-proven SUV formula, delivering a competent and refined off-roader – but one that's lacking the extra flourishes found in a Range Rover Sport or Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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A few days before Andrew Frankel had his passenger ride around the Nürburgring in the X5 Le Mans, its driver, Hans Stuck, had been asked totry to break the eight-minute barrier around the Nordschleife.

“His out-lap was 8min 6sec, it rained on the second lap and the car broke on the third,” reported Frankel. Fortunately, there were no such problems on Autocar’s hot lap.

“We set off, Stuck revelling in the engine’s incredible torque spread, using as little as 3000rpm before wanting the revs up to 8000rpm between changes.

“On the near flat-out run up the mountain from Bergwerk to the Karussell, he is dazzling and effortless; entirely within himself, yet utterly committed. The X5, so big and slow in the tight turns, suddenly feels fluid, almost agile and very, very quick. We hit 150mph in fourth, skimming across the puddles, Stuck’s will stepping in when simple grip runs out.

“Right in the most difficult section of track, we run into a wall of fog. The sum total of Stuck’s reaction to such potentially cataclysmic weather is to say: ‘Ah. Fog.’ He never mentions it again.”

Although Autocar’s man described the X5 Le Mans as “heroically pointless”, he was glad it existed.

“A cynic would call it a cheap stunt using now-useless parts from a canned Le Mans programme. To me, it proves blood pumps beneath the sharp suits in Munich and for that alone, its value is legitimate, evident and enormous.”

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

9 July 1907 - The beginning of Brooklands

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

4 July 1925 - Citroën lights up the Eiffel Tower

28 September 1928 - Engine tech takes a great leap forwards

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

6 July 1934 - A tour of Cowley

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

25 August 1950 - The evolution of transmissions

27 April 1951 - Frankfurt hosts its first motor show

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

16 September 1960 - The beginning of MOT tests

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

10 September 1965 - The birth of modern Audi

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