A Legend Retires

"Camshaft Paul" Calls it a Day


The phrase, "people are our most important resource," is oftentimes nothing more than corporate gibberish. But BMW--a company whose middle name literally is "Motor"-- knows how true that expression can be. After 42 years, many of them spent leading the most admired engine-development programs in the industry, Paul Rosche--the man whose name is most indelibly linked to BMW high performance and racing engines--is retiring.

Among car enthusiasts, only Ferrari's Aurelio Lampredi, who engineered the Prancing Horse marque's early Vl2s, is as synonymous with legendary engine development as Paul Rosche.

Currently the longest-serving BMW employee, Rosche has been called "the Motor Pope" in the German enthusiast press, "BMW's Engine Maestro" in this country, and "Nocken Paule, "or "Camshaft Paul," by his friends. The self-effacing Rosche has been responsible for the development of every M engine, the championship-winning Formula 2 and 3 motors, and touring car powerplants. His crowning achievement was the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine (delivering 1,300 HP!) that powered Nelson Piquet to the 1983 World Driving Championship. Rosche's Vl2 creations have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 (McLaren) and 1999-when the factory won first overall.

                                                                      Paul Rosche.jpg (11486 bytes) Paul Rosche (picture from Roundel)

To put Rosche's amazing career in perspective, the Bavarian began working at BMW in his hometown of Munich in 1957 under the tutelage of BMW's other famous engine designer, Alex von Flakenhausen. Rosche's boss developed the engines for the "new class" cars, including the 2002. Some of Rosche's first projects involved designing engines for the BMW 700. Of course, there was some racing development involved, even for these diminutive cars. He also worked on the V8 engines of the era.

It wasn't long before Rosche was assigned to design and develop engines for BMW's Formula 2 and touring-car racing programs based on the four-cylinder engine block used for the '02 production cars. Despite numerous victories in both categories and the image BMW enjoyed as a result of success on the track, things were not always rosy. In 1966 BMW purchased the Glas factory in Dingolfing and had completely modernized its production facilities by 1969. The company's management board was focused on squeezing profits from the new plant, and they looked for cost savings in every corner (does this sound ominously similar to the situation in which Munich currently finds itself?). Racing was viewed as a luxury that could be cut--and so an announcement was made that at the end of the 1970 season, BMW would officially withdraw from the sport. (The public reaction to the death of popular German driver Gerhard Mitter in 1969 also contributed to this decision.)

What was BMW without racing? Nothing, thought Paul Rosche and a small band of company enthusiasts--including driver Dieter Quester, Alex von Falkenhausen's son-in-law. They took the board's directive under advisement, and decided otherwise. The renegades rented a garage in Munich, bought a March 712 chassis, and continued building racing engines for the clandestine team they called "Underground Racing." They were aided by a sympathetic von Falkenhausen, who authorized development expenses under a production-car engine program.

Quester finished third overall in the European Formula 2 championship that year and went on to finish second in the 1972 European Hillclimb championship in a "BMW-powered" Chevron sports racing car. By then, proper reasoning had returned to the BMW boardroom, and Joachen Neerpasch was brought over from Ford to form BMW Motorsport.

Paul Rosche was central to the new subsidiary. The first projects involved the famous "Batmobile" CSL coupes, with their glorious-sounding 3.5-liter six-cylinder engines, and the Junior Team in their 320i sedans, as well as Formula 2. Then came the ultimate challenge: Formula 1 with the Brabham team.

After winning the first turbocharged Fl driver's championship in 1983, Rosche went on to design the E30 M3 engine, which powered the M3 to more touring-car victories than any other car in history. Turn ing to street cars, from the Ml to the new M5, Paul Rosche has put his stamp on some of the best production engines in the world.

That stamp is one of technical superiority and personal modesty. Whenever he is complimented on his achievements, his first reaction is usually a sheepish grin and a shrug of the shoulders. One of Rosche's most memorable quotes came when Swiss driver Marc Surer asked him about the incredible power of his BMW Fl turbo engine. "I could spin the rear tires in fourth gear," Surer said incredulously. How much horsepower was there?

"At least 1,300," replied Rosche.

Surer persisted. "But can you be exact?" he asked.

"It's probably more," Rosche said, pausing for effect and giving his trademark shrug of the shoulders. "But 1 don't know how much more--because that's as high as our dyno goes."

At one point during the Sl4 M3 racing-engine project, Rosche and his engineers had the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing right around 330 horsepower. "I told the guys, `That's enough. There's no sense going any further,"' he says. Now, is that really what someone who founded "Undergrounc Racing" would expect? "They didn't listen to me. They worked on the project after hours and on weekends, and pretty soon they came to me and said, "We're up to 365 horsepower," Rosche says, grinning.

One other project that must rank right up with the Fl championship is his masterpiece: the engine that powered the most advanced automobile ever built, the McLaren Fl. Designer Gordon Murray had spoken to several companies about designing an engine for his supercar, including Honda, who was providing engines for the McLaren F1 team at the time. Murray wanted a normally-aspirated engine, believing turbo- and supercharging to be technically unsatisfactory ways of achieving power for such a benchmark automobile.

Murray, the designer of Nelson Piquet's Fl-winning Brabham BMW, turned to his old friend Paul Rosche. The result was a magnificent, not to mention lightweight, 6.1- liter V12 producing 627 horsepower. Its durability was amazing; in racing trim, the engines typically did a season of GT races without a rebuild. Driver and team owner Thomas Bscher recalled, "In one race I missed a shift and over-revved the engine. We pulled it out and sent it to BMW to have them look it over, just to be sure. They returned the engine and said it was fine. We put it back in the car and finished the season, including Le Mans (and won the championship, incidentally) with no problems."

The five-year-old design was seen as a setback to BMW's 1999 Le Mans effort; early predictions had the Toyotas running away from the field. But fuel efficiency and solid reliability had the factory V12 LMRs running one-two for much of the race distance, with a late-hour crash spoiling the factory sweep, but the remaining car took BMW's first Le Mans win.

Rosche's final assignment was as managing director of BMW Motorsport International--put less formally, that means he led the development of the new 3.5-liter Vl0 engine that will debut with the Williams team in next year's Formula 1 season. The third generation of that engine ran in mid-summer, with reports coming from the clandestine tests saying the motor produces competitive power. 

At the 1997 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the BMW CCA presented Paul Rosche with an award for giving our members "millions of miles of the Joy of Driving." The award was a chromed M3 racing camshaft, acknowledging Rosche's nickname, mounted on a Lucite base with a BMW M flag design. I had the honor of representing the Club at the presentation. During my remarks I mentioned Rosche's involvement in "Underground Racing." Stepping up to receive the award, he flashed his famous grin and said soffly, "Shhh! That's still supposed to be a secret!"

From: Roundel, BCCA, september 1999.