21 years ago BMW stuffed a 700hp V12 into a one-off X5 – the SUV was never the same again
By Matt Bird / Tuesday, April 20, 2021 / Loading comments
Though in 2001 the performance 4×4 undoubtedly existed – think Mercedes ML55 AMG, and Overfinch Range Rovers – it was nowhere near the colossus it is 20 years later. Seemingly every other day a new derivative of another SUV is launched, promising more through mild hybrid this, variable that and plenty more besides. And good luck to them; buyers’ appetite for the genre seems insatiable, so why not make the most of it?
2001 was significant for performance SUVs, however, as it was the year BMW properly entertained the idea of one, just a couple of years after the X5 launched. And if BMW saw the idea as valid – back then purveyors of all that was rear-wheel drive and sporty and driver focused – then you knew it was going somewhere. BMW’s idea of a toe-in-the-water was not some motor show stand flight of fancy, either – it actually worked. In truly spectacular fashion, too.
The X5 Le Mans, revealed at the Geneva show in 2000, was so called because it had a Le Mans engine in it. And BBS LM wheels. Typically, ‘race car engine’ involves a bit of poetic licence, but for the X5 it really was true: the P75 6.1-litre V12 was exactly as found in the V12 LMR that won Le Mans in 1999. Well, almost – without the need for air restrictors, the V12 was producing in excess of 700hp, rather than the mere 580hp of the race car…
The year after, BMW did want any modern manufacturer would do with a fast SUV – but which was unheard of at the turn of the century – and took it to the Nordschleife. Obvs. Back when eight-minute laps made headlines, the X5 Le Mans went around in 7:49. An SUV didn’t go quicker for almost two decades. Hans Stuck was driving on that day, and clocked a maximum speed of 311km/h – or 193mph. In a 2,130kg car! In BMW’s own words, the X5 Le Mans “paved the way for the X5 M”. Really, though, there was never going to be anything like the LM ever again. Even by the standards of 2001, it was very silly indeed.
What a joy it is, therefore, to see the Le Mans wheeled out of the BMW Group Classic vault for a walkaround video as it turns 20 years old. Though only five minutes long, it’s a more detailed look than has probably been seen before, at least in English that is. 1080p is great for seeing that engine and incredible interior in all their glory, too. And worry not people, there’s plenty of V12 to listen out for…
- Hans-Joachim Stuck | PH (My) Heroes
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