High-performance versions of more pedestrian street-going cars have been a favorite of carmakers and enthusiasts alike since the beginning of the industry. BMW's M division, in operation since 1978, has produced some of the best examples of the concept, with its legendary M3 sitting at the forefront of that list.

It's fitting, then, that the 300,000th M vehicle built, in the 30th year of M production, was an alpine white BMW M3 Coupe.

Though BMW Motorsport, the predecessor to BMW's M division, was founded in 1972, it wasn't until 1978 that the name was changed and the first M vehicle produced - the mid-engine, straight-six-powered 277hp (204kW) M1. The recently shown M1 Homage design study, displayed at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este 2008, recapitulated the M1's revolutionary design and at the same time honored the anniversary of its creation. The M1 was the first BMW M car, but it was built primarily as a homologation special for the ProCar race series.

Real volume production of M cars would wait until 1984, when the first M car to be based on a pre-existing street car, the M5, was built. Housing a very similar straight-six, 286hp engine to the M1, the M5 was a discreet, yet very quick, mode of transport. In 1986, BMW followed with the M3, the model that would come to define the sub-brand in the eyes of many fans. Over 17,000 of the first-gen M3s rolled out of BMW's factories, and it has since accounted for the single best-selling M-brand BMW in the world.

BMW M1 Concept