#DTM500: 1984-1987 – the early years
The series, which was founded back in 1984, and which has grown to become the fastest and most thrilling Touring Car series on the planet, will mark its 500th race at the Lausitzring on Sunday August 25.
The championship’s past is long and storied – filled with unique tales of brave drivers, exhilarating machinery and eventful, thrilling races. The whole story is far too long to recall here – instead, we present a lovingly selected handful of facts, stories and anecdotes that reflect each stage of the championship’s growth and development.
In this first part, we focus on the DTM’s formative years – between 1984 and ’87 – when the series was at first known as the ‘Deutsche Produktionswagen-Meisterschaft and ran wild and free, allowing a wide array of privateer teams and drivers to fill the grids and dominate – thanks, largely, to a clever handicap system.
Germany starts in Belgium!
It may seem remarkable that the very first race of the new German series took place outside of the Federal Republic. Remember, though, that there were just two permanent circuits in West Germany at the time: the Hockenheimring and the Nürburgring. As a result, it was Belgium’s Circuit Zolder that provided the home for the first-ever ‘Deutsche Produktionswagen-Meisterschaft’ race, on 11 March 1984.
The race without a winner
DTM stirred controversy at its second-ever race when BMW driver Harald Grohs was disqualified when modifications to his engine were declared illegal. Although the German was stripped of his win, the following drivers weren’t promoted up the order, meaning the result was declared official without a winner.
Grohs still remains unrepentant: “I got the engine straight from the factory,” he said. “And all the other BMW drivers had the same…”
The first race winner: Harald Grohs, BMW 635 CSi
A turbo charge
The Volvo 240 Turbo run by Swede P.G. Anderson at the Hockenheim August 1984 round became the first-ever turbo-charged car in the series. More turbos followed soon after, with Swede Per Stureson driving his 240 Turbo to the title in 1985. The second round of ’86, held at Hockenheim, was the first race in history with a clean sweep of the podium for drivers with turbo-powered cars: Swedes Andersson and Stureson scored a 1-2 for Volvo and Klaus Niedzwiedz came third with his Ford Sierra XR4Ti.
Beate Nodes, a graduate from the very popular Ford Fiesta one-make series in the early 1980s, became the first female racer to score a DTM podium. Driving a Ford Sierra XR4Ti, she finished third in Berlin’s Avus race in 1986.
Unforgotten: Beate Nodes
Giving it some extra muscle
US-built muscle cars were an unlikely albeit regular sight in DTM’s early days. Manfred Trint, an airline captain by profession, drove his Ford Mustang to victory at the Wunstorf airfield and in one of Hockenheim’s German GP support races in 1984. Later that season, Peter John claimed victory in the finale at Hockenheim with his brawny Chevrolet Camaro. They added real spice to the field.
Muscle car against turbo power: Chevrolet Camaro vs. Ford Sierra XR4Ti
Size doesn’t always matter
Alongside that Detroit muscle, smaller cars also fared well in the early DTM. Driving a nimble BMW 323i, Winfried Vogt managed to keep significantly bigger cars such as the Rover Vitesse, BMW 635 CSI and Volvo 240 Turbo at bay, winning races at the Norisring in 1984 and the Mainz-Finthen airfield circuit in 1985. For extra spice, cars such as the Fiat Ritmo Abarth 130 TC, Volkswagen Golf and Opel Kadett were also regular. Admittedly, they didn’t win races, but they gave the opposition a run for its money.
Size doesn’t matter: BMW 323i and Volkswagen Golf
Busman’s holiday – pt.I
Austrian legend Franz Klammer, who won the Olympic downhill skiing gold at Innsbruck in 1976, 25 World Cup downhill races and five World Cup titles, turned his hand to racing after hanging up his skis. Making his DTM debut at Wunstorf in 1985 in an Alfa Romeo GTV, he finished 13th, then ended the season 17th overall. In ’86, he raced a Mercedes 190 to 12th in the championship, including a third-place finish at Wunstorf.
Busman’s holiday – pt.II
A certain H. Tilke features on the 1987 entry list for the DTM ‘Bergischer Löwe’, at Zolder in Belgium. Driving a Toyota Corolla, Tilke retired after a mere four laps. He would go on to greater success as the internationally renowned designer of many racetracks across the world.
The iconic Ford Sierra XR4Ti’s 11 race wins made it the most successful car of the DTM’s first era. It made its debut at the Avus on 12 May 1985 winning straight away in the hands of Klaus Niedzwiedz. By comparison, between 1984 and the end of ’87, the Volvo 240 Turbo scored six wins, with the BMW 635 and M3 scoring five apiece.
The most successful driver of the first four years of the DTM was Harald Grohs, the German earning five victories between 1984 and ’88. Klaus Ludwig racked up four victories during the same period.
Mercedes’ 190, lovingly known as the ‘Baby Benz’, earned its stripes at the celebrity race that opened the new Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit in 1984 – an event famously won by Ayrton Senna. It wouldn’t take long for the 190 to appear on the DTM grid: Leopold Galina was the first driver to race a 190, at the 1985 season finale, also at the Nürburgring. The Eifel circuit was the venue for Mercedes’ maiden DTM win, in 1986.
The 1987 champion: Eric van de Poele, BMW M3
The losing winners
Uniquely (although it happened twice) both the 1984 and ’87 champions were crowned without taking a single race victory in their title-winning seasons. In ’84, Volker Strycek failed to score in just one of the season’s 12 races, beating four-time winner Olaf Manthey by 7.5 points. In 1987, Belgian Eric van de Poele clinched the title in his Zakspeed BMW M3 by virtue of scoring points at every single race.