BMW’s Paul Rosche passes away at 82

Exhaust flame from Nelson Piquet's Brabham BT52 BMW during the 1983 Canadian GP. (Photo LAT Photographic)

Paul Rosche, BMW’s legendary engine wizard for many years and the man behind some of the Munich company’s most successful racing projects, has died at the age of 82.

He was perhaps best known for the 1.5-liter turbo that powered Brabham’s Nelson Piquet to the 1983 Formula One World Championship.

Born in Munich on April 1, 1934, Rosche first joined BMW straight from university in 1957 and, from the start, was deeply involved in the development of high performance engines for road and racing. Over the years he held several senior roles, including that of technical director of BMW Motorsport from 1979 to 1996.

After early successes in touring cars, he was responsible for the 2-liter 4-cylinder that was a mainstay of F2 for more than a decade, and which powered Jean-Pierre Jarier, Patrick Depailler, Jacques Laffite, Bruno Giacomelli, Marc Surer and Corrado Fabi to European titles. He also created the 3.5-liter 6-cylinder that was utilized in the M1 raced by seven past or future World Champions in the Procar series in 1979-80.

BMW joined forces with Bernie Eccelstone’s Brabham team in 1980, with Rosche’s 4-cylinder turbo making its first race weekend appearance in practice for the following year’s British GP. In 1982 it proved fast but fragile, although Piquet scored the first win in Montreal.

Helped by huge performance gains from electronics and fuel development, Rosche’s engine and Gordon Murray’s iconic BT52 took Piquet to a sensational 1983 World Championship victory. However, poor reliability meant that BMW scored a total just eight GP wins with Brabham before withdrawing at the end of 1986, a season that also saw one success with Benetton and Gerhard Berger in Mexico as BMW fielded perhaps the most powerful engines F1 has ever seen.

Meanwhile, the M3 touring car achieved huge success around the world. Rosche was then reunited with Murray as the man behind the V12 used in the McLaren F1 road car, which scored the marque’s first Le Mans win in 1995.

He was also heavily involved in the start of the collaboration with Williams that was first announced in 1997, and which resulted in a second Le Mans victory in 1999 with a full works entry. However, after a company shake-up, he was moved on before the partnership’s first Grand Prix together in 2000, much to the disappointment of Williams technical director Patrick Head.

He recently came out of retirement to help a team of former Brabham and BMW staffers restore Piquet’s 1983 Brabham to running condition.