At the time, South Africa was busy ignoring the rest of the world and doing things its own way. Don't worry, we're not going to get political here, there's enough of that around already at the moment. But what many people don't know is that South Africa also liked to do things its own way when it came to cars, in particular BMWs.
Some of you might have heard of the legendary 333i, but you probably don't know that the country produced a 745i. A 7 Series - so what? But a 7 Series racing car. Seriously, a 7 Series racing car. Only two racing 745i models were ever produced and one was to full international Group A touring car spec. To this day they remain the only racing spec 7 Series models in the world.
These were not the same versions produced in Germany though. The European models used an in-line six with a turbo bolted on, but the packaging did not work for right hand drive markets, which meant the UK could not have them either. But that's OK because in a seriously clever move, someone decided you could use the M88 engine instead, the M88 being the one that was used in the M1 supercar. Nice.
This meant a 3.6-litre straight six producing 34hp more than the 745i produced in Germany. They all had unique BBS alloys, a Nappa leather interior and initially even a few M badges on the steering wheel and instrument cluster, but those were removed. BMW AG might have allowed the cars to be built, but they could not be called an M car.
The Group A spec model was the most important, featuring that M88 engine producing 450hp. The rules required them to be near standard and so it had the standard interior, standard rear brakes and steering. Up front it got AP racing brakes and the dampers were all upgraded by Bilstein.
It was not only more imposing on the grid than anything else, but in 1985 after being re-liveried in Winfield red and white it beat rivals such as the Alfa Romeo GTV, Ford Sierra XR8 and Mazda RX7 to take the championship. Who knew that a 7 Series could make such a good race car?
We caught up with the car along with Cavalieri at the Aldo Scribante race track outside of Port Elizabeth. Today the car produces slightly less power and in the interest of preservation it only revs to 7,500rpm instead of the 8,500 in its racing days. Taking to the track with Cavalieri it is still a formidable machine, carrying some serious weight as it pushes into the corners while the rear wheels scrabble slightly for grip to get what was once a top-of-the-line executive limo to clip the apex and power through. The chassis is stock and Cavalieri describes it as very forgiving. It is loud and very un-7 Series like by today's standards, but damn it's great.
Cavalieri is now hoping that he will be invited to show the car at international events like Goodwood, and who wouldn't want to see the only racing 7 Series that has ever been produced?
[Words: Mark Smyth, images by Rob Till]