Ford and BMW: Blitz in Cologne, lights on in Munich / DTM
May 1, 1972: Shock on the executive floor at Ford in Cologne when it became known that head of sport Jochen Neerpasch was moving to BMW in Munich in the same position.
Like a bolt from the blue, the Cologne Ford board members received the news in the spring of 1972 that their head of sport, Jochen Neerpasch, would be moving to BMW in Munich on May 1 of all places. This news caught the management team completely unprepared. While the Capri RS opened by Neerpasch with Hans Joachim Stuck rushed from victory to victory everywhere, the people from Cologne lost their great thinker and driver.
Neerpasch took his friend and chassis engineer Martin Braungart with him, but at least he left DRM title candidate Hans Joachim Stuck in Ford service until the end of the season. After that, he too was to follow his mentor Neerpasch as the new driving force at BMW.
Incidentally, this really big deal was engineered by sports fan and technology freak Robert “Bob” Lutz, who after nine years on the GM/Opel board had already taken up a new position as sales director on the BMW board before Neerpasch’s change ambitions. Particularly piquant: two years later Lutz left BMW again and from 1974 he became head of Europe at Ford in Cologne of all places.
After the initial shock, Ford PR Director Klaus-Dieter Banzhaf, himself an enthusiastic supporter of motorsport commitments, convened several crisis meetings, during which all personnel options were discussed. From Stuart Turner to Hubert Hahne and Rico Steinemann to the logical solution of the previous Neerpasch assistant Michael Kranefuss, everything was on the table for consideration and discussion.
In a press conference specially scheduled for the local Cologne newspapers, Ford’s top public relations officer quickly confirmed the outcome of the decision-making process. “With immediate effect, our new man at the helm of Ford Motorsport is Michael Kranefuss. He has our complete trust and we are sure that he will soon be giving those who have turned their backs on us the right answers on the track and beating them at their own game. The Capri RS is an amazing car, we are ready.”
That not only sounded like a battle cry, it should also be directed towards Munich. To deep-seated frustration and disappointment about Neerpasch’s farewell.
His brave answer to Banzhaf’s declaration of war came almost apologetically: “I had a wonderful time in Cologne and we have achieved a lot together. But at BMW I can finally realize my vision of an independent Motorsport GmbH. At Ford there would have been absolutely no chance for such a model. I enjoyed being in Cologne, I left an intact department with a highly qualified staff and I wish my successor every success.»
Neerpasch found a little paradise in Munich. He installed the first “Motorsport GmbH” in Germany (which later became “M GmbH”), which went into operation on May 1, 1972. That BMW Motorsport GmbH, which incidentally will celebrate its 50th anniversary in a few weeks at the 24-hour race on the Ring, among other things with a “BMW M Race of Legends” with twelve identical M2 Cup cars over a 20-minute Grand Prix circuit. The ex-Ford man was at the headquarters of the GmbH in the Preußenstr. 45 all conceivable freedoms, plus a generous budget and a highly motivated team.
As the first official act, Neerpasch sharpened the CSL coupé as the strongest BMW weapon in the battle for the European Touring Car Championship in 1973. After the Capri RS had won everything there was to win in 1972, Neerpasch countered with a lightweight version, a new rear wing and a more powerful 3.3 liters – engine. With that, the knives were sharpened and Munich challenged Cologne to the ultimate duel.
1973 was a highly dramatic touring car year, perhaps even the most exciting of all time. With the active support of its partner Alpina, BMW almost crushed its arch-enemy Ford. Although the BMW CSL and Capri RS delivered exciting duels, in the end BMW mostly remained the winner and snatched the touring car crown from defending champion Ford. In return, the Cologne company beat BMW in the battle for the DRM in the same year.
Neerpasch’s postcard also said that he had won the DRM, but his old friend Kranefuss put a really big spanner in the works. As the season progressed in 1973, the two Cologne buddies no longer spoke very amicably anyway – Neerpasch and Kranefuss carried out quite a number of debates about style and strategies quite loudly and passionately.
For example, it was agreed between the two heads of sport that only one works car would be used in the large displacement DRM division. On the one hand there was a Capri RS for Hans Heyer, on the other hand a CSL Coupé for Harald Menzel. Right from the first race with points on the Nordschleife in April 1973, however, there was a lasting upset at Ford – contrary to all agreements, Neerpasch had a second factory CSL with smart-ass Toine Hezemans roll at the start. It came as it had to come: Heyer and Menzel rubbed each other down and flew off the piste. Hezemans only had to wait and won easily. Neerpasch smiled profoundly, Kranefuss raged.
How things went on with motorsport in Munich after that can also be widely known. Perhaps this little detail is not so well known: Jochen Neerpasch left his BMW Motorsport GmbH at the end of 1979, quite frustrated, all of a sudden, because the board of directors had overturned his Formula 1 plans.
Irony of fate: A few months later, the same BMW board member announced that he was going into Formula 1 after all. But that’s another story again.